Julie helps independent travellers make the most of their time in Portugal by sharing her own experiences on her blog, Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal. She also offers one-to-one travel consultations and itinerary planning services.
She was kind enough to answer a few of our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Julie: On my first proper overseas holiday to the Greek island of Kos, aged about 24, with an inattentive boyfriend, I realised that I could do that alone. Fast forward 2 years and I quit my job in 1997 to do a solo round-the-world backpacking trip that lasted 16 months. It may be a cliche to say that it changed my life but it's true. Though jaded from such a long time on the road, I knew as soon as I got back to the UK that I didn't want to live there and set about having a career in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). I've been in love with travel for over 20 years.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Julie: After working in various far flung countries, I felt the need to be closer to 'home', i.e. somewhere in Europe, so I moved to Portugal in 2007. My family and work circumstances around that time meant that it was tricky to travel outside of Portugal so I made the most of exploring my new home. Then I started my blog and Portugal travel was the obvious focus for it. 8 years later, my blog is among the most highly regarded Portugal travel blogs around.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Julie: I've had many wonderful holidays but the one that comes to mind first is the trip I did with my dad in Venezuela. I was working in Caracas and he came out to visit so we travelled around the country for 3 weeks. The highlight was getting to Angel Falls by boat and being surrounded by flat-topped jungle-covered mountains shrouded in mist. It was worth being drenched and sleeping in hammocks for a memory I will treasure for ever.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Julie: India. I never really fancied travelling to India as a solo female, although I know that many women do. I've always been fascinated by stories of India and the colours, architecture and history. My husband and I tried to go a couple of years ago but a series of travel disasters put paid to that idea. We WILL get there in the not too distant future.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Julie: Earplugs. I'm a relatively light sleeper and although I don't particularly like the way earplugs feel, they muffle sounds sufficiently so that I can get a good night's sleep.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Julie: Be open to new experiences and find out what's down that side street that caught your eye. Discover your own 'hidden gems'.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Julie: To be honest, I rarely have time to read other travel blogs, except when I'm researching a trip. That said, I often check out what Portoalities has to say about Porto.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you've ever stayed?
Julie: Oh, there have been many but off the top of my head, an old railway carriage in the garden of a house built from scrap.
This was during my backpacking years and I had rented a car in Tasmania, intending to do some WWOOF work for bed and board. This was way before the days of the internet and mobile phones and the listing in my booklet had no phone number -- it said "just turn up". Well I did, and was instantly wary of this junkyard house.
To make matters worse, Bill, the owner, was on the mainland and two guys were looking after his property while he was away so my plans to stay there for the week were thwarted. This father and son team very kindly invited me to stay for dinner in what turned out to be a very rudimentary house and gave me a bed for a night in the decaying wooden railway carriage in the field, where a calf was calmly grazing outside.
I woke up covered from head to toe with mosquito bites and spent the rest of that week sleeping in the car.
TA: What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten overseas?
Julie: Probably wichetty grubs in Australia. Not something I'd repeat or recommend although not as disgusting as I feared.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?
Julie: Learn a few basics of the local language before you go. People really do appreciate the effort.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Julie: Most of the people who ask for my help with their itineraries are trying to cram too much into their short vacation. There's no point spending half your time in a car or trying to find a parking spot when there's so much to see and do in each destination. People have heard so much about the Algarve, for example, that they add it to their list of places to visit, perhaps not realising that there are many absolutely stunning beaches much closer to Lisbon or Porto so there's no need to travel for 4 hours to hit the coast.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Julie: Portugal. Before I came to live here, Portuguese food had never registered on my radar, so it came as a surprise to discover how proud and passionate the Portuguese are about their cuisine. Granted, there are some things that I am in no hurry to try or repeat (e.g. pig's ears and noses or chicken feet) but there are plenty of dishes I absolutely love.
Almost everyone will try a pastel de nata custard tart and possibly a francesinha (not one of my favourites) during their visit, but I strongly recommend trying dishes like polvo à lagareiro (baked octopus), cataplana (a kind of fish stew) and gooey cheese from the Serra da Estrela. There's so much to try, although vegetarians can find it difficult to get interesting food outside the cities.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Julie: Sintra in Portugal. Although it gets quite crowded with tourists these days, it's still possible to find secluded spots and very romantic lodgings where you can appreciate how this magical place full of forest and palaces inspired the likes of Byron.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Julie: I found Australia to be pretty well set up for solo travellers but I also think that Portugal is a great place if you're travelling alone. It's one of the safest countries in the world, so as long as you don't go out of your way to invite trouble, you're unlikely to come to harm. Petty theft and pickpocketing is an issue in the tourist areas of larger cities, but in rural areas if you leave your wallet on the table in a café and come back the next day, chances are it will be waiting for you behind the counter. I often travel alone in Portugal without problems, although I'll admit that speaking some of the language helps.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Julie: When tourists speak Spanish to Portuguese people and think that they're doing them a favour, I get annoyed. If Spanish is the only way to communicate, by all means use it, but most Portuguese people speak a bit of English so if you run out of Portuguese words, try English or even French with older generations before resorting to Spanish. The ancient rivalry between Spain and Portugal isn't quite dead.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Julie: Pretty much anywhere away from the coast in Portugal. While it's true that the beaches are beautiful, I love the castles and historical villages that lie to the east of the country.
TA: What's one piece of advice you'd give to travelers your age?
Julie: If you can't find anyone to go with you, go alone.