Although it’s only been 2 weeks since I moved home to Sweden from Lisbon, it feels like a lifetime. There are moments when I think back about living in Portugal and trying to wrap my head around it, but it just all feels so surreal. Almost like it never happened.
But it did. I was determined to move to either Berlin, Madrid or Lisbon after I had gotten home from my big Asia backpacking trip and really wanted to settle down somewhere in Europe. Although I wouldn’t have said no to any of these three cities, Lisbon was always the number one choice. And so fate stepped in – I got an internship for a startup company with promises that it would lead to a job. I, of course, accepted and started to work there 2 weeks after I sealed the deal.
I was super stressed about finding an apartment but instantly signed up for a ton of Facebook Groups such as “Lisboa – Quartos e Apartamentos” and some international groups where I was hoping expats would help me. The thing with Lisbon is that everyone wants to live there these days, so finding a good and affordable apartment is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Each time someone posted on an FB group about a room to rent, people were messaging this person after one second. If you want to get an apartment, you have to be quick. A big plus is also if you already live there so you can come meet the landlord and see the apartment. Many apartments in Lisbon are in pretty bad shape and these days you can always edit or take photos in “better angles”, so make sure that you actually see the flat before you sign something. I found a – what I thought was – nice room to rent in Santa Apolonia. It was light, fresh and had a little balcony, all for the price of €400. Not too bad I thought. Hm, I was wrong. First of all, two years ago you could probably get a room for about €200. And when I was in Lisbon and saw the flat, it turned out to be terrible! The whole apartment was old, smelly and there were beer cans all over. Turns out, my future flatmates would’ve been young Erasmus students. No thanks – next!
I stayed in a girls living room for my first month in Lisbon which wasn’t TOO bad actually. I got to know the area of Santos, which quickly became my favourite. I moved twice during my stay – once again to another flat in Santos for just a month and then to Graca, which I loved. All the moving around, finding an apartment and trying to work at the same time stressed me out a lot, but I found out it’s not impossible at least to find a place to stay. As long as you’re persistent, have some connections and know where to look. I found my last apartment on a Portuguese site called “BQuarto”, which I can highly recommend.
I got to know my friends through Facebook, through other friends and by just having coffee somewhere. One guy started talking to me and my friend randomly, and that’s how we became friends. The only thing is that I didn’t have many close friends in Lisbon. A lot of the people you meet here are digital nomads, and you know what the deal is with them – they move! As soon as I got to know someone, they told me they were just going to be here for 1 week – 2 months, etc. In that way, it was a bit hard to establish “deeper” connections. Although I was lucky to have Portuguese friends as well. This is why it’s good to travel – you meet people from all over the world and one day you end up in their hometown. But I do also have to say that getting Portuguese friends wasn’t the easiest task either. Although they are very warm and welcoming, they have this sort of ‘Scandinavian’ vibe to them – they are polite, but keep you in a distance. And I was surprised that it wasn’t just me who felt this way. I do love the Portuguese people and I think they’re one of the nicest I’ve met, but there is just… a sort of wall that you can’t really get past after just a few months.
When it comes to work, I don’t really want to write a lot about it out of respect. I really loved my colleagues and had a blast with them. Do I think the salary was shitty? Hell yeah! But I also come from Sweden and am used to earning more than double of what I got (which was €800 per month). It took me a while to get used to having “so little”, but the minimum salary in Portugal is €580, so I was earning quite decent money in comparison to many others. Still, this played a big part in why I just don’t see a future for myself in Portugal. How do people afford living when half of their salary goes to rent? It made me a lot more humble to be honest and I noticed how much less I shopped and bought “unnecessary” things. Although I was fooled by the “Lisbon is SO cheap” in the beginning and just went out and ate, drank and blah blah, until I realised I was not earning a Swedish salary and had to calm down a bit. Yes, Lisbon’s cheaper than most Northern European countries, but it’s not like Southeast Asia. Actually, nothing is…
One thing I really loved about Lisbon is the size of it. I think I had a love-hate relationship with it actually, because one part of me wished it was a bit bigger but the other part thinks it’s perfect. It’s a very walkable city. Yes, there are those damn hills, and there were times when I cursed them (all the time) but at least I didn’t have to go to the gym. I loved walking around in Lisbon because I could soak in the atmosphere, get lost in yet another tiny alleyway and because it always felt so surreal that I was living in a city I had been dreaming about for so long.
But trust me, Lisbon wasn’t always a dream. Every time I had to rely on public transportation, I was cursing this city. I hated the buses because they were always late, and sometimes they didn’t even bother to show up. It took me 50 min each morning to go from Graca to Lx Factory, which is where I worked. If I would’ve taken an Uber, it would take about 20 min maximum. This means that I spent almost 2 hours every day on transportation. Bleehh!! But let’s face it – it doesn’t matter where you live in the world, there will always be something that’ll annoy you. And for me, public transportation was the biggest pain in the ass. That, and finding a decent flat (which didn’t look like it belonged to an old grandmother) for a good price. Most landlords are willing to screw you over, so make sure that you go with your gut feeling. Paying €500 for a small room is NOT normal. And the more expats that moves to Lisbon, the higher the rent will become. Whomp whomp. But it’s just natural I guess, when you find a way to earn money, you take the opportunity.
I have to say that I wasn’t a big fan of the nightlife. But I was also starting to get into this “stay at home” phase in my life, so I have to admit, I didn’t party a lot. In the beginning I wanted to try all the clubs, go to all the bars, but then I just realised how much I didn’t enjoy it. I also wanted to meet locals but always ended up having conversations with either expats or travellers.
Living in Lisbon for 7 months didn’t feel enough, but neither too little, if that makes sense? I did a lot during the weekends, I traveled to so many beautiful places in Portugal and I think I got the most out of my Lisbon experience. In the end, it’s more about the people you meet rather than the place. I do have to admit that I got really nostalgic in the end. I was doubting my choices, my decision to move away from a place that felt like home – I mean, this is what I wanted, right? To settle down and establish long-term connections with people rather than the “hey, where are you from? where are you going?” conversations that you have when you’re traveling. But damnit, I just can’t escape this feeling that I always get after a while; I need to travel. I need to see the world and I have to live this life a bit longer. Perhaps this wasn’t the right time for me to settle down, and maybe Lisbon was just meant to be a temporary thing.
I learnt so much during this experience though. I’m a bit sad that it’s over, but happy because I got to experience it all. I’m not sure I will ever move back to Portugal, but I also think it’s one of the best countries in Europe to live in. And it’s not hard to see why so many people move to Lisbon. Everything’s so laid back, you can get around with English, the prices ARE okey in comparison to many other countries in Europe and it’s also so pretty to look at. There were times when I walked around, sat in my balcony or just looked outside from the window at my work and thought “I can’t believe I live here!”. Lisbon – you will be missed. Obrigada pela todos!