I recently traveled to Spain and Portugal on a 2-week trip. We’ve been back for only two full weeks. I knew it would be a great opportunity to explore parts of the world I’d never been before, a chance to take awesome pictures, and a time to disconnect from the everyday. What I didn’t know was how it would change my perspective on so many aspects of my life. When I explained this sentence to a friend of mine, she said, “It’s funny how travel will do that to you.”
My husband, another couple, and I spent two nights in each city during our vacation. We visited Madrid, Sevilla,
Valencia, Ibiza, Barcelona, Porto, and Lisbon. How did we come to the conclusion to visit those cities? We had a couple of dinner meetings to throw out ideas, did research online, spoke with friends who had traveled to Spain in the past, and talked about which cities really spoke to us. Originally our idea was to visit a lot more of Europe than just Spain. But our gut was telling us to cut out a few stops, really get immersed in the culture of a country, and visit the cities that we were drawn to whether it was by the culture, history, geographic location, etc. We decided on a timeline, spent a few nore wine dinners doing research on the best areas to stay in each city, booked tickets, and vacation rentals. We read articles and books on each city, read travel tips, packing tips, etc. for months. We even snagged an REI membership while we were at it. (Side note: How had I never been to an REI before??) We only booked a private tour for the four of us for Madrid (our first city) and in Barcelona (the other big city). The rest of the time, we were free to explore on our own!
And again, most people who know me know that I am an avid planner. I mean, I schedule things for a living. I’ve never really been to a remote location where we didn’t already have an excursion for each day planned or we didn’t have a resort/hotel to go back to each day. Just the lack of on-site planning was unchartered territory for me. And let me tell you, it. was. awesome…
Whether it was with our friends or just my husband and I, we walked towards wherever there were people, wherever there was a windy road, zig zagging through cobblestone streets, stopping in whatever bar, coffee shop, pastry shop, boutique, or tapas bar that struck or fancy at the time. We would stumble upon gorgeous cathedrals and statues, lush gardens that went for miles, original gates to the city, royal palaces, large historical plazas, and more.
Sure, I had a few things on my list for each city that I really wanted to see so I did my best to navigate us to a few of those locations. But, if it didn’t work out, hey, I was still in Spain. And, not to mention, the weather was an amazing 75-80 degrees during the day and a brisk yet comfortable 65-70 degrees at night. Gorgeous.
But what really struck me was 1) how different the Spanish daily schedule is, and 2) how it seemed like they viewed the everyday and life:
Long story short, we got acclimated to the schedule in Spain. You wake up around 9am or so, take your time getting ready for the day, go out for a coffee and a pastry around 10am, do whatever you want, then have a light snack around noon with a glass of beer or wine (I’m not joking, EVERYONE had a drink at their table), have the menu del dia (ridiculously inexpensive 3 course lunch menu w/ a beer or coffee included) at a restaurant around 2pm, do whatever, have another snack around 4pm with another beer/wine or coffee, have a siesta (afternoon nap) around 5pm, get ready for the evening around 7pm, go eat dinner around 9pm with more wine and a coffee, go out to bars around 11-12pm, and call it a night around 2-3am. Every night.
So this schedule might paint the Spanish as lazy. And, they’re definitely not. It’s the way that they view life that makes it acceptable to have this schedule. We witnessed that while locals were out having one of their many bites to eat during the day, barely ANYONE was on their cell phone. Most places had wifi but no one really seemed interested in their devices. Only a handful of places even had TV’s. Everyone was either people-watching, engaged in conversation with others at their table, or just sitting and reading a good old-fashioned newspaper while they sipped their coffee. This was a time to unwind and/or connect with others. As well, all of the buildings had a deep history and were for the most part, small and modest. There were rarely elevators, not a lot of automatic this or that, no big living room with an island kitchen, no clothing dryers. Hey, those things are awesome to have, but they were living their lives just fine with what they had. And why the siesta? Because this was the time to stop work and to go home to be with your family before the night began again. The Spanish have a vibrant love for nighttime and it was common to see little kids out walking the streets with their parents at midnight. You would hear laughing and glasses clinking and music and just…energy. Again, this was more time to spend with your family and loved ones.
Why was I always so stressed out at home about a bunch of things that I couldn’t even remember what they were at the time?! Have I been letting work and the pressure to live a certain life overshadow what’s important to me and the importance of spending time with others? I’d like to think not regarding the latter but I definitely can say, like all of us, I lose perspective on what matters most here and there. Now I know the grass is not always greener on the other side and I feel very thankful for what I have in
my life. And we were told by many people there that it’s their dream to visit America (typically New York and California were top picks). But I do worry that the hustle and bustle that America has might be quite the whirlwind for someone visiting from Spain. They may go to lunch and think, “Wait, why have you come over to my table so many times? Why are you taking my plate already? The bill? But it’s only been 30 minutes.” An average lunch in Spain took about an hour and a half where dinner for just us four averaged 2+ hours. It’s just…different, and I totally respect their pace and outlook.
When we returned to the states, we had a nice long Labor Day Weekend to hibernate and slowly get back into the swing of things. It’s been a few weeks that we’ve been back now and it’s definitely not easy to continue to feel the freedom (well, the Spanish vacation freedom) when it’s time to focus on work and all the responsibilities of being an adult along with all the other hats we wear in regular life. But, we can do our best to listen to what really speaks to us, have the courage to walk away from the things that don’t, and to remember that everything we do each day is (and should be) for our own definition of a “rich” life, no one else’s.
I just hope to always remember how I felt when walking around the city and coming upon a street that had lush trees casting beautiful shadows on the cobblestone path, or feeling the breeze when overlooking a city from a high view,
or just being with people you love in a place you’re falling in love with.
As for what kinds of trips we’ll take in the future, I’m glad that even on domestic trips I’ve noticed and appreciated the character of each city. The cities I’ve traveled to continue to instill in me that it’s more important to visit locations that are rich in culture and energy rather than places that don’t speak to me when researching. In other words, I will make sure to not visit a place to “just say I’ve been there”. I can confirm
that traveling is not about that.
That same friend whom I referenced above who understood that travel can change your perspective continued on to say, “You will find that you always bring back something from each trip.” If future trips are anything like Spain and Portugal, then I’ll be right back. I need to go pack.