Tips for my first overseas vacation
October 26, 2017 5:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading to Portugal in a few weeks for a 10 day vacation with a few friends. I'm a pretty seasoned domestic traveler, but I've never traveled internationally (except for the Caribbean and Canada). I've got the basics covered - passport is current, bought a plug converter, learned some Portuguese. But I'm starting to get a little nervous about the whole trip, from the long flights, to being in another country, to leaving my cats with a sitter. Help me with your best travel hacks so that I can be exited again!

I don't need any advice on things to see in Portugal (unless you have a super amazing recommendation, then hit me!), as our itinerary is fairly set. I guess some of my general questions are:
- Will the flight be awful? I'll have a neck pillow, a blanket scarf, headphones, and a book. Am I missing something?
- Are there specific things I should avoid doing in Europe? I'm thinking etiquette-type things.
- I've identified one of my credit cards that doesn't have a foreign transaction fee and plan to use this for the entire trip. Dumb or smart?
- Are there specific things that I should be certain not to forget, because they aren't available in Europe?
- Are there things I should definitely plan on buying to bring back?
- Cell phone - should I just make do with wifi or is it worth turning on international service? How does this work with Verizon?
- Anything else I'm not thinking of?

I'm an overplanner by nature, so any tips or tricks are much appreciated. Obrigada!
posted by tryniti to Travel & Transportation around Portugal (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Info on tipping (because I know that's often a big difference between the US and other countries). That page has some general etiquette advice too.

- I've identified one of my credit cards that doesn't have a foreign transaction fee and plan to use this for the entire trip. Dumb or smart?

Plan on getting some cash out. Some shops may not take cards at all or may not take them for transactions below e.g. €10 or €20. Also useful for taxis

Previously: How do I avoid looking like a tourist in Europe?

Don't forget travel insurance (just checking because you didn't mention it, not because Portugal is especially dangerous!).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:48 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


I want to help, but I'm going to make a point first...

European people do not have a single culture. The continent is incredibly diverse, hundreds of languages and dialects, many different ways of living. It's not possible to answer a question on European etiquette as no such thing exists. Americans assuming a homogeneous way of life across Europe is considered a bit gauche, at best.

Right, I'll get off my high horse now! If you can get hold of a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Portugal, or for the region / city you'll be staying in, these books are hands down the most comprehensive and readable introductions to the Portuguese culture, including public transport, tipping, etiquette, local bar and restaurant customs, what's worth buying, etc. Worth every penny.

The plane ride will be uncomfortable, unless you're in first class, but so long as you take along plenty of distractions you'll be fine. Enjoy your trip!
posted by doornoise at 5:53 AM on October 26, 2017 [8 favorites]


The streets in Lisbon have a lot of uneven paving stones. Wear good shoes. It will not help you look like less of a tourist but it will make the trip more pleasant.
posted by mai at 5:53 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


The flight will be crap if you are flying coach. You are not missing anything there, it is what it is.

Don't think of Europe as a single place. Portugal is different from Spain, never mind Denmark or Austria, etc.

Be polite. Don't be loud. Say Faz Favor not Por Favor. I've always found Portuguese people to be helpful and amiable in general. Don't eat the little bread plate at the beginning of meals if you don't want to pay for it. Generally cafes and restaurants assume you are honest and wait for payment till you are done. The only people I ever felt ripped off by in Portugal were the taxis, were gouging seems to be a professional essential, especially in Lisbon.

Taking enough of any medication you need is the only real essential to take, just because it would be a pain to get once there.

We usually bring back some good quality port. Local cheese or olive oil maybe, to suit your taste.

Download a guidebook if you haven't already.

Life may be a struggle if you are vegetarian.

Look on youtube for videos on what should I do in Portgual? What shouldn't I do in Portgual? Things not to miss in Portugal.
posted by biffa at 5:55 AM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Are there specific things that I should be certain not to forget, because they aren't available in Europe?

Honestly, apart from, say, prescription medication: no. Whatever those things may be that they don't have in Europe, an entire continent of people lives without them. Just live like one of those people for 10 days.

