Learn From My Mistakes: My Week in Budapest Was An Enormous Shitshow – and I Loved Every Second

If you were at Stansted Airport in London on June 12, you would have seen me running from security to the gates in my socks, my backpack bouncing from one arm while I clutched my shoes to my chest, shrieking “missing flight sorry!!!” and trying not to notice how sweaty I was from the three layers of clothing I was wearing to avoid Ryanair baggage fees.

This is, unfortunately, pretty similar to how I end up boarding most of my flights, and my flight to Budapest was no exception.

My friend Katie – current travel buddy who I’ve known since I was literally nine years old – and I took one look at the security line an hour before boarding time and were so convinced we were going to miss our flight that we started looking at later flights to Budapest and other nearby countries, BUT, by some miracle, we made it.

But, also like, it’s me, so of course the shitshow only continued once we arrived. But that’s what keeps it interesting, am I right?

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, and annoyingly enough, it only takes exact change. Unless we just got unlucky, but at least, the machine that we used only took exact change.

Always have a little currency of the country you’re about to land in.

Luckily, Katie had some HUFs with her. HUF = Hungarian Forints. At the time of writing, 274 Hungarian Forints are equal to $1 USD. The 200E costs 350 Forints per person, which is roughly $1.28.

Depending on where you’re going, you might have to take an additional train after the 200E, like we did.

The first thing we did when we got to the airport was look up directions to our hostel. Well 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.

Actual footage of Katie eating cheese and looking up directions to our hostel #youhearditherefirst

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 showing 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 the little blue dot. I was busy talking to Katie and ignored my map, and I only knew to get off because the automated voice thing 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 waaay down to the end in order to buy tickets. 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 as you think you’ll need for the duration of your trip because the ATM will probably charge you a fee, so 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 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.

Use the ATMs inside/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.

Something we did do, however, was spend roughly $40 on a “Sparty Party,” which is essentially like a Vegas pool party but at night and on steroids. If you’ve never heard of this, lemme break it down for ya.

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 pools, really hot pools, 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 going around and around endlessly.

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’s a little less than 11,000 HUF, but if you buy it at the party directly, 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, which isn’t that bad, but when you get there, you have to put money on a special card thing you wear around your neck, and there’s a minimum amount you can put on the card.

Included in the price, you get assigned a locker you can put your stuff in, which you can open by using a FOB key wrist watch they give you when you walk in. They give out one wrist watch/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 like 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. Not that I 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, but during the day 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 other people have been stepping in, which is nasty.

Also, for whatever reason, the locker situation during the day works differently than at night, and 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, 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 that doesn’t correspond to the number on your locker, but you have to keep it with you and remember your locker number. See, I had to figure 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, and he pointed at something on the screen and nodded, so we printed that out.

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 more stuff in Hungarian. “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 it was okay. Lucky.

If it doesn’t say Ferihegy on the ticket, it’s not for the airport.

Unlike the bus we took on the way in to Budapest, the train didn’t announce any of the stops, so all of a sudden we were passing a sign with a plane on it and I was like “is that….?”

The smart thing would have been to look up how many stops we had to go and then count the stops, but we didn’t do that, didn’t get off the train in time, and had to go an extra stop (about 15 extra minutes on the train), hop over the fence with our suitcases to go buy the correct train ticket, and wait 40 minutes for the train.

This is what waiting at a random bus stop for 40 minutes in the middle of nowhere Hungary looks like

Our story isn’t over yet, folks.

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 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 circles and triple-checked the map and went “wtf?!”

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 confused 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 early AF for ya 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.

I swear I didn’t always stand on this side of her in pictures on purpose.

An Open Letter To Everyone Who’s Afraid to Travel Alone

Dear Individual Who’s Afraid To Travel Alone,

Hey! How are you? Your hair looks great today, has anyone told you that yet?

So! You want to travel. You’re in your final semester of high school and planning to go to college, but don’t feel mentally prepared to start yet. Or, you’re about to finish college, and you don’t quite feel ready to be a real adult with a real job. Or, you recently got out of a six-year relationship and want to be somewhere else for a while. Or, nothing dramatic happened, but you’ve simply never been out of your home country and you just want to see what else is out there.

You have an O.K. amount of money in your bank account and an idea of where you want to go, but you don’t know anyone with whom you can imagine traveling, so obviously, that’s not happening, because you clearly can’t go alone. Right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

And no, this isn’t going to be one of those “if you can dream it you can do it” blog posts, don’t worry. I’m aware that the Internet is filled with cute little Pinterest pictures of supermodel-looking girls sitting on a mountain at that place in Turkey with all the hot air balloons–if you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you know what I’m talking about–or gazing out on some landscape involving a waterfall accompanied by big, bold text about how to travel alone is to know yourself or how the world is your oyster or something to that effect.

