Any traveler knows that one of the most important things before leaving is proper trip planning.  In this article, I’ll go over how I planned a nineteen day road trip in Portugal.  I will talk about the tools I used, books as well as web sites, the reasons for selecting the cities I did, how I booked my accommodations and why, and what I’d do differently.

First off, let me start with the basic question:  why Portugal?  The answer may come as a surprise and that is “why not?”  Seriously, I have visited many places but I have never visited one place that had so much going for it.  It is a geographically beautiful country, it has so much history and culture, the architecture is amazing, the food delicious, the wine is some of the most enjoyable I’ve had (specially for the price), it is the home of port, and most importantly, the people are very welcoming.  Did I mention it is the home of port?  😉

So, how did I start?  With a book.  Yes, even in today’s electronic age, I like to start with a book.  The book I used was DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Portugal.  I love DK Eyewitness travel books because they’re “pictorial”.  I’m a visual person and these books are great for someone like me.  I sat down with a sheet of paper and a pen and started reading the book – from beginning to end.  OK, maybe reading it is a bit strong – I started leafing through it and reading as something caught my eye.  As I did so, I would write down the name of the town and the page number in the book.

When I got to the end, I had a long list of towns – much more than I would have time for, but that was OK.  I decided to do a bit more research on each one so off I went into the land of Google.  I looked up each town, read up on it, looked at maps of the town, broader maps of the area, and used the Images section to look at more photographs to see if the town would really be of interest to me.

Google search for Castelo Mendo

Images blurred to avoid copyright issues

Now, going back to being a visual person and part time photographer, one of the things I like the most when I travel is to just go out and wander about.  I love to “get lost”.  I love to photograph the streets and alley ways.  I love to photograph the architecture.  I love to experience the food, wine, and local atmosphere.  So I look for those things over museums and similar tourist attractions.  That’s me – it’s not for everyone.  Just warning you.  Using the images feature gives me a sense of what I’m going to see while there.  Google’s Image search, Google Maps Street View, Satellite View, and even Google Earth provide me with similar insight.

Google Image search for Castelo Mendo

Images blurred to avoid copyright issues

This information helped me narrow down the towns.  Next up was looking them up in a map and figuring out the “road trip”.  I started out with a printed map from one of the many tourist information sites – drawing points on the map where the smaller towns were so I could plot it all out.  My next resource was Google Maps and I used this to get “directions” from one to the next so I could estimate distance and plan how much time I could actually spend at each town, how much time I’d spend driving, where I should stay for the night.

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This was cumbersome way to say the least, but it was getting the job done.  That’s when I came across a great website called Route Perfect.  This became my go-to tool for the rest of the planning.  I’m not going to go into deep detail about the features of the site, but you can have it automatically plan a road trip for you based on your preferences (e.g., a romantic trip or a family trip) and duration and it will select towns and how long to spend at each town.

CaptureI did not use it that way, I gave it a starting destination (Lisbon as that’s where I was flying into) and manually entered the towns I had narrowed it down to.  As I did this, it drew a map out for me with the stops, gave me the distance and times between towns, and highlights and suggested attractions.  It includes links for more information, photographs, etc.  This can be helpful and I reviewed it to make sure I wasn’t overlooking anything.

My final list of towns was Lagos, Monsaraz, Evora, Elva, Marvao, Tomar, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Rodrigo, Pinhel, Almeida, Guimares, Bom Jesus do Monte, Porto, Sintra, Obidos, Fatima,  Nazare, Cascais, and Lisbon.  Of course, there were a few other small stops along the way but these were the main towns I was going to visit.  If you are not actually spending a night at a town, just setting the number of nights to zero helped me estimate the driving time better.  You may see my final road trip plan here.

Now other thing the site does is recommend hotels and offers to book them based on your budget category (economy, moderate, luxury).  In this way, this site starts to look like a travel agent!  I did not use this feature though I did compare it vs what I was looking at.

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For accommodations, I mainly used AirBnB (if you book through this link, you and I both get $20 credit!)  The main reasons for doing so was cost (most accommodations are cheaper – though you have to be careful with the booking and cleaning fees), the convenience (I mostly stayed in flats that at least had a refrigerator), and the “local feeling”.  There is something warming about being greeted by a local resident who is interested in sharing their place and their knowledge of the town with you upon arrival.  I did stay at two hotels (one night each) during the nineteen days, but that was due to no AirBnB participants nearby or because it was the last night in Lisbon and I had a very early flight out the next morning.

For transportation I researched trains and buses but quickly realized that if I wanted to visit the smaller towns, I was going to be very limited so I rented a car.  This was a relatively expensive proposition but it was a worthwhile tradeoff for me.  I used for my rental as I always check their rates when I travel to Europe vs the “known brands” and they tend to have much better rates.

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So, that’s my trip planning process.  Now, how did it all turn out?  Well, in the next articles, I’ll talk about the towns I visited, what I did, where I stayed, and what I ate!

As far as “the numbers” go, here you go:

Days of Travel19
Miles flown11,606
Miles driven1,296
Liters of petrol116.14 (30.6 gallons)
Cost of petrol161.52 Euro ($171.21 - a whopping $5.58/gallon)
Miles per gallon42.2
Miles walked145.5
Photos snapped2,529
Pastel de Nata enjoyedLost count!
Pounds gained-3.5 - yes, I actually lost 3.5 pounds even though I TOTALLY enjoyed the food!