If you were at Stansted Airport in London on June 12, 2017, you probably saw a girl wearing a dress, leggings, shorts, and two jackets to avoid Ryanair baggage fees, clutching her shoes and backpack to her chest while frantically running through the airport in her socks.
That girl would have been me, and that is unfortunately, pretty similar to how I end up boarding most of my flights. My flight from London to Budapest was no exception.
My longtime friend and awesome travel buddy Katie and I took one look at the massive security line an hour before boarding time and realized it was very possible we might miss our flight. We started looking at other countries to fly into instead, but by some miracle, we made it! Even with the line. And the sweaty sock airport running.
However, it’s me, so of course the misadventures only continued once we arrived. But that’s what keeps it interesting. Right?
If you have a trip to Budapest planned soon, read on for tips on how to avoid the messes we got ourselves into. Or maybe you just want to read about me getting lost in Hungary. (I don’t blame you. It’s pretty funny.)
Getting into Budapest
The first thing Katie and I did when we got to Ferihegy airport was look up directions to our hostel. Actually, the first thing we did was hit up the grocery store attached to the airport to get cheap cheese and baguettes. And then we looked up directions to our hostel.
To get to and from the Ferihegy airport in Budapest, you need to take a bus called the 200 Express. It’s blue and says “200E” on the front. Next to the bus is a ticket machine which it only takes exact change.
We didn’t know this before we got there. Luckily, Katie had some HUFs (Hungarian Forints) with her. At the time of writing, 276 Hungarian Forints are equal to $1 USD. The 200 Express bus costs 350 Forints per person, which is roughly $1.26.
Depending on where you’re going, you might have to take an additional train after the 200E, like we did.
Google Maps is magical and if you look up directions from Point A to Point B when you have WiFi but then leave the WiFi zone, the little blue dot on the map that shows you where you are will continue to move with you as long as you leave the Maps app open. This is incredibly useful for things like, you know, using public transportation at night in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Looking up directions is all well and good, but it doesn’t really do much if you don’t pay attention to your map. I was busy talking to Katie and didn’t look at the little blue dot on the map showing where we were. I only knew to get off because the automated voice on the bus announced our stop, so without really looking at the blue dot, I told Katie to grab her stuff and we hopped off in a hurry.
Once off the bus, we realized we had gotten off in literally the middle of nowhere, so we followed the little blue dot to where we were supposed to be, which was a proper train stop instead a random sign beside the highway, which is where we initially were.
We met a Hungarian lady who said the 200E usually stopped at the end of the platform, not right smack dab in the middle where we were, and we had to walk way down to the end in order to buy tickets, which was roughly half a mile. Whoops.
We finally got to our hostel, but didn’t have any more HUFs, so we had to go to the ATM to withdraw cash. Always take out as much money as you think you’ll need for the duration of your trip, because the ATM will probably charge you a fee. The less times you visit the ATM, the less fees you’ll be charged.
Katie was weary about using the ATMs on the street because she was worried that it would eat her debit card, but we did it anyway.
Two days later, we went to go to the ATM again because we clearly didn’t follow the above rule, and as soon as Katie put her card in, a little message popped up saying “this card has been captured for security reasons”…and ate her damn card. Therefore, use the ATMs inside or attached to the bank – not the ones on the street.
Speaking of money, Budapest is very cheap in comparison to the U.S., so it’s easy to spend a lot of money on accident, because you get caught up thinking how cheap it is and forget to keep track of how much you’re actually spending. This isn’t actually something we did, because we were actively trying not to, but it would be a very easy mistake someone can make.
Something we did do, however, was spend roughly $40 on a “Sparty Party,” which is essentially like a Las Vegas pool party but at night and on steroids. If you’ve never heard of this, lemme break it down for you.
Sparty Party Basics
Budapest is famous for its bath houses (among other things). The most popular one is called the Széchenyi Spa and Baths, which costs about $17 to visit during the day and is basically the ultimate hot tub experience. There’s a bunch of hot tub-sized pools indoors – cold tubs, hot tubs, hot tubs with sulfur, etc. Outside, there’s two massive swimming pools, one really warm one and one less warm one. The less warm one also has a whirlpool, which is relaxing during the day – and absolutely terrifying at night when it’s full of drunk people endlessly going around and around.
The “Sparty Party” usually happens twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday nights and runs from 10:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. If you buy your ticket ahead of time online or through your hostel, it costs a little less than 11,000 HUF, which is about $40, but if you buy it when you get there, it’s 18,000 HUF, which is $65.