(I'm not intending to be harsh, just suggesting a mindset that might help you enjoy your trip more.)

And buy olive oil.
posted by veggieboy at 5:56 AM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


- Will the flight be awful? I'll have a neck pillow, a blanket scarf, headphones, and a book. Am I missing something?

Yep it will be quite annoying. I'm assuming that you will have an overnight flight on the way there so all you should be trying to do is sleep. I'd even skip the meal and just try to sleep. When you land in Portugal have a light lunch at the normal lunch time and have a small nap (2 hours) to help get over jet lag.

- Are there specific things I should avoid doing in Europe? I'm thinking etiquette-type things.

In Portugal pretty much everything is closed on Sunday, so don't be surprised or caught out without supplies. Also they tend to have this thing at their restaurants where they will bring a snack-like starter to the table when you sit down. This isn't free and will be added on your bill if you eat it, but if you don't eat it then it is taken away.

- I've identified one of my credit cards that doesn't have a foreign transaction fee and plan to use this for the entire trip. Dumb or smart?

Smart, but be absolutely sure about the no transaction fee. I would also get some cash to have on hand. Be sure to notify your card companies and bank that you are travelling in Portugal and the dates so they don't block your cards. Hopefully you have a chip and pin card, but otherwise just be patient with people to get them to swipe it.

- Are there specific things that I should be certain not to forget, because they aren't available in Europe?

Peanut butter? Narcissistic orange presidents? You're in a developed country, while not everything will be immediately available, there will be a portugese equivalent of some fashion. As long as you're willing to eat like a local you'll be fine.

- Are there things I should definitely plan on buying to bring back?

Port; peri-peri sauce; any interesting food you liked; a sword; something with the traditional rooster decoration on it;

- Cell phone - should I just make do with wifi or is it worth turning on international service? How does this work with Verizon?

Your phone on verizon might not work at all in Europe. I would just use wifi anyways. Possibly look into an addon that would give you access, but I wouldn't bother,

- Anything else I'm not thinking of?

Have fun. Bring maps. Public transportation in Lisbon is wonderful. You can get a card that lasts for a set amount of time and it is good on the touristy things as well like the elevator and the funicular trams as well.
posted by koolkat at 6:00 AM on October 26, 2017


I just did LAX->PHL->LIS and back last week, though for business travel.

-The flight isn't fun. PHL->LIS is 8 hours, I'm tall and economy seats are just not comfortable for me. I ended up bringing an e-paper reader to read once I ran out of charge on my laptops, which made things much more bearable. It's just kinda the cost of doing business when it comes to European travel though. I've done five or six trips and you just deal with it.

-Credit cards: I called my bank to let them know I was going to be on travel -- I once came home from a trip to Asia and found I had voicemails from my bank's security folks threatening to cut off my card for suspected fraud unless I called them to confirm charges were legit. It would've been somewhat disastrous since I didn't have other cards at that time, nor a phone that worked overseas! Also, yes, take out some euros as taxis and restaurants aren't huge on card use. I paid too much at a money-changing desk in the airport; in hindsight I probably could've used an ATM (since I bank with an international bank; not sure about fees if you did this with a US-based bank).

-Phone: Verizon has an international roaming thing. You call them and enable it, which is free, and then it's $10 for each 24-hour block of usage (you aren't charged if your phone isn't used). I turned the service on, so I'd have options if I needed them, but ended up leaving my phone in airplane mode the whole trip. Was comforting to know that if I needed to use my phone I could, however!

Interesting gotchas:
-The passport control arrival and departure hall look IDENTICAL in Lisbon but they're actually mirror images, opposite each other in the airport. When you go to leave the country you are not accidentally being routed into a line to re-enter the country (I wish exhausted-me had known this last Saturday morning. It was confusing!).

Lisboa is a beautiful city. I'm a bit jealous of your relaxed 10-day timetable! I barely got to see some parks outside my hotel, but what I saw looked great. Have fun!
posted by Alterscape at 6:01 AM on October 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yes, the flight will probably be awful. Who knows, maybe it won't, but low expectations is your friend. I usually find that my brain is fuzzy on airplane flights so I get a People magazine to read rather than a book. It is distracting, but it doesn't matter if I don't remember what I read. I sometimes find I have to re-read books that I tried to read on a flight.

