Thank you London & Portugal: 5 travel lessons that apply to everyday life

It always feel surreal when vacations come to an end. You look forward to them for weeks – blink and they are done, after being holed up in a flying bubble where time seemingly stands still.

I so needed to get away to distance myself from the sadness I was feeling about my lost romance, routine job and somewhat boring social life. Life goes in cycles and mine was cycling down however, I now feel reinvigorated to re-examine the goals I set in January and try to approach everyday as if I’m on vacation. I encourage you to pretend you have limited time in your special place in order to make the most of it! Some fun travel insights below.

Solo Travel is not as scary – check your mindset.

Things I did by myself: 2 night stay in a hotel, Two 7+ hour flights, the London subway many times, breakfast and lunch at restos, the Tower of London Tour (the place where Queen Anne was executed a la the novel The Other Boleyn Girl and/or the Tudors TV series). Before I left, I fell victim to worse case scenario thinking (the plane ride, getting robbed etc) and none of it happened.

I also realized I viewed my solo activities differently since I wasn’t truly alone for more than a few hours on this vacation. If you think people are judging you as friendless and sad because you are doing something on your own, then it will change your attitude towards your own experience (I have felt like this in the past). I knew I wasn’t friendless in Europe and that made me feel less like a social pariah while on my own. However, IF I want to go somewhere or do something in the future and no one can accompany me, I won’t let it change how I feel about spending some important time with myself. And neither should you! A mini solo trip is next on my list.

Small tasks add up: a story of unrealistic time expectations

If it weren’t for my friend Paola, I probably would have missed every bus, train and plane we booked. I wanted to do excursions, the beach and night time events all in the same day. Or even squeeze in smaller things like a mall visit. My companion made me realize that I underestimate how much time it takes to get ready in the morning, to eat a meal, to get from Point A to Point B and to identify smaller tasks. I don’t add slack time for unexpected delays. Now I understand why I feel so rushed every day of my life and will carry this reminder with me daily.

Operating without a plan can bring happy surprises.

I like to plan my life and have trouble going with the flow or jumping at super last minute plans – something I am working on. While my friend and I planned to catch a walking tour, we ended up in the wrong square (oh Europe) and missed it. I was so disappointed. But then magically we ran into an unconventional, pay-what-you-can tour that got us acquainted with Lisbon the very first day. We also stumbled on a nudist bike rally in London which honestly made me laugh – how freeing that must be. And the energy of the impromptu mini Lisbon Pride Parade was also great. Plus unexpected free admission to a castle and viewing lift! I would like to wake up once a month with a very vague plan or no plan and just go wherever the wind blows from now on. How about you?

Nudist bicycle ride in London, 2011

It was kind of chilly and old man wee wees are kind of scary but overall fun!

A Mini Gay Pride Parade in Lisbon, 2011

I kind of wanted to join in but got sidetracked by shopping.

Make decisions as if you don’t have the luxury of time to think about it.

I can sometimes agonize over purchase decisions from what to buy for lunch, to the colour of a new purse. Of course this can spill into other areas of life. I fear buyers remorse and regretting my choices in general. But in Europe I didn’t have time to go back tomorrow and there was no refund policy.

Happy to say I felt really satisfied with everything I bought for myself and others, including the painting below! Each time, I paused before buying: “if I buy this now, what if I find something similar but better later in the trip? I’ll kick myself for jumping too soon.” And that never happened since I ended up buying the best thing I could find in every category (no time like the present)! While consumerism is a somewhat shallow topic, the lesson here is to recognize or have faith in an option when it presents itself. There may not be something better coming and if it speaks to you, JUST DO IT.

Acrylic painting from Sintra Portugal

Love supporting real, local artists. This bad boy is going in my room!

Channel your inner European – acting freely.

Europeans take PDA to a whole nother level – they seem to love more strongly (although affection doesn’t necessarily mean that). The women walk with more confidence. The conversations are animated and they don’t seem to care how they “appear” to others – proof is the very raucous Austrian Dinner Party that earned many side-eyes from passer-bys (fast forward 15 seconds).

There were a few instances where my own anxiety, or a head ache, or nauseating bus ride turned me into a scared soul, which frustrated me. In the future, I will think of the vivacious Europeans during times when I feel some self pity or fragility.

I cannot wait for the next adventure abroad or in my own backyard. I’d also love to see what it feels like to live somewhere foreign for a short while, without being so much of a tourist. Have you ever wondered how different you would be if you were born and raised in another country – all other factors being equal? Check out who is living the Parisien life for 1 month and also who is teaching in South Korea for a year. Also Srini of Skool of Life quit his business career to pursue surfing and a new book in Costa Rica.

What have your travels taught you thus far and where are you headed to next?

11 Responses to Thank you London & Portugal: 5 travel lessons that apply to everyday life

  1. Steph D says:

    I’m soooo happy that you went on this trip! And soooo happy that you did a bunch of stuff on your own too (based on what I know about you from the past, I’m pretty sure this was hard for you to do– at least at the start…it got better once you did it the first time, right?!).
    I love your rules for life!
    Glad you had an awesome time 🙂

    • Vanessa says:

      Hey Steph – thanks so much for commenting and for the nice words. I feel kind of lame wimping out of real solo travel to begin with i.e. adding on a 3rd place on my own…but I do believe in baby steps and small wins and building confidence so this is in line with that. Travel bug has officially bitten.

      We should get together when you are in town!

  2. Gina says:

    First of all, thanks for the blog mention!

    Second, that’s awesome that you were not only able to get away for a while, but you were able to learn things during your trip that you can apply to your everyday life back home. Reading the part how solo travel isn’t that scary relieved me: I’m traveling to Europe by myself in August and I’m a little nervous about it!

    Travel has taught me how to be more independent and aware of my surroundings. Up next is Greece, Italy, and Spain!

    • Vanessa says:

      Hey Gina – no worries! I love your story.

      Well I still need to actually DO full out solo travel but I feel more capable now. OMG I’ve been to all 3 places – they are great and I’m tempted to quit my job and just travel all of August – November. If I do – let’s meet up 🙂

      Are you visiting back home at all?

  3. Sam says:

    Hey Vanessa! So lovely to see that you had a great time on your adventure! If you find that you’ve really been bitten by the travel bug, you should put Kenya on your list of places to visit 🙂
    xo Sam

    • Vanessa says:

      Hey Sam – can’t wait to get details from you on how to travel through Kenya. I am cautiously adventurous? Emphasis on the word cautious lol. I miss you! Hamptons party x2?

  4. Jaime Macrae says:

    Sounds like a great trip, congrats on breaking out of your comfort zone!

  5. Dave Ursillo says:


    Although I’m not much of a fan of overt, over-the-top PDA (“get a roooommmmmm!”), I would love to experience the freedom and unapologetic openness that you describe. I’m personally tired of the cold city feel of walking past someone and pretending like they don’t even exist– and we wonder why we tend to forget how people are the only real priority in life.


  6. […] Every decision involves a trade off. I beat myself up for seemingly half ass committing to writing; I feel like I could be doing more. That being said, in order to be a good writer, you need to have life and human experiences to draw from. I want to come back feeling inspired and rejuvenated (Woody Allen does it best). Kind of like how Portugal made me feel. […]

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