I had randomly always wanted to go to Budapest, and one November that dream came true! Feeling adventurous, I went completely by myself, not knowing a single soul there.
I checked into my hostel in the afternoon, and the place that I had chosen for my first night was interesting, to say the least. It was this super hippie/Buddhist hostel in a residential neighborhood pretty far away from the center of the city. All of the walls and décor were very colorful, sunny, and filled with Buddhist motifs and Om symbols. There was incense burning and an Australian dude wearing orange drawstring pants working at the front desk. It was actually very relaxing but, in the end, not a great place to meet other young people who want to go out.
Anyhow, I set out that afternoon to go explore the city, making my way to the Pest side of Budapest (the west side of Budapest is called “Buda,” whereas the east side across the river is called “Pest”). Buda is generally prettier, with more hills and monuments, and Pest is more interesting and bustling.
I immediately found Budapest to be very beautiful; it definitely has a grittier, more Eastern European feel to it than other places I have been to, yet is interspersed with gorgeous buildings in Gothic architecture.
**Please excuse my use of others’ photos! When I went to Budapest it was really cloudy (which I didn’t mind, seeing as it was November and what else could I expect), and I didn’t have particularly great photography skills during that time. Thus, most of my pictures from this day are quite bad!**
The first place that I went to was this shopping district that, disappointingly, ended up being very touristic. However, once I got out of there, I found a tiny café at which to eat; it was so small and cozy, and I had delicious Hungarian soup and mulled wine. Afterward, I went for a long walk along the river and eventually settled at a lovely park next to a giant church.
It was then that I had an “I’m alone!” crisis.
It went a little something like this:
Oh my God, I am in this city- in this country! Completely alone. There is not a single person in Hungary who knows me or cares about me, and if something happened to me, no one would notice. I am just an anonymous dot walking down these streets.
This was one of my first times traveling alone, and so far I hadn’t met anyone in my hostel. I also hadn’t really spoken to anyone since I had been out wandering. Additionally, that night, I was originally going to Couch Surf with this girl named Laura during my stay in Budapest, but for various reasons it didn’t end up working out.
I thus had no one.
While, for some introverts, the anonymous dot feeling can be liberating, for an extrovert like myself it made me feel very sad.
However, the feeling luckily subsided when Laura kindly invited me to go out that night with her and her friends. Thus, after realizing how boss I am at figuring out public transportation systems (with no smartphone!), I eventually met up with her at her apartment. There were other Hungarian girls as well as an American girl.
The American one turned out to be from the same city as me.
I then learned that she just graduated from the same university that I was attending.
I then learned that she lived in the same apartment complex as me.
It was so bizarre. How did I end up meeting a girl who lived meters away from me in a random Hungarian girl’s apartment? It was one of the craziest coincidences I had ever encountered.
We eventually went to a fancy marketing party for the company that Laura works for. It was so fun! We were able to dress up, and then they had a fashion show at the party. Afterward, they had a band playing and a DJ in another room. It was really cool, and I danced a ton. Laura and her friends were so sweet and definitely showed me a good time on my first night in the city– and it helped to erase the anonymous dot feeling!
The following day, unsatisfied with my hostel, I decided to move to another one that ended up being amazing. It was called Carpe Noctem (“seize the night”) and was right in the center of the city. The staff, as well as the guests, were extremely friendly and fun, which created a really warm and familial environment. It was pretty small and felt more like we were just hanging out in someone’s really cool flat as opposed to being in a hostel. The staff also arrange for everyone to go out together every single night.
This was a priority for me at age 20!
After spending the afternoon/evening sightseeing (as I was there in November, it got dark really early)…
…I went out with everyone from my hostel at night. We first went to their sister hostel’s bar to have a jager train! It was wild.
We then went to a bar for an open mic night. I was able to meet people and even sign up to perform! I then somewhat drunkenly read a poem of mine… in French…
Hungover on my next and final day, I spent most of my time relaxing. I watched a movie and ate pizza with some of the other guests, and it was actually really fun and a chill way to end my time in Budapest.
My traveling soul was rejuvenated.
Thus, the next time that you plan a solo trip, recognize that the “anonymous dot” feeling might come over you. This is normal and okay. If you take some proactive steps, this feeling will go away- and your solo trip will be fun and worth any of the difficult feelings.
You can use services like Couch Surfing to meet people, even if you are not staying with them. Many cities host Couch Surfing gatherings to help facilitate this. Also, trying to book a social/party hostel can really help with meeting people (depending on if partying is a priority for you or not. Like I said, at age 20 it was for me).
And if you do go to a party hostel, try not to get drunk and read poetry in foreign languages.
In the comments below, have you ever traveled alone? How do you meet people on solo trips?