Porto, Portugal, has single-handedly provided me with the most challenging yet amusing experience (in hindsight) yet of solo travel. I recall writing part of this from the red and white cushy lounges of Pestano Porto Hotel, munching on an expensive (but VERY well-deserved) sandwich and fries, and catching up on some world news on the shiny wall-mounted plasma TV. Two whole hours had passed since I got lost on the labyrinth-like streets of Porto, and now that I actually found the place I intended to be, I thought I had earned myself some posh hotel grub.
A short flashback is in order. An hour before boarding my bus from Lisbon to Porto, I made a mad dash into an internet café to get the location details of my couchsurfing host in Porto. There were no printing facilities at the café. However, by this time I thought I had excelled at Google Maps, and foolishly thought I would be able to memorize the image of the meeting location within my 15-minute log-in time limit. A few months of solo travel had made me over-confident, and I relied fully on my amazing mental prowess of imprinting that map in my mind. I happily set off to catch my bus at Sete Rios.
Sadly, my mental prowess, which I soon discovered wasn’t so amazing, failed me. I arrived in Porto, a brand-new city for me, at night, with no map, and no clue where I was. I did find a tiny little map in my Lonely Planet guidebook but it didn’t show where I was supposed to go. I ended up walking with my backpack (hooray for convertible wheeled backpacks), across the bridge, asked for directions, back again, wrong directions, down some alleys, up some streets, and ended up in some Portuguese coffee shop with no better idea of where I was. Why didn’t I just call, some of you may ask? I would have if I could, but my phone ran out of credit at the most incredible moment, and no working payphones were to be found. For some reason, I could not be contacted on my phone either. These things just have a way of happening all at once.
Note #1: ALWAYS have some form of paper map! I learnt a big lesson. Even if you have no access to a printer, take a few moments to sketch out a rough plan of where you need to go, highlighting important landmarks/stations or notes for yourself. It really comes in handy when you need to ask for directions in a language you don’t speak.
Interestingly, the city had other plans for me. The old folk at the Portugese coffee shop didn’t speak any English, and I no Portugese, but strangely, if you can comprehend this bizarre stroke of coincidence, an old man spoke French, which I had a very basic command of. So with my bad French, in Portugal, I finally got some decent directions and headed to a hotel to be picked up.
In the nice hotel, I convinced the hotel concierge to feel sorry for me (I really did look rather pitiful by then) and let me use the hotel phone and wait in the hotel lobby. It was very late. Finally, at 1am, after much ado and effort, I was found by P, my couchsurfing host. I was a bit worn around the edges, tired, and a little grumpy (sorry P!), but at the end of the day I kept my wit, humour and a good head on my shoulders. After all, that is the most important thing!
There is a happy ending to this tale! The best part about the terribly lost and confused night before was that when I arrived at my new couchsurfing ‘home’, it was like paradise. By now it’s common knowledge that my travel odyssey had almost entirely been supported by the couchsurfing community. So far, within the confines of countless cities, I have slept on a variety of different surfaces which have included bunk beds, day bed, normal single beds, queen beds with silk sheets, the floor with a dog, a small sofa, sleeping bags with a cat, actual fold-out couches, and yes, I have even shared beds. There have been times when I have woken up and not remembered where I was.
The point to this, is that in Porto, unbeknownst to me, P lived in a four-storey mansion with six bathrooms and a movie room. I discovered that I was to sleep in a private suite in a king-sized bed, with my own five-star marble-clad ensuite (with a spa!), and dry myself off with nicely warmed-up fluffy white towels. After a relaxing bath, I could press the magic button, the motorized shutters whirred down to a close, and I almost expected a butler to appear and put a chocolate mint next to my pillow.
Note #2: It doesn’t hurt to allow yourself some rest and relaxation, or just do nothing, after months of vigorous travel! If you ever end up in a similar situation as I did, keep up the good spirit, and see how things just have a way of working themselves out. It’s only a problem if you let it become a problem.
Of course the next day I visited the amazing port houses, bridges, and the city, but none were as fun to share as the above very real experience as a lone traveller! Happy travelling!
This article was originally published on Art of Solo Travel.