During my spring break abroad, my roommates and I organized an intensive trip through Eastern Europe. Our mission was to tackle four countries in nine days, an ambitious journey that required a lot of rigorous planning. The first half of our trip ran rather smoothly from Vienna to Budapest, but we hit a roadblock when we missed our over-night train from Budapest to Krakow. Trying not panic over our misfortune, we found the nearest customer service desk. However, since none of us spoke Hungarian, we were limited to communication via hand gestures and tears. With no English speaker in sight, we scrambled throughout the station looking for help from anywhere. Luckily, one of my roommates spotted a hole in the wall which turned out to be the international office, and we were able to get tickets for another train.
However... the next train was not leaving until six in the morning. It was nearly midnight, we still had six hours to kill before our morning train, and we were left with a new dilemma: where do we spend the night? The train platform was mostly outdoors and too cold to stay in. We assumed our Airbnb’s office would be closed. We proceeded to wander down the street—afraid to travel too far away from the station—when we conveniently ran into a McDonald’s that was open twenty-four hours. We nearly cried tears of joy upon seeing the all too familiar fast-food chain. Never before did I think I would be so relieved to see those golden arches, and while I was abroad I never predicted that I would find solace within an establishment that was wholly American. We camped out at a table in the restaurant, rotating who would nap on the table and who would buy food so the managers would not kick us out. It was a long six hours, but given our circumstances, this was the best decision we could have made. Now, it makes for a really fun story about how we spent a night stranded in Budapest.
Moral of the story: there is safety in numbers. I don’t even want to think about how I would have handled being stuck in Budapest in the middle of the night without my roommates. What could have potentially been a really dangerous situation was alleviated by the fact that together, we were a big group and felt safe. Please remember when traveling beyond your home-base abroad, and especially when exploring new territory, to travel in groups. Not only are there benefits to traveling in groups from group ticket discounts to simply enjoying the experience with others, but safety is crucial, especially when you are in unfamiliar surroundings.
Sara Kopczynski graduated from Pitt in 2017 as a Psychology and English Literature double major with a certificate in Children’s Literature. She spent the academic year of 2015-2016 studying in London, England, first with the London Select: English at UCL program and then with Pitt in London, and interned at Pitt’s Study Abroad Office in Spring 2017.
This article originally appeared in The Traveling Times, an online Pitt SAO newsletter.