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

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.

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.


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…


“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.





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…


Next to a building that looked like this…


With a display that looked like this.


I found this building…


And right next to it, Occupy Lisbon.


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.



104 thoughts on “I Did It (And So Can You!) Thoughts From Lisbon.

  1. Interesting post and I can’t fault your logic with travel versus loan debt. There is lots of pressure to learn from books but I agree that you can learn so much more, although less tangible, from travelling in foreign countries.
    I think what you’ve done is awesome.

  2. Beautifully written post, with lovely pics. For me this line “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.” is best. So true and thoughtful. Congrats being freshly pressed. You deserve it for sure. 🙂

  3. I love your wandering, stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Europe is amazing. I take groups of high school students to Europe every other year, and I love writing about my experiences. Enjoy the rest of your stay!

  4. Well done. God do i wish that, for only a day mind you, i had taken a corporate (funded) path, so that i might go and see the world as you are. My jealousy could write novels about it’s hatred of you at this moment 🙂

  5. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

    This is an experience I hope to have someday and it’s always nice to hear good reviews. I actually worked night shifts at IHOP for two years trying to save money for a trip after high school but alas, the tips combined with my 2.13/hr didn’t quite add up like I thought they would. I’m glad you got the chance do something extraordinary. I look forward to hearing more about your travels!

  6. Nice Post. I loved the coffee part. I once made a Moroccan Casbah Batista pour 10 demi
    size drips into a one big cup just for the biggie coffee feeling.

  7. I just love everything about this post, Janae. Especially the tire display, and that last photo. I’m going to go back and read about all of your adventures now. 🙂

  8. Great post. It looks like you are having the trip of a lifetime! I went to Lisbon on my honeymoon last year. My husband and I found ourselves in that same park with that same beautiful tree. Reading your post brought back such wonderful memories 🙂

  9. Nice post! Found it linked from the WP main site and the title caught my attention.

    Like you, I also like travelling and studying. What I’ve done is combine the two. Most universities in Europe have graduate programs that are taught in English, and depending on the country, tuition can be very cheap or even free (even for international students). My tuition is free and I travel whenever I can. Next month I’m going to Copenhagen, Munich, and Rome. 🙂

  10. Yeah, so I’m definitely in the depths of student loans, but decided to study in Europe to fit in both worlds. Thanks for the money tips. Completely agree with you about coffee matters. Sometimes, ya just need a Venti.:)

  11. This is brilliant. I’m gathering my pennies for a backpacking trip myself right now…working toward $6500 for 2 months, but I like your idea of twice as long for only $4000 more…just how hard can I save these pennies!

    • Once you have transportation paid for, adding time to your trip is proportionately less saving (I did $50-70 a day, but in Eastern Europe, $35 max!) You’ll be paying for roundtrip flights either way, backpack either way… let me know if you need any more thoughts! I hope you have a great trip!

  12. Amazing post.
    Like you I love traveling. And think that the experience is worth every penny. The focus part is so true. When you are traveling you live for the moment, you are alert aout your surrouding that you live exactly in the present moment, which makes it even more enjoyable.
    Please keep sharing and traveling 😀

  13. My favorite part of traveling in Europe is the people. I can see beautiful scenery anywhere. I like meeting people. Once, on my my to Nuremberg, Germany, we met a female college student on the train. She spoke English and was very nice. We talked for two hours, then once we arrived at the station, she offered to show us around town.
    After a short tour, we bought her dinner at a local restaurant and she was on her way.

  14. Nice post, nice pics. When I was a kid my widowed mother borrowed money each summer to take us traveling in an old VW bus. She took seven kids to the 49 states you could drive to. Then (this will date me) our friends five doors down got the choice to go on a trip to the Western US or get their first color TV. “Take the trip!” we urged them. They went for the TV. Poor choices! But you will have your adventures and your stories forever. I still thank my mother for the gift of travel. We take our kids on international adventures every chance we get, and it has shaped who they are and given them a global view. Here’s wishing you safe travels and a lovely life. Something tells me you will have both!

    • Naomi, your comment is so nice. Thank you. My dad’s widowed mother took her five children traveling in an RV- very similar stories and sentiment! I believe she’s been to 49 states, as well.

    • Jane (Janae? I can’t tell what your name is!), I hope you don’t pay any attention to this odd response! Happy trails, and may you have many more wonderful trips!

      • Thanks Sarah! Hopefully I can keep up the traveling and change Orlando’s mind. I’m only 22- there will be plenty of time to “get serious” 🙂 -Janae

  15. If you are still in Lisbon try the Pastel da Balem, the pasterlaria shop with the line near Geranamo sells them. They are the most famous Pastel do Natas in Portugal. I lived there for awhile too. I recognize all the pictures and yes they brought back memroies . Sounds like you made the best of the experiance, thanks for the post.

  16. Great post! Definitely will add all the places you mentioned to my list of places to visit when I start travelling the world.

    I also liked the insights on the financial and fear matters, and I believe that’s true. However, I don’t think that applies to someone who has not yet got an undergraduate degree, because nowadays most jobs require a degree, and to travel the world you need money, which usually you get from having a job.


  17. “No to most public transportation, yes to walking, yes to coffee.” ~ this is a rule that I live by when I’m traveling. Great advice!

