My first order of business was to find the hostel I’d booked the night before. Knowing that maps/GPS wouldn’t work since I didn’t buy a data plan–and I wouldn’t have wi-fi unless I camped out at a cafe for a few minutes–I took a screenshot of the pinned location on the map the night before and then cross-referenced it with a city map I’d found after leaving the station. Luckily I’ve always been good with directions.
Budapest is significant to me for a lot of reasons. For one thing it was the first time I ever stayed at a youth hostel, which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but now that I look back, it feels like a turning point.
Another more important development in Budapest was that it marked the beginning of adventuring through Europe alone, since for the first month after arriving in Madrid, I’d been traveling with family, and then friends.
Again I never thought about it much at the time, but I guess it goes hand-in-hand with staying at a hostel for the first time, since both experiences more or less suffer from a negative stigma in the States. When I tell people that I stayed in hostels and traveled alone, they often look at me like I’m some Indiana Jones-type roughneck adventurer who ain’t afraid to stare death in the face. I shouldn’t pretend that I totally mind it, either.
Still, I also shouldn’t pretend that things can’t get dicey in a rough part of town; but then again, that’s the case almost anywhere in the world, and in my experience, people who go looking for trouble or go somewhere expecting to find danger, usually have a way of finding it. The important thing is to be on your guard without dwelling on a million different scenarios of what could go wrong. It’s one thing to be cautious, it’s another to be paranoid.
People might say I have less to worry about being a man and not a woman, which I can understand to some degree, since I might feel a similar way if my own future daughter were traveling alone; but I won’t totally concede because for the most part, the same basic rules apply to anyone. If you’re going to walk down a dark alley that looks cool or charming in some way, consider the time of day and consider the neighborhood. This line of thinking applies no matter where you are, or for that matter, the company you keep.
With hostels, it’s good to have a padlock in case wherever you’re staying comes with lockers. If not, you can keep personal/expensive belongings stowed away or with you while you’re out in the city.
Staying at the hostel, I felt like I’d broken a personal threshold, one that I never really thought about or even knew existed. Whatever apprehensions I might have had going in, like sleeping in a dorm with total strangers, turned out to be the very reasons why I loved it. I was staying in a common area, on common ground, at a crossroads of different ideas and lifestyles that allowed me to see, through the simple act of conversation, all that I share with people—particularly other young people—around the world, not just in the States. The similarities far surpassed any perceived differences.
I’d heard this sort of talk many times before in anything from children’s books to political ads over the years, but I was quickly learning the difference between hearing something said to me and actually living it.
In Budapest, it went from being ‘talk’ to a living, breathing realization that I embraced as essential not just to meaningful travel, but to the human experience itself; to living a more satisfying life not just as an American, but as a global citizen.
I’ve stayed in many hostels since that first night in Budapest. I still haven’t met any Americans there. Not yet anyway.