When I was 8 years old I became obsessed with traveling. So obsessed that my grandma gave me all of her leftover euros, pounds and other types of currency from her travels. The euros, from her trip to Portugal, were my favorite. I stored them in a little Ziploc baggie and carried them around with me everywhere.
Fast-forward 15 years, a few trips with family and friends later, and there I was, sitting in my bed, booking a trip to Portugal....by myself.
I landed full of hope, excitement and such relief that I would no longer be housing my neighbor’s elbow between my ribs. (Seriously, if you ever wonder what makes calm, cool and collective Shauna lose her temper is a 7+ hour flight with a large man’s elbow in my ribs the entire time.)
Going through customs was a breeze, and I quickly made my way to the taxi line. Once I got into the cab I realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as planned.
“Oi,” I said to the driver. He replied with under his breath and grunted “oi” back. I showed him the address, to which he said “I have to call,” and called a fellow driver for directions. I noticed by the signs that we weren’t headed to Bairro Alto, but I trusted his directions anyway--mostly because I just witnessed him get yelled at by a passing car at a stoplight for using a vulgar term towards the driver’s passenger, a woman.
He dropped me off at a yellow building on the corner of Rua São Caetanos. I texted the code for the door to open and received a text message back saying “the front door is now open.” Except for...it wasn’t. I walked over to a construction worker, showing him the address and asking him if he spoke English, “nao” he replied, but he verified that I was at the correct address.
I texted the code again and again, but the front door wouldn’t open. I tried multiple times until ringing the 3rd-floor buzzer, to which an elderly woman poked her head out of the window above her drying laundry.
“Oi!” I said and tried to explain to her my situation. It was then I realized I overestimated how many people spoke English in Lisbon, or at least, the part I was in. Somehow we communicated enough for me to learn that I was at the wrong address. I connected to WiFi, I still don’t know how it worked and tried to request an Uber to the right address.
“Uber is not available for pick up in your area.” “Good,” I said back at the app like it was somehow going to respond apologetically.
I pulled up my Maps, still thanking the universe that my WiFi was somehow working, and found that my Airbnb (on Rua Dos Caetanos) was only a 30-minute walk away. “Oh, easy,” I thought with a massive amount of relief.
As I walked the entirely uphill 30-minute walk to my apartment, with my overly loaded backpack bringing muscle aches to my shoulders, I felt calm, excited and very sweaty.
When I made it to the apartment, I let out yet another sigh of relief and texted the code for the door to open.
“The front door is now open.” Except for...again, it wasn’t. It was similar to a routine at this point. I tried texting the code multiple times, rang every buzzer in the building, then tried to connect to WiFi again...but this time my WiFi didn’t connect. I walked over to the music school and kindly asked the woman working if she knew anyone in the building.
“Não entendo!” She didn’t speak a single word of English. Luckily, through my rusty 5-word vocabulary of Portuguese and embarrassing hand gestures, I convinced her to call my Airbnb host’s number for me. When the phone buzzed saying his phone was out of service, I began to panic. I then asked her to call the other number he offered on his email, his mother’s. An answer! I explained to my host’s mother what had happened and she explained to me that someone unplugged the WiFi, which controlled the door-code situation. She was coming, but she was 30 minutes out of town. No problem! I thanked the Portuguese woman over and over again, and then (I later realized) told her “Bye! Good morning!” Instead of “have a good evening.” No wonder she kept laughing.
I sat outside the Airbnb waiting for his mother to come by, with about 30% phone battery left. 30 minutes came and went. “Traffic,” I thought. “It’s a weekday.” 45 minutes came and went. My hands were starting to tremble. 1 hour and 15 minutes later a glamorous looking woman is bouncing across the street, “Sorry! Sorry!” she said, and I almost leapt into her arms and gave her a hug.
After she showed me the way in, plugged in the WiFi, and gave me the keys, I found my calm again. I took it easy the remainder of the day, and walked out for dinner at a small health-conscious cafe called Nicolau Lisboa. Avocado toast, water and a few weird looks later (for reading a Country Living magazine in Portugal) I made my way back to the apartment to rest up for an exciting day up ahead. (Mind you, I stayed beside a bar and didn’t sleep until they closed at 3 a.m.)
Day 2 and 3:
I woke up at 1 pm, annoyed at myself but feeling rested and excited for an (almost) full day of adventure. I wandered to Tease Coffee Shop, sat and pondered while drinking a Galão.
I spent the rest of the day wandering, taking photos, somehow finding the coast (I tend to do that wherever I go), and staying at Portas Do Sol longer than anticipated to really drink in the view. I even snagged a table outside for a solo dinner. Perks of eating out alone: you get the whole bread plate to yourself. Score.
I went to sleep, feeling full, and a bit anxious.
When I woke up the next day I decided I would head back to the cafe for brunch. What I found instead was a line. As I made my way back through the area, I took a seat at a crowded restaurant and ordered a galão and pastel de nata, which was even better than I imagined.
I wandered a little more, got hassled a few times, and made my way back to apartment for the evening. That’s when the intense anxiety set in. I was all of the sudden filled with “what ifs” about the next day. What if I can’t get to the airport? What if I miss my flight? What if I go to the wrong airport?
I drifted in and out of sleep, feeling the anxiety waking me every so often.
Luckily, the day went (relatively) smooth, and as I boarded to head back to NYC I was overwhelmed with how much I worried about the “what ifs.” So what if I missed my flight? Sure I’d lose a bit of money, but I was just lucky enough to travel to Portugal and see somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since I was 8 years old. That’s when I realized, life is more than the “what ifs.”
So, if you’re looking to travel to a different country alone, this is a sign for you to do it. Trust me, you won’t regret it. And if you do, I beg of you…please, please mail me a pastel de nata.
Until the next adventure, tchau!