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Portugal – expectations vs. reality

Hi all!

Finally it is time to review our Portugal trip and see, whether my expectations were met or not. Before our trip, I wrote this post about my expectations towards this trip. In case you missed the post, go ahead and read it now! I had visited Portugal once before, and I mainly formed my expectations based on that visit back in 2019. I wrote about the weather, activities and daily life, cost of living, food and finally about the culture, language and people. In this post I will go through all these categories and summarize, how the expectations were actually met. This is a nice review for me as well, I do not fully remember what I expected. Let’s go;


In terms of the weather, I wrote that the weather should be around 10 to 16 degrees in January, might reach 20 degrees in warmest days and would gradually get warmer each month. My expectations weren’t that high in terms of the good weather, as long as it would be warmer and sunnier than in Finland. Well, that expectation was not difficult to reach looking back to the winter in Finland, which this year turned out to be the worst in years according to my family and friends.

How did it turn out then? Well, it turned out to be better than I thought. January was a full surprise in terms of the weather; it was an exceptional January in the Algarve this year according to locals, as there was honestly no rainy days at all and the temperature was more than 15 degrees every day, it reached even 20 degrees during majority of the days. That was a really nice surprise. Despite it was warm, this still wasn’t a beach holiday for us. We went to the beach maybe three or four times during our stay, and that was more than ok for us. The weather was just perfect for outdoor workouts and golf, which we really enjoyed throughout our stay.

There was a slight shift in the weather around mid February. It got more rainy and there were some colder days every now and then. But we knew it was coming, as January was so perfectly sunny and warm. Overall, my expectations were exceeded in terms of the weather.

I would rate the weather as a 6/5 (due to the horrible weather in Finland meanwhile our trip, to which I of course compared, I need to rate this higher than 5).

So, the weather was mainly like this:

But to stay honest and show you the full reality, sometimes – especially in February – it also looked like this:

Activities and daily life

Then, moving to the daily life. I wrote that I wasn’t expecting much of a different lifestyle than what we had back at home in Finland. We also had a “go with the flow” attitude towards this trip, which turned out to be the best option for us. I didn’t expect much, basically just enjoying life and outdoor activities as well as nice restaurants and cafes. Also, I expected that some planning would need to be done for example if we wanted to see some places a bit further away from our hometown or outside the Algarve.

It turned out, that three months was a prefect length for the stay for us. In three months, there was enough time to explore in own pace, without any hurry or stress. We really went with the flow as expected; our weekend trips were not planned beforehand (expect the Porto and Lisbon trip, which we needed to prepare a bit to book hotels). The daily life was pretty normal, and turned out that we cooked much more at home than we might have expected. Of course we also tried different restaurants and cafés and tasted the Portuguese pastry Pastel de nata, and some other local meals in the restaurants. However, majority of the time we made some chicken and rice or different kinds of salads at home. It was pretty easy to just get into the routines just like back at home. We also made a new routine with outdoors workouts multiple times per week. We agreed the training days of the next week and sticked with those. These kinds of small routines kept the life “normal”, however still pretty stress-free as we had so much free time left in our days. With the golf, my boyfriend played more than I did, usually during the time I worked, but we also went together especially to the driving range.

We really were happy that there was no rush to do end experience things. This was maybe the most stress free trip abroad for me, exactly because of fact that we were not running out of time. Actually, during the last two weeks, it already started to feel nice to come back home and see family and friends again. At the end of this trip, we could honestly say, that we got what we were looking for from this trip. We saw what we wanted to see, we did things that made us feel good, and we had time to think about life and had multiple great discussions. This made also very good to both me and my boyfriend both individually but also as a couple. And at the end, that is all that matters. My takeaway from this experience is that whatever you decide to do, make sure to stay honest to yourself, not just force yourself for example to see as much as possible and do things you “should” do and see in a short period of time, if that’s not what you really enjoy. Even though we travelled all the way to Portugal and made many arrangements to make it possible, it should not add any pressure to the daily life out there. As we did this to feel good, not to feel stressed. And yes, of course there were also bad days during the three month period, I am not saying either that it should be all positive vibes throughout the trip.

Rating for this category would be 5/5.

Cost of living 

We expected it would be less expensive in Portugal compared to Finland. We also expected to make some savings in groceries and restaurants. That turned out to be the case, however, in terms of savings overall, I think our overall spend was quite the same than back at home. Grocery stores were cheaper than in Finland for sure; vegetables, meat and fish were a bit less expensive, not to mention the bread and wine, which was a lot cheaper. That was no surprise, but if still felt nice to save at least in food. What was a bit surprising though was how expensive it was to play golf in Portugal. Yes, the courses were popular and kept in really good condition, however our stay was off season (January and February), and still the prices were a bit too high in my opinion. We got some discounts for those afternoon/evening rounds, but the truth is, that we couldn’t jut go and play every day due the high prices. Another surprise was the high prices of gasoline. As we all know, the prices have gone up like crazy, however what surprised me was that the prices literally got as high as in Finland. Otherwise, we saved a bit in the rent and restaurant bills, for instance. But overall, our spending was quite the same than in Finland. What needs to still point out, is that our stay was during off season, meaning that our Airbnb for example was three times cheaper than it would be during summer months. So be prepared to high prices during summer!

