If I haven’t made it clear before, Kevin and I decided to move to Portugal having never previously visited the country.

It’s true: We started the process of immigrating – obtaining our Tax ID numbers, opening our Portuguese bank accounts, and telling our friends and family we were moving – before we’d even set foot in the country.

And if you’re thinking: “Holy crap, these people are insane,” I really can’t argue with you all that much.

By all objective measures, this whole undertaking is kinda nuts.

But…no one wants to read a blog about prudent people doing thoughtful things, so, here we are.

What’s a Scouting Trip?

Pre-Covid, most would-be immigrants would fly to Portugal for several weeks or months to explore the country and decide a) if they wanted to move there; and b) in what particular city, town, or region they wanted to reside.

Portugal is a very diverse country. Akin to California, it’s got a bit of everything – from lush, mountainous terrain in the north, to wine country, small villages, and coastal beach communities in the center, to sun drenched resort towns in the south. And just as life in northeast California bears little resemblance to life in southwest California, climate, prices, resources, and lifestyles differ significantly depending on one’s location. So, pre-pandemic, people would travel all over trying to find a city or town that felt right before applying for their residency visa. And during that trip, many would open their bank accounts, seek housing, and do all the other things necessary to apply for their visa.

When the world shut down due to Covid, all these exploratory trips stopped, but people still wanted to immigrate – some more than ever before. That led to an explosion of resources designed to help people immigrate from afar. Banks made it easier to open accounts from outside the country, immigration consultants focused on helping would-be immigrants rent and buy real estate online instead of in-person, and expat-focused Facebook and YouTube channels proliferated.

This meant by the time we started researching, we had access to numerous resources to help us figure things out and get things done, and because discretionary travel was shut down for so long, by the time we were actually permitted to visit, we’d already made the decision to move.

Another thing that made our trip a bit different than a lot of other people’s is we knew we wanted to live in Lisbon (at least initially), so, rather than trekking all over the country trying to find the right city, we only needed to trek around one city trying to find the right neighborhood.

But that was a very important objective of our visit. One of our goals with this move is to live car-free. We kinda feel like we owe it to the environment after 40,000+ miles at 7-8 mpg, plus car ownership is a huge expense and, in a city like Lisbon, a giant headache. So, we’re looking forward to freeing ourselves of the whole thing. But that meant we had to find a neighborhood where we could meet our daily needs using only our feet and public transportation.

Beyond getting a general feel for the city (read: making sure we weren’t making a terrible mistake), and exploring neighborhood options, our other intention was to triple check that we could find everything else we need – Kevin’s heart medications, Thor’s prescription food, Laura’s egg noodles, etc. Based on our research, we were pretty confident we’d be OK, but we wanted to make absolutely sure before moving on to the next parts of the visa process.

Thor Goes to Camp While we go to Europe

Prior to planning anything, we’d asked our D.C. based friends, Mike and Kathie, if they could take care of Thor for a week. It’s not like we even had to ask, though. If Thor ever leaves us, it will be for Kathie. And if Kathie ever disappears into the dead of night to begin life as a fugitive, it will be because she kidnapped Thor.

Jeez, Thor. I know you’re going to miss us terribly, but please try to cheer up.

Happily, in addition to having good friends we could trust to manage our hardheaded dog, United Airlines flies direct to Lisbon from D.C.’s Dulles Airport.

And that flight is what gave rise to the second aspect of our trip – the “moving” part.

When I booked our flight using our credit card miles platform, the website gave me the standard economy price, followed by several options for upgrades that didn’t really sound like upgrades: “Oh, you want TIRES on the plane? Well, aren’t you fancy?? That’s gonna cost ya!”

By the time I had clicked the options for things that would make the flight bearable, we had a different type of ticket (‘Peasant Plus’ or whatever), so I didn’t think much of it when I saw an additional benefit on the confirmation:

That’s right – two free checked bags (each).

Who knew?

Well, apparently, not United Airlines because, as it turns out, our tickets weren’t supposed to include two checked bags.

