October 6: Err on the side of over-preparation (and don’t drink port on an empty stomach).

Today I showed up at 8am for a port winery tour of the Douro Valley. It included a two hour bus ride to wine country, a visit to two wineries, lunch, and a river cruise. I must have read “lunch” and thought “breakfast” because I showed up with an empty stomach to a flight of three heavy poured glasses of port (16% alcohol!!!) ready for my enjoyment at 10:30am. Over the next hour, my appetite decreased while my conversation increased. I met a couple who were planning to run in the Lisbon marathon together, a father-daughter duo backpacking Europe, and a newlywed couple. We were all from different countries, and of different ages, yet conversation flowed. At the beginning of our next stop we (finally) ate and of course had more port. Overall my first Portuguese excursion was a success, but I’m carrying a “for emergency use only” granola bar in my fanny pack moving forward just in case.

Lesson: Whether it’s a port winery tour or a client meeting, coming over-prepared to a new situation is safer than coming in under-prepared and risk feeling uncomfortable or appearing unprofessional. The extra time it may take beforehand for prep work is worth it in the long run.

October 12: A rest and recharge (with the occasional hotel splurge) is crucial.

I got to Aveiro a few days ago, which is considered the Venice of Portugal because there are boat canals throughout the small town. The streets are lined with brightly painted or tiled houses and it feels more local and slower than Porto. I’ve been staying in hostels since arriving in Portugal because they’re more economical and I wanted the social exposure as a solo traveler, but I decided to try out a hotel here. Finally having the space to rest allowed me to see how drained my mental, physical, and social battery had become. After several nights of good sleep and a socially unacceptable amount of reality television later (Geordie Shore is a must), I started waking up and actually feeling recharged. I still plan to stay in hostels as my journey continues, but I think I’ll treat myself to hotels more frequently too—I need it!

Lesson: Maintaining a go-go-go lifestyle or work ethic 24/7 is not sustainable. A rest and recharge is crucial for productivity and regaining the strategic and creative energy you need to perform to the best of your ability. It’s important to make time for you.

October 21: Find sunshine in the situation (and test your rain jacket).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this country it’s that you can’t trust the weather. I swear I experience the four seasons every day and in return go through an emotional rollercoaster every day. The funniest part is I packed a rain jacket for this trip—a lightweight zip-up—but figured out early on that it must actually be a windbreaker. It’s completely permeable and the several layers I’m wearing underneath ultimately end up soaked. Facepalm. So, if the fanny pack around my waist doesn’t give me away as a full tourist, running from overhang to overhang during a thunderstorm certainly does. This stop-and-go sprint actually happened today in Lisbon and I found myself staring at my reflection in the window of a shop. I looked like a scuba diver in all black with the drawstrings of my hood tied so all I could see of my face was a perfect circle from the top of my eyebrow to the top of my lip. I couldn’t help but slowly start laughing out loud and think, “Wow, I’m really out here doin’ it.” And, like clockwork, the sun started shining again.

Lesson: When something goes wrong in life or on an assignment, it’s easy to focus on the negativity of the moment and situation. But the best thing to do is take a step back and find the positivity in what’s happening to re-enter with a new perspective. There’s always a silver lining, sometimes you just have to look harder to find it.

November 3: Recognize the journey (and enjoy the sunset).

I got to Lagos a few days ago and I think I’m in love. I booked a place here before I even left for Portugal because it looked like a perfect balance of quaint beach town with coffee shops and gorgeous coastal land with white sand beaches, and I had a gut feeling I needed to go. I think the universe agrees because tonight a spectacular sunset with pink and golden hues came across the sky. I haven’t seen a good sunset since my second night in Porto, which of course I also took as a good sign, so this felt important. I did my best to mentally sit in the moment and reflect on what brought me to this point and all that I’ve learned about myself between sunsets. Here’s what that list entailed:

  • I’m stronger and more resourceful than I realized
  • When a challenge arises, I’m solution oriented
  • I like to have a general itinerary going into a new city, but nothing that I’m tied to
  • I can find commonalities in people that I may not have expected
  • I’m learning my personal limits and how I travel best
  • I can do hard things!!!

Lesson: It’s normal to get to the end of an adventure or project and want to mentally file it away as complete. But taking the time to reflect on the journey may be as important as getting to the finish line. It allows you to recognize all that you’ve accomplished along the way and find learning lessons for next time.

Did I need to go to Portugal to figure all this out? Maybe not. Do I plan to apply this newfound knowledge and strength in real life? Absolutely. I was listening to the podcast Smartless with guest speaker Jessica Chastain the other day and Jason Bateman said something that summed up my experience well. “You shouldn’t be nervous about the fact that you’re not feeling the confidence to run into the situation because the confidence lives on the backside of the accomplishment… that’s what I’m going to earn.”