I would rate the cost of living as 4/5.


Next, food. Before the trip I was mainly looking for the meat and fish meals and wines, of course. The food was so delicious in my trip in 2019, so it was fair to wait at least the same level of deliciousness during this trip as well. As written above, we did prepare the majority of the food ourselves at home. And I got to say that the quality of the meat and vegetables in the grocery stores was very good! When it comes to eating out, there wasn’t anything that would disappoint me. We tried some very good meat as well as fish, and what we really liked, was the prawns in different kinds of sauces. I could have eaten those every day, it was so good! Also, we tried some very good tapas as well as Italian food, as well as a 1,50€ soup of the day. And everything just tasted good. Nothing to complain. I would say that the expectations were met, however we did not go too fancy here and ate quite “regular” food during our stay. And the wines did not disappoint us either. We found some great wine that cost 6€, and that already was more expensive than the majority of the wines in the supermarket. Usually we went for the 3-5€ bottles. One glass of red wine with the dinner was the way to go! Back in Finland it felt a bit odd to see the high prices of wines again (minimum 10e for a decent wine). It just didn’t feel right, and after Portugal we have maybe bought only one bottle home.

No doubt about it, rating for this is a solid 5/5. Here some pictures about both home cooked meals as well as from the best restaurants we went.

Culture, language & people

Finally, some observations about the culture, language and people. The expectations for pretty much everything were met, however, be prepared for some slight disappointments in this section. The disappointment was mainly towards the fact that during these three months, we did not learn Portuguese almost at all. Well, I wasn’t waiting to spend three months in a country and speak the local language fluently once getting back, but I assumed I would even be able to communicate in full sentences. Well, that didn’t happen. First of all, Portuguese is relatively difficult to learn, and it turned out that my (very limited) Spanish skills did not help much once trying to understand what people were saying to me. We managed to operate in groceries, restaurants and golf course, but that was pretty much it. I just gotta admit that Portuguese might not be the language for me, at least for now. What was nice, on the other hand, was that I got to use my French skills a bit, as many people understood and spoke French.

I think that was enough of the language topic. When it comes to the culture and people in general, I need to admit that due to the Covid times we were living in, the interactions with locals were limited only to the restaurants, cafés and golf course. However, everyone we met was very polite to us, and I didn’t get any bad vibes during our stay. (expect some cashiers in the grocery stores who just didn’t care about customers that much and this one lady in the car rental place, but let’s not go there). During the winter months, there were a lot of retired couples, and all of them were also very nice, polite and had a smile on their faces. Another finding about the culture, was that people were enjoying their lives and living in slower pace. What left us maybe a bit disappointed was the fact that there were not that many people our age at that time of the year in the Algarve, and that might be one of the reasons why getting to know people was relatively hard. Even though I think Portuguese are polite and social, it didn’t go to the point that people would just stop in the middle of the street and start talking to strangers, at least that was our experience. The privacy of others was respected, which works for us Finns quite well! 😀 Despite the slight disappointment with the lack of social life and no chance to learn the language, I really liked the Portuguese culture which was very easy to adapt to, being not too far from the Finnish culture after all. The slower pace and not taking things too seriously were things I really enjoyed. Also, what added some spice to our trip, was the driving culture in Portugal (like in many other European countries as well); the rules in the traffic were not as strict or respected than in Finland, but we got used to the higher speeds (yes, I just talked about the slower pace, but that for sure didn’t show on the driveways) and let’s say unpredictable behavior of other drivers 😀

I need to rate this category as 3/5 mainly due to my poor motivation and efforts to learn Portuguese..

To conclude this comparison about the expectations vs. reality, I need to say that overall, almost everything went as expected (well based on my ratings above this trip got even 23 out of 25 points!!). At the same time we didn’t expect much, especially in any detailed manner. For us, it was all about “let’s just go there and live life” and so we did. I couldn’t be happier about how things turned out, how much we discovered the country and gathered some great experiences, as well as got the opportunity to just live the daily life abroad for a longer period of time. In the next post, I am going to talk about this experience more from the perspective of remote working and discuss, what are the pros and cons once working abroad.

Are you planning to go abroad for a longer period of time? Feel free to leave a comment!

PS. After the next post, I will have a break from the travel content for now, as next I want to focus on something very different. Stay tuned for that, I am more than excited about what’s coming!

x Mari Susanna

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