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Travel can be exhilarating, eye-opening, and full of breathtaking moments. It can also be frustrating, panic-inducing, and downright miserable at times. And no trip would be complete with a disaster or two.

Like the time when you’re standing along the road at 12:30 am waiting for a bus that should have left an hour ago, and you’ve got the sinking feeling that it’s not going to show up. Again.

I was supposed to leave Budapest Sunday night on the night bus to Prague.

Random Budget Travel Tip: Take overnight trains or buses – they save you a night’s accommodation.

I had packed up my bags, checked out of my hostel, and was just getting ready to head to the bus station when I decided to check my email (you know, gotta make use of that free WiFi when you have it). Good thing I did, because this little nugget from Orangeways bus lines was waiting for me:

“Dear Passenger,

On 2014-08-03. 23:30 our bus from Budapest-Bratislava-Prague-Dresden-Berlin won’t departure because of technical reasons!

The tickets are valid for 08-04. 23.30. or 08.05. at 8:00 bus!

Best Regards.”

Oh goody. I immediately went down to the reception of the hostel and asked them if there was room for me to stay an extra night. Luckily, there was. I then emailed the hostel that I had a reservation with in Prague, explaining the situation and asking if there was any way, pretty please, that they might let me move my reservation back a day. I got back a cheery little “Sorry about your problem but it is not our problem. You still have to pay for the night even if you are not here.”

Thanks, Orangeways. Now I have to pay for two extra nights.

Streets of Budapest

I guess if you HAVE to get stranded it’s not so bad here…

The next day I was itching to get to Prague. I mean, there are much worse places to be stuck in than Budapest, but still. I was all packed up and ready to go. My Budapest hostel (Lowcostel) was really understanding about my situation and went out of their way to help me out. Since it was raining, they let me officially check out but leave my bags in the room and keep the key until I actually left for the bus.

After hitting refresh on my email every 15 minutes until it was time to go, still no word from Orangeways. I made my way to the station, plopped my backpack down, and waited for the bus to arrive. And waited. And waited.

11:30 came and went. Then 11:45. Then midnight.

When some of the Hungarian friends I had met heard that I booked with Orangeways they started telling me all kinds of horror stories from the bus leaving half an hour early without half the passengers to it bus leaving two hours late without a word of explanation. I wish I had known this BEFORE I booked a ticket with them. Let this be a lesson that sometimes the cheapest option does not end up saving you money.

Finally, one of the passengers with a working phone received a call from Orangeways customer service informing them that yes, indeed, the bus was still suffering from mechanical issues and would not be arriving. SO nice of them to let us know an hour after it should have departed.

I’d been passing the time chatting with a tall, dark, Bradley Cooper-lookalike named Manuel and his friend. When we heard the news we immediately jumped into action. This was not happening again. We WERE going to Prague tonight.

Two others joined our little group of determined rebels and we ran through our options. We considered hijacking another bus or hitchhiking, but in the end decided to walk until we found some place with free WiFi to assess the transportation situation. And write a few not-so-nice emails to Orangeways.

We found a hotel with the slowest WiFi on the planet (I’m talking an average page load speed of 3-4 minutes) and started looking for ways out of Budapest. Another bus? Nope, they were completely booked. For the next 2 days. Our only option was the train that left at 5:25 am.

At this point five other stranded backpackers wandered into the hotel and we were able to save them 40 minutes of page loading by sharing our information. We decided to join forces. The hotel lobby was closing but they kindly called a couple of taxis to take us to the train station. We figured we could wait out the rest of the night there and hop on the first train out. Ever tried to stuff 9 people with luggage into two regular-sized cabs? Oh yeah, it’s an adventure all right.

We made it to the train station around 2 am. It was closed.

Clearly at this point there was nothing to do but drink. We spotted a flashing sign that said “pub” and headed toward the light. And there we found the trifecta: Cheap beer, free WiFi, and open electrical outlets.

Stranded in Budapest

What more can a stranded backpacker ask for?

We set up camp and enjoyed a few drinks while waiting for the station to open up. At 4 am we were able to buy our tickets…for $70. Ouch. Thanks again, Orangeways. My original bus ticket was only $22. At least I had a decent buzz going to help soften the blow.

Never have I slept so well on a non-sleeper train. Sure, I may have been using my arm for a pillow and there was absolutely zero leg room, but I was exhausted. What is it with me and trains??

We finally arrived in Prague! After dealing with everything alone for months now, it was so great to have travel buddies.

Three of us ended up getting together and exploring the city together the next day. There are destinations I’ve been totally content spending time on my own in (Sarajevo, Zagreb…) but some cities need to be enjoyed with fellow travelers. Let me tell you, Prague is better with friends.

We ate, we drank, we took one million pictures (mostly Sarah, film student and photographer – Sebastian and I just posed as directed). We climbed to the top of the “Mini Eiffel Tower” together (which looks nothing like the actual Eiffel Tower and sways alarmingly when you reach the top).

Beer in Prague

Sampling the homemade brews!

