Your First Solo Trip Should Be Portugal
I’m serious: your first solo trip should be Portugal. Last Easter, I took a solo trip to Portugal and fell in love. My 10 day adventure split between Lisbon and Porto – with a few small stops thrown into the mix – was one of my favorite trips to date. Sure, I got massively sunburned (whoops) and ate way too much lamb and fish and PASTRIES, and barely avoided a train strike, but oh my god, did I have a most incredible time. I experienced true kindness over lunch in Nazare and explored a literary gem in Porto. The hostels were warm and welcoming, and their atmospheres allowed me to make friends for life, essential for any solo travelers who’s nervous about spending their entire trip alone. The rugged buildings, views of the Atlantic Ocean, spectacular sunny weather provided even more awesomeness, and sometimes I still try to recaptured that peaceful feeling that hit me when I first stepped into central Lisbon. Those tiles … Just … Okay, I’m rambling now.
But, seriously, you guys, I miss Portugal so much. I wish I could do my solo trip all over again. Believe it or not, I was sorting through my photos last weekend when I should’ve been grading essays instead. I have a lot more I need to see and do in this magnificent country. Évora in the west, the spectacular beaches in the south, nifty university city Coimbra… The list goes on and on and on!
So, yeah, your first solo trip should be Portugal. Do it, do it, do it, do it now. Worry about the money later, haha.
Time for a full disclosure: Portugal was my 5th solo adventure so I was no stranger to having just me, myself, and I for company. I was confident in my abilities to navigate the trains, find local restaurants, and meet new people. I didn’t experience any feelings of anxiety as a solo traveler either, which is always a relief.
However, even if it wasn’t my first solo trip, I still think this small European country – often overlooked by tourists who opt for more “popular” destinations such as France and Spain – is an excellent choice for someone’s first time traveling alone.
So why should your first solo trip be Portugal when there are plenty of other destinations to choose from?
Read on. Hopefully I’ll sway your opinion by the end!
1. Portugal’s hostels are the best in the world.
Do a quick google search of Portugal’s hostels and look at the glowing reviews. Even if you don’t like hostels or (if you’re like me) feel like you’re too old for dorms, Portugal’s hostels are legendary and high quality in terms of atmosphere, cleanliness, location, and price. It seems that you could reserve a bed at any hostel and have an amazing time.
Personally, my favorite hostel of all time is Home Lisbon Hostel. I have no reservations pushing you to book this place, because it’s truly amazing. Home Lisbon Hostel offers its guests home-cooked meals, a close-knit social atmosphere, walking tours, an excellent day trip to Sintra and Cascais, super comfy beds, top-notch facilities. I could rave about this place for hours. It truly felt like my “home away from home” to use a cliche phrase. And Mama? She’s a great cook. I bought the cookbook for my own mom, and we’re going to try a few of the recipes together.
The country’s highly ranked hostels are so backpacker and solo travel friendly, so you’re bound to meet plenty of other people on your journey.
2. Portugal’s weather is gorgeous most of the year.
Looking for warmth and sunny skies? Portugal should be your first solo trip if you want to spend a lot of time outdoors! Just remember to use your sunblock!
As for me, when I visited Portugal in April, the weather was sunny almost every single day – meaning no awkward fumbling for my umbrella. I think it may have rained for twenty minutes, maximum, on my trip and at the time, I was cozy on a local train en route to Porto. The temperature was never higher than 80 (~27 C*) degrees either. Perfect for someone who melts in the sun *cough* me *cough*.
Okay, I’ll be totally honest here: I’m a huge, huge diva when it comes to weather conditions. I don’t do well in the freezing cold or sticky humidity. I complain. I pout. I mope. I’m not pleasant to deal with. However, Portugal’s weather was perfection. Per. Fect. Ion.
Now, while I haven’t experienced this fact for myself, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Portugal remains comparatively mild in winter and summer months – thanks to its coastal position – so you should have decent weather no matter when you book your solo adventure.
3. Most people speak English.
Ehhhh. I don’t like to brag about this tidbit, especially since it feeds into the “ignorant American” stereotype, but with the exception of English, I don’t fluently speak any other languages. My French is shaky, at best, and let’s not even talk about my Italian. It sounds like a two year old using a butchered Parisian accent. Embarrassing.
With that being said, it’s understandable for new solo travelers – particularly from the States – to feel daunted visiting a country that doesn’t have English as its “main” language. It’s easy to feel out of place and overwhelmed, and like you’ll never be able to navigate on your own without ending up completely lost.
Stop worrying. Trust me, you don’t need to worry about no one understanding you here if you’re a native English speaker. Over all, the Portuguese speak fantastic English and are more than willing to help “single language” visitors.
Now I’m not claiming every single person you meet will speak English, nor am I insisting that you demand English at all times. You still wanna be polite and learn a few phrases of Portuguese to show respect for the culture and country. But if you’re hopelessly lost and scared out of your mind (try not to be), it’s very easy to find a fellow English speaker for assistance.