Most of your “traveling alone” selfies will look like this–backpack, sweat, no makeup. But yo, the park behind me is pretty. (Parque El Retiro, Madrid, June 2016)

Most of what I’ve read online about traveling alone (especially for women, but this post is for everyone) either says that:

a) you’ll have the most amazing time and amazing Instagram pictures to go along with it

OR

b) it’s super dangerous and scary and you’ll be alone and sad and scared.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s both. You’ll most likely have an amazing time, and you’ll also most likely be sad and scared sometimes. The thing is, traveling alone is like everything else in life. Nothing else is either this thing or that thing, so why would this be an exception?

Even though you’ll have scary and sad and maybe even dangerous moments, what I want to make sure you take away from this is that, at least for me, it was 100 percent worth it.

Before you decide if it’s worth it for you or not, because everyone’s different, let’s rewind back six years for a second so I can tell you my story.

The year is 2011, I’m four months into 19 years old, and eight months past finishing an exhausting, intensive four years of high school, during which I struggled to pass every math- or science-related class I took, drowned daily in a pile of homework, barely slept, and almost never raised my hand. I had plenty of friends, and had no trouble making new ones one-on-one or in small groups, but public speaking was the scariest thing in the world to me. I was too anxious to even show up to a friend’s birthday party by myself.

I had known since the beginning of my last year of high school that I needed a break before starting college, so I applied to a bunch of colleges with the plan to defer for a year once I got accepted, but I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to do with my extra year.

I ended up staying home in Santa Cruz, California to work two jobs while all my friends went to colleges all over the country. I really wanted to go somewhere to get better at my Spanish–I had taken it in school for the better part of 13 years, so I could speak pretty decent textbook Spanish (“where is the bathroom in the library? The pen of my uncle is on the green table”), but I had always wanted to be fluent.

My stepdad had gone to Guatemala years before to take Spanish classes, and said it was one of the cheapest countries to do that in, but all the programs I found online wanted you to pay an arm and a leg to only volunteer for two or three weeks. And, I was afraid to go by myself.

One night, my stepdad’s friend came over for dinner and said he knew of a volunteer program in Guatemala called Common Hope, that didn’t make you pay to volunteer and allowed you to do so for 1-6 weeks if you met certain requirements. He also said that plenty of people went there on their own to volunteer, so that once I was there, I wouldn’t be completely alone. I applied for the program, and got accepted to work in their daycare unit. I also applied for (and got accepted to) a language school, which also set me up with a host family.

So, after two more months of working in Santa Cruz, I found myself on an airplane on February 6, 2011, heading to a foreign country by myself for the first time ever. I’d been on two family vacations to Mexico when I was younger, but aside from that, I’d never left the U.S., and definitely not by myself.

Fountain at Parque Central from my first day in Antigua

I arrived at my host family’s house at nighttime and in a daze and immediately fell asleep. The next morning I woke up super early, ate breakfast with my host family, and stumbled through Spanish small talk.

Check out this excerpt I found from the blogspot.com blog I kept while I was gone to prove to my friends and family that I was alive–it perfectly sums up the minor breakdown I had while trying to unpack after breakfast that day:

after breakfast i kinda freaked out…everyone was at school or work and i had this moment like, what the hell am i doing, im all alone, im bad at reading maps and also directions, i dont have a working phone, i don’t speak fluent spanish, GOD I AM SO DUMB WHY AM I DOING THIS. but then i was like yo broski, this is what you’ve wanted to do all year. this is what they call “diving in headfirst,” and you’re here now, so put your big girl panties on and just dive. (yeah i talk to myself and yeah i call myself broski when i do it.)
so i dove!
and i got lost!
but im alive, hi.
and it was fun!

Once I pulled myself together, I spent a confusing but pleasant morning walking through the town’s cobblestone streets and stopping to look at every interesting statue, garden, or storefront.

From my blog post exactly six years ago

I’m not going to lie–my three months in Guatemala started out rough. Over the first few weeks, I dealt with getting ripped off, first while buying a phone to use while I was there and then while buying credit for my phone (multiple times), I fell ill to the point of being unable to eat or stand, and once I ended up on the wrong bus going to the wrong city with no map or phone credit.

When little emergencies happen in the comfort of your home country when your family is right there, they’re easier to deal with. When they happen to you when you’re completely on your own thousands of miles away, you have to deal with them yourself right then and there. And doing that made me way, way stronger.

After a month or so of being in Guatemala on my own, even though I had the best host family ever and a few housemates, I got pretty lonely. Everyone was doing their own thing, and I basically did the same activities every day–volunteer job, language classes–and read a lot alone in my room.