That was some computer glitch.

But computer glitch or not, we immediately decided to make the most of it.

Deciding What to Bring

When it comes to moving overseas, there are as many different options for what to bring as there are people making decisions. At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got people moving entire 40 foot containers full of furniture, artwork, and household goods. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got people who sell or donate everything from their prior homes, pack a suitcase or two with clothing and essentials, and plan to buy everything new when they arrive in Portugal. They’re keen on the idea of truly ‘starting over’ and are happy to arrive with almost nothing.

As I mentioned previously, we got rid of most of our furniture when we moved into the RV, so we knew we wouldn’t be shipping anything significant, however, we also didn’t want to arrive with nothing. Back when we moved into the motorhome, we bought new “RV-friendly” versions of a lot of our things – dishes, storage containers, kitchen appliances, etc. So, when it came time to consider this move, we decided to bring what we could. (There are only so many times we want to buy dishes, ya know?)

Additionally, we’d learned that, while you can get most things in Portugal, certain products like sunscreen, cosmetics, and vitamins tend to be more expensive than in the U.S., and we were told that if we were particularly fond of certain brands, we should bring them with us to ease the adjustment.

Did I “need” to bring 600 of my preferred brand of dental flossers to another country when I could just use the brand they have there? Yes, I did.

Anyway, once we realized we could take four bags with us on our April flight, I found a storage company in Lisbon that offers small, inexpensive storage units and reserved one. Even paying the monthly storage fee for a couple months would cost a fraction of what we’d pay to carry those bags on our eventual “moving to Portugal” flight (Airlines typically charge $100 – $150 per bag), plus it would be nice to break things up into multiple trips rather than move everything all at once.

Once we’d secured the storage unit, we turned our attention to assessing what, specifically, to take with us and how to get it there.

Most of what we ended up bringing was offseason clothing and shoes, kitchen stuff (excluding appliances since Europe’s electric is different than ours), and dental flossers.

These Samsonite “Totes-A-Ton” duffle bags came highly recommended on the Facebook forums and we’d recommend them too. They’re huge, sturdy, and weigh almost nothing.

When we arrived at the airport and went to check in for our flight, the United agent assured us that our class of tickets did not include two free bags each. So, we showed her the screencap above – which she then showed her supervisor, who, reluctantly, approved our mischief-making.

Of course, United got its revenge when, after starting the safety video on our flight, the Captain announced that basically everything on the plane was broken and we’d have to sit at the gate while the maintenance crews did their best to duct tape it all back together.

3.5 hours later – just shy of the time they would have had to compensate the passengers for making us sit at the gate – they finally sent us off, making what would have been a rather reasonable flight into a very long one.

Well played, United. Well played.

Once on the ground in Lisbon, our very first stop was our storage facility.

And while some folks will tell you to take your time, be objective, and don’t rush into things like international moves, we…well, we did the opposite – signing a rental contract for our storage unit, complete with direct debit payments from our Portuguese bank account, and leaving half our worldly possessions in that closet.

We transferred everything from the Samsonite bags to these plastic Ikea bags so we could use the Samsonite ones when we fly back again. “Viper,” one of Thor’s favorite stuffed animals, is there to keep watch over everything, and welcome Thor to Portugal when he eventually arrives.

Let’s hope this all works out.

48 COMMENTS

  1. Yikes!! So complicated, but I’m so glad you’ll have your floss!! 😂😂 looking forward to more news on your next adventure!!

  2. Sounds like things are moving forward nicely. I’m so happy for you guys! Does public transportation allow pets? I would have a hard time going car-less. I hope you loved Lisbon as much as you anticipated! Looking forward to part 2.

    • Yes, dogs are permitted on all city public transportation – subways, busses, and trams. There are also pet-friendly Ubers available. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the intercity or regional trains, so when we want to go travel around the country, we’ll need to rent a car, but that’s not a big deal.

