5 Travel Tips for Budapest

Budapest is a cool city. Matt and I did a lot of walking while we were there. There’s nothing more interesting than walking around a new city. I feel that walking around allows you to see unexpected things more frequently than when you just take public transportation. Matt and I walked everywhere in Budapest and we definitely got a great feel for the city for the amount of time that we had. Here’s some tips that we collected to help you navigate the city successfully.

 

Check out the view from the Fisherman’s Bastion and get a bite to eat.  This location provides a great lookout over Budapest. You can see the parliament building across the river. It is a great place to take awesome photos of the city. Matt and I also grabbed a bite to eat at the HB Cafe which is in the structure. Once again, it was an awesome view and we had some great food.

 

Walking around to see the sites. Matt and I managed to snag a hostel in between the river and where Heroes’ Square are. These two areas of the city are in opposite directions. We split our trip in half visiting each area. Walking along the streets we got to see the true character of city. Check out all the museums, castles, bookshops, and restaurants along the way.

 

Public transportation can be confusing. Plan ahead. Matt is awesome at figuring out our public transportation routes. We typically utilize public transportation solely to get to and from the airport. Budapest’s public transportation is a beast. Matt spent lots of time working out how to get to and from the airport. It was a bit more complicated considering we had taken the train in so getting to the airport was new for us in that city and we took a very early flight. It’s definitely doable but take the time to do the research and a lot extra time incase you get lost.

 

Take the tram up to castle hill. Sure, we could have walked up to the castle. But we didn’t want to. It was fun to take the tram up the hill even though it was a bit expensive. A panoramic of the city slowly comes into view as you ascend the hill. And it was nice to not have to walk up that steep incline.


Check out a Hungarian secret box.
Matt and I found these after we got off the tram on castle hill. We collected coins for my cousin during our trip and needed a box to put them in. This type of box is so cool. You have to remove secret panels in order to get to the key. It was an awesome souvenir to bring home.

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6 Things I Learned While Backpacking

Minimalism: You don’t need as much stuff as you think you need. Backpacking teaches you that. I had everything I needed but nothing extra. It’s a really liberating experience because you aren’t weighed down literally or metaphorically by extra stuff. It has inspired me to minimize that amount of material things that I have in my non-traveling life. Admittedly, it has been a bit hard to cut back on items that I have but everyday I am closer to letting go of things that I don’t really need. I believe it will bring me closer to how I felt when I traveled. I’ll be more focused on living and have more money for experiences rather than items.

Give Yourself a Rest:I believe that in the USA people are extremely focused on working. This, in my opinion, can lead to people not caring for themselves on lots of levels: physically, spiritually, intellectually. And I get that because that’s what I did. It’s very easy to get caught up in work and sometimes you need to (thanks college debt). It’s also very important to make sure that you take time for yourself. Going on this trip I took time for myself and I was the happiest and healthiest I have ever been emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The world just felt so much better.

The Person You’re With Impacts Your Journey: I’m very much a go-it-alone type of person. So this was a lesson that I needed to be reinforced. If you have a great friend by your side, you’re good to go. Matt was a great travel buddy and he’s a great person to have with me in normal life too. Life is just one big journey. This trip really taught me that who you surround yourself with has a direct impact on how pleasant and fulfilling that journey is. It’s important to nurture good relationships in life.

People are Good: It’s pretty easy to be cynical. Overall on this trip, the good enormously outweighed the bad. I saw so many amazing creations, ate awesome food, met interesting people, and visited cities all with their own unique people and cultures. You’ve got to love the human race and what it’s capable of. So when something bad happens in this world, I try to think of all the positives. It makes life feel better and less hopeless.

You Can Be Who You Want: This trip allowed me to really figure out who I am, who I want to be, and how I hope to grow. I feel like I really want to work towards these goals because truly being who I am on an everyday basis and focusing more on my goals makes me happier. Part of that means letting go of others’ expectations for me and also making sure that I stay on track to achieving my goals when I am so easily distracted by unnecessary things. Like TV. Or Facebook. They have place but they shouldn’t consume as much of my time as they normally do. And the reward for cutting down on that instant gratification will allow for me to build a more profound and extended happiness upon the goals of who I truly am and want to be.

