Loan-Free Madrid

The Washington Post Sunday - - Way To Go - By An­drea Sachs

QI’ma col­lege stu­dent with lim­ited funds. Can you rec­om­mend cheap lodg­ing in Madrid or a stay with a fam­ily? Kevin Par­tyka

Buf­falo

AOn­the af­ford­abil­ity scale, Madrid falls some­where be­tween Lon­don and Krakow — not too cheap, not too wal­let-bust­ing. “In gen­eral, Spain is a bit cheaper,” says Chris Yurista, a travel ad­viser at the Ge­orge­town of­fice of STA Travel (202-337-6464), which caters to stu­dents. “But it’s not like East­ern Europe, where you can crash for 10 or 12 euros [$13 to $16].”

When search­ing out less ex­pen­sive lodg­ing, avoid the tourist hubs, where the de­mand — and rates — are of­ten higher. Just make sure the prop­erty is near a metro sta­tion, so you can eas­ily ac­cess the ma­jor sights. For ac­com­mo­da­tions, Yurista rec­om­mends the Ho­tel As­turias (011-34-91-4296676, www.ho­tel-as­turias.com), which has rooms from $62 a night; the Metropol Hos- tel (011-34-93-231-2045, www. metropol­hos­tel.com), where a dorm room starts at $21 and a twin at $30; and the Mad Hos­tel (011-34-91-506-4840, www. mad­hos­tel.com; from $21 for dorm rooms). For other sug­ges­tions and ho­tel links, check the Web site of Es­Madrid ( www.es­madrid. com), the city’s tourism of­fice, or STA Travel ( www.sta­travel.com), which lists cheap beds in Europe, among other bud­get tips.

Most home­s­tays are af­fil­i­ated with lan­guage schools or aca­demic pro­grams. How­ever, if you don’t mind con­ju­gat­ing verbs on vacation, Yurista says lan­guage-home­s­tay pro­grams cost about $300 for 20 lessons a week and $225 for a room at a lo­cal fam­ily’s house, in­clud­ing break­fast. With Span­ish Abroad (888-722-7623, www. span­ishabroad.com), ac­com­mo­da­tions range from a dou­ble room in a shared apart­ment to a sin­gle with a host fam­ily (both $440 a week).

When tour­ing Madrid, keep costs down by tap­ping into the city’s cul­tural free­bies and dis­counts. Mu­se­ums of­ten have a free day, such as the Prado and the Mu­seum Lazaro Gal­diano (Sun­days), and some in­sti­tu­tions (e.g., Basil­ica de San Isidro, the Bull­fight­ing Mu­seum) are al­ways gratis. For a lively out­door scene, grab a seat in a pub­lic square like Plaza de Santa Ana. Dur­ing meal times, snack on small plates of tapas (try the Canas y Tapas chain). If you’re trav­el­ing by pub­lic trans­port, buy a Tourist Travel Pass, which al­lows daily or multi-day un­lim­ited travel (from $12 at www.raileu­rope.com). We’d like to take our kids on a Caribbean cruise in June or July. Is sum­mer a bad time? Mary Beth John­son

Fred­er­ick

Sum­mer cruis­ing in the Caribbean is hot, so stay close to the wa­ter. “The land is very hot,” says Lana Liu, a cruise spe­cial­ist with Able Travel Ser­vice in the Dis­trict. “Snor­kel­ing is fine, be­cause you’ll be in the wa­ter.”

When choos­ing shore ex­cur­sions, think cool thoughts: cave tub­ing or snor­kel­ing rather than horse­back rid­ing or moun­tain bik­ing. Also, you will be trav­el­ing to and from your shore ac­tiv­i­ties in oft-crowded vans with some­times fluky air con­di­tion­ing. So, look for ac­tiv­i­ties with short com­mutes.

In any event, you can al­ways stay on the ship and play in the pool. Sum­mer is the busy sea­son for fam­i­lies, so the pool may be crammed with squeal­ing, splash­ing kids — per­fect play­mates for your chil­dren.

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