      It’ll be an adjustment for sure, but I lived several years in DC without a car and Kevin and I have had just one car between us for most of our marriage, so we’re used to getting things done using public transit. We’ll see how it goes!

  3. Ugh! If I ever fly again it will be too soon. There always seems to be a “that’s how they get you” moment when dealing with airlines but I think this time you got them!

    • I know, right? If there’s one thing we’re really dreading about this move, it’s going to be our reliance on airlines. We haven’t flown anywhere in years (other than in 2018 when my mom was sick and we flew back and forth across the country several times) but now, it’s going to be something we’re doing multiple times a year. Not cool, but sadly, unavoidable.

  4. WooHooo.. let the good times roll! Yep, your nuts but very well organized nuts! Way to bogart two free bags on United!

    Because we have that in common, I am so excited for you two. Lisbon will be a great landing point. Plus, the Time Out Market is a great place to shop in Lisbon so you got that going for ya too!

    • Thanks, Brenda. I know you know a thing about making big decisions that sound kinda crazy, but are actually pretty well researched. Definitely peas in a pod when it comes to this stuff. 🙂

      We’re excited for everything too. Just looking forward to getting all of this running around behind us so we can go enjoy Lisbon. Time Out Market is on our radar and will be a priority once we settle in. It seems like the kind of place we could just hang out for days, eating all. the. things!!!

  5. I laughed out loud at, “Oh, you want tires on the plane?” Honestly, that’s probably not far from the truth these days. I’m glad to see that your flight is only about seven hours to Lisbon, since you’ll be coming back and forth a bit to visit family. And direct, even better!

    You are hilarious with your stash of dental floss. I’m the same with my ‘preferred brands.’ Which made me think about Magnolia, and how there is only ONE brand of cat food that she likes (a fancy natural stew, of course), and how she won’t even eat the paté in the same brand. We have to order food for her while we’re traveling, LOL. Glad you have Thor’s favorite Viper waiting to welcome him to Portugal. 🙂

    • It’s weird that I’m writing you a reply comment on my blog while we’re simultaneously texting one another, but we have to keep things official here in blogland. 🙂

      Trust me when I say I understand about the difficulties of pet food issues on the road. We have had Chewy ship Thor’s food all over the country, and it was honestly one of the first things we checked in PT. If we can’t get this food, we can’t go, because he just gets so sick on everything else. It’s crazy, but we all do what we have to do for our beloved pets (even when they’re just being stubborn jerks.) 🙂

  6. “Peasant Plus!!” Love it. It’s sad but true. Can’t believe how much the airlines nickel and dime customers. Bag fees, extra bag fees, you want to select row 9 seats instead of row 10, that will cost you Want an aisle seat? $$$. Want two seats next to each other? $$$ Something to eat?? How about a snack pack of mini pretzels and aslice of cheese for $12. Security fee, handling fee, airport fee… The list is endless. I’m just waiting for the airlines to start charging for the type of pilot you get. You want one to fly with their eyes open, that will cost you an addition $________. 🙄

    Looking forward to reading Recon Part II – The European Empire Strikes Back. 😉😂✈️🧳

    • I know. One of my pet peeves in life is being nickled and dimed. “Just tell me what the freaken price is and stop jerking me around.” Airline consolidation has been no good for anyone. Not that that couldn’t be predicted in the first place. It’s just absolutely miserable to fly anywhere now. I think the international flights are a bit better because they still have meal service and don’t charge for that stuff, and you’re typically on a bigger plane, but it’s still cramped and, at least right now, they certainly don’t mind delaying and canceling flights left and right. Blech.

  7. Yeah, flying is no fun anymore. I still have one leg left of my three-leg, three-week journey Portland-Brussels-Boston-Portland. Tuesday is the last day of those travels. None of it has gone smoothly so far!

    All this moving stuff by plane reminds me of every time we flew back to our sailboat somewhere in the world (in a time where you could still bring one or two checked bags without extra fees) and brought an insane amount and diversity of stuff, from rope to an anchor to pots and pans to heat exchangers and filters.