You will probably arrive jet lagged so the first full day should be kept low key if possible. Walk around the city, explore a few things, but be prepared to need a LONG afternoon nap. By the second full day, you should feel somewhat more acclimated, then be fine by the third day.

Take a wash cloth. My experience in Europe is that they don't have them. Weird, but there it is. Take one if you like to wash your face with a wash cloth.

Regarding cell phone plans, I usually go in to the Verizon store about two weeks ahead and tell them I am traveling internationally. They give me a phone number which I call and then set up the international service. About $40 for limited calls and unlimited peace of mind about what ifs.
posted by eleslie at 6:03 AM on October 26, 2017


Will the flight be awful? I'll have a neck pillow, a blanket scarf, headphones, and a book. Am I missing something?
My flight kit also includes a small toothbrush/toothpaste (because it's awfully nice not to have a gross tasting mouth by the end of the flight), socks to put over the ones I'm wearing so I can walk the aisle to stretch without putting my shoes back on, ear plugs, and lip balm because airplane air is very dry. Basically I reproduce the little kit they give you if you fly first class.

I've identified one of my credit cards that doesn't have a foreign transaction fee and plan to use this for the entire trip. Dumb or smart?
It's a fine idea, but bring other cards just in case that one gives you trouble. Europe is chip and pin, not chip and signature, and some American cards just don't play well with European card machines.

Are there specific things that I should be certain not to forget, because they aren't available in Europe?
No. There's nothing you can't get there that you can here. The only difference is that it may be more unusual to find 24-hour shopping anywhere (at least that was true in the Azores when I went, maybe mainland Portugal has a different vibe on that count).

Cell phone - should I just make do with wifi or is it worth turning on international service? How does this work with Verizon?
Wifi is fine. Whatsapp if you need to be able to text with it. Where you're staying will most likely have a landline for emergencies. Unless you are driving, can't function without GPS, and for some reason couldn't rent that with your car.
posted by solotoro at 6:03 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Do you have a plan for combating jet lag?
I have the most success when I get on the plane and immediately pretend I am in the new time zone. Usually this means trying to sleep (or at least laying with my eyes closed) for the majority of the flight there. Skip meals, skip the movies, etc. On the way home, it generally means staying up the entire time even though you are exhausted. Of course you need to look at your flight times and come up with a plan that works for you.
Avoid the temptation to take a nap on the first afternoon, and instead walk around and try to stay up until at least 10:00 pm. You don't want to lose precious vacation days to jet lag recovery!
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 6:22 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Compression socks for the plane trip.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:25 AM on October 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm 36 hours away from a flight to Budapest, and it is my 8th international trip. Point by point:

- Will the flight be awful? I'll have a neck pillow, a blanket scarf, headphones, and a book. Am I missing something?

International flights just suck if you're not in first class. But this is kind of an "it is what it is" situation. I find that it actually helps for me to not sleep well on the plane; it tires me out a little, and then I push myself to stay up until at least 8 pm the day I land before letting myself sleep because I'm so exhausted I drop right off - and that effectively is a hard reset on my biologic clock, which gets jet lag over and done with. Just don't plan on doing anything intellectually challenging your first day; maybe just get to your hotel, settle in a bit (NO NAPS!), maybe take a shower and then take a walk around your hotel and explore a bit. Get a light dinner, then go to sleep at 8 and set an alarm for whenever you need to get up the next day. Works every time.

- Are there specific things I should avoid doing in Europe? I'm thinking etiquette-type things.

Think of it more like "etiquette in Portugal" because it's its own distinct country. There are copious web sites that discuss international etiquette - most catering to business travelers, but they still have good tips. Have a quick search of "etiquette Portugal" or something. But don't be surprised if there isn't a super amount; most of the "differnt etiquette" stuff I've found is only a handful of tips becuase most of it is the same as it is here.

- Are there specific things that I should be certain not to forget, because they aren't available in Europe?

