5 Travel Tips for Engaging to Relax
Make your "regular life" feel foreign. Take a trip that asks you to learn so much that you have no room to remember home. By surrendering to everything that is new, leave all versions of yourself at home. Approach the sunrise whole hardily and keep your email unread. Find enrichment in your day’s activities, passion in your inevitable travel-related tiffs and solace in the mattress where you'll recharge your brain.
Often vacations are relegated to passive relaxation activities meant to reinvigorate the vacationer. But is that the passiveness the best way to recharge? It hit hard on this trip to Portugal that sometimes the best way to recharge is to engage.
On day three of our trip, doubts surfaced. Would this feel like a vacation? We swirled in small arguments over parking, the panic of decoding street signs and the lack of clarity on how to read a menu. It wasn't feeling easy or consistently pleasant. But, by diving headfirst into the culture and engaging our whole selves, we were able to leave home where it belonged - behind.
When we did get home, everything felt new again. And that is an incredibly refreshing experience.
Check out these five tips for engaging on your next trip and coming home recharged:
#1 Do things their way.
It's ridiculously common to travel just to find another slice of the country you just left. To fully engage, you must do your best to do as the locals do. In Portugal, we switched from a full cup of black coffee in the morning to a tiny little shot of espresso. While cafe means espresso (like in the header photo) in Portugal, we had to actually say espresso or the Portuguese would hand us "cafe Americano" thinking that's what we'd prefer. Now back at home, we are finding our little stovetop espresso apparatus is getting used frequently. The Portuguese (European) cafe may just stick.
#2 Try to learn the language.
The United States is enormous, like the entirety of Europe is 3.9 million mi squared and the U.S. is 3.8 million mi squared. And while Europe's land area includes 23 widely-spoken languages, we really only have two (English and Spanish). Thanks to the small number of widely-spoken languages and the fact that so many people around the world speak English, the stench of awkwardness that comes with trying to communicate with someone in broken pieces of their own language is totally unfamiliar to us. Push yourself to be okay with totally flubbing up ordering coffees (which I got really good at!) and having to ask the waiter how to say something in Portuguese. It's good for your brain and respectful.
#3 Take a travel book, but take a good one.
Just because there is a wealth of information online doesn't mean it's any good. On the "any good" point, find a book with awesome curators. Try to find one that has a perspective on travel that you can relate to (this can be tough to find). The problem with sites like Trip Advisor is that everyone gives reviews, so the ratings usually don't match realities. Supplemented with tours and a little online research, Rick Steve's book worked alright for us in Portugal (me below with ripped out pages for the city we're in). However, I still prefer guides that aren't from huge companies like 68north's guide for the Lofoten Islands in Norway.
Books can also give you digestible bits of history and culture that you may not find exploring on your own. We would have had little idea that the "discovery" period in Portugal was also the slave trade period without our book.
#4 Go for the experiences.
I've often traveled to countries where I know someone. It means I get a local perspective by default. Portugal is one of the first trips I've taken abroad where I've invested in experiences/tours. Good experiences are worth the investment 50x over. You get insight into a subject matter, try something new and get a better handle on the culture. All of the ones we went on in Portugal I would absolutely recommend: Gosto Lagos, Algarve Freedom Kayaks, Lisbon's African Roots and E-Bike & Fishing Villages.
#5 Get lost.
It's a great challenge for your brain to have to handle the unknown. Try it out. Let it do a little work. The Alfama district in Lisbon is notorious for tiny winding streets that are perfect for losing your bearings - and we did. Moments when you're lost give you an opportunity to balance trying to find yourself with enjoying the spontaneity of being lost.