Welcome to Away Game, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real millennial women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 25-year-old goes on a family trip with and meets her dad’s extended family along the way.
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Travel Companions: My two sisters and father
Location: New York, NY
Trip Location: Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia
Annual # Of Vacation Days: Unlimited
Travel Companions’ Number of Vacation Days: Flexible work schedules
Trip Length: 16 days
Flight: I flew roundtrip from New York City to Budapest, Hungary with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. My roundtrip ticket cost $528.31, and I paid $120 to check a bag both ways.
We rented a car for 11 days for $387. Gas for the entire trip totaled $163.
3 nights in an Airbnb in Budapest (District XIII): $238
3 nights in an Airbnb in Budapest (District VII): $60
1 night in an apartment in Budapest (District VII): $60
2 nights in a hotel in Szentgotthard, Hungary: $197
3 nights in an Airbnb in Ljubljana, Slovenia: $286
3 nights in an Airbnb in Lake Bled, Slovenia: $440
2 nights in an Airbnb in Pula, Croatia: $80 (we paid for both nights even though we ended up leaving a day early)
*We chose to stay in apartments for the majority of our trip in order to have access to a kitchen and living space. My sisters and I enjoy cooking and there were many meals we were able to make at the apartment for much less than eating out. We purchased groceries each time we checked in to a new Airbnb, so when a meal isn’t mentioned below, we either cooked at our apartment or put out a small spread to tie us over until the next meal. In all, we spent $144 on groceries throughout the duration of the trip. The cost of living in Eastern Europe is very inexpensive compared to NYC.
As we were going to be moving between cities quite a bit and also needed to fit all of our belongs in a small rental car, I purchased a new Calpak suitcase from TJ Max for $75 that was a much more appropriate size than my large European-sized suitcase. I also purchased a lightweight jacket from Aritzia for $88 that takes up minimal space and was perfect for hiking or walking around town.
8:45 a.m. — I’m the first to arrive at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport as my dad and sister are arriving on flights from Minneapolis and Phoenix. The airport is small by New York standards and collecting my bag takes no more than thirty minutes. I log on to the airport’s free WiFi and double check the bus route I previously mapped out that will take me into the city center. I purchase a one-way bus ticket and make my way to meet my other sister who is currently studying abroad in Budapest. $3.18
10 a.m. – My sister and I meet at Kálvin Square where the bus drops me off. We haven’t seen each other in three months! I turn off airplane mode on my phone in order to text the Airbnb host to let him know we are on our way to the apartment via the tram ($2.46). Ahead of the trip, I contacted AT&T to enable international calling and data on my phone. Whenever my phone is taken off airplane mode while abroad, I’m charged $10 and granted access to unlimited data and international calling to the US. As we are primarily staying in Airbnbs and renting a car during our time abroad, I wanted the option to use my phone to contact an Airbnb host or pull up a map while driving if we were in a bind. $12.46
2:30 p.m. – My dad and other sister have arrived. Once they freshen up from their flight, we set off to explore Budapest. At this point, my dad is the only one who has not previously visited, and we are all excited to show him why we love Budapest so much. My dad’s family is from Hungary, so this is an extra special trip for him. After exploring the city for a few hours, we head back to our apartment and munch on hummus and fruit for dinner. My sister (the one who is studying in Budapest) stopped by the grocery store before we met up and purchased food for a couple of meals.