Exuberant Contentedness Is Possible: I can’t tell you how happy I felt on this trip. At some point everyday I would have an overwhelming feeling of joy. And everyday I had a consistent feeling of complete contentedness. Knowing that a feeling of being truly content actually exists makes me want to work towards continuing whatever it was that brought me to that state. I’d never felt anything like that before, at least not for an extended period of time. Well, except for when I studied abroad in Ireland. But it was even more profound than before. Maybe because I found myself where I wanted to be completely on my own terms rather than placed there by certain circumstances. It’s so nice to know that being completely content is a thing that can actually happen. I’d lost hope until I took this trip.

5 Ways Travel Helps You as a Person

Traveling is a lot of fun but it also can serve as a tool to help develop yourself personally. Here are the top five ways that travel can help an individual grow.

 

Freedom.

 

Backpacking feels like possibility. Everyday is wide open, fresh, and undetermined. It gives you the freedom to be who you truly are, the time to think about what you want, and the opportunity to enjoy life in an unburdened way. Your responsibility is to your personal growth, education, experience, and wonderment. Travel reminds you that magic still exists in this lovely world that can seem so stagnant when you’re at home where you often forget to look for magic.

 

Independence.

 

You rely on yourself (and your travel buddy if you have one). You dictate your day. You aren’t subject to the whims of your superiors. You are the person in charge. This independence reminds you that you are an individual in control of your own destiny at all times. That’s a practice worthy of taking back to your non-travel life.

 

Discovery of Self.

 

With all that freedom and independence, you can spend your time however you like. The lack of burden and responsibility allow you to connect with the real you. You choose to do what you love to do because that’s how you want to fill your time when there is literally nothing on the agenda. Travel can reveal to you your true self.

 

Sense of Accomplishment.

 

You made all this happen. You figured out how to get from A to Z and everything in between. You dictated the path and found success along it. You did it right. All of these experiences lead to a sense of accomplishment. It also reminds you that accomplishment and success can be defined in a myriad of ways. You find it is true that you should never devalue the sense of accomplishment you feel by comparing yourself to others.

 

Personal Development.


With realizations popping up everyday about your true self, your accomplishments, your desires, you can begin to formulate a plan to continue on your path of personal development. You can work on being the better and best version of you and the person that you want to be. You find greater self esteem through your travel accomplishments but can be honest with yourself about how you need to improve. There are no threats to your personal development, no outside influences. You can become the person you want to be or at least get yourself on the path to it.

The Story of Two Greek Restaurant Hosts

The Background: Traveling around Europe has taught me how to avoid people selling items. Matt and I have honed our skills so well that we rarely have to deal with anything. Steel faced and determined, we walk past seating hostesses, souvenir sellers, and people who give out items for “free.” Beware of people who like to tie “free” bracelets on your wrists or those who give you a rose “just because you’re beautiful.” They want money either from you or your significant other; how could a guy say no to paying for a rose after their girlfriend is so happy that someone gave her a flower just because she’s pretty? We started to learn about four years ago when one of those guys kept pushing a rose on me no matter how much I would nicely refuse. He kept assuring me it was for free. I eventually took the flower. Unfortunately for him, I saw him ask for money by rubbing his fingers together in the direction of Matt. I hate it when people lie to me. I turned to him and forcefully stated, “I told you no.” Then threw the rose back at his chest. I was not impressed with that annoying tactic. You have to be strong willed. I’ve developed that over time. I can easily feel bad about turning people down so I’ve learned how to avoid it and/or stand strong. I go into situations with intention.


