by Ági Pabar and Norbert Tóth
No money? (Broke) But you want to travel? No problem! Here is our story about how we spent three days travelling, spending less than 30 Euro.
We are a couple from Hungary, Szeged, which is very close to the Serbian and Romanian border. With a long and depressing winter behind us and the spring ahead, we felt like going somewhere far. We had only three days off, so we started thinking about opportunities.
Slovenia was on our list, but it is quite expensive, especially accommodation. We definitely could not afford that, so we started looking for an alternative on Couchsurfing in this small country, which is full of hidden gems.
At last, an art school girl who just came back from The Netherlands replied from Ljubljana. It is really hard to find a last-minute couch-surfing in early spring. We decided to go hitch-hiking. This is the cheapest and fastest way of travelling and we were lucky on the road.
We need to mention something – lots of articles which promote hitch-hiking and couch-surfing as a cheap or free way of travelling forget to write about an important thing: yes, you do not need to pay, but it costs you patience, tolerance, flexibility and you need to show or present the “best version” of yourself.
If you choose to do so, prepare for social interactions, especially if you are introvert. It could be exhausting after a few days with too much concentration on other people.
Back to the story. We had hitch-hiking experiences, and we also had some expectations how it will turn out. From a capital – in this case Budapest – it could be hard to find someone who is going in the right direction. We got stuck on the edge of the city for an hour, but after that it started to work again.
Finally at a gas station near Lake Balaton, a truck driver who was heading for Italy took us and slowly but steadily we reached Ljubljana. After a short walk we met our super energetic and funny host Ana. That evening we took a bus to the centre for a beer. It was an irish draft beer, maybe the best we have ever tasted – and it took 30% of our budget!
At the first look Ljubljana does not seem so big, but it is divided by hills.
We walked more than twenty kilometres next day in the city. There are very unique places, like Metelkova Mesto, the military barracks squatted by art-loving patriots. Ljubljana is a very eclectic city, with cool street art, heavy buildings from the Soviet era, a cosy down-town and many peaceful parks.
It was a day full of exploring and experiences. We did not have time for the country itself, but if you visit Slovenia keep it in mind that once if you start looking for things to do and places to visit, it easily becomes a never-ending list.
On the way back home, we realised that it was national holiday in Hungary. Truck drivers were not allowed to enter the country. Also it was not the real tourist season yet, so we did not have good prospects for hitch-hiking.
Anyway, we were lucky again: after one hour of waiting, a very nice university student picked us up and drove us to a gas station close to Celje. Originally he just wanted to go home after classes, only ten minutes from Ljubljana, so it really was a big help.
At the station we started a conversation with a Hungarian truck driver about our unlucky situation. He said we were in a bad situation, but there are people who do not care about rules and might give it a try. He pointed at a van and we asked for a ride.
The driver was delivering tree saplings, which are considered to be fresh goods, and can therefore be an exception from the rule – and anyway, he wanted to spend the holiday with his family. He took us and there were no problems on the road. He was experienced and knew how to avoid the checkpoints. Fortunately the police and road control did not care about us.
From the eastern part of the lake Balaton where he stopped, we wanted to make a reservation for a car-sharing option, as there were not so many cars and it became quite cloudy and windy. We found one driver, but had problems with the wi-fi, so we just missed it. It was not that important in the end, we took a walk down to one of the most beautiful parts of the small village by the lake. Then the train rolled in and we got home the “usual way” by train.
By the end of the day, we had an amazing feeling: we have done it. You can do it, too!
- Spontaneity and recklessness are two very different things. So always be prepared and gather as much information as you can before the trip.
- Always check the hitch-hiking situation (hitchwiki.org is perfect for that).
- Couch-surfing is about sharing, so there is a better chance to get hosted if you open your home for travellers, too. Not to mention that you can meet a lot of interesting people even without travelling.
- Couch-surfing is also good for discovering the city with a help of a local. They maybe show you places that are hidden from tourists.
- Visiting tourist offices is also a good opportunity to get to know the city. Most cities offer free tours and theme maps for travellers, they are worth a try. USE-IT maps are also very handy, check if they are available in the city you plan to visit.
- Food and drink: you can save a lot of money from food, if you visit the local bakeries, supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Besides it is a lot cheaper than going to a restaurant; you can discover what locals buy, the real prices.
- Grab a beer to drink in a park, by a lake or a scenic place – this is the best thing you can do when the weather allows. Always check the local rules about public drinking. In most places the police does not really care, but there are some countries where they are quite fussy about it.
- Last, but most important: you must always have a plan B. It is good to prepare for the worst case scenario, if the couch-surfing is cancelled, or hitch-hiking does not work. Carry some emergency money with you… or at least a lightweight sleeping bag.
(c) Ági Pabar and Norbert Tóth, text and photos 2017