The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
In the summer of 2017, after I graduated high school, my dad and I took a three-week trip to Europe: a plan that originally only included visiting Portugal to reconnect with family that quickly turned into a cross-country caravan adventure through Portugal, Spain, and Italy. This trip was my graduation present, more specifically a gift my dad had promised me if I made honour roll all throughout high school. It was truly a trip of a lifetime, and I came home with memories and stories as my souvenirs. These are stories I’ve told many friends, including my Her Campus Co-CC (shoutout to Rebecca!), who encouraged me to share these tales on our platform. So with my graduation behind me, we landed in Porto, Portugal on July 3rd, 2017, and over the course of three articles, I’ll let you in on all the wonderfully crazy antics my dad and I got up to, along with some tips and tricks for exploring these beautiful countries.
First thing we did upon landing in Porto was drive out to my Aunt and Uncle’s condo in Aveiro, a small town a couple of hours away. They welcomed us with open arms and took us to a local beach where we, jetlagged but excited, enjoyed the sand between our toes. Before we picked up our caravan and headed on our way, we visited some extended family nearby: a family I had never met, while my dad had gone decades without reconnecting. My great-Aunt, speaking absolutely no English and with tears in her eyes, hugged us both with an earnestness that can only come from pure familial love. Even though I didn’t know these people any better than a passing stranger, I felt like I was home. It was such an indescribable feeling of comfort and ease, and this night of eating, laughing, and bonding was a definite highlight, not only for the trip but for my whole life.
One of the first places we visited was Nazaré, a beach town known for beautiful ocean views. While this was one of my favourite towns, we had one of our most bizarre experiences here. It was early evening when we pulled our caravan into the sandy campsite, and while we were trying to find a good position for our vehicle the back wheels got caught in the sand. Within minutes, we’re past the point of no return and most definitely stuck, and our frustration must have been obvious as a French tourist camping nearby approaches us to help, and despite attending French classes for six years, our communication is rough. He goes to fetch a rubber mat he has to place under our wheel, hopefully giving it enough traction to escape the sandpit.
In the meantime, an elderly Spanish man joins us to try and help out, though as you can imagine this makes communicating even more complicated. The campsite attendant eventually finds his way over, and my dad tries talking to him in his broken Portuguese. At some point a young German couple walks by and stops to observe, throwing in their advice every once in a while. All this chaos sounds like a bad joke – a Canadian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German walk into a campsite. While the mayhem of five different languages being spoken is overwhelming, I was also taken aback with a warm feeling of community spirit, being a part of a diverse group of people coming together to help another human being in crisis, and I was honoured to be a part of that moment. On a funnier note, we did end up sleeping on an angle that night until a tow truck came the next morning to lift us out.
Our next stop after Nazaré was Fátima, a Catholic pilgrimage site that holds deep religious significance. While I don’t have a particularly deep spiritual connection, I could most definitely feel the absolute devotion in the air. After this, we headed to the capital Lisbon and enjoyed some signature Portuguese egg tarts in between sneaking into fancy restaurants to catch some traditional Fado music. As we continued heading South, our next destination was the region of Algarve, known for its beautiful beaches lined with breathtaking rock formations. This was the first time I ever wore a bikini, as I’ve always been very insecure about my body, but for some reason I felt liberated enough to give it a try, and I’ve never gone back. Thus marks the end of my experience in Portugal; reconnecting with family, getting rescued from the sand, and learning how to accept my body was only the beginning of my adventures in Europe. If you liked reading my travel diaries this week, tune in two weeks from now to hear about my time in Spain!