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Traveling alone in Budapest & Prague

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I am a 34 yo woman who will be traveling to my cousins wedding in France in early July, but want to fly into Budapest, spend probably 3 days there, and then on to Prague for 3 more days, before flying to Paris for 2 nights, then meeting up with the rest of the family for the festivities. I will be traveling alone for the Budapest to Paris leg of the trip. I'm not completely strapped for cash, but I do need to keep the budget under control.

My areas of concern:

Transportation from Budapest to Prague and to/from hotels. Booking an 'independent tour' through a travel website looks appealing, it seems an easy way to find hotels and they arrange the transportation. But (in my limited futzing around with reservations) the options for rides from station to hotel seem limited. Should it really cost $78 to get from the airport to my hotel in Budapest?

Solo travelers - I am generally comfortable wandering about on my own. I spent three great days in Boston recently, exploring on my own. I imagine Budapest is significantly larger than Boston. I'm a little concerned I may be overwhelmed facing it alone. But I'm much more adverse to sitting on a tour bus all day.

Admittedly, I still need to read up on Budapest specifically, but are there smaller tour options? Boston had trolleys that you got on and off at will at the major attractions, and I love that flexibility. Anything like that in Budapest and/or Prague. I find subways equally as easy to negotiate, but not always as convenient as a service geared towards visitors intent on seeing the sites.

I'll admit too, trying to figure out the ticketing situation with buses is a mystery to me. I just read a thread about a nightmare experience where the tourist didn't get her ticket validated and it escalated to a horrible scene. I feel like a complete idiot asking, but can someone explain this to me? Where I live now, I simply feed my money into the machine, for the appropriate rate. I lived in Holland for a year, where I purchased a ticket roll, told the driver where I was going, they punched out the appropriate number of tabs, and off we go. I'm thinking/hoping that this ticket validation is more like the latter situation.

Open to any advice/input/recommendations. I haven't traveled to Europe in over 10 years and am very much looking forward to the long-overdue adventure. I always felt safe walking around Amsterdam by myself at night (city center), but hey, that was 10 years ago, the world is a different place....or is it?

Thanks!

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    I visited both Budapest and Prague independently as a solo female many years ago and had no difficulty - both are very easy to visit on your own and there is no need to take part in any tours unless that is your preference.

    Get a good guidebook - or better yet, 2 or 3 that focus on different things - and as you learn more, post your questions here. For a low budget, you might want to consider the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet. I always find Fodor's and Frommer's helpful, especially for prioritizing the many things that one can see. And Eyewitness and Insight guides provide stunning pictures to get you inspired (along with lots of helpful info).

    Enjoy!

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    Budapest and Prague have city tours that are a great way for you to get oriented with the city. We took both tours on our first day in each city and then used public transportation or walked back to some of the places we wanted to spend more time visiting.
    In Budapest we checked with the Marriott Hotel to find out how much a taxi ride to the airport should cost and when the taxi arrived we confirmed the set amount. I believe we paid about $25 US to the airport.

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    Prague has trams and a subway but you'll probably walk to all the sights. You can buy tram tickets in the subway; they're for a set amount of time (I can't remember exactly how long but I think for either 25 or 45 minutes). You take the ticket and feed it into the machine on the tram that time stamps the ticket. Very easy.

    You'll probably only need a tram to get to the castle area. After visiting the castle you can walk downhill to the old town.

    I think I read about a HOHO bus in Prague but I never saw it.

    I believe there is an airport bus; check some of the Prague threads for the info.

    In Budapest I mostly walked everywhere except for taking the funicular up to the castle area. I took a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel but it was a long time ago so pricing would not apply today.

    Here's something from TripAdvisor on airport transportation from the Budapest airport. You can search on this board for info or do a google search (that's how I found this thread).

    http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g274887-c165968/Budapest:Hungary:Airport.Transfer.Budapest.html

    Did you read about ticket validation on the Beware Budapest thread? I remembered reading that thread initially and didn't have a favorable opinion of the poster so I went back and re-read the thread. I came away with the same bad opinion. That person started the trip with a inexplicable negative attitude where she was afraid to interact with anyone and had a fear she would be taken to jail. What type of tourist goes to a civilized country and won't talk with anyone and expects to go to jail. I'd say this was paranoia run amuck. The thread was filled with her complaints.

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    Here is the reason behind validating ticket. Once you understand this, you have a better idea why you have to validate one time and not other time.

    Pretty much any public transportation tickets, whether bus, tram, or subway, has a validity time limit such as 60 min, 2 hrs, 24 hrs, 48 hrs, etc.

