Photo by the inimitable VK Rees.
Life on Remote Year is such a whirlwind that I managed to spend an entire month in Lisbon, Portugal and never get around to writing a blog post about our first stop on this year-long adventure. After such a fabulous month and a great kickoff to the RY experience, though, I can’t skip writing up at least a summary of my highlights, even it it is a little hard to distill those four weeks into a short post. It was jam-packed trying to do #allthethings. With 75 people all excited to get to know one another, and each of us with a hunger to explore and get the most out of our time in Portugal, there was no shortage of things to do:
- Join Taco Tuesday family-style dinner with 35 new friends in our accommodations? Yes!
- Check out the Portuguese musical tradition of fado while chowing down on an amazing meal? Sim! (Read Annie’s post about our experience on her blog here.)
- Begin the day with sunrise yoga on the rooftop of our accommodations? Just let me buy this yoga mat first!
- Dance at a beach club all night until the sun comes up? I was born ready!
- Head to Porto for a weekend of exploring the city and drinking port? I don’t even like port, but sign me up!
- Rent a car and drive to a surf town for a few days? Gimme the keys!
- Get up early for a photography walk around the city? Coffee first, and then I’m there!
While it’s impossible to retell #allthestories from the month, a few highlights from a couple of side trips definitely stand out:
Before I left for Remote Year, I told myself that I would only take one side trip a month and spend the other weekends focusing on living like a local in each of our 12 host cities. I had already signed up to do a trip out to a small surf town our third weekend in Portugal, but FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in pretty hard around day 10 when my fellow Remotes started talking about a trip up north to Porto during our second weekend. Next thing I knew, I was biking around the hills of Porto, and trying to give port wine a chance (I’ve never been a fan). There were 30+ Remotes spread out across the city in various hostels, hotels and Airbnbs. It was crazy to wander around and run into a group of familiar faces.
I learned a few things about myself and our group that weekend:
1. While my initial instinct is to want to go everywhere and do everything the group does, once I’m in the middle of a massive horde of Remotes, each with dynamic and driven personalities, I can get a little overwhelmed. I’m a very social person and I enjoy the hell out of our group, and my gut reaction is to want to be in the middle of everything…until I’m actually in the midst of things. Then I clam up, drift to the outside and generally feel sensory overload. I have to make a conscious effort to not over-commit myself to big group events and balance those out with some solo time and small group outings.
For example, one morning 19 of us went on a sight-seeing bike ride (considering all the cobblestone hills in Porto, I’ve decided that this excursion counted as my first ever attempt to mountain bike). Trying to navigate around the city as such a large group made me very self-conscious of our size. Afterward, when the group started making plans for lunch and I started feeling socially claustrophobic, I peaced out for the afternoon with new friend Brian (I had to double-check Facebook the day before to make sure I remembered his name correctly). We wandered around the city on our own, free to make lunch decisions without having to consult more than a dozen hungry Remotes with various dietary restrictions.
2. Sometimes it’s ok to skip a “must-see” sight. While sitting in a square, eating fries (using the giant toothpick that came with the fries as a skewer because it was weird and fun), Brian and I made plans to walk across town to an amazing bookstore that was supposedly some kind of inspiration for JK Rowling during her Harry Potter-writing days. After making a quick stop at a farmacia to pick up bottles of sunscreen we had each forgotten to pack for the sunny weekend (at €20/bottle, it was a pricey item to forget!) we arrived at Lello Bookshop to find out it cost €3 to go inside. Feeling poorer having emptied our wallets for some SPF, we stood outside the bookstore and looked up photos of the interior online:
Feeling satisfied that the photos on our cell phone screens were sufficient, we turned our backs on the bookshop and wandered a little further before stumbling upon a live (FREE!) organ concert in the cathedral. A week or so later, my pal Lucy and I used this same strategy standing outside a monastery in Lisbon. Again, we were content to simply appreciate the photos online and move onto the next closest (free) sight to see. This is one of the aspects of Remote Year travel that we’ve started calling “balling on a budget.” Sometimes just being in proximity of a site is enough to quench the thirst for unique travel experiences.
3. Our group brings the party and knows how to get down. On our first night in Porto, all 30ish of us ended up at a bar at about the time their dance floor opened up. It was completely empty inside, but thanks to us, that didn’t last long. It was like our own private dance party. Of course, once everyone else saw how much fun we were having, the place filled up quickly with locals and other tourists wanting in on the action. That night, we shut the place down at 2am, and I’m pretty sure I burned more calories jumping around than I did even on the bike ride the next morning. One of the things I’ve been loving about Remote Year is seeing how much fun we can create together just by being willing to put ourselves out there as a group. It’s a supportive and enthusiastic community. Plus, our group can groove. Some of my most favorite moments with this crew are definitely on the dance floor.
4. Port is better in Portugal. Our weekend ended with some more wandering around the city the next day, seeking out a port-tasting establishment. Ariel, Brian and I split a tasting of 4 different ports. Having not been a port fan at all before, I was surprised that I didn’t hate them. Ariel’s disdain was visible, though:
A video posted by Erica Brooks (@hellobrooksie) on
Peniche with Panache
The weekend after Porto, I joined a crew headed to Peniche. We rented 3 cars for the weekend, and I volunteered to drive one. This was my first time driving in a foreign country and YOU GUYS, I freaking loved it. I hadn’t driven a stick-shift since 2002, but only stalled out a couple times when trying to go in reverse. Driving in Europe takes a different mentality. I got to tap an aggressive, take-no-prisoners side of my personality. And let me tell you, those European roundabouts got nothing on me.
We crammed our group of 14 people into an Airbnb best suited for 12, along with 3 (or maybe it was 5???) other unlucky guests who happened to be there the same weekend. We adopted one of them, a Spaniard named Apollo, into our group, and in exchange he cooked us paella for dinner and Spanish omelettes for breakfast. New travel friends are the best, especially if they can cook. The weekend was filled with dance parties on the beach, attempts at surfing by everyone except me (the surf shop dude told me I shouldn’t try to surf for the first time on these rough waves without a lesson, and I had used up all my assertiveness driving the car, so I didn’t argue with him) and Ben (who was recovering from some awful stomach bug all weekend), naps near the waves, sunset vistas overlooking a gorgeous coastline and drinking games in the living room. Since we were all squeezed into the small house (I slept on a mattress on the floor in a corner of a room with 7 other guys and gals), it felt like summer camp, though with a bit more alcohol than my church camp days. Saturday night, I waved the white flag a little earlier than the others and headed to bed while the party was still going on. That Sunday morning as we were cleaning up after Apollo’s awesome Spanish omelettes, one of the guys turned to me and said, “Did you know you sleep smiling? We all noticed it last night.” His remark threw me at first (They were watching me sleep?!?!? Are my new friends all creeps? Was I snoring?), but then I realized the larger implication of that observation:
My baseline mood here is happy.
It’s true. I feel very much in my element on Remote Year. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, overstimulating, and sometimes downright crazy. But maybe that’s just what I need right now. I may not be able to do #allthethings, but what I do experience is definitely #allcoolwithme.