Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the tag “budget travel”

How I Learnt to Balance Travel with Technology in Hungary

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

I sat in front of the Chain Bridge in Pest and stared at my phone. It was a hot summer day and being a Sunday in the middle of the tourist season, Buda looked at me invitingly from the other side of the Danube. I was sitting on the party side of the Hungarian capital while the historical hilly portion kept telling me ‘come visit’. My phone had blacked out for the second time during my Eastern European sojourns this summer, absolutely refusing to come back on. And instead of soaking in the historically rich city, I was wistfully gazing at the black screen, hoping against hope to see the start up icon pop up just to ease my racing mind.
How did I manage to get to this point? How did I get so dependent on technology that it seemed impossible to function in the initial panic-stricken moments?
In a constantly evolving world where technology and travel go side by side, can we ever imagine doing things the old-fashioned way? The long phone calls to hotels, going to the Tourism bureaus to check out the brochures, standing in line at the railway stations to book a ticket other than in emergencies, gathering paper maps and neatly folding them along the creases, consulting with the weather forecast in newspapers before a journey, deciding on what books to bring along and the selection of cassettes for the fashionable walkman, buying rolls of film for the camera…
Looking back it seems so long ago. Almost ancient isn’t it? As I staunchly tried to resist major technological changes for a rather long time (I wasn’t on WhatsApp till about two years back which friends called a foolish thing to resist) sitting on a bench along the Danube in Budapest, I wondered if I could balance technology and travel today.
When we make travel plans, applications or Apps are our friends. From the route on the map to where to stay and eat, purchasing tickets to packing according to the weather conditions, reading and listening music to pass time, noting down directions to taking pictures which last a lifetime, everything can be done on one device. And when the device fails, we are at a loss. We panic.
Also Read: Loving Amsterdam on a Budget 

On the bridge

On the bridge

Technology has definitely helped us to be better travelers. We know exactly how long it will take us to reach the destination. Instead of folding sheets of paper, navigation can be done in real time. The best hostel/hotel deals on websites and apps help us fix a budget as do notifications of airfare sales. All it takes is a bit of research to find amazing deals. In fact, I found a lovely hotel absolutely last-minute at a steal near the bus terminal. I wanted to stay around the area thanks to an early morning journey. In money matters, a credit or debit card with net-banking helps with instant transactions instead of cashing in travelers cheques. There’s so much of travel advice on the internet (which also helped finding the hotel in Budapest near Népliget) that helps one decide and focus on how to go about a holiday or even giving everything up for some years to see the world. Careers have been made out of travel blogging and I too had thought would join the bandwagon and live a nomadic life. It is fun I assure you because I’ve met so many of them on my travels around the world. But then there are problems too, like any other profession.
Also Read: 5 Ways to Plan Your First Europe Trip on a Budget

The cars drive on the bridge

A car drives on to the other side

I was in London this summer and to my utter surprise, I found people depending on their phone to navigate the city much more than anywhere else I’ve visited. I was standing at the edge of the Jubilee Walkway at Trafalgar Square and wanted to walk to Hyde Park because the weather was sunny. If you’ve ever visited the UK, you know how rare that is. I deliberately refused to use Google Maps and just asked a passerby if I was on the right path. She took out her phone and of course, Googled it. “Better yet, take the tube,” she exclaimed, giving me directions as to which station to get off at. Do people not notice anything on the streets if it’s not online? I was in London for a week and managed to give correct directions because I was looking up and taking mental images where to turn left or right!
Also read:  Living it up in Paris on a Budget

A view of the Danube

A view of the Danube

But while technology definitely helps, I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost our sense of adventure.
Do we need to know every single detail of a holiday? Do we need maps to tell us the shortest route? Must be depend on food apps to find the best places to eat? Must we note everything down in our phones or tablets and not on paper?
Also Read: Stumbling upon the Royal Cemetery in Bangkok

I can see Pest!

I can see Pest!

