Posts Tagged ‘backpacking’

Travel Disclaimer

From the excellent files of Bootsnall.com comes another sterling piece you might find interesting…

Travel Disclaimer


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Fabulous Friday Photos is back…as long as the program continues to cooperate.

Prague. The problem with Prague is that it’s so touristy, and so gorgeous, and has too much history to possibly take in.

Mid-November Christmas market in the central square

I loved Prague. I’m not sure that I would want to live there; I showed up about ten, fifteen years too late for that. But to visit, it’s spectacular.  It really does live up to its reputation as the prettiest city in Europe. However, I thought it did lack some kind of personality — too many tourists, I suppose.  I wish I could have been here ten years ago.

This is a city I’ll be coming back to – often – when I live in Hungary. They’re not very far away, after all…

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So, I was having a bit of a think the other day. I know, that doesn’t happen often.

Somewhere in Lima. It's amazing how the mind lets one down after only a few years.

I was trying to figure out where this need to travel comes from and when I first realized how awesome it is. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’m slightly obsessed with it.  But I haven’t always been like this.  Indeed, I was once a small child with an affinity for road trips and no inkling that a few short years later I would be addicted to something outside my power to control.

I think it must have been Peru. More specifically, it was when a llama decided to chase us on Machu Picchu. (Macchu Pichu? I can never remember.)

I know what you’re thinking. What did I do to that poor llama? Nothing. He came out of nowhere like an avenging angel with a spitting problem and lunged toward us with destruction written in his bugged-out eyes.  We had no choice but to run and hope we didn’t fall off the side of the mountain, a thing which is easier to do than you might imagine.

What was I doing in Peru? It was my very first trip out of the country as a wee tenth grader on a school trip.  There were tour buses, there was bottled water and jungle cabins and a scenic train and ruins and cathedrals. My god were there cathedrals.  Our tour guides just could not get enough of cathedrals.  It was a guided “educational” trip which meant they wouldn’t let us try the Inca beer, which looked slightly like a milkshake and probably like it could kill you. I believe it was made out of corn and Incan spit.

Now I don’t remember fact one about the cathedrals or most of the ruins. (Hint to tour guide operators: no one can enjoy that kind of thing for ten hours a day, every day.)

What I do remember is getting chased by a llama off the side of a mountain.  And bargaining with people in the markets for a llama-hair blanket and finger puppets of llamas.  You may notice a certain llama theme here. This is because we were in Peru, whose main exports are llamas and Inca-themed merchandise.

I think back now to the moment I stepped off the plane into the violently yellow Cusco airport.  First of all it was the longest plane ride I’d ever taken so that was exciting, because there was a full travel story in itself on how long and awful it was to be cooped up in a metal box for five hours. Yes, five whole hours.  You can see I had never considered going to Australia at that point in my life.

Forgive me this next part.  I was expecting something rather more third-worldly here.  Other than being intensely yellow, having a propensity for peeling plaster, and a noticeable lack of air-con, the airport was certainly an improvement over certain third-world airports, ones like Chicago O’Hare.

My timid classmates, our chaperone, and I were found by the tour guide and we were shuffled hastily on to a bus complete with curtains in the windows, air-con, and bottled water.  The height of luxury. You must understand that at this point I, coming from a small town in Northern Michigan, had never experienced anything like as advanced as public transportation, international airports, currency exchanges, or malaria pills.

When the hotel we were taken to had open windows on the seventh floor – one careless slip and you’re gone for good – I thought that was a pretty Notable Event.

Anyways I got over it.

But on that guided, air-conditioned, educational trip, I learned several important things.  First, that I never wanted to give my money to tour operators again.  Second, that the world wasn’t, in fact, a terrifyingly disease- and crime- infested place and was in fact Pretty Cool. And third, I learned holyshitIlovethisandthisandIwantogoeverywhererightnow.

So while I still cringe at the amount of money I had to pay for eight days being dragged around every historical site in Peru, that trip was the spark that fueled this traveling obsession and I wouldn’t change a thing.

It’s been over two months since I’ve been anywhere and I’m getting the withdrawal shakes: not being able to sleep at night, compulsively budgeting money I don’t even have yet, checking skyscanner on a daily basis, and finding myself on travel websites with no memory of how I got there.  This is going to be a long summer.

You know, I do wonder what I would be doing today if I hadn’t gone to Peru.  I almost cancelled for the stellar reasons that most of my friends weren’t going, it was expensive, and it was rather intimidating. Would I be sitting in a university somewhere wondering why I felt so dissatisfied with life? Or would something else have happened to help me realize how awesome getting in a flying tin can and hurtling to strange destinations full of malaria and yellow fever can be?