The Story:
Athens was a completely different restaurant culture than I had experienced up to this point in Europe. You still have the hosts and hostesses attempting to get you to come to their restaurant but it is very laid back and not pushy at all. If you refuse, they’ll hand you a card and tell you to check them out on Tripadvisor. I think it works to their advantage by making visitors comfortable in Athens. I want to go back to Greece anyway but I definitely want to visit Athens again during my trip. The people were warm and welcoming. Matt and I had a number of discussions with shop owners and restaurant workers. Granted, they are doing their jobs by talking with us but I hadn’t experienced this level of friendliness before during my trip through Europe. One of my best memories of this trip has been two Greek restaurant hosts that we talked to. It was a quick exchange but it made me laugh and puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it. Matt and I had just finished shopping; I needed new pants because I managed to wear holes in mine from all the walking we have done. As we hurried back to our hostel to drop our purchases off before heading over to the Acropolis, Matt and I were stopped by a host for a restaurant that was somewhere in the labyrinth of side streets. He asked us if we wanted to stop for lunch. We told him that we had already eaten. He said, “Here’s my card. Check us out on Tripadvisor.” He then asked us where we were from. Matt has taken to saying Boston to make things easier for us to explain; no one seems to known where New Hampshire is. The owner said, “Really? Where in Boston?” He immediately knew he caught us in a white lie so I told him we were really from New Hampshire. He happened to work in a Greek restaurant in Boston in the past and wanted to know if we ever had heard of it. Unfortunately we hadn’t. We told him we had to get going so he said, “You should come back for dinner. We have traditional Greek food and wine.” He turns to Matt and says in an even more charismatic voice, “Bring your baby back tonight. You can buy her some wine.” I started laughing. It was just a funny sale. It was genuine, humorous, and effective all at once. As we start to walk away, the restaurant host from across the street comes running over to us. He starts quickly and jovially saying, “Don’t listen to him. Take my card. Come back here for dinner. That other place is no good. You can even check on Tripadvisor. Our rating is much better.” Then I started laughing even harder. You could tell that the two were good friends simply competing with each other. Although Matt and I never ended up going back to those restaurants as we often cook our own food, I will never forget that exchange. It was so much more effective and refreshing than our other experiences which felt like they bordered on harassment. At the end of that experience, I immediately said to Matt, “Greeks are awesome people.” They’re just cool. And that makes me want to visit their country again. No one should ever underestimate the power of being kind, friendly, and funny even if it is just for a moment to some random person on the street.

7 Things to Do in Krakow

Matt and I enjoyed Krakow a lot. If I could describe Krakow in one word and one phrase it would be cheap and high quality. I think that’s a combination that everyone can appreciate but doesn’t come across often. I hope to visit more of Poland in the future because of the great experience I had in Krakow. If you like older cities that have their own charm as well as great food, Krakow is for you. Krakow’s location also affords you a couple of great day trip opportunities (Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine) that are definitely worth seeing. Plus, it’s easy to spend a couple extra days there as the city’s atmosphere and cheap prices make you feel like you’re taking a lot in without doing typical tourist activities. Here are some activities you might consider adding to your list when you visit Krakow:

Gardens on Wawel Hill

Gardens on Wawel Hill

Visit Wawel Castle: This is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. It holds a lot of history for the local community as it used to be the country’s seat of power. Hands were changed, things were destroyed, but now the castle is restored to a great condition. Opt for the full tour and see the state rooms, collection of oriental art, armory, private apartments, dragon’s den, and, my favorite, the lost wawel. It’s a beautiful, ongoing archaeological excavation that you can visit by walking raised paths. The only downside is that I couldn’t take pictures. Don’t forget to visit the cathedral on site which has free entry.

See the Salt Mine: If you and your fellow travelers don’t mind going underground and a bit of adventure, check out the Wieliczka Salt Mine. I’m a big fan of visiting underground sites and caves so this was just my cup of tea. Take a tour to learn all about the mine’s history and see some interesting art made entirely out of salt. It’s a completely different world down there that you shouldn’t miss. And it’s only a twenty minute drive from Krakow. You can get there by using public transportation or you can book a tour in advance. See Krakow is a tour company that will pick you right up at your hostel/hotel. You pay a bit extra but I think it’s worth not having to deal with the stresses or arranging transportation.

Sunlight on Royal Castle, Wawel Hill

Sunlight on Royal Castle, Wawel Hill

Make the Trip to Auschwitz: Visiting Auschwitz is a heavy experience but I think it is something everyone should do when they visit Krakow. It takes about an hour or so to reach the site from the city. I arranged a tour through See Krakow and it worked perfectly. Auschwitz is quite busy; when you arrange a tour, your guides take care of everything for you so you don’t need to wait in line for tickets. Touring Auschwitz will impact you for the rest of your life. Don’t miss it.

Dine Out: Like I said, Krakow is cheap. You can eat at a good restaurant for a reasonable price. With my boyfriend, we would each get a drink, appetizer, main meal, and one dessert for $30 (US Dollars) total. The cheap prices mean that you don’t have to feel guilty about splurging on a big meal once a day. It’s definitely worth it. If you’re like me and don’t usually dine out while you travel, make an exception for Krakow. It’s a steal.