Personally, I think it’s wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips. It’s time-saving and very useful when on the go. But on the other hand, I love getting lost in walkways on cobblestone streets, I enjoy stumbling upon little eateries where locals gather and stories are exchanged, I look forward to sitting and reading a paperback somewhere on a park bench, dozing on the green grass, finding a local pool and jumping in, meeting and talking to people from different cultures to share ideas. Nothing ever beats human contact. No amount of using technology can ever replace that.
It’s all about balance at the end of the day. I still use my trusty notebook to jot down addresses and names in case I don’t have wifi to check my phone on travels, I still sit and write down adventures with a cup of coffee by my side and not worry about my laptop crashing and losing all memories. I do use a digital camera and make sure I back up pictures immediately. While I carry mostly cards, I ensure there’s enough cash in hand in case an ATM refuses to dispense. I firmly believe in walking, asking around and checking actual paper maps to locate places rather than use online ones. But when it comes to scoring cheap tickets, I don’t think I’ve been to an agent or tourism bureau in years.
So I stopped panicking. I looked over to Buda across the Chain Bridge. It was a long walk to the other side. I put my switched-off phone into my backpack, took out a paper map I had brought along from the hostel, brushed the dust of the back of the jeans and set off. I was going to enjoy my day without the help of my state-of-the-art phone! It was time to get to know Budapest better.

A view from Buda

A view from Buda

Advertisements

5 Ways to Plan Your First Europe Trip on a Budget

The Sleeping Beauty Castle

The Sleeping Beauty Castle in Germany

It’s summer in Europe and before you know it, you’ll be walking along Champs de Elysees, biting into churros dipped in chocolate and loving the ruins at the Roman Forum. But it’s the pre-holiday bit – the planning – which can be daunting. Especially when you’re travelling to Europe for the first time. Many feel it’s impossible to travel to the Continent on a budget on your own. So, they prefer to travel with groups and eat Indian food day in day out. But if you want to explore Europe on your own, eat and travel the way locals do, planning a budget trip is easy. Here’s how:

1) Set a Budget

The first step is very important. If you’re not earning in Euros or Dollars (I earn in Indian Rupees i.e $1 = Rs 63 approx) you must make sure you know how much you approximately want to spend on your trip. If you have an idea of how many days you want the trip to last, setting a budget becomes easier.
Eg: During my last trip to Europe, I decided to travel for about a month and accordingly set my budget. It included my return flights, internal travel, accommodation, food and the attractions I wanted to visit.

Seeing the Mona Lisa was high on my list

Seeing the Mona Lisa was high on my list

Notre dame in Paris

Notre dame in Paris

2) Save Money by Planning Ahead

It sounds preposterous but if you can figure out which part of the continent, which city or country you want to be in when around an approximate time, it becomes easier to save. Instead of shelling out 100 euros for a train ticket at the last moment, you can end up buying tickets for less than 10 euros.
Eg: I got an overnight bus ticket from Amsterdam to Paris for 8 euros since I booked about 12 weeks in advance. (Also Read: Loving Amsterdam on a Budget)

The beautiful canals of Amsterdam

The beautiful canals of Amsterdam

3) Travel Route

Once you figure out the approximate plan, decide your travel route. Start checking travel websites for deals in and out of Europe from your country. If you book 3-4 months in advance you will find cheap deals. It’s always easier to compare the prices on a travel website and then purchase the tickets from the actual airplane website.
Eg: I got a return fare from Munich to Delhi at Rs 42000 approximately.

It was easiest and cheapest to fly into Roma from Barcelona. Isn't the Fountain of Trevi beautiful?

It was easiest and cheapest to fly into Roma from Barcelona via Vueling.
Isn’t the Fountain of Trevi beautiful?

Now decide how you want to travel from city to city, country to country. The best way is a combination of trains, buses and flights. It’s useless to invest in a EuroRail pass. Eg: Instead of buying a pass for Rs 60000 approx, I used a combination for all internal travels at less than half the price. (Also Read: Paris on a Budget)
All tickets go on sale around 3-4 months before, so if you buy then, you save a lot.
Subscribe to Rail Europe, SNCB Europe, DB Bahn, Eurail, Eurolines, EasyJet, Vueling. They keep having offers.

4) Cheap Accommodation in Europe

Stay in key cities like Paris, Rome and Berlin can be expensive. But instead of booking in hotels, try booking in dorms or private rooms in hostels. Check out HostelWorld, HostelBookers and AirBnB.

The sister and I loving Parc Guell. We stayed in an AirBnb in Barcelona

The sister and I loving Parc Guell. We stayed in an AirBnb in Barcelona

Couchsurfing is a wonderful way to meet new people and understand the city from a local’s perspective.
Eg: I’ve surfed and hosted couchsurfers and I can vouch what a great experience it is. I’ve stayed in hostels in Italy, couchsurfed in Austria, France, Germany and booked in rooms via AirBnb in Spain. (Also Read: Why I Love to Couchsurf)

5) What to See, What to Eat

The best way to see a city is on foot. Instead of investing in City Cards, decide on the attractions you want to visit depending on the days you stay in the city and purchase separate tickets. You can never visit all attractions offered in a card in the limited time-span. Buying separate tickets often work out cheaper.

