Travelling solo can be quite an intimidating experience because self-doubt can creep in to try to dissuade you from leaving the comforts of home to explore the world. After months of obsessing about whether I could do it or not, I took a deep breath, pulled the trigger and booked my ticket.
The brutal winter of polar vortexes and ice storms, led me to believe that summer 2014 was going to be less than satisfactory. Given my limited time, I wanted to see as many places within reason and settled on Portugal. I figured that I had never been to Europe, heard that there were some sweet surf spots and that it was a small enough country to get around.
The infrastructure was amazing, there were English speakers around and if I was really in a jam, my broken Spanish helped me get by.
Lisboa is a decent sized city with beautiful architecture, charming cafes, cobblestone streets and friendly people. It was easy to maneuver and the best advice I got was to walk around and get lost. It wasn’t difficult to find my way back to my hostel. If you are thinking about just day trips, I’d recommend using Lisboa as a base should you want to visit Belem, Cascais and Sintra.
Belem was a short train ride (20 mins) and is known for its “Country’s Best Pasteis de Nata.” The tasty baked custard tarts are a nice snack between touring the museums and cathedrals.
Cascais was a beach town but unnecessarily expensive. I have never been to California, but apparently the town had a similar style to their beach towns. The little beaches in town weren’t all that great as they looked quite small and man-made. However, I went out to Guincho Beach to surf, and that was a solid place. Sand was soft between my toes, winds were strong, currents were tough but it was great afternoon surf sesh.
Sintra was truly a magical place, the little girl in me was in complete awe of the beautiful castles in the sky. It was quite apparent why writers, composers and artists drew inspiration from the gorgeous Sintran landscape. If you don’t have much time, spend your time at Quinta da Regaleira with the beautiful gardens, passage ways and waterfalls.
The tail-end of my trip to Lagos was my absolute favourite. From what I recall, it was about 4 hours from Lisboa with a transfer in Tunes. The train getting into Lagos was a hot tin can with no a/c and pretty sure we all thought we’d pass out from the heat. Other than that, Lagos was an amazing beach town where I met two friends who I am still in touch with today. The Algarve is a place that you just need to visit to fully appreciate its serenity and beauty. Make sure you grab some snacks and water before you hit the beach, and you can relax under the umbrella (rent it, trust me) until high tide. My surf session at a nearby beach was pretty good too and look forward to returning with my GoPro!
Backpacking Portugal felt like a dream and to be honest, I didn’t want leave. It was the perfect place to travel and it finally dawned on me that my fear of solo travel wasn’t about the places unknown. It was about feeling vulnerable because I was alone. Through solo travel, I learned that you’re never actually alone because you will always meet people along the way. In my experience, solo travellers seem to gravitate to one another and you get to share some pretty cool memories with new friends.
For your first trip, I would recommend that you find a place that will align with your interests which allow you to explore different areas, a communication level that you are comfortable with and access to the comforts of home (should you really need it).