We drank home-brewed beers at the monastery – traditional Saint Norbert Amber, refreshing Red Summer Ale, and a crisp, flavorful IPA. (Yep, Prague has a monastery/brewery – why doesn’t every city??) We also tried pancakes (which are what Americans would call crepes) with cream and beer ice cream. That’s right, beer ice cream. It might be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

We walked 25 minutes through the city to find a pho restaurant that a friend of Sarah’s had recommended. Prague has a sizable Vietnamese population and the food was supposed to be excellent. It was, and now I can say that I tried pho for the first time ever in Prague. I’m a convert.

We discovered a “secret” underground bar that you had to walk through dimly-lit stone tunnels to find, which is when we realized that between us we had the US completely represented. Sarah is from L.A., Sebastian from New York, and I, of course, have left my heart in Chicago.

As a solo traveler, I often join up and hang out with other travelers, but this was the first time I was genuinely sad to part from new friends. I’m thinking a weekend in New York might be in order when I get back. And once February in the Midwest rolls around I’ll be only too eager to book a ticket out to sunny L.A.

So I haven’t quite forgiven you for costing me $100 I hadn’t budgeted for, Orangeways. Or for informing me that it will take 6 weeks for you to refund the ticket price to my credit card (why is it that companies can TAKE the $ instantly but it takes 6 weeks to give it back? Mmmmhm.)

BUT, that being said, I don’t regret one minute of getting stranded in Budapest, because it led to friendships with two awesome people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. And really, all the delicious food, amazing architecture, and thirst-quenching drinks aren’t what make a travel experience truly special: it’s the people that you meet.

Who knows? Maybe sometime in the future the Orangeways Survival Group will all meet up and explore another destination together. I have a feeling this isn’t the end of our adventures.


Have you ever had a travel disaster? Were you able to find some good in the experience or did it scar you for life?


 

This post is part of the #SundayTraveler series. Find other fabulous travel posts (or link up your own) at Chasing the Donkey or any of the other hosts listed below!SUNDAY-TRAVELER-BADGE-BLUE1

Author

Mandie

Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

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Comments

  1. realgunners    

    Where is the photo for the beer ice cream?? That’s another big plus point of your bus disaster.

    I remember when I was going to Guangzhou (China) on a students’ tour with a bunch of people that I have never met before. You know under normal circumstances, a nerds + strangers combi is not exactly a recipe for quick friendships. But we spent the first 24 hours of our trip in the airport enduring flight delays after flight delays. That helped us bond tight, and many of us still remain close friends even after many years.

    1. Mandie    

      Ummm, there is no photo because we ate it. And then we thought “hey, we should have taken a photo of that. Oh well, it was delicious!” Plus I’m a terrible photographer – I never remember to take pictures of my food. Maybe I’m just too un-hipster. Yeah, crappy situations really do bond you so much faster that things going right!

  2. Amy Lynne Hayes    

    I love these random travel stories!! Reminds of the time I booked a ferry from Athens to Santorini without booking accommodations for once I arrived… at 2am. I figured I’d just sleep on a beach or something. Good thing I befriended a lovely British couple as soon as I boarded the ferry who informed me there were no beaches near the port! And, luckily, hotels keeps their desks open for the incoming ferries. Even the super late/early morning ones! All turned out well, and I actually got to sleep in a bed versus picking sand out of my hair the next day lol. Cheers to random adventures, and the people you meet along the way!

    1. Mandie    

      Omg, that sounds exactly like something I would do. I sometimes count way too much on “figuring it out when I get there.” But…it always has a way of working out, so I feel like that’s the universe’s way of telling me it’s fine to procrastinate and be a lazy planner. Haha

  3. Anna    

    Wow!! What a terrible disaster.. like everything that could go wrong went wrong! But passing your time chatting with a Bradley Cooper look-alike is probably the best way possible to pass time (where is his picture btw? :p). I’m glad it ended up in a great time exploring Prague with new friends! That crepe and beer ice cream sounds sooo good, and I don’t even like beer lol! I’m going to keep that in mind for when I’m in Prague!

    1. Mandie    

      Haha, I think we’ve established my total lack of photography skills. The beer ice cream didn’t taste like beer; it tasted like straight rainbows and unicorns in my mouth. Maybe not my best analogy…

  4. Jayne    

    “Straight rainbows and unicorns” what an interesting metaphor. Does a straight rainbow taste a lot different than a curved one? We are train people for the exact bus experience you regaled us with. We got a bus from Crikvenica in Croatia to Vienna. The bus driver forgot to drop someone off so we spent an extra hour and a half driving back to drop her off. We paid twice the price of the bus ticket to get to Croatia, but we would pay that again in a heartbeat. Buses …? meh.