During the party, only the two outdoor pools are open, and the cheapest beers are roughly 600 HUF, which comes out to a bit more than $2. When you get there, you have to put money on a special card that you wear around your neck, and there’s a minimum amount you can put on the card, so they make sure you don’t just buy one $2 beer and call it a day.
Included in the price, you get assigned a locker you can put your stuff in. You open the locker by using a scannable wrist watch they give you when you walk in. They give out one wrist watch and locker per group, so try not to lose your friend. In a massive pool party with hundreds of drunk people, that’s pretty easy to do. I lost Katie for an hour and it was super stressful. Hold hands with your travel buddy and don’t let random Scottish men pick you up and carry you around the pool and away from your friend. Not that either of us did that, or anything.
Going to the bath house during the day is an entirely different ball game. For the bath party, you don’t necessarily need a towel, because you’ll probably be either in the pool or at the bar and not trying to lay out and dry off. During the day, however, I’d recommend bringing one. I’d also highly recommend you bring flip-flops, both during the day and at night, since both the floor of the locker room and the pavement next to the pools is covered in pool water.
For whatever reason, the locker situation during the day works differently than at night, and it is really complicated. You have to select an empty locker and then look for someone who works there – when I was there it was women in blue shirts and white name tags – to close it for you when you put your stuff in, and then open it for you again when you want to get your stuff out. Each locker comes with a little wooden tag that has a number on it. However, the number on the tag doesn’t correspond to the number on your locker. You have to keep the tag with you, and remember your locker number, or write it down somewhere. You can write it in a note in your phone if you are bringing your phone with you to the pool. See, I had to figure all of this out myself, so now I’m telling you so you don’t have to.
The day of our flight out of Budapest, we decided to leave four hours early because we almost missed our flight there. Which ended up being nothing in comparison to the situation we ran into while trying to leave.
From our hostel, we walked to the train station and asked someone who worked there how to get a ticket for the airport. Of course, we don’t speak Hungarian, and I’m assuming he didn’t speak English, so something was lost in translation. He pointed at something on the screen and nodded, so we printed out the ticket that corresponded with that.
Once we were on the train stuffing our faces with bread rolls and cheese wheels (again) (don’t judge OK it’s the cheapest thing to eat that’s also portable), a guy came by to collect the tickets, frowned at ours and said something in Hungarian.
“….airport?” I said meekly.
He shook his head and said something else in Hungarian, followed by “Airport no.”
He sort of just stood there smiling and shaking his head, and I don’t know how to say “someone who worked at the train station told me to buy this” in Hungarian, so I just pointed at my ticket and said “….is okay?” and he laughed and said “okay.”
The airport in Budapest is called Ferihegy. If your ticket doesn’t say Ferihegy, it’s not for the airport.
Unlike the bus we took on the way in to Budapest, this train didn’t announce any of the stops. All of a sudden we were passing a sign with a plane on it.
The smart thing would have been to look up how many stops we had to go and then count the stops.
We didn’t do that.
What we did do was not get off the train in time, and had to go an extra stop (about 15 extra minutes on the train). However, when we got off the train, we saw that it was not a usual stop people got off at, and therefore it was fenced in. There was a machine for buying tickets, but it was on the other side of the fence.
We hopped over the fence with our suitcases to go buy the correct train ticket, and then wait 40 minutes for the correct train.
Our story isn’t over yet, folks.
Make sure you’re at the correct airport
Once we got off the train at the correct stop – the stop that said Ferihegy with a little airplane sign – we looked around and quickly realized something was wrong. Although all the signs said “airport,” and from glancing at Google Maps we could clearly tell we were at the airport, we were somehow at the wrong one. It looked nothing like the airport we had flown into – there was just a parking lot and a big building that A) had a sign about military aircraft, B) was locked, and C) appeared to have nobody inside. There were also no signs about where to catch a plane or really anything explaining anything. If I had been alone, this would have been a panic moment, but I was with Katie, so we both kind of just wandered around in confused circles and triple-checked the map.
The third or fourth time we approached the so-called abandoned building with the sign about military aircraft, a man suddenly appeared, came out, saw two clearly lost girls standing there with suitcases and told us we had to cross the street and take the 200E bus to get to the airport. Which makes sense, since we had to take a bus and then a train to leave the airport in the first place.
The 200E bus is your direct transportation to and from the airport! Also, use your common sense!
After all that, we were still an hour early for our originally scheduled flight – and it was delayed.
Be super early for flights – because YOU NEVER KNOW!
That’s just the short version, folks. Our five days in Budapest were essentially devoid of sleep, full of stories, possibly involved the acquiring of a tattoo or two and absolutely involved lots and lots of walking, cheap beer, and literal hundreds of pictures. Going to Budapest and want advice? Get at me in the comments. I got lots more.