I pride myself on the fact that Chad and I are always learning. The desire to learn is one of the main drivers of our desire to travel. But I have to admit, after our Leg 10 in Spain and Portugal, it was a bit of a challenge to come up with new travel lessons. That said, there were a few surprising lessons from this leg that we were able to point to when we talked it over. Here they are:
It’s Actually Possible to Get Tired of Europe
Living in Europe was our dream before we’d ever heard of full-time travel and it was no accident that our very first leg in 2018 was to Europe (covering Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, and Turkey). For international travel during COVID times, we decided Western Europe would be easiest/safest, which is why we chose Italy for Leg 8 and now Spain and Portugal for Leg 10. However, by the time we were reaching the end of our time in Portugal, we were feeling like we’d had enough of Europe for a while. Yes, Europe is unbeatable for pretty UNESCO cities, great museums, and impressive churches. But by the end of this leg, we found ourselves skipping even the best-reviewed of those. We were just ready for something new.
We plan to skip Europe in 2023, which greatly surprises me. We had Europe legs in 2018, 2019, planned but COVID-canceled in 2020, 2021, and this one in 2022. Spending three or four months in Europe every year used to be a given. Now, we’re super-excited to spend the first four months of 2023 in Mexico and are dreaming of traveling to Africa and Asia. We still love Europe, but we’ve spent enough time there lately that we want to build back our appetite for it.
Refresher Lesson – Public Transit Is Awesome
We had been a little skittish about potentially crowded public transportation options throughout COVID, but with firm masking rules in place in Spain and Portugal, we jumped back into riding buses and metros with both feet. In Italy, we also had felt comfortable using public transit, but ended up not using it often because many of our locations were so walkable. In Madrid, Granada, Lisbon, and especially Porto, public transportation made getting around the city and even out of it super-easy. Most of the transportation systems were well-covered by Google maps, making it easy to know when the next bus or metro would arrive. As I mentioned in my Porto posts, our monthly transit pass there made it a no-brainer to hop on a bus and go out to a large park for our walks. Chad even took the bus most days for his runs. In cities that offer a monthly transportation pass, we find just having it encourages us to explore more.
Spanish Food Is Actually Really Good
Ever since our first trip to Spain in 2010 (three days in Barcelona), Spanish food has been the cuisine we’ve pointed to as kind of “meh.” Most of the tapas we were served back then consisted of flavorless olives and cubed cheese. We were young and didn’t exactly know what to order. So we had this stereotype of tapas being small but not that tasty.
That opinion changed during our time in Spain. It started at a vegetarian tapas restaurant, Vega Alamo, in Madrid. We liked the food so much, we went twice during our week there. However, as much as we enjoyed everything we tried at that restaurant, we didn’t generalize that experience to Spanish food because we’ve frequently found that vegetarian restaurants try harder to get great flavors (which is why we love them!).
In Ronda, our Airbnb host provided a list of about twelve recommended tapas restaurants in the area and that is where our opinion of Spanish food underwent a revolution. They had extensive menus and the small portion size (and small price tag that was often less than 2 euros) meant you could try lots of things. So we did. By the time we reached Seville four weeks later, we weren’t just seeking out tapas, we were creating tapas crawls, visiting two or three restaurants to try a couple of tapas at each place. Spanish food and tapas went from something we scoffed at to something we really missed while we were in Portugal. We will never be dismissive of Spanish food again.
I think the other lesson here is the difference between traveling on a 30-day whirlwind tour of major tourist capitals across seven countries like we did in 2010 and the slower pace to more off-the-beaten-path places we’re able to experience now as full-time travelers.
Airport Lounge Access Is Usually Worth It
We actually learned this lesson on Leg 8 but I didn’t write about it and it was so well reinforced on this leg that I feel compared to share it. Just before COVID hit, I upgraded to a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which comes with a free membership to Priority Pass, an airport lounge network. In the US, finding lounges on the network can be a bit hit and miss, but in Europe, most major airports have at least one lounge on the network and we used our lounge access on nearly every flight.
This has been a bit of a game-changer for us because my desire for arriving very early at airports and Chad’s hatred of sitting around at airports has been a source of tension in our life of travel. Being able to sit in an airport lounge, however, is usually pleasant, includes free refreshments and wifi access, and has eliminated any disagreement between us around what time to leave for the airport.
Of course, this is a perk we’re not paying for and I don’t know that I would. We’re pretty budget conscious. But it’s a credit card perk and would be hard to give up and go back to a non-lounge access life. Here are a few pics of us enjoying lounges.
Though we may not be making as many revelations about travel as when we first started in 2018, we’re still learning more on every leg about our travel preferences, this lifestyle, and especially about the places and cultures we get to visit. Leg 10 was another unforgettable trip.