Again, think "Portugal" instead of "Europe". But if you're talking about things like medicine, then I would bring that for your own peace of mind. If you're talking about things like shoes, then...yes, they have shoes.

- Are there things I should definitely plan on buying to bring back?

That depends on your interests, your wallet, and the cool shops you find. :-) Let this be an adventure - I didn't know before I went to Paris that I needed Algerian hammam towels, but then I discovered the coolest little shop along the Seine that this was all they sold, and got so caught up in talking to these two ladies who were having so much fun shopping and the towels were so pretty that I ended up buying a couple myself, and even went back to the same store on a return trip to Paris and bought more.

Although, if you like cooking, it may be fun to browse the food shops for unusual spices or ingredients you haven't encountered before. (If you do this, though, keep in mind the US Customs restrictions - avoid liquids in your carry-on, try not to get meat or cheese, fruit is a no-go, etc. But spices, grains, and chocolate and stuff like that is okay. The customs and border site discussing these restrictions is here.)

- Anything else I'm not thinking of?

Yes: remember to relax! The thing that I have found while traveling, again and again and again, is that the vast majority of people you encounter want to be nice and help you. Portugal isn't, like, Pluto - people are still people, which means that while there may be some douchenozzles, most people are friendly, and will want to help if you need it. Some of my best memories from trips have been about the halting conversations I've had with shopkeepers when neither one of us knew each others' language (one shopkeeper in Italy told me "we don't serve hot cocoa in the springtime" entirely by using charades), or some great expressions I learned (I asked directions from someone in Rome and she told me that it was straight ahead, and may be longer than I thought "but keep going, with faith, and you'll get there!").

Or people may try to practice their English when they hear you're from the US - I was speaking entirely in French at that Algerian towel place, so the shopkeeper was surprised when I mentioned I was from the US. I was there on December 30th, so before I left, she stopped me, and then very carefully and slowly said "....Happy...New....Year!" (Then asked in French if she'd said that right.)

You will be fine. Board your plane, with faith, and have a gret time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Are there specific things that I should be certain not to forget, because they aren't available in Europe?

Relax. Portugal is a modern country. I am writing this from an office in Lisbon. I will say the broadband speeds are amazing as it is something that Portugal invested in a while ago. I'll add a few tips that might trip up Americans.

*When you pay for something at a cafe or shop, the price you see is the price you pay. What I mean is there is no sales tax like in the US.

*For tips, leave a couple euros if you want. Tips are not required. Applies to taxis as well.

*At the end of your meal, you will have to ask for your bill. They don't automatically bring it to you.

*If you are introduced to a Portuguese person and they lunge at you, they are trying to do the double-cheek kiss thing which is the standard greeting. Men shake hands with other men, otherwise its all kiss-kiss. You'll usually be exempted as a foreigner but just a note of warning.

*Portuguese, like italians, mainly drink espressos. And they drink them all the time, like water. It is often even included with meals. When you order a 'cafe' you will get an espresso.

*It is polite to greet people in Portuguese. They will appreciate it but don't be surprised if they then switch to English.

*The seafood is fantastic and varied. Portuguese wines, such as those from the Douro region, are also amazing. I'm not keen on Portuguese cheeses. Eggs here are something you add on top of your steak or you mix with sugar and have for dessert. I thought I didn't like Port wine but that is because until I came to Portugal I had not had a great one.

*Finally, and most importantly: Don't confuse the Portuguese with the Spanish. They are their own very proud nation with their own unique history and love people who recognize that.
posted by vacapinta at 6:38 AM on October 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh! vacapinta has reminded me of another Mefi-specific thing I would recommend - hit up the IRL page and propose a meetup. I've done that for most of my trips and it's always been a great time - I've been taken to get Turkish food in Islingon, London, fried cod in Rome, and was introduced to tartiflette in Paris. The only reason I haven't proposed anything for my trip coming up is that I'm going to two different places in a week and my window of opportunity is too small.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on October 26, 2017


I did the $10/day Verizon thing on my trip to Greece a few months ago and it made a world of difference, especially having working GPS. Never being lost made my trip 100% better.

