Line 4 of the Barcelona metro service, three o’ clock in the afternoon (Line 4 is the one that goes to the beach). I’m on my way to a work meeting. There’s no seats available, so I simply stand. I look around and realize that I can’t hear even a hint of Spanish, much less Catalan. English, French, and Dutch dominate the scene. I see tourists with their towels, flip flops, and reddish skins. I wonder if they notice me there, if they think my outfit or my white skin are strange. Do they think I was put there as a part of a museum display to enhance their “tourist experience”? I arrive at my stop and make my way out, feeling strangely foreign in my own country.
While I’m walking to the meeting, I start thinking about how I act when I travel. I don’t know about you, but I like to watch the local people to know certain things about the culture; like how they dress for work, where do they usually eat, what do they do when they get off work, what do they buy, etc. I also like to be informed on the issues and problematics of my destination, specially the ones that are caused by tourism, because I don’t want to be part of the problem, I just want to go unnoticed so I can learn their way of living.
Wrapped up in my own thoughts, I decided to write a series of tips so that you, someone who likes to experience your vacations instead of consuming them, someone who appreciates the true reality of your destination, someone who knows that their money is helping the local economy and the businesses that support the city; can plan your trip to Barcelona by adding value to the city and receiving the comfort of knowing that you’re helping a society that’s increasingly affected by poorly managed tourism. I hope you enjoy them!
Before leaving to Barcelona
- Get informed about the issues that affect the city and its people, specifically the ones that are related to tourism. In this article you can read about some of the impacts.
- Plan for at least 5 to 6 days to really enjoy the city without rushing and get to know beyond the limits of the metropolis.
- If you can, travel by train or pick direct flights so your carbon footprint is lower.
Eating and sleeping
- Pick an apartment that you can be sure belongs to a family or a local business, since many are managed by a foreign investor. I suggest Yök Casa+Cultura, remodeled apartments with great eco-designs that are managed by two girls involved in a sustainable tourism movement in Barcelona.
- If you like hotels, choose one that is sustainable, like Hostal Grau, located in the center of the city.
- Find local restaurants so you can try authentic Catalan cuisine. A good option is GatBlau. Avoid bars and restaurants that offer sangria and paella, that is not typical of Barcelona.
- Stay away from places with large masses of people and don’t just do the same activities that everyone else does, like renting a bike and riding around Paseo Maritimo. Find activities beyond visiting Camp Nou or Gaudi’s architecture. You can walk around the Natural Park of Collserola on your own, or with Naturalwalks. If you like the sea more, I suggest you visit Delta del Llobregat, a very vulnerable zone with great natural value that’s disappearing thanks to big infraestructures like the airport. In this article you can find more information about it.
- If you are usually involved in volunteering you can do social activities and participate for a few hours, that’s the best way of getting to know the reality of the city. I can help you find an activity.
- If you have enough time, visit different cities so the center of Barcelona is not so overcrowded. Just 20 minutes away by train from Plaza Catalunya, it’s the city of Sant Joan Despí, where you can get to know modernism beyond Gaudí. Or, if you have even more time, 35 minutes away by high speed train it’s Girona, one of the prettiest cities in Catalunya, and with one of the best preserved jewish quarters in the world.
- Buy souvenirs that are made in Catalunya or Spain. For example, clothes or shoes that will bring you good memories and stories when you wear them. Or, you can buy typical food and then enjoy them in your house with friends and family while you tell them about your trip. Between you and me, these products will have a more interesting story than a cheap figure of Sagrada Familia that was fabricated in China, and with less ecological impact. In this article you can read about what I bought during my last escapade!
And last but not least, don’t forget about using public transportation, bikes, shared cars, or walking!
If you follow these tips, you’ll be an authentic sustainable traveler, and if you need more information, I can help you plan your trip to experience it like a local and not just like any other reality-isolated tourist.
Have you ever visited Barcelona? I’d love to hear your opinion about the city!
Did you like the article? Don’t forget to share it. Subscribe to my blog to get all the articles I publish on time and, and if you follow me on Twitter you will be up to date with the novelties of Sustainable Tourism.