My Life Changing Trip to Portugal

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It’s my first day back from our month long trip to Portugal, and I’m feeling so, so refreshed and ready to share all about it! In case you missed it, check out why we decided to take a month long working trip, here.

When I decided to book the trip, I wasn’t feeling burned out, but as time wore on, and the trip approached, I started to feel a little bit depleted. I was ready for a change of scenery, and to get a break from the everyday hum drums. I had no idea how much I needed this trip, and how much it would enrich my life.

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As I started to sink into the trip, I realized that I had been running on feelings pressure and comparisons. This trip broke that cycle and re-established my connection to myself and what I value most. I think it’s important to share this all with you in case you’ve been feeling you need something, but aren’t quite sure what. Something I want to address before I get started is that you may look at me and think oh ya, this is so easy for her… no kids, business owner, probably has lots of money… this trip was a luxury. Well, yes, you’re right, the timing was important, but while we don’t have any kids, my sister who joined us has a baby, and she did it with us for the month. My schedule IS flex because I work in digital, however it would have been easier to come up with ways that I couldn’t do it and easier to do this in a structured corporate environment, simply taking my 3 week holidays. If you structure your holidays and bank up time, or if you work remotely or own a business, this could be something you can do! In terms of money, that’s something only you can decide, but we chose to prioritize so that we could take the trip. We spent on travel and food; since we have a home and car there, it was more affordable, but Portugal is known to be a lot more affordable than countries like Spain, Italy and France. Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll dig into allll the travel logistics and recos in upcoming posts, but for now, let’s chat about how this trip has shifted who I am, and what I value. I had some serious moments of growth and personal breakthroughs, and here’s how:

SLOWING DOWN

Slowing down for an extended period of time to listen to what you want, and to feel calmness that was completely blocked by consistent to-do’s and external and internal pressure, was exactly what I needed. This practice gives you time to feel even a little anxious about the quiet time, reconnecting with yourself and your emotions. I’m not talking sitting alone in a quiet place, I’m talking shifting your every day routine into a new zone. Doing this out of your normal environment is very important and is the only way to truly feel that sense of calm. If you’re planning a trip, while it’s tempting to pack as much into it as you can, going to as many destinations as money and time will take you, if you’re looking for calmness and contentment, I suggest choosing one spot and really digging into life there. See how the culture lives, spend time resting, filling your days with things that bring you joy, without pressure, and staying present. There were many days that we just did whatever felt right with no schedule or plan, and that lack of structure, while against my nature at home, felt amazing on the trip. I removed any additional stressors like a huge wardrobe, and if I brought my cam on a day out, I chose to only shoot what I saw along the way instead of seeking out photo ops. This allowed me to live in, and capture, the moment!

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CHECK YOUR COMFORT ZONE AT THE DOOR

There were several times I had to stretch my comfort zone which made me realize how comfort driven I really am! I realized my default answer was no “no, I don’t like clams so I won’t try them”,  “no, I can’t walk up that hill because it’s too hot”. I said to myself several times “it’s ok to feel this way – it’s just a little discomfort, it won’t kill you”. It may chock you that I’ve never said this to myself before! Whether that was walking up a hill not knowing when it would end, eating a meal I’ve never had before and worrying if it may get me sick (I have an allergy to scallops, so sometimes I get nervous about other shellfish), being unsure where the bathroom was (ha!), not understanding the language and at times it feeling frustrating, being in situations with my mom who needed more care than we thought she would… all of these things big or small showed me that I could get though more than I thought (not to mention how much my hubs and fam give me strength and care). I saw growth because I stretched my comfort zone, and I felt so much joy from this!

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EMBRACE THE CULTURE

Living like a local is the most important part of an extended trip. You really start to understand the fabric of another culture, thus making the world feel so big and you feeling so small. I loved getting into a daily routine and grocery shopping, going to the local coffee and pastry shops (Pastelaria shops are a way of life there, and it’s not abnormal to see women eating toast and coffee for lunch!) and doing things their way, eating what they eat. They don’t watch much TV (there wasn’t any English TV available), so we didn’t watch TV. Every day, we had fresh bread with meats, cheeses, spreads and coffee for breakfast. We let Ariana (my niece) stay up until wayyy past “bedtime” like the Portuguese kids. We shared 4 bottles of wine over and after our 8pm dinner. I stopped wearing makeup and let my hair be free. We get so stuck in thinking that living our own way of life as being the only way (FYI I didn’t see a to-go cup my entire trip, because the Portuguese slow down and enjoy their coffee and a pastry instead) – it makes your world feel bigger to see life in the eyes of another culture. It shifted what I thought I valued – the people aren’t consumed with emulating perfection or always doing things the fastest way (for instance, when you are in a service environment, I’m used to launching into what my immediate need is to save my time and theirs, but instead, they always ask how your day is going and mean it, conversing a little before assisting you. They also treat you like you are the first person they have helped today, and genuinely want to find you a solution. I think this creates a gentler, kinder society and it made me realize how conditioned I was to rush through interactions and even can be a little brash).