Definitely take whatever meds you might need. I was on a trip once in... France I think? and they didnt have the exact over-the-counter sinus stuff I usually take, and I was miserable for half my trip.

Bring a water bottle. I'm always so thirsty when I travel overseas. I just feel like it's more difficult to get drinking water whenever I want, so I bring a water bottle and fill it at every opportunity.
posted by silverstatue at 6:42 AM on October 26, 2017


You don't say what kind of phone you have, but if it runs Google Maps you can download offline areas while you're on wifi and then use the GPS without data service. We discovered the iOS version only does driving directions in this mode (not walking directions) but we could still eyeball where we wanted to walk if the driving directions were roundabout.

Also check the voltage on the devices you plan to plug in. Most electronics these days ship with switching power supplies instead of simple transformers, and they will be labeled as 100-240V, 50-60Hz. What that means is you can use a simple plug adapter without needing a voltage converter, which will save you size and weight. Hair dryers and electric shavers likely will not work that way (they're 100-120V, 60Hz only), though, so check before plugging things in.

International flights in economy are pretty miserable, but everyone else has addressed all the stuff I'd say. I'm too old and too tall for that shit, so I pay for extra leg room or premium economy seats whenever they are available.

We have friends or relatives check on our cats while we're away. Our cats now actually seem to have missed us whenever we return, but their predecessors would always shun us for the first 36 hours or so. Your felines may vary.
posted by fedward at 7:07 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


The only thing I would say you really should try not to forget is stick deodorant if that's something you like; maybe Portugal is different but in general Europe is a land of roll-on deodorants. Like, stick deodorant exists, but it is as hard to find and the selection is as bad as with roll-on deodorant in the US.

I like non-challenging podcasts and audiobooks for overnight flights - pretty easy to fall asleep to, generally, and if/when you're awake at least you have a friendly voice in your ears.
posted by mskyle at 7:09 AM on October 26, 2017


Whoa, whoa, the flight isn't going to be awful. Like, it won't be the most comfortable or fun thing you'll ever do, but it's not like the airline is hanging you by your fingers for 7 hours. Get up, move around.

Of course, retract all that if you have a middle seat, and good luck to you.

Don't stress out about sleeping on the flight. On flights to Europe, sometimes I sleep, sometimes I don't. Rest if you want to, don't try to sleep. But good lord whatever you do do not sleep when you get to your hotel. Don't even sit on the bed. Stay up until 8PM or so at least.
posted by Automocar at 7:26 AM on October 26, 2017 [6 favorites]


When you get to Europe just buy a local SIM and stick it in your phone. For 20 E you'll have a couple weeks of data and probably unlimited texts. In general Europe is streets ahead in terms of broadband and phone service prices and quality.

Also make sure your debit and credit cards have a chip or you might not be able to use them. Not sure about Portugal but that's common elsewhere. You don't always need a pin but it's helpful to have so set one up.
posted by fshgrl at 7:27 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


A random international travel essential for me is lip balm. Six-eight hours of cabin air plane dries my skin out, and the last thing I want to spend my limited vacation time finding chapstick in a foreign country.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:40 AM on October 26, 2017


I love to visit groceries stores and pharmacies when I travel abroad. So many interesting little things to check out that we might not have at home. For me, I like to bring home kitchenware or small pottery from my trips but that's just me.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 7:59 AM on October 26, 2017


If you take any uncommon or controlled medications check to see if 1) they are allowed in the country and 2) see if your doc will write you paper prescriptions, which can make it easier to replace any meds you lose or forget. If they’re banned, find out the proper way to bring them through customs.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:18 AM on October 26, 2017


On the Flight
- Air has low humidity so I bring lip balm, saline nasal spray, eyedrops.
- I bring industrial strenght earplugs. Some use eyeshades.
- Plan your bathroom trips to avoid lines. Visit before meal service and 90+ min before estimated landing time.

Metro (subway) cars may have automatic doors, some have a lighted button or a lever to open from the inside, or a button to open from the outside.