    I did cringe at your dental floss preference. Not because of the amount but because of the amount of trash. That being said, I have a favorite Oral B dental floss as well and stock up on them, too. But they’re those small round containers. 🙂

    • Yep, I laugh every time I think about a customs officer at the airport asking to see what’s in our bags. They will be in for a hell of a shock and a bunch of confusion when they see the completely random pile of crap we’re bringing… yeti cups, old chewed up dog toys, silverware, food storage containers, random office supplies, medical records, Ranch powder… LOL. So, so random. But none of this stuff is worth paying to have it shipped by boat and then having to wait around for it for months, and we don’t want to buy it all again, so we’re doing it this way.

  8. I thought for sure when you went to the United Airlines checkin counter and they saw the two free bags, they would explain that was given to you in exchange for the restrooms being unavailable to you during your flight.

    • The BEST part of your comment is that one of the things that was broken on our plane was the bathroom. Apparently, FAA rules require the bathrooms to be fully operational, and one of them had an issue, so they had to fix it before we could fly. So, you really, really could be right. LOL

  9. The obvious question you post raises for me is, “Is there ANYTHING an IKEA bag can’t do?” We are the people who used one to repair our RV roof at one point. 🙂 I’m pretty sure you could use it as checked airline baggage also. Oh, and on the topic of IKEA we highly recommend their furniture and housewares (as you know from our house) . If we were moving to Europe we would ease our transition by buying all the exact same IKEA furnishings we’ve had in our last 3 residences. But that’s us.

    It’s definitely a lucky break to get those free bags and I am very glad you took full advantage of the situation. It makes me feel that there is hope for all us hapless passengers to finally score a point against the hated airline overlords. Shipping / bag fees are no joke, especially when you are dealing with heavy items like cookware. Oh, and pounds of dental picks.

    I am keeping my fingers crossed that the next installment will bring good news about finding a suitable neighborhood and apartment!

    • It’s funny you mention those Ikea bags because just after I bought the Samsonite ones, I saw pictures of someone who’d flown to PT with nothing but the Ikea ones. They had added extra tape around the seams to shore them up, but I guess they made it all in one piece! We will absolutely be holding onto them for all kinds of uses once we get settled in. They’re great – and at $4.00 a pop, even if they do fall apart, we won’t be sad.

      Speaking of which, you don’t have to convince me one bit about Ikea furniture. We’ve already picked out a sofa from there and expect to get most of the rest of our furniture from there as well. You really can’t go wrong given the price point – especially because we like having comfortable stuff we don’t have to worry about. I have never been one who wants to live in a museum. I’d rather just not worry about it and replace it when necessary. Plus – as your house demonstrates, they make nice stuff that all works together perfectly. Easy peasy!

    • Thanks, Julie! It’s fun for me to write and I’m glad to hear people are still interested in following along with us. Hope you guys are doing well!

  10. Wow! So expensive to check bags.i had no idea since I never fly. What a bonus!

    Very interesting that Portugal is making it so easy to move there.

    I love the idea of living somewhere you don’t need a car. Surely Lisben has some amazing neighborhoods. Looking forward to read more about your recon.

    • Thanks Duwan,

      Yeah, Portugal is actively trying to attract immigrants to fight their declining population, so, generally speaking, it’s mutually beneficial, but there are some problems for the local population and it’s something we’ll do our best to not exacerbate. As for car free living, we’re huge fans of it, but you do have to be in the right kind of city to make it work. We’re hoping Lisbon will be a good one, but only time will tell.