How can you not have churros when in Spain? The deep-fried delight with oodles of sugar is sinful as it's delectable.

How can you not have churros when in Spain? The deep-fried delight with oodles of sugar is sinful as it’s delectable.

Eating out every meal burns a hole in the pocket. Why not make a meal yourself? Buy local ingredients from markets and indulge in fresh baguettes with olives and meat in Paris. It’s cheap to taste the local street food. You can find crepes at less than 3 euros in France, Paella and Churros with Coffee at less than 10 euros in Spain, delicious pizzas at about 6 euros in Italy. So go indulge! (Also Read: Eating my way through Spain)

Over loading on fried prawns, calamari and mussels at La Boqueria

Over loading on fried prawns, calamari and mussels at La Boqueria

DSCN0742

Who can not try Paella in Spain, right?

In Photos: An Impromptu Visit To Fatehpur Sikri

It was last year this time that about 10 friends had come home for lunch. From devouring chicken curry with rice, fish in mustard sauce and ending the spread with two desserts (chocolate cheesecake and lemon pie if memory serves), talks turned to travel. It’s no surprise really because every time the gang meets, travel plans are discussed. The only issue, they fall through because it’s very difficult to get so many people who are free at the same time.
The conversation went somewhat like this… “Its been ages since I travelled,” said A. “Oh I can’t remember when I just packed my bags and left.” “Where did you go?” asked B. “I just came back from Kheerganga,” informed C. “Roadtrips man, it’s been a while,” said D. “Why don’t we go for a roadtrip tonight?” a voice was heard from among the chatter.
We all turned at her. “It’s Sunday tomorrow. We are all off. So why don’t we leave tonight from Delhi to someplace nearby and we’ll be back in the afternoon?” That was an idea! Quick calculations later, we zeroed in on Fatehpur Sikri. Three cars, munchies, a good music play list and a need to get out of town is what egged us. We had all been there before of course, but there’s something so tempting to go back to places we’ve been to before. Beer helps in that decision too, just saying!

The view as one enters the complex

The view as one enters the complex

For history buffs
Akbar, the third great Mughal ruler, built this city and shifted his capital here in 1571. However, after his death and thanks to insufficient water supply, it was abandoned but the majestic Indo-Islamic architecture wows travellers to this day. Barely 40km away from Agra, the red sandstone walls of the palace has found its way into many must-see travel lists.

Inside Fatehpur Sikri

Inside Fatehpur Sikri

The complex is famous for structures such as the Buland Darwaza, Paanch Mahal, Diwani-Khas, Tomb of Salim Chisti, Palace of Joda Bai, Hawa Mahal etc. As one enters the complex, it’s a step back in time. You realise the grandeur of the Mughal era, wishing you had a chance to see it when it was a flourishing city. It must have been a fantastic sight to behold.

That's a pose in front of the massive Buland Darwaza

That’s a pose in front of the massive Buland Darwaza

It's a massive door - Buland Darwaza

It’s a massive door – Buland Darwaza

The Darwaza from inside the complex

The Darwaza from inside the complex

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

Corridor in symmetry

Corridor in symmetry

Anoop Talao

Anoop Talao

Diwani-Khas, the picture we've seen in history books all our lives

Diwani-Khas, the picture we’ve seen in history books all our lives

The Paanch mahal was being worked on, so the next best thing was to go under it

The Paanch mahal was being worked on, so the next best thing was to go under it

Tomb of Salim Chisti

Tomb of Salim Chisti

The sunrise from the hill top, before entering

Seeing the sunrise before entering

The sun rises

The sun rises

The beautiful complex

The beautiful complex

Living it up in Paris: For the budget conscious traveller

Image

Every romantic in the world wishes to visit Paris at least once in their lifetime. The city of love, the city of lights… well, the city is breathtakingly beautiful. The only problem is that the French capital is one of the most expensive cities in the world. While you can probably travel to other areas of France on a cheaper budget, Paris makes sure to drain you of your last euro. But, if you plan ahead instead of deciding in a rush, you don’t have to rob a bank to fall in love with the enchanting city. Here’s my take to discover Paris but on a budget!

The first tip is to decide what you want to splurge on and where you want to stay frugal. Giving an example, I’m a history buff so visiting the Louvre was on my wish list. I require a clean bed to sleep on at night so it doesn’t matter whether I’m in a five-star or a hostel dorm. If shopping or eating delectable deserts is your wish, go right ahead but decide where you can cut  your expenses down.