By law, there are pharmacies open 24/7, though that rotates among pharmacies. There is a website (no idea of the URL). You hotel staff will know how to find which ones are open.

Know some Spanish? Don't use it.

I read on blogs, and confirmed during 2 trips to Portugal, bus service can be irregular. During scheduled hours sometimes there are no buses running on a line, or they run part of the day, then... nothing.

Being able to tell the difference between 2 and 1 euro coins at a glance is helpful in not being short changed.

Travel with at least 2 cards (ATM and/or Credit) from 2 different accounts, plus a stash of emergency cash that's enough to last until someone can wire you money. Obviously, have someone at home who will do that for you.

Copies of passport and health insurance cards online, in your luggage, and on your person in a place most unlikely to be pickpocketed.

At grocery stores, bring your own bag or buy a plastic 'saco'.

Europe mobile phone networks are GSM, Verizon uses CDMA. The phones are incompatible. However, LTE capable CDMA phones have a sim card. Some are GSM compatiable.

At restaurants, you'll have to ask for the check. At almost all the places I visited the server had a large leather 'purse' for change and bills. He made change at the table. The 2 that didn't do that didn't bring the change to me until I complained.

The white cobblestones found in plazas and other pedestrian areas are a soft stone, well polished by countless feet. They're slippery when wet.

Try starting the day with a Pastel de Nata and Um Bica (egg custard pastry and coffee with a bit more water than espresso). Warning: It's habit forming.
posted by Homer42 at 8:27 AM on October 26, 2017


If you take any uncommon or controlled medications check to see if 1) they are allowed in the country and 2) see if your doc will write you paper prescriptions, which can make it easier to replace any meds you lose or forget. If they’re banned, find out the proper way to bring them through customs.

The prescription may also be useful going through customs, if your bag is searched and they ask what the medication is/for proof that it's legit.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:38 AM on October 26, 2017


Not sure what time you get in, but I always go for a walk around my hotel as soon as I get in. Gives you some exercise after the flight, release some stress and get an idea of the area.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:41 AM on October 26, 2017


- I've identified one of my credit cards that doesn't have a foreign transaction fee and plan to use this for the entire trip. Dumb or smart?

If that card works for you, great, go ahead and use it since forex fees definitely add up, but be prepared for your credit card not to work or not to be accepted. European countries have different bank card networks and practices so US based cards are not always compatible. Major department stores, hotels, rental car agencies, etc will usually accept US-based cards but small businesses and restaurants may not. I find it's just easier to use cash most of the time. I've never had a problem using my ATM card to withdraw money in Europe.

- Cell phone - should I just make do with wifi or is it worth turning on international service? How does this work with Verizon?

I have Verizon. They offer some (very overpriced IMO) fixed-amount international add-ons or a $10/day "travel pass" that lets you use all of your home voice and data allowance abroad. That's the option to go with, and you'll need to enable the service on your account before you start roaming. I used to try to get by with just WiFi when traveling and it's absolutely possible to do it, but on my last trip I gave in and paid the fee for international data roaming and it made my life much easier. Being able to look up directions and transit system guidance when out and about is particularly valuable.

Alternately, since you'll be in one country for 10 days consider buying a basic unlocked smart phone and then get a Portuguese SIM card once you arrive. That might work out to be less expensive overall and being on a local network means no roaming glitches.
posted by 4rtemis at 8:51 AM on October 26, 2017


Be sure to notify your card companies and bank that you are travelling in Portugal and the dates so they don't block your cards.
Seconding this - Even if you think you will only use 1-2 cards, tell the bank for any of the cards you plan to bring along, since you want at least one backup.