On a slightly related note, I’ve decided to learn French.  I made a good effort to learn Hungarian but without an actual speaker here to help me out I just can’t get the pronunciation.  It’s too difficult to try and learn from my limited resources.

But French, French is a piece of cake compared to Hungarian. It’s just like Spanish with a few extra sounds.  You say cafe au lait instead of cafe con leche.  Big deal.  In any case, I can get coffee almost anywhere.

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Unless you’re Dire Straits, and then you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

Luckily most of us aren’t Dire Straits.

A dingo ate my baby...random but I found it and couldn't help myself.

What does it really cost to travel? To do anything?  There’s money, but there are also the other possibilities/situations that you sacrifice in order to travel.  I remember talking about this concept in ninth grade economics. It’s not complicated. (I’m not talking about free chicks.)  Everything you do is a choice, and making one decision will instantly make the myriad other possibilities impossible. You pay a price – whether in time, money, or emotional attachment – and those resources can’t then be used in other ways.

“I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”

I’ve been to, I believe, seventeen countries.  I’ve paid for all of them myself with the exception of a family trip to Mexico.  And I do not have well-paying jobs.  They’re your typical summer tourist-town service industry jobs.

I think a lot of people assume someone else is paying for my trips, because I have traveled so much at such a young age and in such a short period of time.

But that’s not true. And there isn’t a secret to how I pay for anything.  I work my ass off, save everything.  I sacrifice my time here so I can spend time there.

And sometimes, when I’ve been working double shifts for nine days straight, I haven’t seen the light of the sun in at least two weeks, don’t own my own car, and haven’t seen any of my friends in a month, it does seem like a pretty large sacrifice to make.

But for me it’s worth it. I’d rather spend a few months here just earning money and then travel for a few months and spend all my time enjoying myself, as opposed to working less but being stuck here and only having a low-grade kind of enjoyment after work and on the weekends. After all, you can’t get very far away from home in two days.

So if you’d really like to travel – or do anything, really: buy a DSLR camera, open that antiques shop you’ve always dreamed of owning, etc, then don’t think you can’t afford it.  Re-evaluate what you’re spending time and money on now and see if you can’t make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term gain.  Sacrifice your weekends to work a second job and pay off your mortgage or car payment early.  Put your resources where your priorities are.

Looking at something as insurmountable is the wrong way to think.  Break it down into smaller steps.  Get a concrete goal in mind.  The first step, you know you can accomplish. i.e. get a second job so you can start a travel fund, or cut extraneous expenses out of your current budget. Go out less. Buy coffee less. Stop eating out so much.  Carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Trade in your new car for a used one with no car payments. Forgo a weekend trip now in favor of a month-long trip in a year.

The next step you can accomplish.  Set a goal to when you will have the money you need. And then find a way to meet that goal.

For example, I want to leave the US for Budapest on October 19th at the latest, because there’s a CELTA course starting on the 26th that I want to make.  To make enough money to do so, I’m going to have to save about $1300 a month.  I know I’m going to have to work two jobs: I have one for the weekdays, and I have to find another one for the weekends and possibly nights. It won’t be fun.  I won’t be able to afford to move out of my parents house or do anything except work.  But it will be worth it to know that I’ll be back in Budapest – permanently –  in a few months.

When you write that last check, click “purchase” for your plane tickets to Brazil, or take home the camera that will allow you to start your own professional photography service, think about the sacrifices you made in the meantime.

Were they worth it?  And I know the answer, at least for me, is a definite yes.

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Jim Morrison, lead singer of the sixties rock band The Doors (if you haven’t heard of them I don’t know where you’ve been living but your existence is flat and empty) once said,

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”

So what is he talking about and how does it relate to traveling, life, or karate?  Let me explain…

I brought this up specifically because of a post I saw on Facebook the other day.  A friend is doing quite well and moving up in the state/national karate championships.  He’s up to nationals now.  And his aunt posted on his status with words to the effect of “Congratulations, but we love you so don’t go too far because we want you to be around here.”

I know she was well-meaning and everything, but the basic message she was sending there was, “You should sacrifice what you want so that you can stay here with your family and make us happy, even at the expense of your own happiness.” (There’s my karate reference.)

And this kind of situation happens all the time.  Family and friends aren’t trying to be malicious, but by being thoughtless and putting their own wants in front of your own, they can be very effective at sabotaging your dreams. (Jim Morrison quote.) It’s the famous guilt trip of the mother on a huge, subtle scale.  It’s your family, thinking they’re doing what’s best for you when really they’re trying to do what’s best for them–all they’re doing is holding you back, making you doubt yourself, making you fear, keeping you from achieving what you have the potential to achieve. And because this “advice” is coming from people you care about, you naturally respect and value their opinions, making it even harder to look at them dispassionately to see the truth behind the words.

