This time next week, I’ll be packing my bags for my trip to Porto! I have never been to Portugal before, and I have heard such positive things about this city, so it’s time to find out what all the fuss is about.
Usually, I’m more of a mountain fiend than a city slicker when I travel, but as I’m not taking any annual leave and just squeezing it into a weekend, it’s much harder to get off the beaten track.
City breaks can be very special though. Each city is so different and has its own unique vibe that is hard to pinpoint. Besides, cities are the best places for finding good restaurants, drinking quality coffee and discovering interesting architecture and museums.
My excitement is building, so I thought I’d share some tips that might help you to get ready for an upcoming trip.
Accommodation comes in so many forms, and this is where the biggest variation in travel style comes. Where you sleep, and how much you want to spend in this area, is a really personal choice and everyone is different. I have stayed in hostel dorms, Air B&B rentals, campsites, luxury 5* hotels and everything in between. For a solo city break, I know I like the atmosphere of a hostel with the privacy of my own room. Dorm rooms are fine, but my own little space for the night makes it superb. I have booked a single room in a hostel in Porto, which wasn’t much pricier than some of the dorm beds. It will be small, it may feel like a cell, but I won’t have to put up with people coming in drunk at 3am and turning the light on, yet I still won’t have to splash out for hotel prices.
When you’re booking a bed for the night, do your research. Read reviews, check the location on the map, and find out if things like breakfast and towels are included in the price. Really think about what you’re looking for from your accommodation and trawl the internet for the perfect place.
Buy or borrow a guidebook
A lot of people won’t agree with me on this, because how can you really live like a local if you’re only going to the places the Lonely Planet tells you to? It’s about balance. The guidebook is there for inspiration, not as a rulebook. If, like me, your trip is a short one, a guidebook helps you spot the key attractions and to prioritise them. When you’re pushed for time, there’s nothing worse than missing something you’d love to see because you haven’t planned properly. Of course, all the information in there is available online, but do you really want to spend your precious trip obsessively trying to find wifi? Then getting distracted by the delicious wifi and spending your time bragging on social media about your adventure instead of actually living it? (OK that’s what happened to me the one time I went without a guidebook!) You’ll also be able to find handy maps, transport info, and often advice on local customs.
Plan an itinerary
Following on from getting a guidebook, you can use this in advance, along with online research, to figure out what you’d like to do at your destination. From sights you want to see, to food and drink you want to try to where the free walking tours start, it’s great to get a sense of how you’ll be spending your time. I love this part of preparing for a trip, so I usually plan out a meticulous itinerary with every moment accounted for. Then when I get there, I toss it all out the window, as we all know the best thing to do in a city is to aimlessly wander down backstreets for hours and while away time in coffee shops, watching the world go by.
You probably know this, but DON’T exchange currency at the airport. Their rates are the worst and you’re basically throwing money into the hands of corporate fat cats instead of spending it on gelato. Check the exchange rates at different places well before your trip, but I usually go with the Post Office.
Contact your bank
There have been some very hairy moments on my travels when my card has been declined because I forgot to tell my bank I’d be using it abroad. When your bank notices unusual transactions, like those in a different country, they suspect fraud and sometimes block your card. This can be a real inconvenience, and might mean you have to make expensive calls back home to prove who you are, so save yourself the aggro and notify your bank in advance.
Passport and Visas
Just double and triple check that your passport is in date, you have all the correct documentation for that country, and that your passport has enough space to get stamped. As I’m jetting around a lot, I have nearly filled it up with stamps. It should be fine for Porto, as there is a little space, but always be sure of the country’s requirements, as in some cases you need to have 1 or 2 full blank pages.
Yawn! I’ll keep it brief as no one enjoys talking about insurance. It’s a personal choice, and you probably won’t need it, but you can often get covered for a few quid and it’s there in case the worst happens. Use a price comparison website to get the best deal.
Getting to the airport
You don’t want to be stressing about missing your flight, so plan how you’re going to get there well in advance. Check that trains are running, tubes aren’t striking, or what traffic is like at that time, and work around that. I always leave ages in advance then have some chill time at the airport (with or without a glass of celebratory prosecco) and avoid the worry altogether. (That hasn’t stopped me from nearly missing my flight because I was having a lovely time reading my book).
Ironically, now that I have made this list, I realise I still have a lot to do before my mini-break to Porto. However, I’m sure I’ll be ready to get on that plane come next Friday. I love that last build up to a trip, as the day edges closer and my thoughts get consumed with the fascinating new culture I will be lucky enough to discover. This definitely won’t be the last you hear on my trip to Porto!