“Travel is rich with learning opportunities and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective.”
I rolled my red carry-on up the steps into the house after our two-week vacation in Portugal and Barcelona. I walked through the house, opening up doors and windows to clear out the stale air, plopped the suitcase on the bed and promptly unpacked. Dirty clothes in the hamper, shoes in the closet, toiletries in the bathroom, and the suitcase put away ready for the next trip. Years of travel and my return ritual hasn’t changed much. Tired but hyped up from the long flight, I always believe using energy when it shows up.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, words flowed into my journal as I reflected on the past two weeks. I have every intention of writing while on vacation, but it rarely happens.
We had a great trip. Advance planning paid off—the places we stayed were better than expected, the tours were interesting, our friends in Barcelona were funas always, and we had no unpleasant surprises.
I realized a few things on this trip.
1. No more driving in a foreign country.
We rented a car outside Lisbon and drove throughout the country for 10 days. The upsides of having our own car included independence from train schedules, and we could explore those charming country roads and towns more easily. We had no major issues, but the stress of driving a rental car on unfamiliar roads; the high cost of gas; endless, expensive toll roads, parking in cramped city garages and unfamiliar towns; and those narrow streets (pulling in side mirrors to avoid walls is real and scary!)–all of these outweighed the benefits! Even with GPS, we got lost more than once. I don’t know how I ever managed with just a map!
I always though of myself as comfortable driving in any country, but that’s not true for me any longer.
My big lesson: Some things I thought were so important just aren’t worth it anymore, so let them go.
2. Decision fatigue is real.
The pre-trip planning decisions, followed by making many choices every day, as well as non-routine activities in unfamiliar places all lead to fatigue. The steps I took took to avoid this fatigue paid off.
While planning our trip, I asked friends who’d been to Portugal what I should see and they shared several good ideas. One friend suggested we stay in thebeautiful Hotel Palace Bussaco in the Portugal countryside, built for the country’s last king. It was one of the highlights of our trip—a step back to a time of majestic splendor.
I also worked with a wonderful travel advisor who suggested and booked several hotels and activities beyond what I’d already done. She brought us some amazing new ideas which added positively to our trip.
Years ago, I loved to spend hours planning trips, I was exhilarated with the new and different. Today, I still enjoy new and different, but in much smaller quantities. I want them to be a spice in my life, not a regular diet.
My big lesson: I don’t want to spend hours deciding–it’s exhausting. Better to learn from (and pay for) others’ experiences and knowledge—it is definitely worth it.
3. Space is needed between activities.
Claude DeBussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes”. This applies equally to travel and to life. Far too often, rookie travelers attempt to pack as much as possible in each day to make sure they don’t miss anything.
I’ve learned over the years to appreciate the simple, unplanned, open days of travel where we allow the day to unfold and the country to show up to us in its own way in its own time. Enjoying a cup of coffee in an outdoor cafe in the morning or sitting with a glass of wine on the town square while people pass by allowed us to pause and appreciate the silent moments between the doing.
My big lesson: It is in the quiet moments of simple unplanned days where the magic shows up.
Interesting, the highlights of the trip weren’t the places we visited, but how I experienced them.
My reflections included the people we met along the way, the new foods and wines we tried, and several surprising, and unexpected moments.
As far as souvenirs, other than a couple little treats for my grandkids, my souvenirs were what I realized from my experiences and the broader perspective I gained about life. Priceless.