Daily Total: $15.64
2 p.m. – After a quick lunch consisting of falafel pita sandwiches ($8 –possibly my favorite meal in the city), we find our to way to Vorosmarty Square for a free walking tour of Budapest. These tours can be found in cities around the world and they rely on donations from attendees to remain in business. The tour covers both the Buda and Pest sides of the city and provides a great overview of the country’s history. $42
6:00 p.m. – After a three-hour walking tour on a brisk late-October day, we are all a bit chilled and decide this is the perfect time to try out one of Budapest’s iconic thermal baths. The tour ends at Fisherman’s Bastion, and we decide to walk along the river to Gellert Baths and Spa instead of taking a bus.This is one of Budapest’s more well-known baths and it is located in Danubius Hotel Gellert. We follow the bathing routine of first starting in one of the hot baths 38℃ (100.4℉) and then dunking in one of the cold tanks of water, followed by a steam room. After repeating the cycle three or four times, the cold dunk bath is suddenly not as stinkingly cold. $79
9 p.m. – We are all exhausted from a long day of walking and grab a quick dinner around the corner from our apartment before calling it an early night. I’m always caught off guard by how tiring a day walking around outside can be. $26
Daily Total: $105.16
10:30 a.m. – We fill up on a big breakfast at STIKA, a trendy spot in the old Jewish quarter. The food reminds me of a breakfast spread I would find in New York – gourmet pancakes and over-the-top eggs benedicts. $42
12:30 p.m. – We walk to Városliget Park and explore Vajdahunyad Castle and the surrounding grounds. I love finding different vantage points of cities, so I drag my family into the Mezogazdasagi Museum, The Museum and Library of HungarianAgriculture. My sisters were not amused, but I found it interesting to walk through the small exhibitions highlighting Hungary’s wine regions. We also joined a guided tour of the tower where we learned about the history of the building and the architectural influences. $26
6 p.m. – We add our name to the waitlist for dinner at Mazel Tov and my dad and sisters head next door to Instant, a ruin bar, for a beer ($2 each) on the rooftop while we wait for a table to open up. Reservations fill up quick at Mazel Tov, and while they do accept walk-in’s, someone has to stand in a line in front of the host stand. Mazel Tov was a must-visit for me while in Budapest, so I volunteer to wait and make sure everything goes smoothly. $73
Daily Total: $141
Noon – We pick up a rental car, check out of our Airbnb and begin the four-hour drive to Western Hungary where our family lives. In addition to visiting my sister in Budapest, we have plans to meet my dad’s Hungarian family for the first time.
5 p.m. – We check in to Hotel Lipa in Szentgotthard, Hungary and are soon greeted by our family! Their home is five minutes from the hotel and we head there for a phenomenal traditional Hungarian meal. The menu includes homemade pumpkin soup with a drizzle of homemade pumpkin seed oil, pogacsa, langos, turo, and of course, an overwhelming amount of palinka, a traditional fruit brandy!
Daily Total: $0
10 a.m. – We set off with our family to see everyone’s homes and meet the rest of our family. We also visit the family farm where my great-grandfather lived before immigrating to the United States as a teenager.
7:30 p.m. – At this point, we have eaten at every house and farm we stopped at and do not ever want to look at food again. Our family has been so welcoming and generous to ensure we are well taken care of. We chat with everyone for a bit longer and look through old photo albums before returning to our hotel. I’m pretty sure I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.
Daily Total: $0
9 a.m. – We join our family at church and drive to their home afterwards for a send-off lunch complete with homemade fish stew, more pumpkin soup and, of course, palinka.
3:30 p.m. – As we depart Hungary, we stop at a gas station to purchase a pass to drive on Slovenia’s toll roads. It is an easy 2.5-hour drive from Szentgotthárd to Ljubljana. As we work our way west across Slovenia, the rolling hills transform into steep mountain tops. $17
7:30 p.m. – Once we check in to our Airbnb, we walk to Gostilnica 5-6 kg for dinner. We are surprised to see a heavy Italian influence on the food in Ljubljana, which makes sense considering Italy is an hour from Slovenia’s capital. We all either get pizza or pasta, a nice change from Hungarian food. $33
Daily Total: $50
11 a.m. – We woke up to a rainy forecast and decide to shift our schedule slightly. After making breakfast at our Airbnb, we take a day trip to Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave instead of trekking through Ljubljana in the rain. Predjama Castle is about a 45-minute drive from Ljubljana, perfect for a day trip.
We purchase the ticket package which includes access to the Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave. The castle is built into a cave and was a nearly impenetrable fortress for many years. The self-guided audio tour was highly informative, and we all left in awe of how the castle was built and expanded upon over the years. I cannot recommend visiting enough! $163
3:00 p.m. – After exploring the castle, we drive back to the visitor center and enjoy a quick coffee and pastry before joining the next portion of the attraction – Postojna Cave – a section of Slovenia’s extensive cave network. The adventure begins with a train ride deep into the center of the cave, followed by a guided tour. $7
7:30 p.m. – We make our way back to Ljubljana and elect for a low-key night. We walk down the street from our Airbnb to Jakob Franc, which was recommended by our host. Once again, the food (and wine) in Slovenia does not disappoint. $37
Daily Total: $200
9 a.m – We enjoy a slow morning at our Airbnb making breakfast and planning out the day. We walk the city and explore the castle overlooking Ljubljana. Insider tip: you can explore many areas of the castle for free. I highly recommend doing this unless you want to climb up to the tower for a different vantage point of the city.