The second important tip is to book tickets in advance of the attractions on your wishlist just to save time and not stand in the long queue. With internet available everywhere, it really shouldn’t be difficult as Visa and MasterCard is accepted everywhere.

Getting there
You can either fly into Paris or make your way there from other European cities. If you decide to travel by bus (Eurolines), you’ll find tickets that cost less than 10 euros for an overnight journey. The catch: You have to book at least three months in advance. (I got a ticket for 8 euros when travelling overnight from Amsterdam to Paris this summer). If flying in, look for roundtrip deals or promotions which every travel website offers.

Accommodation
It’s lovely to be waking up to the magnificent Eiffel Tower everyday but let’s face it, it’s kinda steep. It’s easy and pocket friendly to be living in the suburbs. The cardinal rule to staying in Paris is book in advance. While hostels and BnB’s are popular, one can get a deal for less than 15 euros a night if booked in advance. I suggest you scour websites like crazy to find a good deal. Important tip is to read the reviews of fellow travellers before booking. If two or more reviews talk about bed bugs, it’s better you give that particular hostel a miss.
The second option is couchsurfing. It’s a fantastic way to get to know the locals and understand their city. I lived in the suburbs of Paris, in Le Pre Saint Jervais, for five days thanks to my kind host Camille. Not only did I make a new friend but also tried to understand the city from the point of view of a local Parisian.

Image

At Camille’s snugville, just 200m away from Paris!

Travelling within the city
If you’re on a budget forget about the city cards. While the Paris Pass or Museum Pass or any travel pass may give you a list of free museums, sights et al, they are of no use. It’s physically impossible to cover so much in say two days. Decide on the attractions which require payment and then buy a carnet (set of 10 tickets) for the metro. Priced at approx. 14 euros, they are individual tickets which don’t limit you to a respective zone. Once you reach the metro station, get up and walk. It’s a gorgeous city you’ll uncover so many things which you never thought existed.
It’s important to remember that if you’re 26 and under and holder of the international student/youth card, discounts are plenty. Secondly, most attractions offer free/discounted entry for the press. If you’re in the media, make full use of it. DO NOT forget your press card.

When you’re hungry…
Paris is cheap if you know where to look. Coffee and croissant for breakfast, baguette, meat and wine for lunch, then a delectable macaroon for desert after a hearty pasta dinner, the city has cheap eats for under-10 euros if you search. If you’re budget is really tight, I suggest you visit a supermarket to buy cheese, meat, olives, wine and anything else under the sun. Make a sandwich with fresh bread and your lunch-on-the-go is done under 4 euros. Warning: do not miss the nutella crepes for about 2-3 euros near Rue de Montparnasse!

The freebies
We all love free things. And Paris offers so many which will leave your head reeling:
Notre Dame Cathedral
One of the finest examples of gothic architecture, it’s one of the biggest cathedrals in the world. However, there is a charge to go up the towers and the treasury.

Image

Image

Point Zero
Located outside the cathedral, it’s the official centre of Paris. Gives you a Robert Langdon feeling!

Image

Cimetiere Pere-Lachaise
Visit the graves of Jim Morrison, Edith Paif and so many others in one of Paris’ most famous cemeteries.

ImageArc de Triumph and Luxor Obelisk
There’s no charge for taking pictures!

Image

ImageWalk along Champs Elysees
From the obelisk to the arc, this is one of the best streets Paris has to offer. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of Brad Pitt!

Image

Image

Jardin des Tuileries
The historic park with manicured lawns and blooming flowers between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde will bring a smile to your face.

ImageCross one of the 37 bridges over Siene
My favourite is the one with locks near Louvre.

Image

Picnic on the banks of Siene
Pick up crepes, baguettes, beverages or whatever you fancy. Sit on one of the banks and see the world pass by.

Important: Many museums are free all year round. Eg Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris and Musée Carnavalet. However, on the first Sunday of every month, major museums have free entry.

Time to splurge
Louvre
The entrance free is approx 12 euros but it’s a must visit destination. Remember to wear walking shoes and spare a whole day to see the masters.

ImageImageImageSainte Chappelle
The royal medieval gothic chapel’s entrance fee is cheaper so do visit if you get the chance.

ImageChâteau de Versailles
You need extra tickets for the RER to reach the palace. Give yourself a whole day to surround yourself amidst beauty.

Catacombs
For the bravehearts, do not miss the seven million skulls and bones beneath the city.

Eiffel Tower
Many say its unnecessary to spend 14.50 euros to go right to the top but you must. The trick is to go up just before dusk and take the last elevator down. The way the city transforms right before your eyes is breath taking. If you weren’t in love with the city before, you will be once you do this!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: