browse before travel

Browse and bookmark: Helpful for travel?

Browse before travel? Definitely yes. For too many reasons. But, recently, I have had my doubts at some points while travelling in Europe. First, I feel, impromptu travel is more fun. When you see and inspect a place beforehand it somehow loses its charm and ups your expectations way too much. When we were kids, setting out for unknown destinations was so thrilling, I still feel butterflies in my tummy whenever I think about those month-long childhood summer trips. We used to set out without any hotel bookings or fixed itineraries. Just a bunch of traveler cheques and we were good to go! But that wasn’t always fun for I remember spending an entire night in Bombay looking for a hotel. Things had gone wrong beyond belief and yet we fondly remember those trips as life’s best events. However, now-a-days, when everything is up on internet for people to explore and inspect, nobody dares to venture out without obtaining prior information. But is the idea of browse before travel really helpful? Isn’t it confusing at times?

For example, prior to my trip to Barcelona, Paris and Berlin, I googled things up to such an extent that I had an overload of information and, at the end, I mixed things up. Again, in Barcelona, I was disappointed to see Parc Guell, Gaudi’s famous tile architectural achievement which to me was nothing but an overrated park but beautiful nonetheless. I was disappointed because I didn’t like what I saw inside as obviously the reviews on various travel sites had immensely upped my expectations. That’s what the internet can do to you. It can totally ruin your trip.

Again, I had googled our routes so much so that, a few minutes off the internet and we were at a loss. But coming back to the first statement, internet is definitely helpful and it has changed the face of travel like never before. When I was looking for tips on visiting Paris for the first time, I had read about thugs and con-artists and even muggers walking loose on Paris streets. So I was obviously cautious. Bags close to the bosom and no cell phone in pocket! But imagine my shock, when I experienced a different kind of conman in one of Paris’s metro stations. But thanks to all the research I had done, I survived this one.

It was our first day in Paris and we had just reached Porte Maillot (the point where buses from the airport arrive). The next step was to take the metro and go straight to our hotel as our hotel was just four stops away. But in front of the ticket machine, we met a man who somewhat looked Indian (may be someone from Pakistan or Bangladesh) but you can’t exactly tell. The man was standing by the ticket vending machine and when we approached the machine he flashed us a ‘may I help you smile’ and we thought he was someone from the metro authority. He looked friendly and most importantly he looked someone from my country. Such a shame! And when I told him we wanted a carnet of ten tickets he smiled and said, ‘Yes, 35 Euro for one person.’

I was kind of shocked as I had already done my research and the travel sites said a carnet of ten tickets in Paris costs about 14 Euro and this is the cheapest option to roam around the city as these tickets can be used by any number of people. For example five people can travel twice with ten tickets. When I told the man that I had read otherwise, he said, it was wrong information and that internet is a crazy place . Still shocked but not convinced, I asked him ‘What about a ticket from one station to the next?’ The answer he gave me confirmed my doubts. 22 Euro for a single ticket is just insane and probably no place in the world charges that amount of money for public transport. Looking at my shocked face, he said, ‘Crazy right? These French people are crazy.’ Then I asked him what about the buses? He said that there were no bus services from that spot whereas I could clearly see the bus sign above his head. Whatever was his intention or the style of conning tourists in Paris, I hurried away from him and headed straight to another machine where a lady in Paris Metro uniform helped me to buy the carnet of tickets I was looking for. That too for the exact amount I was told by the travel sites on the internet. For the first time I realized that it’s not too bad to look up for things before embarking on a trip to an entirely new place. Things can go wrong and people can misguide you. Hence, it’s better to do your own research and go about it. The best lesson learnt.

Again, at times when we didn’t have an internet connection, friendly Parisians stopped to help and let us use their phones to look up the places we were looking for even when we didn’t ask for it. The same thing happened in Berlin. A friendly guy went one step ahead. He took the navigation job very seriously and didn’t leave our side until he dropped us at our hotel. So in the end, internet is definitely a positive aspect of travel.

But sometimes, it’s good to go offline and trust your instincts too.

This summer (2017), we set out to this tiny town called Siófok, a city in Hungary located about 100 kilometers from Budapest purely based on a Finnish friend’s recommendations. The town is located on the southern bank of Lake Balaton which is also known as the Hungarian Sea.

We ended up there on a fine summer morning without any information and ended up ordering a fish at a restaurant that could actually feed a family of four! After the failed attempt to finish the fish, we got caught up in a storm, got soaked to our bones with no change of clothes and no where else to go! Guess where we ended up- in a friendly local bar where we spend 5 hours before catching a train back to Budapest. While I admit that we could have at least checked the weather before setting out but had we done that we would have never stepped in that part of Hungary and seen the bluest lake I have ever seen in life.

When we finally reached our hotel in Budapest after sleeping our butts off in the train, we were smiling as we knew that we were always going to remember that stormy day stuck in a Hungarian bar in a relatively unknown city and all the conversations we had about life, travel, and our future. Also, that huge fish, of course.

So am I going to browse and bookmark for my future travels? Definitely yes! But I might as well as skip some research from time to time just for the thrill of living in the moment and making the best out of some uncertainties. After all, it is not always so bad to ask around, experience the unexpected, and learn on the road.

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