Sharmi on the Trot

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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

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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

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Who can not try Paella in Spain, right?

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