I am home, sleep-deprived and on some crazy schedule that had me awake last night from 1:22 on. (Should be just about time for my afternoon snooze!) I am inspired (maybe that’s a little lofty) to write down some thoughts about the trip, under the guise of “what I learned.”
I should hope I learned a lot! After all, what is travel for if it doesn’t stretch your mind and expand your horizons?
In no specific order, these are my thoughts:
- Advanced preparation pays off. I have only failed to research a place I was going on one major trip, and that disaster taught me to always read up, get the guides, talk to friends, etc. Mentioning it here is just a confirmation of something I have already proved to myself time and again. You will enjoy yourself much more if you prepare.
- Learn a few words and phrases of the languages you will hear. There is no easier way to make a friend that to attempt to speak their language. This particular trip was Spain and Portugal. I do speak Spanish, but I also spent time and money, to learn some Portuguese. (My case is a bit different, because I love languages and had already started learning Portuguese before my first trip to Portugal seven years ago. This time I put more effort into it and even bought an audio course. You don’t have to go that far.) But Portugal, more than any other place I have traveled rewards that effort big time. Yes, almost all the Portuguese speak really good English. It isn’t for communicating that you learn those phrases – it is for opening a door to friendship. My rudimentary skills never failed to earn me a smile of goodwill and a better experience with cab driver, waiter, shopkeeper, “man on the street”. There are many good reasons to learn a language, and here is not the place to discuss them all, but trust me … even badly pronounced but in good faith, your effort will reap smiles.
- You will always over pack. Why is this so hard to do? I, who pride myself on living out of a single carry-on for three weeks, always come home with clothes I never wore or that I forced myself to wear just so I wouldn’t have to admit that I could have left them home. This trip I took a third pair of shoes (I think 2 is the ideal number), but I misplaced them during the trip (packed them in a part of my suitcase I never open for some strange reason), and thinking I had lost them, just shrugged it off. Two were enough.
No, I was not a fashion paradigm, but I never am even with a closet full of clothes at home. My biggest motivator is always the thought of filling my suitcase with things I buy in my travels. So, next trip, I am going to cull even farther. I travel with a special wardrobe of hand-washable, quick drying clothes. They are also thin, so that packed there is no bulk…think washable silk. I have pants, blouses, skirt, shirts, and underwear that all fall in this category. I only wear them when I travel so I don’t get sick of them between trips. Pulling them out to pack is like having new clothes again! I am careful with colors and the mix-and-match possibilities. This trip included a river cruise, so there were some challenges. All my fellow sailor-ettes had myriad outfits to wear, while I was womanfully switching it up each evening to convince (at least myself) that I wasn’t showing up in the same thing every night! And minus that third pair of shoes … Paparazzi were not flocking to document my fashion choices, but I don’t think I embarrassed myself either (maybe?).
- I did not miss Facebook. Some time ago, I took Facebook off my phone, which is my main entertainment device when I travel. I was getting news via my New York Times app and others, but the break from Facebook allowed me to focus more on the world around me, and on the people in my current place, than focus on friends and acquaintances at home and especially US politics. That greatly contributed to the feeling of relaxation I got on this trip, which also meant I enjoyed it more.
- The current US political situation is embarrassing to us as a nation, but most people understand that it isn’t the average US citizen who is the problem. That second part was quite a relief. But I got the feeling that everyone I talked to (Spanish, Portuguese, Aussies, Brits, Mexicans – mostly on the cruise) are, like I am, just holding our breaths and waiting for it to be over, hopefully without a major catastrophe like a nuclear war with North Korea. (That last part echoes my thoughts, but are not my words! Those were the words of a 27-year old Portuguese man I sat next to on the plane between Lisbon and Milwaukee.)
I also tried some wardrobe changes that worked out well.
- I bought a new jacket for this trip. It is a ScotteVest, specially designed for travel. I really loved it. It enabled me to put all those little essentials like wallet, passport, sunglasses, nail file (yes, I always carry one!), cellphone, Kleenex, headphones, second cellphone (yeah, I know…) in the specially designed pockets of my jacket. Voila! No purse! It also meant that I took a much smaller back-pack. I need a place to put my camera and my extra camera stuff when I am out touring each day.
My regular backpack is way too big to carry daily. I have been struggling with this issue for a few years. I sort of solved it by getting a backpack that looks like a purse, but that was yet another thing to pack, since a backpack and one carry-on is my luggage allowance…The jacket worked well for me. All the pockets for my “purse items” meant a smaller backpack was feasible for camera and computer.
And, since I could remove the sleeves from my jacket, it worked even when the weather got warm. In it, I had permanent homes for my “little stuff” and did not risk losing them by having to move them between bags.
The jacket is also convenient for the airplane – keeps me warm enough and I have all my necessities right at hand. My carry-ons can be stowed and I have more room during the flight. It also has a pocket big enough for a Kindle or an i-Pad, which I used for my Michelin Green Guides and my umbrella.
- I also bought a new pair of walking shoes. This trip did not include a specific walking or hiking portion, so I felt my hiking boots would be a bit of overkill. I have never (and hope to say that on my deathbed) used athletic shoes for travel. I needed a pair of shoes that were comfortable for walking all day on cement and cobblestones, looked good with my pants and could be worn with a skirt (Remember the missing shoes? They were a concession to the skirt.) I bought a pair of Munro shoes, named aptly “Travelers.” They were great! They were also cheap, but since I will wear them for years, they will earn their higher price tag (fingers crossed!).
- Another change I made to the travel wardrobe was a pair of “fashion” jeans. Because they are 100% cotton, they were super comfortable for those long flights, and I don’t need to tell you how well denim hides dirt. One of the reasons I don’t travel with jeans is the bulk. Though these were lightweight denim, I solved the bulk issue by wearing them during the portions of the trip where I needed extra room in the suitcase. On this trip, washing and air-drying them was not a problem, especially on the cruise. This may become a permanent change. Jeans go with pretty much everything, and are appropriate for most occasions.
So, besides learning all about the Douro Valley and port wine, the growing and harvesting of cork, some Portuguese history and the beauties of the northern coast of Spain, I would say it was a very good trip! . I had a great time, saw new places, met new friends and learned some things I can use on future travels!