Two months in, my (incredible) Spanish teacher told me that there was another girl around my age from California at the same school who took Spanish classes in the morning (mine were in the afternoon), so one day I went to school a little early, and looked for a girl about my age.

I saw some girl reading by herself in the corner, so I walked up to her and said, “Hey! This is super random, but I’m from California, and I’m here by myself. My teacher told me there was another girl alone here from California, and that’s you, right?”

She said yes, and I asked if she wanted to hang out sometime, since we were from the same place and by ourselves, and she said okay.

24 hours later we were dancing at a club together making plans to climb Volcán Pacaya (one of the many volcanoes in Guatemala) the next morning.

The following morning, as I was ascending an active volcano with a girl I had met 48 hours earlier, she told me I had intimidated her when I first came up to her because I seemed so confident. She said she would have never just walked up to a random girl and asked if she wanted to hang out, and I realized that two months earlier, I wouldn’t have either.

Volcano climbin’

The chick who once had been afraid to go to a birthday party by herself and didn’t talk between 7th and 12th grades was now going up to people she didn’t know, asking them to hang out, and climbing volcanoes with them two days later. Whoda thunk!

The month that followed was my last one in Guatemala, and by far the best. While climbing the volcano, I met a bunch of people from all over the world, and for the next week, we all met at the same spot every night to hang out, play cards, drink wine and go to bars.

In my last two weeks in the country, I had my first experience staying in a hostel–and loved it (at Lake Atítlan), I rode horses at sunset on the most beautiful beach I’d ever been to (Monterrico), I went on a candle-lit cave tour despite the reviews I read online saying it was unsafe, and it ended up being amazing (at the Lanquin Caves), and I visited the beautiful, naturally turquoise pools of Semuc Champey–all with people I had just met.

At the Lanquin Caves – the only light we had was from the melting candles we were holding!

 

Hiking through the forests of Semuc Champey to get to the pools. It was too hot for clothes, so hiking boots and bikinis was the obvious choice.

I arrived back in California on May 5, 2011, a much, much more confident person. That confidence got me through five years of college, that confidence got me my bachelor’s degree in journalism, and that confidence got me to and from 13 more countries since then.

Since that first morning in Guatemala, arriving in a new country has always been exciting, and not scary, because I know I can do it–because I’ve done it before.

Traveling alone gave me confidence that I don’t think I could have gotten from any other experience. There’s nothing quite like showing up to a new country completely alone and having to learn how to navigate the city you’re in by yourself (especially if you’re directionally challenged like I am), getting sick, dealing with language barriers, etc. etc. etc.

Also, it’s waaay scarier thinking about traveling alone than it is once you’re there doing it.

If you wanna go, work work work, save up money for a plane ticket, put ya big girl panties on, and just dive.

Love,

Jessica

P.S. Here are some resources you can use to find people with whom to meet up and do things with once you’re there:

  1. Gapyear.com discussion board – membership to the site is free
  2. Tourlina – If you identify as a woman, this app helps you find other female travel companions (and no, I don’t work for them, I just think it’s a great idea)
  3. Backpackr – This app helps anyone find travel buddies of any gender

TL;DR: Traveling alone can be scary but also so worth it. 

Semuc Champey

Women Writers to Watch in 2017

Everyone and their mother has a travel blog these days, or at least an Instagram account packed with envy-inducing travel photos a-plenty.

With all the travel bloggers/influencers out there, it might be hard to pick which ones to keep up with and which ones to ignore.

Here are some of my favorite female travel bloggers and their online presences that are definitely worth checking out.

From www.blondeseashell.com

1. Nadine Rohner

Originally from Switzerland and now living and writing in Bali, Indonesia, Nadine Rohner covers all things Bali on her blog, Blonde Seashell: where to stay, where to eat, and everything else you might want to know about one of the most-Instagrammed tropical paradises.

Originally, Nadine said, her blog was just a way to keep in touch with her friends while she traveled, and was more about her personal traveling experiences instead of full of travel advice, as it is now.

Nadine said that several months ago, she decided to think of her blog as more of a business instead.

“I started writing about what to do and see instead of only writing about my personal daily life,” Nadine said.

Talk about an an envy-inducing IG account–Nadine’s Instagram is full of palm trees, tropical beaches, and the occasional pineapple that make you want to book a plane ticket to Bali ASAP.

Nadine said the #1 place she would love to travel to is the Maldives, the luxurious chain of tropical islands in the Indian Ocean.


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2. Michelle Rick

Speaking of Bali, I featured Michelle on my blog in October when I posted her “Basic Bitch’s Guide to Bali.”

Michelle is currently based in California. On traveling, Michelle says, “The hardest part is going. You never really know what to expect, but that’s part of the fun!”