  11. I feel like the free bag glitch made my hatred for (and stubbornly dependent relationship with) the blasted airline a fraction less deeper. 🙂

    • I don’t think there’s a person in this country who would take the airlines’ side on anything. They are uniformly disliked. I honestly feel bad for the employees. They are in a no-win situation. But that’s why we were unfailingly nice while taking full advantage of their company’s mistake. 🙂

  12. Being an RVer naturally prepares you for the “anything can happen” mode! So glad things are working out for your next adventure and that you are keeping us all entertained with the details. Funny the little things that can make us happy…i.e. floss and Viper😊

    • I think you’re absolutely right about RV life being good practice for this move. We’ve racked up lots of experience with making adjustments while in motion and being flexible as things change. I don’t think anyone can live a nomadic lifestyle and not have those experiences impact how they see and handle things going forward. So far, so good!

  13. Somehow, my floss (Reach Woven Floss) disappeared during the pandemic and it doesn’t seem to exist anymore. It’s seriously depressing. I loved that floss. I actually floss less now that I don’t have woven floss anymore. Sad but true.

    • You understand.

      Other people don’t understand.

      You understand.

      Here’s to solidarity in the battle over dental floss!!!

  14. I think the mondo bags of little picks might use up your carbon credits for not driving 😀 A battery-operated handheld water flosser is a thing of greatness, if you ever run out of picks. At least you won’t have to worry about getting any JALAPENOS stuck in your teeth!

  15. So many good/funny things you write about on every blog post. I can’t wait to read more about your Portugal adventures. That picture of Viper guarding your important belongings in a sparsely populated storage unit was hilarious. I sure hope nobody steals your bowl! 😉
    Have fun!

    • No one messes with Viper. He’s fierce!!!

      Actually, Thor just nibbles on him. It’s adorable. 🙂

      Hope you guys are having fun out there!!

  16. As a former travel agent I can say its very rare to beat the airline at their game. Congratulations. Can’t wait to see what neighborhood you pick.

    • Thanks! It would be nice if the relationship between airlines and their customers wasn’t so lopsided, but alas… we losers rarely get a win. It does feel good to finally come out on top.

    • Thanks, Pam! Years before the name Lisbon even came up, we knew we wanted to live car free. It’s honestly one of the things I’m most looking forward to. Especially after 6 years of living in a motorhome, I am DONE with driving. 🙂

  17. Evokes so many memories of our big move from Chicago to Nicaragua years back! Initially things you think you cannot live without , sorry, you know you cannot live without… certain brands etc hold a lot of importance, but as time goes by, years, you actually will find alternatives. But initially these things play an important role in helping ease transitions. You guys are clearly v organized. Bravo!

    • Thanks, Peta! We’ve been reading everything we can from other folks who’ve recently done what we’re doing and getting lots of good advice, and I know you understand what we’re facing from all your years on the move. We think we’re walking a nice middle path: completely open to switching to all new things, but holding onto a few of our old favorites for just a little while longer. When EVERYTHING is new and challenging, having a few products we don’t have to think about will be nice.

  18. Thank you for sharing these details, Laura. Your method and logic is sound. Little things are important in such a dramatic transition. If it’s just up to you three, everything will go well. You two have amazing packing and planning skills! Sounds like flying sucks even more now than it did ten years ago when I swore off flying – and that dependence on the airlines is the major downside of ex-pat life.

    Jim and I are IKEA enthusiasts. When they opened the store in San Diego it took us only a couple of months to sell our old furniture. With cash in hand from our household of dusty antiques we drove to Mission Valley happily quoting Christopher Moore’s zombies, “First we eat brains, then IKEA!

    Thor will be thrilled to see his Viper.

    • Thanks, Carmen! I sure hope you’re right about our logic and planning. We’re gonna find out soon enough! 🙂 And yeah, we’re not looking forward to the flying part at all, but, sadly, there aren’t many other options. So, we will just suck it up and get it done.

      Ikea is awesome – you know exactly what you’re getting – for better and worse, they seem to specialize in small spaces – which has always been our lifestyle, and the price is right – especially for people who don’t want to baby their things. We feel very very fortunate to have one located right in Lisbon. We’ve already picked out the big furniture we need from there, and expect we’ll be picking up many of the other small items we’re going to need. I foresee lots of brains and Ikea in our future. 🙂

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