As I write this, I'm sitting by the pool at the Octant Douro, a swanky hotel reminiscent of the Kanye West minimalist aesthetic. I promise I'm not saying this as a flex. I'm sharing this because I want this for you, too. Hello. #BlackGirlLuxury. This week marks the second of my three-week solo trip to Portugal.
If you're wondering: "Why Portugal?" You're not alone. Most people in my world have asked the same question. After my first trip here earlier this year, I fell in love. I only visited Lisbon then, but that was enough for me to feel affection for the country.
As my birthday approached, I wanted to plan another trip, and oddly, the prices for hotels and flights in the states were double and triple the price of even the best accommodations in Portugal. So, I booked a Premium Select ticket with Delta (which was also very reasonable) and started to plan. But on this trip, I wanted to do things differently. Not only did I want to explore additional cities, I wanted to try my hand at slow travel.
So instead of taking flights from city to city, I am traveling by train and car.
So, What is Slow Travel?
Like many things, the definition of slow travel is different for everyone. For me, slow travel means swapping out planes to travel by train, car, or any other means that requires me to slow down and has less impact on the environment.
How Am I Traveling?
My first stop was in Lisbon, where I stayed for a day before I started my journey to the north of Portugal. Before I landed, I weighed the cost of a car ride versus a train ride to Porto, which is just about a three-hour ride. The car service cost was nearly four times the cost of the train. So, I opted to take the high-speed tilting train: the Alfa Pendular. The train can travel up to 220 km/h (140 mph). I paid 51 euros for the three-hour journey.
A flight would have been just under an hour, but the environmental impact of that quick trip was at the top of my mind. Train travel is proven to emit much less carbon dioxide (CO2) than air travel. And with global warming, everything we do counts. Additionally, on my three-hour train ride, I realized there is so much you miss when flying over the cities. The scenery was gorgeous, and the ride was relaxing even when we were tilting. There was even a cafe car that offered sandwiches, coffee, and snacks.
After exploring Porto for four days, I visited wine country in the Douro Valley. I booked a car service for that trip which was just under 200 euros for the two-hour journey. What I didn't account for was the twisty, cliff-bending ride. It was beautiful but terrifying. But, like most places in Europe, the train is available, which I learned from a couple at Quinta Nova—a hotel nestled right in the middle of a UNESCO heritage site (an area legally protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and a vineyard—once I arrived.
Because I was too chicken to endure the cliffs when time to leave the mountainous terrain, I took the train from Ferrero to Penafiel, which only cost me 8 euros versus the 200 I'd spent on my trip there. Did the trip take double the time? Yep. But the ride was much less stressful and cheaper, and I got to travel like the locals. There was a little hiccup when I got to my stop. There were no Ubers. But luckily, there was a table of white-haired guys playing cards that happened to be taxi drivers.
This week, I'll take a six-hour train ride south to Algarve from Porto (a 30-minute car ride from where I am now), and then I'll take a car ride to Seville, Spain. It's a lengthy journey, but I'm still very excited about the experience.
If you're interested in traveling at a slower pace, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Give Up Scheduling Every Moment of Your Trip
I did tons of research before my trip, which set me up for success. But at the same time, things happen. For example, I missed my stop on the train and got lost. I also booked an Airbnb Experience way too far from my hotel, so I missed it. And it wasn't a cheap booking. So, unfortunately, money was wasted because I planned a little too far in advance without a full view of where things were. Sometimes you can only learn that as you travel.
2. Stay Present
Some travelers say to travel slowly, you must give up your technology. Well, that doesn't work for me because I'm still working even though I'm in Europe. But, I'm filming moments that I want to be able to reflect on, even though I'm not posting them. So, instead, I'm grabbing a little video and putting my phone down for the rest of the day.
3. Book Experiences that Support Local Makers and Artists
People always ask me how to get photos I love and plan tours as a solo traveler. Airbnb Experiences are my jam. I've used them since I planned my first solo trip to Cuba. Not only do you get a chance to make memories and learn new things, but you're supporting the local economy, which for me, is a big win.
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