4. Portugal is Not “Europe Disneyland.”
Yikes, time to admit something controversial. Are you ready, folks? Brace yourselves.
A lot of places in Europe feel like Disneyland to me. Very touristy and commercial and Too Much. Explore around any major attraction and you’ll feel as if you’re in an amusement park.
Now I’m not writing off entire cities or countries as tourist traps like some elitists do. That’s total nonsense, right? For example, Paris receives tons of tourists every year, but I still felt certain neighborhoods were authentic and great to explore without crowds pressing me into the pavement.
However, around many well-known European sites like the Eiffel Tower or Spanish Steps or Westminster Abbey, I feel overwhelmed because I’m trying to avoid too many selfie sticks, cheap souvenirs, irritating “I found a golden ring!” scammers, and umbrella-wielding tour guides. Blergh.
Luckily for all you new solo travelers, Portugal didn’t feel too commercialized to me. Sure, the trolleys going to Belem on Easter Weekend were a bit … hectic and Lisbon has its touristy sections, but the crowds didn’t even begin to compare to others you can encounter in Europe.
Not sure what to eat? Check out this food guide before your trip to Portugal.
5. Portugal is safe and easy to navigate.
I won’t talk about safety, namely crimes rates, too much in this post. As a whole, Europe – West/Central/East – is a remarkably safe travel destination suited for travelers of all levels. Even though it’s less commercialized, Portugal is no exception to the rule.
Sure, Lisbon and Porto have some petty pick-pocketing problems, but nothing extreme and hardly anything violent if you use basic common sense on your trip. I’m cautious as a solo female traveler, and I can tell you that I felt both very safe and welcome in Portugal. If you’re from the USA (like me!), use the same street smarts you do at home. No wandering around drunk in the middle of the night with hundreds of Euros sticking out of your purse. Be better!
As for navigating the country, I’d highly recommend ditching a rental car and instead use the public transportation system in Portugal. My high-speed train from Lisbon to Porto was clean, efficient, and comfortable. Both cities had clearly marked subways, and trolleys that were a piece of cake to use. Not to mention, the overall “trolley experience” made me feel like I went back in time.
Being a new solo traveler, you don’t want to freak out at unreliable or expensive public transportation. Portugal is a piece of cake. Promise.
6. Portugal’s price is very right.
Are you worried about the cost of a European trip? Are you tight on cash yet craving to finally visit Europe? You can’t go wrong in Portugal. Overall, I found that Portugal is an affordable country compared to destinations such as Germany, France, and especially Iceland. You can travel VERY cheaply and still have an incredible experience that you’ll remember for years to come.
For example, you can book a bed at a boutique hostel for roughly $15 and eat delicious Pastel de Nata for less than a $1 a piece. At Home Lisbon Hostel, I enjoyed a 10 euro dinner every night that included soup, salad, drinks, a main course, and dessert. Say what? Try to find a deal like that in New Jersey. I bet you can’t.
How about free attractions? No problem. Go to any of Portugal’s fantastic beaches and soak up some rays! Walk through Lisbon’s Alfama District and take photos of the colorful houses. Check out blue Tiles in Porto.
7. Portugal offers something for every type of traveler.
You wanna go to the beach? Visit the Algarve.
Do you love castles? Check out Obidos or Guimarães. Sintra. Definitely Sintra.
Wines? If you wanna give Port tasting (mmmm) a shot, go to Porto in the north.
Want museums and old neighborhoods? Stay in Lisbon.
Find religion a fascinating subject? Go to Fatima.
As a solo traveler, you’ll never feel bored! 10 days wasn’t nearly enough for me to see everything this country has to offer.
8. You can easily build Portugal into a trip to Spain or Morocco.
If you gain confidence in Portugal, you can extend your trip into Spain or Morocco. For example, plenty of budget airlines fly between Portugal and Madrid, and these flights can actually be cheaper than the trains. As for myself, I would’ve loved to head over to Spain, but alas, spring break is only a week and a half. I’m making up for it this year, though.
In addition, Portugal is a fantastic springboard if you have time to spare and wanna fly to the rest of the continent. Just make sure to book your budget flights well in advance to take full advantage of any deals.
Of course, you can stay in Portugal for five months and still have a fantastic time! Who am I to judge, right?
So yeah, I hope I convinced you that your first solo trip should be Portugal! I proved it, haha.
Are you planning a trip to Portugal? Even just Lisbon? Is Portugal on your bucket list? What towns and cities would you recommend for travelers? For more information about this amazing country, check out Lonely Planet’s most recent guide book.
Note: Some of the links are affiliate links and therefore I make a small commission on any purchases at no additional cost to you.
Other Portugal Resources for Solo Travelers
Here are some more posts to help you plan your upcoming solo trip to Portugal! I’ll continue to update this list to keep it current for you all. Enjoy!