    So when does the clock start? How do you and the fare inspector agree on when the clock started, and therefore the ticket is still valid?

    validation = time stamp.

    1. If you bought a ticket on the bus, it is pretty clear that you are starting the trip at that point. For that reason, the driver assumes that whatever you are buying is the ticket you plan to travel so it is validated, that is starts the timer. That is why you can do off you go. Even if you bought the ticket elsewhere where the clock has not started, when you are dealing with a human being, if your ticket has not been validated yet(clock has not started) then it would be validated. If your ticket has already been validated (clock ticking) the same person would make sure it is still within the time limit, says ok, and off you go. That is why when you deal with person when you get on, you cannot go on board without paying appropriate fare.

    That is not the case for transmit where the driver cannot or will not deal with fare issues.

    2. If you bought a ticket elsewhere, such as platform vending machine, tabacco stand (which is probably what you do in Prague if you are not taking metro), and hop on a tram, how do you start the clock when there is no human? That is when you need to use a validating machine. On tram/bus, the machine is on board. In case of metro, you do this before you hop onto the train. If a ticket inspector notices that the ticket is not validated (clock has not started), then the ticket is not active and you are treated as if you don't have a ticket. Why is this when you have a non-validated ticket in your hand? If the ticket is not validated, then it can be used again, and again, and again, which is something the operators cannot allow.

    Because ticket not purchased on board are not validated, you can stock up on tickets ahead of time and validate them as you need them. This is desirable in many instances where you need to whip out your wallet at a tabacco stand only once to buy all the tickets you need for that city. Then you don't need to expose your wallet in order to ride bus, tram, metro, etc. later.

    The tab type of scheme is less common and is being phased out in favor of magneticstrip/RFID/smartchip cards.

    And finally, validation can be instant or takes a few seconds. Be patient. You do not want to pull out the ticket while the validating machine is still printing the date. The validating machine on a Prague tram is slow, so keep the ticket in the validation slot still until you are sure the machine finished printing.

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    Thank you all! Courage through understanding :) I'll be hunkered down in the bookstore today to look through guidebooks. Lonely Planet has always been a favorite of mine, but I'm sure there are many others to consider.

    adrienne - yes, I read the Beware Budapest thread. I have the same low opinion of the poster; paralyzed and panicked with fear of something irrational. I think if you spend the time up front to learn about where you are going and know how/what/where you want to do and see; situations like that can be almost entirely avoided. Without accusing the host culture of conspiracy and corruption.

    greg - Thank you for all that detail!! Illogically, I was equating 'ticket validation' with what I know as 'parking validation', you have to locate a specific booth to validate a parking stub. It makes total sense that this would be done on the bus with the driver. Just takes a few minutes of often entertaining gesturing and broken translation to get it done.

    All fantastic advice. The more I dig, the more excited I get!
    Thank you!

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    I did both those cities as a solo female and had a wonderful time, no problems at all. Prague actually was on my first solo trip (I'd been to Europe quite a few times by then, but never solo) and I was a bit worried but it was great. The parts of Prague you'll want to visit are pretty compact - I walked everywhere, including up to the castle (more than once). I was there five days, which I felt was a good amount of time, four would have been OK for Prague too in my opinion. Budapest I spent a whole week, including a day trip. You can certainly see the highlights in less time than that. But if there is any way you could manage four days instead of three in each city I highly recommend it.

    I did take trams and metro in Budapest and was really impressed. They go everywhere, are incredibly clean (compared to Boston which you say you've been to, and certainly compared to NYC or London or a lot of places). And the trams are not just good transportation but lots of fun too.

    Regarding the ticket stamping. On trams, and even metros in Budapest (and many cities) they do not have ticket takers all the time. For the trams for example, you just hop on - stamp your ticket - and hop off when you get to your stop. If you didn't have to get your ticket stamped lots of people would just use the same ticket over and over. This system keeps people 'honest' while saving by not having to pay a lot of ticket takers. They have spot checkers. So if they 'catch' someone without their ticket stamped they have to assume the person is trying to cheat the system, thus the fines. Sometimes an honest tourist will get caught but they don't run these systems for tourists, they are for the local population and it works for them. It's the tourist's obligation to know the system. And there are signs telling you this, and all the guidebooks mention it. And now you know.

    I did a trip report of my trip to Budapest. http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/isabels-summer-trip-photos---to-italy-vienna-and-budapest.cfm

    I highly recommend the B&B I stayed at in Budapest - http://www.budabab.com/index.htm

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