I'd like to add that I have never had a US credit card declined in any store or restaurant in Europe. This was true back before we had chips in ours and now that we do. Machines that sell tickets at metro stops might not read them, though, but when that happened to me in Paris, I just went to the counter and they handled me there. Your bank might sell you some Euros in advance so you can have them on hand when you land. Mine sells them at certain locations and will buy them back from you within a certain amount of time. I have also used ATMs and been satisfied with the exchange rate - just make sure your PIN is only 4 digits.

buy a local SIM and stick it in your phone.
Make sure your phone is unlocked. I've used a local SIM, used a T Mobile SIM and an AT&T Intl plan at different times and they all seemed to work just as well as far as coverage goes. Whichever is cheapest for you will be the best. Even if you have data, keep your phone in airplane mode until you need it. It will save on the battery.

they aren't available in Europe
Rick Steves says that Europe will have just about anything you need (except your personal prescriptions, of course) and I have found this to be true. I can't always get my specific brand of toothpaste, but they have Aquafresh. What I often miss in Europe is popcorn - it exists but is rare and often sweetened.
They also don't have 1 or 2 Euro bills, they are coins, so you end up with more coins than usual if you deal in cash. I don't carry a coin purse unless I am traveling in Europe.
posted by soelo at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2017


One thing I always forget is that one can't take liquids through airport security. So if you buy any kind of delicious port of wine or anything else to take home, put it in your checked bag (oh, for the lost French wine and Greek kitron!).
posted by ldthomps at 9:23 AM on October 26, 2017


Maps.me provides really detailed maps and offline walking, biking, and driving (with traffic) directions, with audio if desired, for areas that you download. You can search for points of interest and import, create, and export color-coded bookmarks. You can download offline maps in Google Maps for backup, but as noted earlier, it has offline directions only for driving. Citymapper gives you transit directions and offline transit maps, and you can save journeys for offline use.

Google Translate can help you translate on the go and offline for downloaded languages, including images (with varying accuracy). TripLingo additionally has a voice translator (online only), pronunciation guide with audio, and other tools like tip calculator with local guidelines.

Travefy is a collaborative trip planner and organizer, including expense tracker/splitter, with an app to view your itinerary offline. You can also attach documents like pdfs of your bookings or photos of your passport and ID.

Whatsapp features free texting and voice/video calling on wifi, if you don't already have it. Set up a group chat with your travel buddies.

With these apps, you can get by handily without data. There are apps for offline maps showing free wifi and passwords, though it's probably easier to look for obvious locations like Starbucks, shopping centers, public libraries and municipal buildings, or sometimes even metro stations. As others mentioned, you can enable Verizon's $10/day TravelPass in case of emergency, and pay only when you use it; just make sure to keep airplane mode on when you don't. Otherwise you can get an unlocked mobile hotspot device (mifi) and then a local SIM card once you're there.

Bring a portable phone charger and cable so that you can use those apps all day long. Carry that in a light daypack or tote along with your everyday carry and an extra compact reusable bag. Don't forget utensils, bottle opener, napkins, and trash bag if you're going on a picnic.

Optional extras for your flight: eye mask, slippers, wet wipes, gum/mints, ginger candies for nausea, ibuprofen, melatonin or sleep aids, hand/face lotion. But I don't find flying to be a huge deal and prefer to keep it simple.

Portugal produces about half of the world's cork harvest, so you can buy some cork accessories if that's, well, your bag. In addition to the rooster, the sardine is a popular motif. Most of all, bring back good memories! I really enjoyed Lisbon, Sintra, and Cascais, and I hope you have a lot of fun too. Boa viagem!
posted by eyeball at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Portable phone charger both for the flight and for running around all day.

Ziploc bags. Perhaps they are more popular in Portugal then they were in the past, but I like to bring a bunch. I use them both for carrying items in my carry-on, but also for leftovers while in country, and then for the way home: to keep checked bags free of leaking olive oil, honey, etc. I bring large and small.
posted by jindc at 11:08 AM on October 26, 2017


I have never had a US credit card declined in any store or restaurant in Europe. This was true back before we had chips in ours and now that we do.

Mine was declined a single time on our weeklong trip: in the cafe car on the train between Paris and Rotterdam. I half suspect that the geographic origin for the charge was neither France nor the Netherlands, but instead wherever the concession operator is based, and thus not on the list I'd given to our card providers. For that I paid cash.

Be prepared to wait a few awkward seconds as the system processes and it eventually spits out the first of two receipts (since you have to sign one). I had one transaction in Paris and one in the Hague where the person ringing me up didn't pay enough attention to realize I had to sign, but that all worked out. And our chip & signature card worked just fine (without a signature) in the Paris metro.

