I Did It (And So Can You!) Thoughts From Lisbon.

Posted on December 9, 2011

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If you’re bored with me being in Lisbon, it ends tonight. When I was with Erin, I learned of a new concept I’d never heard of before – counting down the “sleeps.”

I have six more sleeps until I’m home, and I’m about to go backpacking gangbusters through Spain. Nevermind the fact I just spent seven days in Lisbon, starting tomorrow night, one night each, the mission is to find out who wins the “Best Christmas Lights in Spain” award. Madrid, Seville, Cordoba and Grenada – last stop Barcelona.

I’ve been to Seville, Cordoba and Madrid before – this really is just a find the best holiday display mission. Whether any other real sightseeing gets done is irrelevant and bonus at this point.

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Today, I asked for one of each. Today, I got a box.

A few friends have asked for backpacking details and logistics of the trip, wondering if I’d share and yes – yes, I will, please go backpack yourself and report back. The biggest questions I get are “How?” and “What made you decide to do it- weren’t you scared?”

The two most common reasons, and very real, important, reasons people don’t do it are financial and fear, two I don’t mind addressing in the broad, blog forum.

Financial

It’s all about balance and finding what works for you, what is worth it to you and at the end of the day, what makes you happy. People absolutely could do their trip in a very different style than me, but by any real law of averages, give-and-takes, I think my cost is pretty low-to-normal.

I don’t cook spaghetti at the hostel every night for pennies, but then again, I never did a pub crawl.

No to most museum fees, yes to most castles, yes to every public park.

No to most public transportation, yes to walking, yes to coffee.

I’ve had my share of very good, little European coffees, but I embrace being the American jerk with the vat-sized coffee you can only get at McDonald’s or Starbucks over here. I’ve done my share of both versions – I like being awake. My grande latte + 7km walk home from Belem today cost me 2.80€.

The bus ticket would have been 2.85€.

Yes to top-rated hostels, yes to “Hello winter, hello secondhand clothes shopping.”

No to souvenirs, but I didn’t panic when I had to drop a day’s budget on a new iPad charger.

You get it.

I keep thinking I need to go back to school, pursue a Master’s degree, be writing papers in a coffee shop… Learn more, learn more, learn more. In the process, potentially sink myself into $50,000-$150,000 in debt depending on the years and programs.

I’ve learned more in four months than in four years of college…

Including roundtrip airfare from Southern California to Barcelona, a 3-month consecutive Eurail pass (used approximately 60 times through 16 of the 22 countries it is valid in), room, food and sightseeing, the grand total of this trip will come in at $10,500, and I have the stories, photos and experiences to own for life.

Worth it? Yes. Do it again? Well, I’d rather take out loans for this than school…

Fear

“Have you seen Taken?” I’m not sure if I or my parents heard that line more.

Most people are good. Like home, some aren’t, and like home, you have to be careful. Most people are good. The buildings and houses in Lisbon can be old and tattered looking from the exterior, but you can bet there aren’t cavemen living in them. You hear holiday music, televisions blasting and language barrier or not, if you had to yell “Help!” you can bet someone would probably be wise enough to come check outside.

The backpacking part – the “foreign” part – does not have to be scary. It’s as fun as you make it and only as fun as you are open-minded.

That said, it’s a lot of focus, awareness and pressure to be alert at all times, and not just from pick -pocketers and travel related dangers. It’s the awareness that you, alone, are very, very far away from anyone that knows you, and accidents happen.

Tonight, I was walking home after dark down an empty little Lisbon side street. I’d passed a slow-walking older woman on the sidewalk with what I thought was plenty of space, but I heard her tsk and grumble, angry at me. A few minutes later, I stopped to take a picture. My camera lens froze up and the process took me longer than I expected. The older woman got ahead of me again.

Rather than briskly pass her again, I figured I’d just cross over to the other side.

Absentmindedly, I stepped directly in front of a car coming quickly downhill. Headlights blasting, horn blaring… Closest call of my life. One of those “had the car been ten feet closer” moments. I jumped back on the sidewalk with a “IMSORRYIMSORRYIMSORRY” and there were a lot of people around to have been disturbed by the commotion and were looking.

Yeah, it shook me up. It was an airhead moment, and I was spooked and embarrassed.

You’re not going to be perfect. You can’t possibly maintain focus at every single second. You’re going to get distracted, you’re going to want to cross the street to not disturb the little old lady… And the same exact simple slip-up, 100% accident could have landed you in traction (or worse) at home.

Except you’re not home, you’re on a dark little side street in Lisbon, Portugal.

Scary? Yes. Does it make me relieved I’m going home in five days? It did at the time. But would I do this all, alone, again? Of course.

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I took the bus to Belem and walked the route back. I took a different turn up to get home, about a kilometer earlier than the route I knew to see more. I got really lost. It was a good time.

I ended up at a park that looked like this…

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Next to a building that looked like this…

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With a display that looked like this.

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I found this building…

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And right next to it, Occupy Lisbon.

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Flashback to Krakow, Poland, if you remember: I’d left the hostel just as the rest of the guests were going on a pub crawl. I thought I was being lame but ended up with a group watching a guy perform in the main square. He turned out to be from Michigan and the entire group went to a local bar afterward. The next day, Charles took me to the best crepe place in Krakow, we chatted about travels and life and ended the day with the best ice cream cones in town.

Turns out we have the same birthday! Even cooler, he just made a music video. Here’s my friend I bounced down the streets of Krakow, Poland with, sharing a pair of iPod headphones listening to traditional Polish music… and then Eminem… with – one of many surprises of this trip.

All for today. From Spain, tomorrow…

They just happened to walk by as I took this.

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