Free food is everything when you're traveling on a budget. It's difficult enough to find cheap transportation and lodging, but to have self control when it comes to food and souvenirs can be quite difficult.
I've been traveling for nearly six weeks from now and it's still a daily struggle to remind myself I have a budget to maintain.
About 3 weeks into my trip, my travel companion, Andi, and I met up with another group. One of them was my best friend from high school, Sami, and the rest were her classmates from Princeton. They planned a two week trip through Europe and invited us to tag along with them on their adventure, which was nice because they planned and booked everything for those two weeks and we just had to reimburse them for our portion. It also added to the fun—we now had a group of six. It was just large enough to split up into a few groups if we had different interests in Amsterdam or Berlin or Prague or Budapest, but just small enough that we could typically get a table for dinner without waiting too long.
Our group at the Berlin Wall. From left to right: Sami, Josh, Andi, Mitchell, Joana, and myself.
Our group in Old Town, Prague.
An added bonus for me, as an extrovert, was that I had new people to talk to and get to know. I'd never met three of these people before—Joana, Mitchell, and Joshua—and while they couldn't have been more different than me, I came to value the friendships I developed with each of them by the time we had to say goodbye. When you travel with someone, you get to know them on an intimate level, whether you like it or not. You find out if they snore. If they're morning people. If they take a long time to get ready in the morning. If they need coffee to get through the day. What makes them grumpy. What makes them happy. What foods they eat. What foods they don't.
So after two weeks of traveling and living with random strangers, I felt like I knew them pretty well. On top of that, I felt so grateful to have spent time with them. They got to know me and loved me through my flaws. They listened to me tell my stories as I listened to theirs. They gave me advice, saw the sights I wanted to see, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. They had ideas I never would've thought of that made our travels even better. Because of them, we went to the Viennese Opera and paid just €3 for standing tickets. Because of them, I tried a Doner Kebab, a common food in Europe that costs anywhere between €3-€5 and has quite literally changed my life. Because of them, I didn't have to make any decisions for two weeks because they had taken care of the planning.
So after our time together was over, we had one last "family dinner" at a traditional Hungarian restaurant in Budapest. We laughed and reminisced on our favorite memories from the two weeks we spent together in Europe—much of which was playing Hearts every night over a bottle of wine. And at the end of the meal, I told them they wouldn't have to pay for it, that it was already taken care of.
This Random Act of Kindness felt more like a Pay It Forward to me. I decided to buy their meals as a thank you for being such wonderful travel companions and for making our experiences together memorable. Of course, they were incredibly thankful—because like I said at the beginning of this blog, free food when you're traveling on a budget is everything. The only thing that may top it is the friends you travel with.
The two above photos are our group at the dinner I paid for as a Random Act of Kindness. Below is one of the dishes we got!
Vanessa Daves is a recent college graduate and a RAKtivist who is spending three months traveling the world. Iris Telehealth is sponsoring her random acts of kindness throughout the summer in the places she travels. When she returns back to the United States in the fall, she will be marketing coordinator for Iris Telehealth.