FAQ – What Have We Learned Halfway through our Europe Leg?

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A few days ago, we hit the halfway point of our 116 days in Europe and today we’re at the halfway point of our six-week stay in Budapest, so it is time again to take stock of what we’ve learned. We’re at a very different point than when I wrote about what we learned after a month because, at the time, we were still traveling every 3-7 days. Now that we’ve been settled for over three weeks, the trip feels very different and much more sustainable for the long term. Here’s are my top lessons to date:

Public Transit is Excellent and Worth Getting a Pass

Budapest M1 line

We’ve been so impressed by the public transportation system in Budapest and most of the cities we’ve visited this trip. Budapest is very well covered by all sorts of types of public transportation – trams, buses, a subway, even boats. Our apartment is just a few blocks from the M1 Metro line, which we love. It is the oldest and first underground transit in continental Europe and has a truly historic feel on the cars and in the stations. It goes northeast up to the city park where we like to walk in the mornings and southwest down to the main tourist area. We use some form of public transit pretty much every day.

One smart thing we did was each buy a monthly transit pass when we first arrived back in Budapest. It makes it easy to hop on a bus, tram or subway when we want to save time or our feet and makes transit very affordable. Each monthly pass was only 9500 HUF or about $34, so between the two of us it is less than $20 per week. The pass is also nice because in Budapest the subways get checked a lot for people trying to ride for free – often on entry, sometimes on the train itself and even occasionally as you exit. The pass has its expiration date nice and big so it is easy to flash at the inspectors when they ask. When our month pass runs out, they have a 15-day pass that isn’t quite as good a deal (about two-thirds of the cost of a monthly pass for half the time) but still beats individual tickets at about $1.25 each. We plan to get a one-week pass in Paris too for the five days we’ll be there even if it only breaks even versus individual tickets. It just makes things easier. (Side note: there’s no Uber in Budapest and the taxis don’t have the best reputation, so all the more reason to love their public transportation system.)

Stores are More Specialized Here

The fish counter in Lehel Market

There aren’t really general stores here and nothing like a CVS or Target. The drugstores just carry vitamins and cosmetics – no medications (maybe Advil but it is all behind the counter). We both got summer colds this week, which required going to the pharmacy for an over-the-counter cold medicine (which, incidentally like all things in pharmacies, was behind the counter; but at least we didn’t need a prescription). There are a few home items in the grocery stores and supermarkets but mostly just food. Malls have clothing and shoe stores. After breaking two wine glasses in our Airbnb, we had quite a time finding a place to buy replacements. The bright side is that when you know what you want, it is pretty easy to ask a local (Google translate helps) – at one kitchen store we asked if they carried wine glasses and they were able to direct us to one of their other locations, which had several to choose from. But when we run errands, we might literally go to four different places to buy different things. Still, there’s something kind of nice and old-fashioned about it, and we really don’t mind.

The City Never Sleeps and High Ceilings Carry Sound

All of the apartments we’ve stayed in have had very high ceilings, which has been great for making them feel airy and cooler (especially as the summer has warmed up here in Budapest). They also have the same great “tilt and turn” windows: they can lean inward from the top to let in a small breeze or swing in from the side if you want it fully open. There’s a 99% Invisible episode about them. I’d actually love to install these windows at our house someday when we return to the US full time.

Because it is summer (though cooler than normal here), we generally sleep with the windows open from the top and something about that in combination with our high ceilings works some acoustic magic to make noise from down the street sound like it is right outside our door. There’s a lot of nightlife in Budapest and it is common to hear groups of young men singing at 3 a.m. as they head home from the bars. Last night they were British, but we’ve heard plenty of German and other languages. This is a pretty foreign phenomenon to us (hard to imagine Chad and his friends singing their way down a street in Columbia) but not without charm. It helps that at present we have few daily responsibilities so we don’t really sweat an interruption to sleep. And though you won’t find us out at 3 a.m., we are more likely to venture out after dinner here (which we usually eat around 8 p.m.) for a late drink at our neighborhood bar or down in the more touristy area. It is so easy to walk out our door, walk around the block or down to the subway and find ourselves somewhere with a fun atmosphere.

We Love the Pace of a One-Month Stay

Sunday afternoon drinks on Margaret Island, celebrating the slow pace of life in Europe

The biggest revelation since arriving in Budapest is how much we enjoy the pace of life when we have an extended time in a place. We spend a good chunk of most days working but usually spend a day or two sightseeing each week as well. We eat out exactly twice a week and spend Sundays relaxing at the park. It is just generally a really good, easy life. But, after three weeks in Budapest now (plus the 10 days we spent here earlier in June), we’re starting to feel like we’ve done most of the things you’d want to do and we agree we’d be fine moving on in a couple weeks when we go to Paris August 1. However, we have our apartment until mid-August (when we move on to Turkey for a month!) and we’re not regretting the additional time here. But it is a good lesson for planning future trips that a month in a place is probably enough for us at this stage.

Everything is really working out as we hoped when we initially conceived this idea of full-time travel. We miss home and our families and friends (especially on birthdays, July 4th and special occasions), but we are really happy with this lifestyle. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions about how we’re making it work – it is easier than you think!

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