Paying it Forward in Portugal

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I was at the train station in Santa Clara e Velha, Portugal, waiting for the thrice-daily train to take me to the city of Faro, where I would catch a bus to Spain.  I had just spent three glorious days at the Quinta do Barranco da Estrada — better known as “Paradise in Portugal.”

How was it?  Simply fantastic.  The name is no misnomer — there is no better place in Portugal to relax and unwind in a spectacular natural setting.  But you’ll be hearing much more about the Quinta soon.

During my time at the Quinta, I got to know two guests better — a couple from the UK.  One of them spent two years backpacking the world twenty years ago, including a full year in the United States.

As you can imagine, we had lots to talk about!  Hearing about the days of backpacking before the internet was fascinating — he would be so eager to receive letters from home, relishing every quotidian detail of life back in the UK.  Seeing how much my family worries about me, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for his family to have so little contact.

While his travels were far from fancy — no way did he stay in Paris apartments (click here for the best deals) or luxury hotels, but he did well on the cheap.  You could do crazy stuff back then — like book an Amtrak ticket for any random route in the US for a low set price.  El Paso to Seattle?  Why not!

We also traded Southeast Asia stories.  Twenty years ago, Cambodia and Vietnam were closed to foreigners, and Thailand was quite rough in the way that Laos is today.  He hadn’t heard of Koh Chang, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it hadn’t been developed whatsoever for tourism back then.

My backpacker friend and his wife came to see me off at the train station — and then he told me a story from two decades ago.

He was in the United States, on a train heading up the east coast, and he began talking to an older lady sitting next to him.  After he told her about his travels, she was effusive with praise.  “I just love what you’re doing,” she said.  And she gave him five dollars, with one instruction: “Pay it forward.”

Flash forward to 2012.

I’ve been waiting to pay it forward all this time,” he said.  “And I know you have your technology, but…”  He tucked 20 euros into my purse.  “I’m sure there’s been a lot of inflation since then.  I just want you to know that I love what you’re doing.

How nice was that?

I believe in paying it forward.  I was lucky enough to receive kind donations from my readers after the shipwreck last year, and I’ve been paying it forward to travelers in need since then, starting with my shipmates.  To this day, if I meet a traveler struggling with money, I help out.  A little or a lot.

These 20 Euros are different.  They will be paid forward — with inflation — to a traveler who truly inspires me.  I look forward to meeting that person.