La Diada festival at Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona. Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern.

As someone who gets happy jitters whenever I get to go on a road trip, I have always resolved to study abroad in college no matter what. In September, I was finally able to check off one of the countries on my bucket list through Medill’s Spanish JOURneys course. As a low-income student who was not ready to commit to a long study abroad excursion, the new Barcelona class was an ideal opportunity for me.

I'm a native Spanish speaker so choosing the Barcelona program was a no-brainer and there was added excitement in knowing I was participating in the first iteration of the class. There were enough immersive opportunities in the week-long trip for me to get a fruitful first-time travel journalism experience, especially with how affordable the city is.

Delicious delicacies

The warmth and kindness of every retailer allowed me to get various things for free or at a reduced price. It was typical for me to walk into one of the various markets or small bocadillo (sandwich) stores and receive a generous discounted bundle, or even a small container of free fruit because I forgot my wallet and Apple Pay wasn’t accepted.

But don’t fear! Luckily, every other restaurant and market I went to had Apple Pay, which was relieving as I was initially worried about carrying around my credit cards in an unfamiliar country. I never paid more than 20 euros ($21.01 USD) for a meal.

Granted, I avoided going to very fancy restaurants to experience the city as a local would. Throughout the trip, I spent roughly 400 euros ($420.28 USD), which included a few clothing, trinket and jewelry shopping trips.

I always got my money’s worth with meals, even if they were small. The first day I bought a bocadillo for seven euros. I was shocked to see it was bigger than my head but I was happy to save half of it for later.

Speaking of food, I don’t think I’ll ever see it the same way after tasting just how fresh, flavorful and intricately prepared the meals were every day in Barcelona. As a seafood lover,  I was in heaven whenever I saw the large variety of fish, octopus and calamari dishes on restaurant and bar menus.

The most memorable dish I had was La fideuá, or paella de fideos, which had small spaghetti noodles cooked with savory paella ingredients like shrimp, shredded tomato and garlic. In second place is the creamy, lightly sweet crema Catalana, a custard-like dessert with a crème brûlée smoked coating of sugar, which I will deeply miss.

The seafood fideua with shrimp, clams and saffron aioli sauce at Arenal Restaurant. Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern.

Crema Catalana at Arenal Restaurant. Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern.

Art architecture

Apart from the city’s affordability, the architecture and visual culture were the main selling points for me. Of course, the tourist-heavy spots have their beauty, but the local scene was just as impressive.

I visited gorgeous artistic spots like the Picasso Museum; Casa Batlló, a modernist building from the 18th century with splotches of colorful paint and oddly shaped windows; and Parque Güell, a park filled with mosaic benches, elaborately shaped caves and multiple gardens.

The view from the mosaic benches at Parque Güell. Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern.

The front of Casa Batlló. Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern.‌‌

I also visited attractions that showed off the city’s beauty while simultaneously teaching me about its history, such as the Casa de la Barceloneta 1761 — a history center located in the final architecturally untouched buildings of the Barceloneta neighborhood — and Museum of the History of Catalonia. The museum has a terrace that's free to enter and overlooks the Barcelona board-filled port and Monjuïc, a mountain peak covered in tall trees.

View from the terrace at the Museum of the History of Catalonia. Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern.

Getting around

Most importantly, I was only able to hit all of the Barcelona spots on my bucket list because of the city’s highly accessible transportation. While I was extremely nervous about transportation, it was one of the easiest aspects of the city to navigate.

The metro truly became my best friend. I went everywhere with it daily, unless I was going somewhere within walking distance from my hotel. Just like Chicago’s train system, Barcelona has various color-coded train lines that allow many opportunities for transfers and run in virtually every direction. I only paid for a single car service in the week I spent in Barcelona!

If you’re on the fence about the Barcelona JOURneys trip, I recommend evaluating the costs and class requirements of the course, but, it is also worth noting that you will gain a ton of valuable experiences and insights by being in another country.

Simply through the cooking class offered in the program, you learn so much about Catalan and Spanish culture while being able to enjoy their delectable flavors.

The Barcelona JOURneys class is a great way to dip your toes into the world of travel journalism and fall head over heels for it like I did.