Delta airlines recently sent me a solo traveler kit with activity cards, a camera and a handy little towel for light travel. It reminded me of what traveling solo brought me. It was enriching, it changed my view on so much, and most importantly I made incredible friends. (DISCLOSURE: This blog post is not endorsed by Delta. The views are my own. I received the travel kit in exchange to encourage solo travel on Instagram, not on my blog.)
Right before the summer of 2015, I set out on a last minute adventure to travel solo. I was living in Sweden with Neil and felt I was missing something in my life. I wasn't sure what it was, but I was on a quest to find it. My sister kept encouraging me to just go travel to keep my sanity. Plus, I was living in Europe and had access to cheap flights and trains. What was I waiting for?!
I had this burning desire to travel somewhere that was less popular followed with a very popular place. I choose Budapest, Hungary and Amsterdam, Netherlands. I'll share my Budapest stories with you in this post and share more about Amsterdam next time.
It was official, I booked a $25 USD flight. Then I bought a backpacking pack and started the detailed planning just two weeks before departing. The first thing I needed to figure out was how to bring all my "necessities" and define what a real necessity was.
Bye bye blow dryer, even the travel sized one. It weighed too much and I wasn't sure if I really needed it. I thought I could probably borrow one from someone at the hostel or just bring my straightener and air dry my hair. Nope, the straightener had to go too.
I downsized my shampoo and conditioner for only the exact amount I needed for my hair washing days. The rest of the time, I rocked dry shampoo! Even my makeup was downsized to my ideal minimum of what three items I would take if I was on a deserted island: cover up, eyeliner, and one eye shadow color.
I packed four outfits and planned to wear some of them twice. If I really needed something I thought, I could buy a souvenir shirt or pants. All this fit in a bag for 7 days of travel! I already felt I was making strides to being open-minded (more explanation below).
I arrived in Budapest and took a bus from the airport to the first hostel I ever stayed in, 11th Hour Cinema Hostel. It dropped me at the end of an alley with four different directions to walk. This was terrifying for me because I wasn't sure if I was in a safe neighborhood (spoiler alert: it was one of the safest and hippest hoods). I nervously opened the floor to ceiling, two story door to find a welcoming outdoor terrace with a small check in desk. The hostel was beautiful with live plants growing throughout and a peaceful atmosphere. Hostel guests were hanging on reading, watching movies and cooking together. I had a grin from ear to ear.
I booked a bed in the co-ed 10-bed bunk room. I was assigned a bottom bunk and given a quick tour. I loved the art that has since been updated (see Frida made out of magazine pieces). I wasn't sure where to go first, so I went to the kitchen to find my kind of people: foodies.
There, flipping noodles was Howard Lin, my new friend. He asked if I wanted to join him and one of the other guests for the meal he was making. Of course! He was from Taiwan and on a self discovery trip too. He told me about his trip in Budapest so far and what he enjoyed most. I was taking mental notes for when I was going to explore the city.
Side note: Later that night, I found out that Howard was in the same room as me and by the time I left Budapest we became long-time friends (we still are today).
BUDAPEST - THE CITY:
Budapest is split into two cities, Buda and Pest with the Danube river running between them. I was staying on the Pest side, known for the nightlife and tourist areas. I scheduled a 2 hour walking tour learn some history and familiarize myself with the area before venturing out on my own.
I visited Buda with the group and took the Buda Hill Funicular (historical cable car) up to the Buda Castle. I saw the changing of the guard, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion. It was a quieter, residential area versus Pest.
On the Pest side I walked through the Váci utca, the popular shopping square and got myself a pedicure.
Later that evening, I joined some guests from the hostel for an Expat meetup at one of the underground bars. We walked everyone and really explored Pest. We made friends with a local couple who took us for a walk while sharing their countries history.
THE HISTORY I LEARNED:
First off, I learned that I was uneducated on Hungary and many foreign countries. All those years of school, we never touched on international wars unless the US had a part in them. I had the most patient teachers that shared their account on The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 as told from their grandparents and parents. We walked through Pest and stopped in front of iconic places like the Parliament building, where thousands of students stormed the streets to protest. This was the starting place of the Hungarian Revolt. We walked the cobblestone where tanks from the Soviets were stationed for attacks. The sites where book burning took place.
After the tour, we sat on the edge of the Danube and continued our conversations about what has changed for the Hungarians since their Revolution. I realized how much the country was still recovering from their time under a communist party.
By the time I left Budapest for Amsterdam, I had opened my eyes. I felt I had truly understood their culture, through the eyes of the locals. I learned a few phrases in Hungarian, left with blisters on my feet from walking so much, had a newly found passion for foreign politics, and I knew that I needed to return to learn much more. I learned to trust strangers and listen instead of talking. I love Budapest and would return in a heartbeat.