3 p.m. – We attempted to join a free guided tour in Ljubljana, but it begins to rain and we decide to bail. My dad and sisters head back to the apartment, and I walk to Tivoli Park to check out the National Museum of Contemporary History. This is my first time visiting Slovenia, and I’m eager to learn more about the country’s history. $5
8 p.m. – For our last dinner in Ljubljana, we eat at Julija in the old portion of town. Our server brings out a pumpkin seed oil to dip our bread in and I cannot get enough. $47
Daily Total: $52
11 a.m – After breakfast at Le Petit Cafe ($31), a quaint french breakfast spot that was highly recommended, we joined a free walking tour of the city ($20). Growing up, my family never scheduled tours during our trips as we preferred to explore on our own. On this trip, we have enjoyed learning more about each destination we visit and the free walking tours have been the perfect way to do so. $51
3 p.m. – Following the walking tour, we decide to start the hour-drive to Lake Bled where we booked an Airbnb for three nights. Lake Bled is a very popular destination in the summer, but there is still much to do during the off-season.
6:30 p.m. – We are informed that all of the grocery stores are closed due to All Saints Day, so we venture in to town to find a spot for dinner. We end up at Kult Klub for the sole reason that they have a foosball table (my family loves foosball). $16
Daily Total: $67
11 a.m. – We are excited to see Lake Bled in the daylight and set off on a walk through town and around the lake. It is raining, but we are excited to explore the destination and make the best of it. Halfway around the lake, we decide to veer off the path to climb up to Mala Ojstrica (a must for anyone visiting Lake Bled). We knew the hiking trail began somewhere in the general area, but did not have an exact starting point, so when we see a path leading up the hill, we assume we are on the right track… About halfway up a steep incline covered in damp leaves, we nervously decide to keep climbing in hopes of A) reaching our final destination B) finding a safer path back down. Ultimately, we reached the top and of course, we can hardly see the view due to all of the clouds and rain. Fortunately, there was a MUCH easier trail back down the hill.
6 p.m. – We are exhausted from being outdoors all day in the rain and eat the remaining snacks we have for dinner and start watching a WWII documentary on Netflix.
Daily Total: $0
Noon – As outdoor activities are the main attraction in the area, we set off to explore Vintgar Gorge, a five-mile trail made up of walkways and bridges that crisscross the gorge. There is a small fee to enter, but it is 100% worth it! $28
3 p.m. – Before heading back to our Airbnb, we stop at a chalet somewhere in Triglav National Park for a bite to eat and hot chocolate. The night before, we learned how to play Eurker and whip out the deck of cards to play a few rounds by the cozy fire. $15
Daily Total: $43
10 a.m. – We pack up the car and drive in to town to walk around Lake Bled one last time before beginning the drive to Pula, Croatia. The mountain peaks are still hidden by the clouds, much to my despair. I so desperately wanted to see Lake Bled on a clear day.
2 p.m. – We arrive in Pula, a northern coastal town in Croatia. While we are aware that our visit falls over the off-season, we did not realize how quiet the town would be. We were able to walk the entire city in the afternoon.
6 p.m. – After searching for a spot to eat dinner for over 20 minutes, we pop into a bar to ask the staff if they have any recommendations. We soon learn that there are only two restaurants open in the city that night and make our way to one of them which ends up being quite good. $27
Daily Total: $27
9:30 a.m. – After a quick breakfast from Mlinar, we walk to Valkane Beach and hike north along the rocky shore which soon turns into cliffs. While it is the beginning of November, it is 70℉ and we are all wishing we brought our bathing suits. $13
3 p.m. – We make a game-time decision and decide to drive back to Budapest that evening as we’ve just about done everything there is to do in Pula at this time of year. It is a six-hour drive, but we all agree that we would rather wake up in Budapest and have a free day tomorrow than spend another night in Pula and waste away the following day in a car.