Michelle’s website also features a blog, full of advice regarding books, films, travel, and life in general.

“There are so many times I was nervous to board a plane to a place I’d never been, but it always turned out great,” Michelle said. “Not perfect, since there’s no such thing in travel, but great.”

High up on Michelle’s travel bucket list is Dublin, Ireland.

“When in doubt, just book the ticket and let life do the rest,” she says.

You can follow Michelle on Instagram here.

From travelhippies.in

3. Purvi Kamaliya

A self-described “travel addict,” Mumbai-based teacher Purvi writes her blog, Travel Hippies, to be more like a collection of stories than a blog. Most of her posts are to help readers plan trips to and around India. Reading her blog is like you’re talking to a friend who just got back from a trip.

“Traveling…is an adventure where you get out of your comfort zone,” she says.

Purvi would love to explore Croatia to see its “beautiful and secluded beaches, museums and cathedrals.”

Check out Purvi’s colorful Instagram here.

From www.memoriesabroad.wordpress.com

4. Lizzy and Eloise

Lizzy and Eloise are too mysterious to have last names. Like Madonna. Or Cher.

Or, they just didn’t tell me and don’t have them listed on their blog or IG, take your pick.

From Germany (Lizzy) and Australia (Eloise), Lizzy and Eloise decided to start their travel blog, “Memories Abroad,” when they were working as au pairs together in the U.S.

“We bonded over how much more we felt at home (in the U.S.) rather than in our home countries, so we decided to share this with others, along with our travel experiences,” Eloise said.

Eloise’s dream destination is Greece.

“As a child, I would always talk to my Nan about going to see the blue water and white buildings, and we plan to go together someday,” she said.
Lizzy said she wants to visit Australia so she can “make my childhood dream of walking up the stairs of the Sydney Opera House come true.”

Give ’em a follow on the ‘Gram.

Know any badass babe bloggers I missed? Lemme know in the comments!

 


Tourlina: The Tinder for Travel in Twos

In 2011, when I was fresh out of high school and not prepared to start college yet, I took a gap year in which I spent four months working in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California and then three months volunteering with a non profit organization in Antigua, Guatemala.

Since I had only ever been out of the country on two family trips to Mexico, my mother and I (mostly my mother) were a little scared for my safety and general well-being. My mother suggested I email the program director to get the names of other young women also working at the organization and then send them emails introducing myself, which is basically the ultimate Concerned Parent suggestion and didn’t end up panning out.

New friends in Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Angela Leuch.
New friends in Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Angela Leuch.

I made friends on my own when I got there, but the initial transition was rough. Both my mother and I probably would have felt a lot better if Tourlina had been around.

Founded by Michael Klumpp and Sandra Preuss, Tourlina is currently the only app specifically created for solo female travelers to find other women to travel with.

“Both [Klumpp and Preuss] have traveled alone, so we got the idea that something [like this] should be available in the market,” Klumpp said on the inspiration for the app. “There’s no women-specific travel app in the market…so we decided we should create it.”

Although it’s not relevant to dating at all, Tourlina is “like Tinder, except you create a trip and decide on a destination, country and a time period,” Klumpp said. “We thought [modeling the app off of Tinder] was the most up-to-date and safest way.”

Like Tinder, users can only create a profile by logging in through Facebook, so that the app admins can “check if [each user is] really a woman and not a fake account,” Klumpp explained.

Every user must be approved–i.e. deemed to be both a) female identifying and b) not a robot–in order to use the app. Once your profile is approved, you then “create a new trip” by selecting one of the 110 countries that Tourlina currently has in its database.

The app then has you select your preferred travel dates. Once you’ve done this, it lets you decide what kind of trip you’d like (spontaneous, planned, heavy on the night-life, nature-y, etc.) in order to find compatible travel companions.

When you come across someone you think you might want to travel with, swipe “right” on her, just like with Tinder, and if she thinks you look cool too, she’ll swipe right and you can start planning your trip together.

14971342_10211353808301460_1268404043_n
Gondola rides in Venice are always better with a friend.

Tourlina has roughly 10,000 users from all over the world, mainly from the US and the UK but also a notable amount from Italy, the Philippines and Dubai, says Klumpp. The app is currently available in English and German, but a new version will be released in the beginning of 2017, which will also offer Spanish as a third language option.

Additionally, the new version will have a chat request feature (much like the one on Instagram), in which users can request to chat with another user even if they haven’t swiped right on each other. The app will also begin allowing users to see all other users within 50 kilometers from you and not just the ones with similar travel plans.

The app is currently only available for iOS, but will be available for Android as well starting in April 2017.

If you’re worried about traveling alone, give Tourlina a try. No awkward mother-prompted emails necessary.


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