Lessons learned from arriving in Budapest after dark

My first glimpse of Budapest….

In winter of 2010, I flew into Budapest for a week of work. I had gotten there a few days early so that I would have time to see the city and visit the Christmas Markets. To save money, I was staying in a small hostel prior to checking into my work hotel.

My flight landed after dark (which isn’t that late when you think of winter in Eastern Europe) and I had to make my way from the airport to my hostel. Because I knew there was a flat rate shuttle service available at the airport and that I could expense the cost, I hadn’t bothered researching other methods of getting to my hostel.
Mistake #1: Not knowing the exact location of your hotel
As a woman traveling alone, especially when arriving after dark,  I think its important to always know the exact location of your hotel/hostel. I try to carry my reservation print out (with the exact address and phone number) and a map with my hostel marked. This way if anything goes wrong with your transfer you have back up.
After boarding the shuttle, I told them I was staying at the Aboriginal Hostel and the driver confirmed he knew the place. The driver had to make several other stops before he eventually pulled over at my destination. He said he couldn’t go down the street because it was one way but that if I walked a block I would see it.

Mistake #2: Not verifying the location before getting out of the car
If you’re arriving via metro or bus this is a little different, but you should always double check your location before heading out on the streets. Ask the bus driver if you are in the general area or consult a map at the station. Its a lot safer to stay in a well lit area or on bus then wandering into the night. In my case, I should have waited until I could visually see the hostel or double checked that the streets matched the address.
After exiting the shuttle I headed down the street until I found the correct building. I went to the front desk and was told that I did not have a reservation. Also the guy working the desk didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak any Hungarian. Some nice Austrian guys helped my translate and at this point I discovered that there was both a Aboriginal Hostel and the Aboriginal Apartments. I was in the totally wrong place, at night, by myself in a city I didn’t know. Since you can’t just grab a cab off the street in Budapest, I was able to get the front desk to call me a cab and I headed out into the freezing cold to wait.
Mistake #3:  Not calling the hostel
At this point, I should have gotten out my phone and called the hostel. They probably could have helped me call a cab or given me walking directions. At the very least, I could have let them know I was on my way and to look out for me. But at this point in my travels I was convinced that I should never use my phone overseas because of the roaming charges.  In reality its a few dollars for a couple minute call – totally worth it for peace of mind.
After about 10 minutes of waiting a cab finally arrived but another woman stepped up and took it. She claimed she had also called a cab. Since I didn’t know the company that had been called for me, I had no choice but to let her take it. Luckily another cab pulled up after a few minutes and I was on my way. I was able to find my hostel and check in without further incident.
Other lessons learned that weren’t necessarily ‘mistakes:’
1. When possible, try to arrive in the morning or mid-day. This will allow you plenty of day light to locate your hotel and will be much safer.
2. Stay in a large well known hotel. This isn’t a ‘must do’ because some people (including myself) prefer smaller hostels and hotels, but staying in a large brand hotel will make locating it much easier. Most people can point you to the ‘Hilton’ or ‘Marriot’ and the airport shuttles will know when you are going. In addition, large hotels sometimes offer shuttles or other assistance. If it’s your first time traveling alone and you’re nervous, it’s something I would recommend.
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