10 p.m. – We check in to 7 Seasons Apartments Budapest. We scored an incredible deal and have a corner apartment with a large terrace. Wishing we were staying here for more than one night!
Daily Total: $13
6:30 p.m. – Our last dinner together before my sister starts her trip back to Phoenix in the morning. We grab a nice dinner ($37) in the old Jewish Quarter and have a nightcap at Szimpla ($8) near our apartment. We reminisce about the trip and cannot wrap our minds around how long we have been away.
Daily Total: $45
9:15 a.m. – We decide to take the morning for ourselves. I set out to check out a couple of hotels and shops. While searching for a cafe to grab a small breakfast, I stumble upon Borze and have a phenomenal breakfast on my own. The check comes and the bill is only $9. A similar meal in NYC would have set me back $30+. Time to move to Budapest!
3:3o p.m. – My dad and I join a "free communism" walking tour while we wait for my sister to finish up class. This tour does a great job of building on the general Budapest tour we joined on the front-end of our trip. $15
7:30 p.m. – My dad, sister and I decide to “wing” dinner tonight and do not look up a spot ahead of time. We walk by Kazimír Bisztró and hear live music coming from inside and decide that this is the place for us tonight! I cannot get enough pumpkin soup and order a large bowl. $29
Daily Total: $53
11:30 a.m. – We spend the morning and afternoon visiting all of our favorite spots in Budapest and popping into shops. We grab lunch at a pop-up outdoor food market down the street from Szimpla. My sister and I split an order of langos – fried dough served with sour cream and garlic – and my dad orders a pizza. $13
8 p.m. – We munch on the last of our groceries at the apartment while we pack. This has been the trip of a lifetime, and I feel so fortunate to have shared it with my dad and sisters.
Daily Total: $13
11 a.m. – And just like that, I am on a bus to the airport to start my trip home to NYC. $3.18
Daily Total: $3.18
How did you prepare for this trip?
I took the lead planning this trip for my family and used numerous online resources including travel publications, Pinterest, and Instagram to identify must-visit attractions in each city. I follow many accounts on Instagram that feature a lot of travel content and kept an eye out for any relevant posts. Having previously traveled to Budapest, I had a good feel for the city already and my sister – who was living in Budapest for three months leading up to my visit – also compiled a list of new places she wanted to show us during the visit.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
I booked my round trip flight six weeks before my departure and was happy with the price I paid. I had been monitoring ticket prices for a couple of months leading up to booking my ticket, and the price I ultimately paid was at the low end of what I was seeing. I LOVE using Google Flights to determine the best days to fly, especially since my schedule is flexible.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. It is considered one of Slovenia’s largest tourist attractions, which made me wary (I prefer to avoid touristy activities at all cost), but my visit exceed all of my expectations. The history of the castle is fascinating and venturing down into the cave was like nothing I had ever done before. I do realize our visit fell during the offseason, but I would go back during peak season regardless.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
The only thing I would change about the trip was our stop in Pula, Croatia. Instead, I would have traveled from Lake Bled to Zagreb, Croatia for two nights before heading back to Budapest. We would not have ran into the issue of having a limited list of things to do and places to eat, and the change in destination would have cut back on our travel time significantly – we drove four hours away from Budapest (our final destination) to reach Pula.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
We stayed in three separate places during our time in Budapest and each had something different to offer. The first, located in District XIII, was a spacious apartment and reasonably priced. The drawback was that it was about a 25-minute walk to the old Jewish quarter which is where many of the trendy restaurants and bars are located. The second spot we stayed at was located in VII. The third apartment we stayed at was also in VII and on the same street as Szimpla, the most popular ruin bar in Budapest. So, as you can imagine, it was quite loud at night.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
The next time I travel back to Budapest, I would like to take some time to visit a couple of the museums including House of Terror (contains exhibitions from the fascist and communist regimes) and the Hungarian National Gallery.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time?
Considering the time of year we were traveling, we were happy with the amount of time we spent in each city. If I were to travel back to Lake Bled in warmer months, I would definitely want at least five days to enjoy more outdoor activities i.e. swimming, longer hikes.
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