    1. Mandie    

      Haha okay definitely not my best metaphor. I much prefer trains as well! Unfortunately, I’m on a pretty limited budget so hey, gotta do what I gotta do. 🙂

  5. Katie    

    OMG – what jerks Orangeway is!! (Note to self – never try to use them). I’m so glad that (so far) I’ve avoided any horror stories like this. I’m a chronic over-researcher, and I once looked at doing a night bus in Thailand, and read some stories that were bad (not 3 days and no bus bad though), and decided to take another route in case. Now, I’m glad I did! Thanks for that! 😉 BTW – Prague – lovely city!

    1. Mandie    

      I loved Prague! I miss Prague. Now I’m in Berlin, and …it’s not Prague. 🙁 Lol

  6. Heather    

    Sometimes the best trips come from the disasters. While I’m not happy for your woes, I loved reading this – glad you made the best of it! – Heather, Life of a Traveling Navy Wife

    1. Mandie    

      Yeah, I’m learning that this is definitely the case. Also that when you’re stuck in a tough place, the lengths to which strangers will go to help you out is amazing. It can even restore a little faith in humanity.

  7. Dave Cole    

    This was a really run read, Mandie! You nailed it on the trifecta of cheap beer, wifi and outlets. Every traveler’s dream. Also, your post reminded me that I need to get back to Prague – such a wonderful city, especially for those of us that love pilsner.

  8. Penny @ Travelling Penster    

    Aw that sounds like so much fun in the end! Glad it all worked out. I’ve had many a travel disaster like this, as I’ve mostly travelled in developing countries – extremely unreliable travel modes! But all you can do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey. Sounds like that’s just what you did 🙂

    1. Mandie    

      Once you’ve done all you can, sometimes the only thing left to do is get a drink and embrace the adventure!

  9. kelli    

    Hey Mandie
    Loved reading your story. I have had more travel disasters than I can count in my days, but like you, many of them ended up providing great experiences I would have missed out on otherwise. Traveling can really help us develop patience, flexibility and just accepting situations for what they are, and provided I am not too cranky or tired, I am usually good about applying these helpful nuggets when presented with the opportunity. But, I definitely have my moments! Traveling, particularly long-term, can be really difficult. I can’t imagine my life without travel, but I can understand how certain types of people are not drawn to it. And you make an excellent point about the least expensive options not always being the cheapest! That ,and sometimes it is just worth the extra money to get that extra bit of convenience and ease, when it is feasible.

    1. Mandie    

      It’s definitely been a few weeks where it felt like one thing after another, but after awhile you do just learn to roll with it and be more flexible in general. 🙂

  10. Corinne    

    Mandie, We always find that when we are stuck somewhere, we do something completely surprising…great story…turning the disaster into fun and friends! It’s a lesson all travelers will learn at some point!

  11. Marissa | It's the Little Things    

    I love when a terrible situation ends up having a silver lining. I’ve had my share of travel mishaps and disasters, but many times they do end up having a good side as well. So great to hear you were able to create friendship out of a disastrous situation!

  12. Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats    

    What a crappy situation but glad you got out of it OK and still were able to see the bright side and have a good time! Travel disasters like this sometimes turn out to be the most memorable.

  13. Adelina    

    What a crazy story! Yea, Orangeways doesn’t have a good reputation. I’ve taken them a handful of times and while I only had one major issue with them (our bus was delayed 9 hours?!), you get what you pay for I guess. I’m glad you managed to still have a great time and arrived at your destination relatively unscathed!

  14. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}    

    Note to self: Don’t book on Orangeways. Judging by the photo, you were able to soothe yourselves quite well at the pub. And pho in Prague? I had no idea. I’ve had a few travel disasters but they turned out okay in the end. If anything, it’s taught me to just roll with things.

  15. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer    

    Oh jeez. How horrible 🙁 I almost took Orangeways too on a day trip to Budapest from Vienna (thank goodness I changed my mind). Thank you for sharing your honest story, I am sure many people will find it helpful. 😀

    BTW, so true about there being good with bad when traveling. My Megabus never showed up for my Brussels – Amsterdam trip and I ended up spending like 50 euros to take the train. Cheaper is DEFINITELY not always better.

    Safe travels 😀

  16. Mary {The World Is A Book}    

    What an adventure you’ve had! I’m so glad this one had a happy ending and you found friends to explore Prague. You’re so right, it’s so much better to explore it with friends even if the Czechs are friendly. I didn’t even know about the Vietnamese population or we would have had pho. Thanks for the Orangeways warning. Just a bad way to practice business. I’m disappointed you didn’t get a picture of the Bradley Cooper lookalike but totally understand 🙂

    1. Mandie    

      Hahaha I did get one but it’s dark and blurry and was taken with my phone so I didn’t post it! The whole thing was a really, really great adventure, though. 🙂

  17. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey    

    Lucky as a travel blogger this horror story made for a great travel tale… right? Thanks for linking up to #SundayTraveler with us again.

  18. Rachel G    

    Oh wow–you are quite brave, and I’m impressed that you made the best of a bad traveling situation. It’s so annoying when you have to rely on paid transportation and it fails you! That’s definitely the kind of thing that makes me most nervous when traveling, and it hurts when it costs extra money, too!

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