    Your photos are beautiful and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  18. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you… I’ve already done the college thing, plus grad school…. So I have quite a bit of student loans to pay off and no trip to Europe to look back on. Ha. Oh well. Maybe one day when I’m settled in my career I’ll be able to afford to go to Europe. Maybe? Anyway, thanks for the adventure! 🙂 Oh, and P.S, grad school is actually way better than undergrad for future reference. The debt, not so good. But the learning is far superior and much more direct to what you are interested in, so it is worth it! (Note that I feel this way 90% of the time. The other 10% is spent freaking out about student loans and cursing the day I stepped foot on a college campus. Are these messages conflicting to you? Haha.) But regardless, nothing beats real world experience! 😉

  19. Great recap of your experiences – isn’t it grand?! I backpacked through southeast Asia doing humanitarian aid with a group and it was worth every penny and moment. Memories for a lifetime! Kudos to a fellow back-packer!

  20. I found you through Freshly Pressed (congrats!) and LOVE your blog.
    Lisbon in June this year was my first travel-alone experience and I fell in love with the city, and have been back once already….it’s simply enchanting. Here’s what I thought about it (and travelling alone – I’m now addicted!):
    Go solo travellers!
    Oh, and I totally agree with you on the paying-to-travel over paying-for-college (I’m lucky I’ve been able to do both, although obviously wouldn’t have been able to in the U.S.A where college fees are extortion). My thoughts on that too:
    Have you heard of the “un-college” movement? That’s pretty much their point, and a good one, too, I think.
    Enjoy the last of your travels and don’t let the post-trip blues hit you too hard on your return!

  21. What a great post! I really agree with you, travelling the best value you can get for your money! Life education is just so important and for me, travelling is the best way to get it. You can learn so much through the different cultures and people you meet and see. Enjoy your time in Spain!

  22. One way to see a city cheaply: Get up very early on a Sunday morning (or whatever the holy day is in that country) and get on the city bus that stops nearest to your hotel. Just stay on the bus until it comes back to where you started. Early on weekend mornings, you’ll pretty much have the bus to yourself with good views all around as you pass through streets you would otherwise probably not get to.

  23. Did a big two month European backpacking tour with a week long stop in Lisbon as well. Did the walk back from Belem too, I missed the tram and didn’t feel like waiting so I just followed the tracks back into town.

    I heard so much talk about “Taken” throughout the hostels too, funny to hear it’s still an ongoing phenomenon.

    Lisbon is an amazing place, I’m so glad I visited.

    Great post.

  24. Lisbon is a beautiful city indeed. I made a driving trip, came in from Spain via the Algarve and then up to Porto and back down to Lisbon. Loved it.I have relatives in the Lisbon area, don’t think I could ever live there though.

  25. Beautiful city! And as you have said… I think the best part of being on your own is that you alone make the call how you want to spend the day and enjoy what you want to the most.
    I went to Kenya, and was asked the FEAR question alot… but as you said.. you got to stick to being careful. Thats all.

  26. Dear Janae (hopefully not inspired in Tarzan´s jungle fiancee?) Sorry, but your sort of sarcastic reply confirms my respecful (not odd) viewpoint and my right to comment your blog and question your so called ¨freedom¨ hidden behind-downloaded pictures (?). Hmmm. 22 years old? Hmmm. Too oldish already for running away from family and real life responsabilities. As times flies- and real fast, it is never wise to bubble that ¨being young¨ is an excuse to not get serious or settle down. Nice blog but indeed too much bologny and trivial CNN talk. I am an honest friend, I am not into the business of unemployed flattering nor lip service. Sorry for being a different perspective reader. May God bless you and give you wisdom to settle down someday. Hugs.

  27. Nice, pics. I’m looking forward to Lisbon in January now and glad I took the time in the British isles to extend my visa.
    Like you, I also go in for a coffee and the walking as much as possible. I’ve found that occasionally you need public transportation though – in Dublin and Heidelberg no, but in Paris if you’re short on time to see what you want to see it’s worth it. I am a bit of a hostel-kitchen money-saver though.

    Oh and if you’re too old for this, then I must be a complete failure at life after selling nearly everything I own to travel. Doing stuff like this teaches you things and can change your perspective on history, culture and other peoples. It’s an education and an adventure.

    • This comment made my day. Thanks for the support after the comment above! Travel is the best experience – so worth a little struggle on either end of the trip you have to go through. It’s living in the moment, not just settling to survive.

  28. This was a great read and a great listen. Couldn’t find a better city than Lisbon to get lost in. Glad you were FP’d- now I can share the rest of your travels and revisit Cordoba and Granada with you.

  29. Feels so nice hearing about my home town Lisboa, and how other people enjoy it… Makes me feel proud, also for the hostel’s part that you’re mentioning, as I myself am hosting travellers in one of them.

    I’m currently doing quite the opposite though, being on a journey around the world, hunting down some weird and wonderful stories!

    Say ‘hi’ to my home, and keep on “Lisboing”…

  30. Been to Spain and France, but not Portugal! Middle aged now, and hoping to travel more now that I’m retired. Just want to travel with a friend. I’m not big on being alone, in a strange landscape but I respect people who are brave enough to do it. Have a great life!

  31. Great post, Janae… It’s too bad that some people don’t have the passion to travel, they’re really isolating themselves by ‘settling down’. But, to each their own.

    I satisfy both pieces, by working a corporate job and traveling with my 2-3 weeks of vacation time a year. It’s not traveling Europe for 4 months at a time, but I feel like it’s the best of both worlds.

    One should never have to choose between the two – you can do both, but ultimately do whatever your heart desires.


    Dave Dunn
    Been There, Dunn That

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