Portugal was my protest trip. Well, actually my first solo trip. But it began as a protest. I had just turned 29, childless and with no significant other. Sure, I had come close enough. But in the words of Brandy, ‘almost doesn’t count’.
Many weeks passed almost identically: Monday to Friday, I worked. Friday to Sunday was a blur of happy hours, and to the naked eye, I was the life and soul. But beneath my bouncy exterior lay a subtle frustration—an itch that I just couldn’t reach. I coasted through life like a merry-go-round. On and on I went, and the years rolled by. Until one day, a temp showed up in my office.
Now let me give you the full picture: I worked among people who had been at the company for 20+ years. Before that, most of them were at school together in the exact area. There were no new ideas, no perspectives—just a cosy shade of grey that moved in unison from person to person.
I’m a big believer that; everyone no matter how long or short they remain in your life, they always impress something upon you. It might not always be obvious at first. Think of it like seeds needing water and space and unfurling roots beneath the surface. You too, need time to marinate and grow. The temp planted a new idea within me.
After a weekend of my usual routine, I rolled into my weekly one. During break time; I wove stories of drunken tales strung together from hazy moments captured in my mind. Just as I always did...for my colleagues. Unlike the others who entertained the regurgitated updates, the temp was different. A disruptor. Instead he asked,
“Don’t you ever think about trying anything else?”
“No.” I said flatly, or maybe even slightly irritated, come to think of it now, and shut down the conversation.
The thing was: I
wanted was desperate to try other things—a cooking class here, a day trip to another town there. I’d get as far as searching for train or plane tickets, but wind up abandoning my cart last minute. The truth was, I was too scared to go on my own. Scared I’d feel awkward. Scared what others would think I was weird or didn’t have any friends.
How silly is that?
Now don’t get me wrong. My friends and spent hours meticulously planning trips. Weekend trips, Day trips and a beachy spot to spend summer. Trouble is, these plans never made it out of our WhatsApp group chats.
One evening after work, I tried a different approach. The temp’s words had irritated my itch, and I became frustrated that all these WhatsApp board meetings never made it beyond the group. So I booked a solo trip to Portugal. Not gonna lie, it was a protest move. I did it in the hope of inspiring a domino effect and finally liberating these drawn out plans.
Yet, as the confirmation email landed in my inbox, a surge of apprehension gripped me as I shared it in the WhatsApp group chat. Doubts crept in like shadows in my mind. Was this too impulsive? What if my friends didn’t book too? What if I found myself stranded in a foreign land, alone and lost? The countdown to breaking out of my comfort zone had begun.
Six weeks later, I was crippled with fear at Stansted Airport, Alone. Come to think of it, I must have stirred some anxiety in those poor other travellers. Even though it had been over a decade, the echoes of September 11th were still sort of fresh in people’s minds. Picture me by the gate. Pacing. Sitting. Then standing. Fidgeting awkwardly with my passport. I probably glanced back at the gate entrance a hundred times,
secretly hoping my friends would show. That feeling stuck with me through the air hostess- demonstration and the captain’s friendly introduction, until I finally accepted—they weren’t coming.
Four hours later, as the wheels touched down at Faro International Airport—solo. I felt a whirlwind of emotions. Sure, I was physically alone, but curiously, I didn’t feel lonely. The wave of panic that engulfed me just hours ago transformed into something else—like the feeling of your first day at a new job or going on a first date. You know logically, you can do this, but this awkward hyper-consciousness follows your every move. That! Anyways, as I stepped onto Portuguese soil (well, ground) , I remembered moving with exaggerated carefulness, like a baby taking its first steps. Fuelled by a wicked sense of curiosity, awe, and excitement, I made my way through the arrivals gate and spotted a placard bearing a solitary name—MINE. My transfer had arrived ready to take me to my new address in the Albufeira. At that moment, barely out of the airport, euphoria washed over me as I thought to myself, ‘OMG, I did it.’
Here’s the thing: Everyone has their own timeline, their own path to lead and although I didn’t know it at the time, this seemingly little moment marked the beginning of my own transformative journey.
Now here’s where I could tell you all the ins and outs of my first solo trip. Visit this place, See and do that. But let me share the lessons learned with you instead…
Lessons Learned ✨
You gain a ton of confidence. Whether or not you’re aware, you do a helluva lot of things alone—whether at home or abroad. Think about it: going for a job interview, starting a new job, shopping for food, chatting with a potential love interest. Going about your everyday life. These experiences, confined to the walls of your comfort zone, become routine. When travelling solo and shattering that bubble, you lean into all your independent living skills with an ultimate exam to test you. Which by the way, you’ll pass with flying colours. The experience uplifts you up and reminds you of your awesomeness and capability.
Ah and you know what else happen?
Self-discovery. And growth!
People are more likely to approach you when you’re alone. You become intensely present. Your need to try new things skyrockets. I see now this journey wasn’t just about Portugal; it was about unleashing my free-spirited nature, riding solo, and discovering newfound confidence. That initial fear and uncertainty transformed into a liberating experience, highlighting that sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to the most fulfilling adventures. And, yep, that includes leaving the WhatsApp Group Chat!
💌So to all the fierce soon-to-be and solo travellers, remember:
Your journey is not just about the places you visit but the fearless, incredible person you become along the way. 💫