(this post was written about 10 days ago, but between family here and goodbyes and lack of internet connection, it had to be postponed a bit…)
I will post on my time in Portugal as soon as I can upload photos (sneak peek: it was a fabulous trip), but traveling alone for the last ten days has brought up so many more thoughts than where to go, what to see, or in my case the most important questions, what to photograph and what to eat.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I got a lot of “But you’re going to Portugal ALONE?” questions, especially from Spaniards. I’ve heard this before, especially when I did my whirlwind (mostly) solo tour of Germany, Sweden, Ireland, and Spain last year. It generally makes me laugh–it’s not like I am going to Iran or, for that matter, a number of parts of New Jersey. I take precautions I wouldn’t have to take if I was traveling with others, but I also really enjoy spending the days at my own pace, being responsible just for myself and changing up the itinerary as I see fit. I never have to feel guilty for keeping someone else when I stop and stare at shoes or take a million random pictures along the way to the real “sights.” I listen to lots of music, I read, I write in my journal. It’s relaxing.
Two days before I left for my trip, as I was in the midst of last minute planning and printing and everything else, something really strange happened. It’s a long story, but basically involves a guy in my building’s elevator asking lots of questions about me, my shoes, and then asking if he could take a picture of my feet for his friend’s foot fetish website. Right. Clearly I said no, but he was persistent and wouldn’t leave me alone, trying to find out if my roommates were home, trying to figure out just which apartment I live in. Already sort of stressed about finishing things up prior to travel, he caught me really off guard. Truthfully, it frustrated me how easily he scared me, but all of a sudden I just didn’t feel safe. The moral of the story should have been that weird things can happen anywhere, but I couldn’t help but feel nervous, even as I told myself to be rational, to take it as a strange isolated incident. Luckily, the moment passed not long after boarding the train out of Córdoba. After arriving in Lisbon in the early afternoon, I passed a really mellow but incredibly relaxing day. It reminded me of just why I travel.
I’ve never been much of a risk taker–I never did any flips on the jungle gym, find almost all forms of drugs fairly terrifying, don’t see myself doing any bungee jumping in the near future. Travel makes me more vulnerable because I often don’t speak the language, I don’t know where I am going, I am trying new things, but also allows me to take calculated risks-to be brave in someone’s book. I don’t feel particularly radical, but there are many people who wouldn’t think of wandering around foreign countries alone, especially as a woman. I got plenty of catcalls in Portugal (my favorite being without a doubt the eighty year old woman with a mustache who told me at a bus stop that I have beautiful legs–ha!) and a few more persistent admirers, but no one put me in the same situation as the weirdo in my elevator. As I put on my backpack, I feel stronger, more independent–not untouchable, but capable. It’s exhilarating.
In not too long my travel time will slow down considerably, though I don’t see an end to this addiction in sight. As much as I love to wander around, there’s also a point when I want to stop living out of a suitcase for a while. At the same time that travel makes me more curious about the unknown, gives me the feeling there’s still so much left to see, it also makes me aware of what home has to offer. I found myself thinking a lot about what the next year might hold for me, where I might find myself. I haven’t started job searching; I haven’t narrowed down any choices. I have been trying, as much as possible, to live in the moment here. (well, that and paying for internet in a place that’s always 100 degrees isn’t exactly motivating…) But without focusing on anything in particular, as I travel I shape my taste, my sense of style and my preferences. I pick up some of the little nuances that make a city what it is, that makes one city one I want to stay in and another just one to pass through. Being in Lisbon, a city I really loved, I learned more about what I like in a city, what it is I’m looking for in a future home. I found myself coming to realizations, thinking and narrowing down the options for the fall even as I rode the tram, as I walked through certain neighborhoods, as I sat in one plaza or another. I come from a state often called “The Last Best Place” and mostly I don’t doubt it, it’s a place I love and am constantly touting…but I’d rather think of it as an educated assertion rather than a blind and boastful assumption. For now, it’s time to do a new kind of exploring…knowing something about my own country, a place I’ve barely traveled at all. In a way it will bring some of these thoughts together–finding that there’s still so much more to see, even within the places I already consider home.