Take a Walk By the River: Once you’re done your tour with Wawel Castle, enjoy a stroll by the river side. It’s peaceful there. Go back at night to see the city lights play off of the water. Plus there’s a fire breathing dragon statue that looks spectacular at night. You can’t miss it when you come out of the dragon’s den part of your Wawel Castle tour.

Wawel Cathedral

Wawel Cathedral

Wander Around Market Square: Sure Market Square is expensive. Sure there are lots of people. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a cool place to wander around. Check out all the souvenir stalls in the market building which is smack dab in the square’s center. Wander the streets adjacent to the square to find some cheaper restaurants and souvenirs. Sit down and people watch. It’s busy and entertaining.

Run through the Park: Or walk. The park in the center of the city surrounds the market square so you’re going to have to go through it anyway. It’s worth it to enjoy the green space in the city. Matt and I also used it as a place for our morning runs. It’s a great spot for people and puppy watching.

Ways to Save Money While Traveling

Money is always a big issue when it comes to travel. Whether it prevents you from your trip before it even starts or limits what you can do on your voyage, finance inevitably becomes a factor when you travel. It’s an unavoidable part of taking your dream adventure. Because it is such an issue, here are some tips that I’ve compiled on how to save some money while backpacking:

 

  1. Shop at Grocery Stores: If you stay in hostels, cook in hostels with cheap food from the grocery store. Matt and I rarely eat at restaurants because we save so much money if we buy our food from a grocery store. Additionally, pick up some portable snacks to bring with you for lunch during the day. (Matt and I usually bring cheese, bread, and apples.) That will save you the cost of having to buy lunch somewhere.
  2. Pick the Cheapest Route Possible: Matt is the master at finding the least expensive travel routes. He pulls up a spreadsheet and writes down the potential paths and checks the transportation methods. Selecting the least expensive route can mean changing the order of cities or picking a different mode of transportation (bus v. train v. plane). Add up the costs and pick the one that saves you the most money.
  3. Look for Good Hostel Prices: Let’s face it. If you want to save some money, you can’t stay in hostels with a 99% positive rating on HostelWorld. Matt and I set limits for ourselves with lodging (nothing below a 70% rating, free WiFi, access to lockers, fair location, and linen included) and then try to pick the cheapest that will match those requirements. If you are cool with staying in a room with however many people, it’s even cheaper. If you can still find a cheap private room, take it because those are few and far between. Budget to get some uninterrupted sleep every once in a while.
  4. Forgo Public Transportation: Barring cities where it is absolutely necessary to take public transportation without having to spend half the day walking (I’m looking at you Berlin!), Matt and I opt to travel by foot. This saves us money and helps us get some exercise. Double win!
  5. Find Free Museums: Sometimes museums are free. Sometimes there are reduced entrance fees. Sometimes you still have to pay full price. Matt and I are going to go to museums no matter what but if there is no entrance fee or a reduced one, you’ll probably find us there. We do have our limits though. If admission is crazy, we probably won’t cough up the cash. Occasionally you need to remind yourself that just because something is expensive doesn’t mean that it is better.
  6. Create Your Own Tour: It’s cool when there is a free walking tour (keep in mind that “free” usually means tip based so be prepared for that) but sometimes it is worth it to make your own tour. Matt and I will outline some buildings we want to see or that we know are highlights and then we’ll visit those by foot. Thanks to the interwebs, we can get all the information we need to know online. And we save money, even if it is just a measly tip. (FYI: Matt and I did this for a chocolate tour in Brussels and saved ourselves seventy dollars each. Sure, we didn’t get to do a chocolate class at the end of our tour but we still ate at all the chocolate stores that the company listed on their route.)
  7. Sleep the Whole Day: Every once in a while you should take a break from your backpacking excursions for your sanity and health. It can be rough when you are constantly moving. That day you take as a break every few weeks is also a day when you will have only the expenses of your cheap hostel accommodations and some food you bought from the grocery store. Score!
  8. Reserve Ahead or Don’t: It’s a game that you have to play. Do you reserve ahead or wait until the last minute? Both can potentially yield cheap results. If you see a deal early on and are able to book in advance, I say why not. You just saved yourself some money. If you wait until the last minute and find a deal, great. It’s really a crap shoot. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Look for those deals and take them when you see them.
  9. Pick and Choose Your Experiences: You are traveling for your enjoyment even if you do need to stick to a budget. Plan for experiences that you know you’ll want to do. For example, I have money that I’m willing to expend on going to restaurants and taking the occasional pricey tour that gets us out of the cities we visit. Pick what you know you’ll love and never forget.

