“What do you mean you’re going to Portugal for your birthday?” I asked my little brother, who had just announced he had bought a ticket.
This question was redundant, of course. I knew full well what he meant. So I asked another, more relevant question instead.
“Can I come?”
Now I am a woman with diagnosable FOMO (fear of missing out). Though I didn’t want to impede on my brother’s venture, I desperately wanted to see a new place. I tried to find the line between being included and being intrusive.
His birthday fell on a Tuesday. I figured I could leave work on Friday and head straight to the airport, then boogie on home right after cake.
This is how I ended up going to Portugal essentially for the weekend.
Now international travel isn’t typically regarded as a weekend trip. The ticket I could afford had me flying through Germany. Munich on the way there, Frankfurt on the way back. I was to spend almost as much time traveling as I would get at my destination. I would be traveling solo both ways.
I had only taken an international flight by myself once before. I was twenty-three and terrified. I had projected this big image of myself as a fearless world traveler, and I was paralyzed by the thought of living up to it. That flight was from Chicago to Reykjavik, where I had a full-day layover.
I had told everyone who would listen about this Icelandic layover being an exciting bonus day of solo travel. I had traveled alone domestically but never abroad. When I arrived in Iceland, it took me two hours to work up the courage to walk through passport control. I’ve come a long way since then.
When I arrived in Portugal, Max greeted me as casually as if I had come over to borrow a cup of sugar. He was characteristically relaxed and spoke full sentences in Portuguese. It felt like he had lived there a long time. Like he had told his Portuguese coworkers he couldn’t hang out this weekend since his sister was coming to town and he had to show her around. He had only been there two days.
The town is the magical little place of Ericeira, a coastal town about forty minutes northwest of Lisbon. The palm trees and relaxed attitudes give the place an island-y sort of feel. Though the cobblestone streets, brick-colored rooftops and clothes hanging out to dry on every balcony make it quintessentially European.
Unsurprisingly, Ericeira is known as the surfing capital of Europe.
The locals are quite nice (and, if I may, generally quite nice-looking). On the rare occasion when you can’t directly see the ocean, the smell of fresh seafood wafting from every restaurant front makes it impossible to forget you are on the coast.
Max was born on March 21st, which is the first day of Spring.
His birthday is to me what writer Katherine May so eloquently calls “the turning of the year.” Though May is referring to the winter solstice, it’s the equinox where I find solace. I haven’t been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (known by its accurate acronym, SAD), but it sure resonates. Spring is a reprieve, an exhale. I joke that the Romans made February the shortest month because it’s the hardest to get through; they must have been trying to contain the dang thing. Let this winter end already. Let the sun come back.
I appreciate seasonality at large, the contrast of winter snow and summer sun. But I find Spring and Fall to be the most sacred, the time of transition between two extremes. The intoxicating wildness of Mother Nature in full swing.
Transition, it turns out, was the theme of my trip. Portugal allowed me to process a personal shift, a career change.
I recently retired from professional musical theater. Distancing myself from the industry was enlightening. My new job, working in marketing for Sherpani, has been a joy. Transition was afoot, floating around on the Portuguese breeze.
There was simply no better place to undergo my metamorphosis than on the deck of that AirB&B, which is why I’m not ashamed to admit that I hardly left it. There was even a point when I walked out the front door and, after fooling myself for a couple of blocks, turned right around and headed back to my deck.
I spent those hours in dumbstruck awe of our ocean view. It was three stories up, only a pane of glass between me and the seaspray. The vast Atlantic stretched to the horizon. As a Colorado girl, the ocean is a radical concept to me. The fact that you can see water up to the horizon and the knowledge that after, it just keeps on going.
I read. I meditated. I did a little yoga. Every morning I ate pastries from the bakery down the street. I listened to music and waves. I sipped coffee and wine. I shared belly laughs with my brother.
I was grateful to have packed both a bikini and a sweater. As the Spring weather danced between coastal wind and still sunshine, I got a lot of use from both.
I was there for three full days and a bonus evening from the day I arrived. It was enough time. This statement is only true with the parallel understanding that vacations are never long enough anyway. I only mean that my long weekend abroad was well worth every mile and every dollar. I’d do it again next week.
Besides, going to Europe for the weekend seemed funny. Not as funny as the time my friend Lexi and I bought tickets to Shanghai for the same amount of time. “China for the weekend” was as hilarious to us as it was insane to our peers. We didn’t go (Covid), but the willingness was there. There is always a surprising amount of opportunity when the willingness is there.
Max and I walked all over Ericeira. We even ventured into Lisbon and played proper tourist for a day. My favorite hours, though, were unquestionably spent on that deck. It may sound silly, but those hours couldn’t have happened elsewhere. A seaside getaway in my own country just wouldn’t have done the trick. I needed distance. I needed that ocean view from that deck; only then could I embrace the changes taking place around and within.
The flight home from Frankfurt to Denver was just shy of eleven hours. It was the second longest I had taken in my life. It was tough, but it was worth it. I caught a stunning glimpse of Greenland as we flew over. And how I ask, had I gone my whole life without seeing Thelma and Louise?
My gratitude runs deep for this whole experience. Allow me to honor it with some specificity.
I am grateful…
…to have international travel back in my life for the first time since the pandemic.
…for my siblings, especially the one who followed a Portuguese whim across the ocean and graciously allowed me to follow.
…to myself for asking if I could come in the first place. I really should ask for the things that I want more often.
…to have been introduced to a town that will live in my heart for the rest of my life.
…for deck downtime with a view.
…to have reinforced a valuable lesson: just go. Even if the flight is long, the timing is bad, or the duration is less than ideal. Even if you’re scared and it takes you two hours to work up the courage to leave the airport.
I trust my willingness and spirit to take me on many more adventures in this lifetime. They are out there, on the horizon, I have the potential to just keep on going.
Sherpani Team MemberThe above post is part of an ongoing segment of the Sherpani Travel Blog. We want to highlight personal travel stories from the women in our community. Would you like to share your travel story with Sherpani? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We can’t wait to read about your adventure!