And to go further into this, what is an appropriate sacrifice to make for the people you care about?  Would they be willing to make the same sacrifice for you?  Say, for example, that you wanted to move to New Zealand, about as far away as you can get from the United States and still be on Earth.  It would be pretty common for your family and friends to try to talk you out of it, or at least try to get you to come back and visit them as often as possible.

But is anyone offering to go visit you in New Zealand?  Or, if they’re the ones trying to talk you out of moving, would they be willing to move as well?  To go with you?  Because what they are, in essence, suggesting is that you should sacrifice what you want (to move to NZ) in order that they should have what they want (for you to stay close to them.)

And if they’re not willing to go the distance for you, but expect you to do for them what they would not for you, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your relationship.

And when people give you advice about a big change you’re considering in your life, examine their motives behind the words, even (especially) if it’s your own mother speaking. In the end, you have to listen to yourself, do what you want to do, and not be swayed by people trying to change your mind.  (The reference to life.)

In my not lengthy life so far, the majority of the people I’ve talked to have or have had some kind of dream to go on a big trip.  But almost none of them think of this as a realistic dream–they immediately come up with excuses: work, family, commitment, money, etc etc.  And these people regret not achieving their dream.  (My travel reference. Title is accurate!)

So are you going to be the person who listened to everybody’s advice and stayed home and is now regretting the choices they made for other people, or are you going to be the person who takes personal responsibility for what they do and lives a rich and fulfilling life because they’ve properly recognized and made the appropriate choices to achieve their goals and dreams?

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View of the Duna (Danube) river from the Citadella on Gellert hill. Buda is on the left, Pest to the right.

This wasn’t the loveliest day–in fact, it started snowing while I was out–but this is what Budapest looks like in the winter.

This is probably “the” shot of Budapest.  Most cities have one photo that is the stereotypical image. Paris–Eiffel Tower; Prague–Charles Bridge, possibly, although Prague has so many great things it’s hard to pick just one; Rome–the Coliseum; etc etc.

The second bridge is the famous Chain Bridge, the first bridge to connect the separate cities of Buda and Pest.  Until 1849, the two cities were quite different: hilly, stately Buda on the west side of the Danube; and flat, industrial Pest on the east bank of the river.  Then the chain bridge was built and they were finally connected permanently, only a hundred and sixty years ago.  That’s quite recent as the history of this city goes.  The first settlement on the current site of the city was built by Picts before 1 AD and called Ak-Ink, which allegedly means “Abundant Water.” Later, the Romans occupied the area and called it Aquincum.  Later still, the Bulgarians took it over when it finally became the two cities of Buda and Pest.

Then the Hungarians occupied it and in the 10th century officially founded the Kingdom of Hungary.  In the 1500’s, the Ottomans took over and occupied the city for nearly 140 years, during which time they constructed the Turkish baths that are still popular today.

The Austro-Hungarian empire was formed in 1867.  But it wasn’t until 1873 that the three parts of the city–Buda, Pest, and Obuda, or ancient Buda, were combined officially into the one city of Budapest–long after the chain bridge was built.

In 1918 after WWI ended the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Hungary declared itself an independent republic.

After many complicated fiascos through WWII, which you are welcome to read about somewhere else if you are really interested, Hungary became a Communist People’s Republic.  However revolts and more shenanigans soon followed.  The Soviets rolled some tanks in and managed to kill over 3,000 people in the confusion.

While in the Eastern bloc, Hungary apparently became known as “the happiest barrack” due to lighter restrictions than most of the other satellite nations of the USSR.  Stubborn Hungarians being stubborn, they managed to rebuild most of the city in this time.

In 1989 Communism fell and Hungary developed a capitalist economy, representative government, and other trappings of the free Western world.

Budapest is also notable for building the second underground train system in the world.

Imagine if New York had a history like that.


Today, Budapest just so happens to be the best city in the world.  if you like coffee, Budapest has great coffee from the Austrians.  If you like Turkish baths, it has those.  If you like drinking, you’re definitely in luck.  If you like delicious food being delivered to your door for convenient nomming, you got it.  River cruises?  Got it, if you can stand the bajillions of other tourists.  If you like cool old buildings, you will be happy.  It has an outstanding cathedral replete with the mummified hand of King Saint Stephen, founder of Hungary (overachiever) on display, and for 200 forints you can get the lights to turn on in the case for two minutes.  W00t!

If you enjoy climbing stairs then this city is really your dream city.  Caving, really good caving where you get to squiggle through cracks the size of a toaster, is also of course available (these caves under the city are some kind of record, but I don’t remember which one and I’m not going to look it up. They’re memorable, so remember that.)

