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Yes, it’s true! People do actually win our sweepstakes. One of those people is Maura Foley, a student currently working towards her second Master’s degree. Foley entered into and won an all-inclusive trip to Portugal complements of AFAR and Travel Smith. We caught up with her to see what it was like to win the trip of a lifetime.

How did you learn about the trip?

“Honestly, I was just on some website that had an ad for it. I was writing my thesis for grad school at the time, so I was like, wow, imagine if I could go there, instead of doing this,” she laughs.

What was your reaction to winning?

“I got the email while I was on my lunch break at work. I was so excited but I was trying not to be until I knew for sure it was real. I couldn’t believe it was really true. I read the fine print twice and even called the help number listed in the email. The woman on the other end confirmed it too. So I was like, I guess I’m going to Portugal. My boyfriend makes fun of me for entering these things, saying no one ever wins. I ended up getting to bring him with me.” 

What did you think of Portugal?

“It was so cool to see the landscape. It was totally different than the rest of Europe I’d seen—just this really beautiful desert-like landscape. I think my biggest take-home point, though, was how pleasant a place to travel it was. The people were so awesome, always nice and helpful and really outgoing and friendly. It was so easy to have a conversation with everyone there.”

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What was the best thing you ate or drank there?

“There was this bar I loved. It was in the city of Sagres, where we stayed, and it was called Mum’s. Sagres was a total surf town—I had no idea there would be almost as many surf shops as humans, but that’s how it was. Mum’s had a great atmosphere. It was upscale but maintained the cool surf vibe of the place. And the bartender was awesome, and so funny. He made the best caipirinha, this great cachaça and lime cocktail. The place also had really great and interesting food, like a cod cappuccino dish. It was a thick cod stew with Parmesan foam and a savory spinach croissant on the side. Surprisingly good.”

What was the coolest night on the trip?

“We ended up staying for a night in Lisbon because of the timing of our flight the next morning, and we went out in Bairro Alto. It was a really neat district with a million tiny bars, each the size of someone’s living room. We ended up seeing an awesome electronica DJ and making friends with people who struck up a conversation with us, then hanging out with them for the rest of the night.”

What’s your travel philosophy?

“I don’t like to push it when I travel. I like to sink into a few places, rather than try to hit everywhere. So we stayed mostly in Sagres. The hotel where we stayed, Martinhal, was really beautiful. Super modern but beachy and totally my vibe. It was also walking distance from the beach and the town area of Sagres, which was great. There’s a really cool fort there, too, that used to be a school for exploration back in the 15th century. It’s actually the westernmost point in all of Europe, so it’s the closest you can be to looking at the United States. It was amazing to imagine being there back then.” 

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>>Next: Four Reasons to Visit Portugal Right Now