If you live in the United States, November – Thanksgiving week can be a good time to travel internationally. For us, every couple of years Thanksgiving is a window of opportunity to go somewhere. The family is off doing other things, and a plan comes together to go on a trip. For this particular thanksgiving, we looked at the calendar, our “vacation” bank and work schedules and figured out we had 9-10 days (S,S,M,T,W,Th,F,S,S,M).
We had considered New Zealand, but looking at flights, it takes two or three days to get there… then adjusting to the time change, would leave us roughly 5 days to see NZ and a day to travel back. It could be done, but wasn’t ideal… when we researched things that we wanted to do, we realized quickly that this was a place we would want to spend several weeks, and that NZ would have to be another trip another time. Additionally, we could not find reasonable priced flights or good availability with Miles. I don’t know if this is most people or not, but when I start dreaming about going somewhere – one of my deciding factors is getting a “good deal” or not… what constitutes a good deal? For some reason, I have thresholds, that I just have a hard time getting past, like paying more than $1000 dollars to fly round trip to Europe seems outrageous. Maybe I’m off my rocker, I just have a certain propensity to consume.. once something gets too expensive, my desire to consume goes down dramatically. Anyway, I’m off topic again…
So after the NZ idea became unrealistic, we started researching another idea, Portugal. I was able to find Flight availability for two using my AA miles, unfortunately it would use up almost all of my 220,000 miles that I had been stockpiling for a big trip. That is okay really, since I have been planning to purge them all anyway. AA was showing good availability from AUS->MAD via DFW arriving in MAD around 9:50am.
Planning for the Trip – Usually we spend a few weeks getting ideas about what we want to see, then make a basic outline and timeline of those locations… leaving some options open in case we want to stay longer somewhere or keep exploring. So the initial plan was to start in Porto (northern city of Portugal), explore that area for a few days, and then head south stopping along the way, and ending in Lisbon. This would have made the most of our logistics, and timing. However, I could only find ‘reasonable’ flights from MAD to Porto early Sunday morning which did not work for our inbound flight to MAD… instead of wasting a day in MAD, we decided to just head to Lisbon straight away. At this time of year, the weather can be tricky, it could be 40 degrees and raining, or it could be 65 and pleasant… So after lining up the flights – our starting point would be Lisbon, and we could either go North toward Porto, or South toward Lagos, and the sunny beaches… we decided this would be a gametime call based on the weather, if it looked okay, we would head north… if miserable, then we would head south.
We planned to arrive in Lisbon Sunday afternoon, check into the hotel, and start exploring… since neither one of us can really sleep on a plane, we have found that usually after an overnight flight to Europe, we do better getting out and walking/exploring, walking some more, and staying awake until later in the evening, when we are exhausted from walking and jet-lagged. This allows us to crash and wake up at a semi normal time the next day, somewhat adjusted. This sounds dangerously like a “travel tip” 🙂 … It works pretty well for us, but makes for a really long day. Next, the plan was to visit the town of Sintra via local train on Monday since a lot of the tourist sites are closed on Monday. Then on Tuesday we would explore other areas of Lisbon, like Belem and some of the cool neighborhoods. If that all worked out, we tentatively planned to check out of Lisbon and rent a car and head to Porto. Google Maps estimated the Drive at around 2.5 hours via the toll roads, and I thought a “small” deviation thru the Douro Valley would be a good idea. We hate spending a ton of time driving in the car… From Porto, we would plan to make our way back toward Lisbon, we had our eye on a few villages that we might want to stay in and make day trips from there… but we had no concrete plan, and decided to wait and make the final decision as we went… Again, one of the benefits of traveling in Europe over the Thanksgiving holidays is generally depending on where you go – you don’t need reservations, and rooms are easy to find. Having said that I do like to have our first night hotel planned, and our departure night hotel plan figured out.
Having the actual Logistics worked out for getting there and getting back home takes some of the stress off of traveling in general, and makes you look “really smart” in front of your spouse.
- I figured out flight timings, including connections, getting from terminal to terminal, and allowing for delays.
- I decided the best method to get from Airport to Hotel was a Taxi, Taxi’s are inexpensive in Lisbon.
- When is the best time to rent a Car? in this case, you really do not want a car in Lisbon, there is no place to really park it. So we planned to rent the car when we left Lisbon and headed north. Turns out Lisbon is very walk-able City. Public Transport is reasonable.
- Staying near the departing airport when we have a early morning return flight, and making sure I understand the logistics involved in getting up and getting to the airport, including baggage was critical in getting home on time, of course we never really wanted to leave Portugal.
NEXT… Arriving in Lisbon – getting to our hotel, exploring that first day to avoid the Jet Lag. walking walking walking. Finding Bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fish cakes) and white port wine.