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BREAKING THE CYCLE

The break from my daily life was like a breath of fresh air. Especially when it came to my work schedule. I am normally up at 7am in a panic to get on social media for clients to post at an ideal time (and obsessively refreshing my email to see who needed what of me!), but with the time difference, 7am in Portugal meant it was 11pm the previous day in Vancouver. This time difference allowed me to wake up naturally and then ease into my day. At 3pm in Portugal, it was 7am in Vancouver, and by then I had already spent family time, made breakfast, maybe ran to the grocery store, worked, and was ready to go to the beach or have a fun outing. Then, after dinner, I would return to working until sometimes 1am – 2am (5pm – 6pm in Vancouver). I found this formula made me more productive and allowed me to truly feel that coveted work life balance while still getting shit done! It really broke the stressful cycle that I thought was the only way to run a business – I was thriving on the chaos and pressure but that wasn’t serving myself or my clients in the best way possible. They say it takes 21 days to break or start a habit, and I didn’t watch TV for the entire month, ate fresh food with lots of fruit and veggies, spent most of our time outside and staying active… so I hope these things stick (ok, minus the TV part bc I AM looking forward to catching up on my PVR). I came back feeling more healthy and fit than when I left! I didn’t know how much a bit of a rest would help me reset and feel like a better version of myself; I feel like a more creative worker, and a more successful business owner. I am so inspired by my trip and it will have a very rich effect on my work. I feel reinvigorated to to do things differently and my mind is buzzing.

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INSTA LIFE VS. REAL LIFE

When I was away, and in the middle of this enriching experience, seeing perfectly styled and curated shots on Instagram actually repelled me because it felt so false. Thinking about bloggers/Instagrammers who travel to simply take photos of themselves in front of pretty things (note: I do undertand that for some bloggers/Instagrammers it’s a paying job, but that’s not always clear to the viewer)… leaving out all the messy, the stress from their storytelling made me sad for both them, and the people who look at the images expecting their experience to reflect what they see portrayed.  Not only is it complete fantasy, but taking pics like that requires so much work that you cannot really embrace the moment and truly grow from a travel experience. For the viewer, it lacks the truth and connection that traveling isn’t all glamorous, and it certainly isn’t a staged lifestyle photo. There were travel days where I ate nothing but plane food and chips (in coach, holla!), had ankles the size of golf balls (probs because of said plane food and chips), sobbed out of frustration, had arguments with my hubs, moments of weakness and missing my bed. It really gave me pause to wonder since when did Instagram become a falsehood about ones life? Caption on the “perfect” Insta photo: “Just a relaxing day soaking up the beach”… not so much! The pic took 900 tries, potentially a drone, probably a fight with your Insta husband not to mention all the outfit planning, location scouting and retouching. Then, we sell the image to our followers as the perfectly curated representation of what a beach day abroad looks like. This is not storytelling, it’s not “aspirational”, it’s pretty much a lie, and people are craving to see the reality of it. On my trip, I received hundreds of Insta DM’s from people saying how happy they were to see the authentic side of travel – these perfectly curated images do not make people feel good about themselves (and if you are one of these people, you’re so not alone!), and it’s no different than airbrushing in a magazine. There totally is a market for this, and I completely get that. This is simply my personal opinion about how crazy this has all gotten, and to each their own. That said, I believe we need to change this narrative and fall back in love with living a life that feels good, as opposed to living life to get likes and followers. The world doesn’t need more pretty “inspirational” Instagram squares – it needs authenticity, candor and connection.

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APPRECIATING WHAT YOU HAVE

Coming home from a fun trip can be super depressing but on the bright side, it helps you appreciate some of the things you come home to a little more, especially if it’s an extended trip like this one. I forgot how much I loved our little home, how pretty I’ve decorated it, how soft and cozy our bed is, how much I missed my reality TV (I’m the worst, but shout out to 90 Day Fiancé), and how ready and excited I am to see my friends and clients. Oh, and the first meal I’ll treat myself to is a good curry from my fave spot. I love that the trip has made me fall in love with my life all over again.

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In summary, I don’t want it to LOOK like I’m living a great life. I want to feel it deeply. I want to make memories and not care so much about what looks good. We are only young once and my family and I will always have the memories and the bond of a special time in our lives when we really lived it on this trip to Portugal. My hope is that a) you’ll visit Portugal because it’s an amazing country b) you’ll take an extended trip for yourself, not the photo ops c) you’ll seize the day, seize your life and live it how you want, not because of how good it looks from the outside.

I’ll share so much more about my trip coming soon including how to pack to be productive with work, my fave beaches, places to eat, travel essentials and so much more! What would you like to see? Let me know in the comments on DM me on Instagram. Until next time! XO

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  • Liliana McInerney

    I finally had the time to sit down and read your blog about your fantastic trip to Portugal. I have to say you are so right about what we have become and how we feel when it comes to posting pictures or insta-stories on Instagram, I am the first one to admit to be guilty on that! I am so harsh on myself, every time I see a moment I would like to capture and share with everyone, I over think it… Does it show the ugly colour of my unpainted walls? Does it show the dirty spot on my rug? What about the ugly cable coming out of the wall?… Just never perfect enough you know? and in the end, I opt for not sharing that special moment thanks to that little voice in my head obsessing about the imperfect things of that moment. After watching your insta-stories while you were away and reading this blog, I can say I am absolutely inspired by you and I am really trying to take a different approach on things, I totally get being genuine and authentic, that is what I want and also what I believe people need in their lives, I have to admit it is not easy to take this step and overlook the imperfections on the special moments but that is exactly what makes them special and worth of sharing with others.
    I just want to thank you so much for sharing your story and being an inspiration to let my hair down and allow a little room for error in my life as well as embracing every moment that life throws at me. Love you Erin!! Keep up the great work <3