8 Things You Should Know About Brussels

When Matt and I arrived in Brussels, he wasn’t impressed. We did arrive in the evening so he didn’t get the best glimpses of the city while we looked for an open restaurant to relieve our hunger. We saw a couple fighting aggressively in the street (thankfully they stopped before it escalated to the point where Matt would’ve had to step in). There were more sirens than Matt had heard our whole trip (he’s very aware of those things). The streets seemed dirty. I told Matt to try not to let his first impressions ruin our visit to that city. I was convinced that it would be a great experience and it was. Brussels is beautiful (though admittedly it is a bit dirty). And it provides tons of great food to its lucky visitors. Here are my tips for when you visit the lovely city of Brussels:

 

  1. Get Ready to Indulge. There are tons of beers, fries, waffles, and chocolates that you need to try when in Brussels. Just give in to it. It’s a great experience for everyone, foodie or not. I accepted my fate, enjoyed my time, and started to eat healthier again once we left the city.
  2. The Belgian Flag Isn’t Normal. Notice how the flag is flying vertically instead of horizontally in the picture below? That’s how the Belgian flag is supposed to fly but it is placed horizontal to meet international standards.

    Belgian Flag

    Belgian Flag

  3. Buy Some Chocolate From the Grocery Stores. Don’t get me wrong, you should go and indulge at all of the chocolatiers around Brussels but you can get chocolate that is just as good from the grocery stores. Matt and I picked up chocolate from there and saved money. I recommend Dolfin’s Masala Chai chocolate bar. It’s awesome.
  4. Not All Belgian Fries Are Fresh. Our walking tour guide reminded us of this. The tour guide recommended Fritland which cuts its fries fresh each morning. No frozen fries there. Matt and I did some quality control for you all out there. We can confirm that Fritland’s fries are indeed fresh potatoes. Also, the locals eat their fries with mayo or tartar sauce. If you want to eat like them, give it a try. It’s great.
  5. Visit the Waffle Corner. Right near the Manneken Pis (a major tourist attraction that is simply a statue of a boy peeing into a fountain) is a lovely corner with waffles that cost one Euro each. Toppings are extra. I enjoyed the waffles plain which is how the locals eat them. I tried one with powdered sugar too but it’s a bit messy. If you get a plain waffle you can walk around and stuff your face simultaneously. No need to step to the side and wait until you’re finished eating to enjoy the city’s sites.
  6. Planete Chocolat Gives an Awesome Chocolate Talk. Matt and I looked into taking a chocolate tour of Brussels. It was a ton of money so we decided to just visit the big chocolate places on our own and try their confectionary wonders. For a mere seven Euros each, you can go to Planete Chocolat and do their chocolate talks on the weekends. You get five pieces of chocolate, a hot chocolate (a legit one, mind you), a chocolate making demo, and information on chocolate’s history. Totally worth it. Plus they make their chocolate all by hand. I’m sure that the commercial chocolatiers can’t say that.
  7. Viva Brussels! This was the awesome free walking tour that Matt and I took the first day that we really started exploring the city. Of course, they ask you to pay what you can or what you think the tour is worth. It was worth a lot in our opinion. We were able to see all the tourist attractions and learn local tips at the same time. I’d suggest it to anyone visiting Brussels. It definitely helps get you oriented. Plus, I love the tour companies that let anyone have access to a good tour. I believe that the amount of money in your pocket shouldn’t limit on your ability to go on a really nice tour. (It can certainly feel that way for those of us traveling on a tight and small budget.) Viva Brussels delivered an impressive product.
  8. Get Beer from the Grocery Stores. Just as with the chocolate, you can still get great beers at the grocery stores. Matt loves trying new beers so he went this route to save some money. Don’t bother buying beers from the tourist shops. They just jack up the prices and you can probably get the same beers at the grocery stores. Matt did this with some of the Trappist beers and saved two to three Euros a bottle as opposed to the tourist shops.

 

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If you like all the food advice I had in this post or if you just like food in general (and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t), check out my food blog on Tumblr called Ravenous Wander. That’s where you’ll find more detailed information and pictures of my food adventures during my backpacking trip.