A Brief List of Things I Have Learned on My Trip Thus Far

With over two months passed and only about three weeks left, I was thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned on this trip. I’m getting closer to returning to Helena, and it’s hard not to think about Eliot’s idea that travel will make home new once more. He wrote, “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

My observations are certainly less profound, but here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way:

  1. If an Airbnb or other host suggests that you eat at “a little family place,” even if it literally has no name, you almost certainly should try it.
  2. I can walk much father and for more days than I ever imagined.
  3. Walking may very well be the key to a longer, more independent life. While some of them move quite slowly, there’s a lesson to be taken from the experience of seeing so many elderly people taking care of their own needs, shopping and moving about their cities. They make a powerful case that more mobility outside of cars might just mean more independence later in life.
  4. Eat the special dish of the city or region you’re in, no matter what. Fine, be a vegetarian back home, but if the people of Porto have a special sandwich that has three kinds of meat served in a special sauce over a bed of French fries, you should eat the damn thing.
  5. About 97% of the illnesses and little aches I experience back home must be stress. That’s a valuable, but frustrating, bit of information.
  6. The people of Portugal are rightly sure that their food and coffee is better than what you’ll find in Spain—and make sure to tell you. I can hardly be critical of them for that, as I’ve told roughly 854 people that Montana is the most beautiful part of the United States thus far.
  7. I need to make sure that I can take longer trips in the future somehow. I will have been in Portugal for nine days when I leave, making it one of my longest trips, but I already feel like it’s just not enough time.
  8. That being said, a short and intense visit to a new place can be incredible.
  9. There are far worse ways to experience a new city on the first day than to drop off your bag, head for the city center and just wander the whole day. Travel guides are wonderful resources, but serendipitous discovery is even more rewarding.
  10. Drivers in Helena might be frustrating, but many drivers in Europe are terrifying. On a related note, pedestrians are in danger everywhere, all the time.
  11. The worst part of travel is the travel: getting to airports, finding train stations, making schedules work. That being said, people in transportation are often the best resources to learn about a new city, and European trains and buses are marvels.
  12. If you plan to navigate through a European city on foot using Google Maps, you might as well just blind yourself, Oedipus-style, and wander aimlessly through the streets. It might just be less frustrating.
  13. Rely on friends and pick up hitchhikers. Seriously.
  14. It’s not a great idea to get your first tattoo in a country where you don’t speak the language.

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