Plus, Budapest is cheap.  Quite cheap.  You can always spend a lot of money, but it’s easy to live well on a very reasonable budget.  It’s definitely not as cheap as Latvia, but if you’re just coming from Western Europe you will be quite pleasantly surprised.

Special note for Americans: Communism and other evil things died in the city twenty-one years ago.  It’s a lovely safe city and you’re not going to die or get robbed unless you’re extraordinarily stupid.  I mean really, really extraordinarily stupid.  This is not some bombed-out ruin of the former USSR. This is a European capital, part of the EU, and boasts 1.7 million people in the city proper.  It is generally considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Hungarians may be reserved, and sometimes may even seem slightly distasteful of you non-Magyar speaking foreigner, but I have found that a winning smile and a badly pronounced “kőszőnőm” is usually enough to at least get them to stop glaring at you long enough to roll their eyes.

No, really.  I like Hungarians.  I’m delighted by them.  Their language is so foreign, their history and capital city so interesting, and their sometimes disdainful-seeming attitude somewhat misleading.  Hungarians probably aren’t going to run up and be your best friend right away, but they’re good people, solid, down-to-earth, and they’re not going to waste anyone’s time being fake or flippant.  Not to make generalizations or anything *cough cough* like I just have most certainly not been doing, but I’d trust a Hungarian over an Italian any day.

Of course, I’d probably trust just about anyone over an Italian.  But that’s a different story.

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Eating out in Europe is almost never cheap and generally not in a backpacker’s budget.  Of course, there are those times when you really just want to try the local cuisine, and that’s important, but you can eat cheaply and conveniently without going out every meal, saving your money for that one splurge at a nice place.  Here are some tips for eating well on a budget in Europe.

Carpe Noctem and an American Thanksgiving in Buuuudapesht

1.) Stay at hostels. Don’t be afraid.  Hostels are almost always clean, safe, and fun places to meet other travelers like yourself–and best of all, they usually have a fully-equipped kitchen.  Buy food at the supermarket, and cook it in the kitchen.  There’s generally a fridge as well where you can store your (labeled and dated) food for consumption the next day.  Sometimes, hostels will even have a free food shelf.  People  tend to leave behind pasta and other non-perishables that they don’t want to carry with them, and you may be able to snag this for free!

Protip: Stealing other people’s food is a jerk move and will instantly give you bad traveler karma.  DON’T do it.  DO get together with other travelers and plan a big group meal if the opportunity/group is right.  It can be a lot of fun, it’s cheaper than buying food just for yourself, and have everyone cook their local specialty so that you get to taste food from all over the world.  Mmm.

2.) Street food. Namely kebabs.  And, in the British isles, fish-and-chip shops.  There usually isn’t room to sit–they’re take-out hole in the wall establishments.  But you can get a filling, greasy kebab–which is strips of chicken, beef, or lamb, cut off an enormous hunk turning on a spit, and put in either a pita or rolled burrito-type of deal, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce–for two or three euros.  If you’re in a hurry, your hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, or you’re just in the mood for some greasy street food, kebabs are the way to go.  You’ll find them all over Europe.  Germany and Spain have the best kebabs, although for the real deal they originated in Turkey.  I haven’t been there so I cant judge the quality of Turkish kebabs–yet.

Protip: Kebabs are really good drunk food, and best of all, most kebab shops stay open late.

3.) If you want to eat out, ask your hostel to recommend a place. Guide books are out of date by the time they’re published.  In Spain, we spent hours looking for a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet, only to discover that even the building it was in had been torn down.  Restaurants can change ownership and quality quickly.  The hostel employees will know the cheapest and best local places to eat.  In Rome, I ate a four-course meal with a carafe of wine at a nice Chinese restaurant for 6 euros.  Not a bad deal for enough food to keep me filled for the rest of the day.

4.) Go to an outdoor market and pick up picnic supplies. This is probably my favorite option.  Many European cities have a central farmers market on certain days of the week, or sometimes big, permanent open-air markets.  Budapest has a colossal two-floor structure; Barcelona has an open-air market filled with every type of seafood you can imagine and some you can’t, along with fresh fruit, cheeses, sausages, Iberian hams, baked goods, coffee, wine, and confectionary.  Fresh, authentic food sold by locals, often lower prices than in the supermarket–what’s not to love?

delicious Iberian Ham. Don't be put off by its appearance on the leg, so to speak.

Protip: Pick up a friend or two at your hostel, grab a bottle of wine, some chorizo, a loaf of crusty bread, and some cheese and go to a public park to enjoy your fresh purchases together.  A toast to traveling!

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