Also, weirdly, the POS terminals in the Netherlands were an order of magnitude faster than the ones in Paris. No idea why.
posted by fedward at 11:22 AM on October 26, 2017


One thing to note is that in most pharmacies in Europe (including Portugal I assume) you have to talk to the pharmacist and describe your symptoms to get even over the counter medication. They are always very nice and will usually speak at least some English, but it triggers my social anxiety so I try to bring any over the counter stuff I might need.

Also just learn to feel ok being a little awkward in general when traveling internationally. Social norms for things like getting the check, making small talk when ordering coffee, whatever are often a little different from what you're used to so rather than getting nervous and trying to do it perfectly, just learn to laugh at yourself a little, be gracious and appreciative, and assume the good will of the people around you.

Have fun!! Portugal is fantastic!!
posted by EmilyFlew at 11:49 AM on October 26, 2017


both culture shock and culture smart have guides to portugal.

My experience in other European countries is that the major train stations have shops open on Sunday, which includes a supermarket. is this not the case in Portugal?
posted by brujita at 12:50 PM on October 26, 2017


fill up your water bottle after going through security - I never board a long haul flight without bringing extra water.

Also, bring a change of clothes, just in case you get there but your checked luggage doesn't get there at the same time.

Try to get early check in at your hotel - there's no getting around the fact that you'll have been awake and wearing the same clothes and slept in them for many hrs and planes can be both cold and hot and you will just feel knackered and a bit yucky after such a long day. Being able to take a shower and change into clean clothes before you start to explore will make all the difference. I'd go so far as to pay for an extra night if you arrive at like 6am just to have a way to make myself feel human again.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:32 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Everyone has different opinions on flying and jet lag. Transatlantic flights are are unpleasant, but usually only mildly so, IMO. I like to bring a good book and avail myself of the in-flight entertainment options, which usually have some decent movies and TV shows. I'll switch back and forth between the two.

Are you flying TAP? I thought TAP was pretty good. In general, the major European carriers are better than the US carriers for long-haul coach. Another tip: look at the seat arrangement for your plane. Many transatlantic flights have rows with two seats by themselves on either side. Team up with one of your friends and see if you can grab two of these seats together. Nobody gets a middle seat; the person with the window seat doesn't have have to worry so much about interrupting their neighbor if they want to get up. I've actually called airlines to secure these two seats for my wife and me, it's much more pleasant. It's probably too late now, but might be worth a shot.

Long-haul flights are the only time that I don't really mind waiting on bathroom lines. It's a chance to stretch your legs.

I've never been able to sleep on planes longer than a brief doze (except the one time I flew business class), but I think this is OK. I like to power through the first day until 9 or 10pm and then collapse in bed. Don't do anything mentally taxing, but don't spend too much time in your room; go for a nice walk, sit in a cafe for awhile.

Definitely ask about early check-in. You'll want to shower and change when you land. If you are staying in an AirBnB, hosts are usually pretty good about this (though if someone's there the night before you might be SOL). If not, email your hotel.

If you do happen to be staying in an AirBnB, I have found that host communication is sometimes an issue when traveling abroad, for obvious reasons. They'll often want you to call when you land. Believe it or not, big international airports almost always have working payphones. So call them from a payphone.

I wouldn't bother with data. Just get a good guidebook and use wi-fi and your phone's GPS. Many carriers offer international texting plans that just offer SMS (so no data) for much cheaper than the data plans. This might be worth asking about so you can coordinate things with your friends, but it's by no means necessary.

I was in Portugal exactly one year ago and had an amazing time. It is a wonderful country and you will love it.
posted by breakin' the law at 5:39 PM on October 26, 2017


One thing I saw a lot in Portugal was that when you're seated at a restaurant, the staff will leave a plate or two of things like olives or cheese on the table. The plates will be covered with clingfilm. If you break the clingfilm you've bought what's on the plate. The prices aren't usually indicated and can be exorbitant.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 6:11 PM on October 26, 2017


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