Footing It From Vienna to Budapest

Question: Why do you think traveling on a small budget is \r\nvaluable? 

Matt Gross: More and more now, I feel that \r\nyour budget should just not matter. You should give up the idea that \r\nspending money is the key to having a great and successful trip or \r\nadventure. Once you put aside that idea that travel and money are \r\nrelated, that the more you spend, the better you travel, then you \r\nsuddenly... everything becomes open to you. When you say, "I don’t need \r\nto spend the money to have a good meal, I don’t need to spend a lot of \r\nmoney to have a nice place to stay, I don’t need to spend a lot of money\r\n to get from point A to point B," then you have to be more creative. You\r\n find other ways to travel, you find other kinds of places to stay. 

I\r\n just got back from a trip walking from Vienna, Austria, through \r\nSlovakia, and down to Budapest, Hungary. It’s about 300 kilometers, and I\r\n was in these little towns that didn’t have hotels or restaurants or \r\nmuch of anything, and people were constantly offering me meals, offering\r\n me places to stay. These were things that happened not because I said, \r\n“I only have a limited amount of money to spend,” but because spending \r\nmoney was sort of beside the point. I could’ve spent a lot of money in \r\nthese towns and it wouldn’t have gotten me anything. If I had spent a \r\nlot of money, first of all, I wouldn’t have wound up in these towns in \r\nthe first place. And if I had 100 euros a night to spend on a hotel, in a\r\n town that doesn’t have a hotel, it doesn’t get you anything. Whether \r\nyou’ve got 5 euros or 100 euros or 1,000 euros to spend a night in an \r\ninteresting place, the place that you get free or the place that you get\r\n that’s run by someone small and creative and clever is going to be much\r\n better than the place that you get simply because you have money.

Question:\r\n What was it like walking from Vienna to Budapest? 

Matt \r\nGross: I learned something about walking. When you have 300 \r\nkilometers to walk, which is about 160 miles, I think, you learn a \r\ncouple things about walking pretty quickly. One is that there’s a \r\ndifference between walking a lot on your own in a city and walking 15 \r\nmiles a day with 40 or 45 pounds of gear on your back. My legs are very \r\nstrong, except for my ankles, it turns out. So there were times when I \r\nrealized I wasn’t going to make it unless I took a train for 20 \r\nkilometers and then started walking from there. 

So, I probably \r\nwalked well over half the distance, I think it’s 290 kilometers total \r\nand I walked probably about 150 or 160 of that. So, it was tough. It was\r\n tough. My ankle, this ankle, is still a little swollen and I shouldn’t \r\nrun, so I’m going to get fat for the next few days. 

Question:\r\n What’s the benefit of a long journey on foot? 

Matt Gross:\r\n You see places that no one else has seen at all. No other tourist goes \r\nto [...] No one walks into Estragon, you know, these are strange places \r\nthat they won’t impress anyone when you tell people you went there, but \r\nthe kind of experiences that you’re going to have there are just \r\namazing. People were giving me places to sleep for the night, they were \r\ninviting me in for dinner. They were showing me around, offering me \r\nrides, helping me in my investigations. It was, the people that you \r\nmeet, for me, are definitely the most important part of the journey. You\r\n make friends, you exchange email addresses, you stay in touch with \r\nthese people. Every once in a while, they come to New York or you’re \r\ntraveling somewhere and you meet them in a third country, and those kind\r\n of connections are, those are the most important souvenirs, those are \r\nthe most important on-the-ground experiences you have when you’re \r\ntraveling. And you don’t necessarily get those if you’re speeding \r\nthrough from city to city on a train or a bus. If you’re walking, you \r\nknow, you wind up walking next to someone who’s walking their dog and \r\nthey turn out to be an English teacher, and they invite you home for \r\nbackyard wine and sweets and give you a nice bed to sleep in. There’s \r\nnothing better than that. 

Question: Would you have had\r\n the same experience walking across the U.S.? 

Matt Gross:\r\n Absolutely. This is a really large country and it’s not necessarily a \r\nsmall town value, but it’s, people in America are very friendly and they\r\n often actually want to meet outsiders and new people. I’ve had that \r\nhappen. In 2007, I drove from New York to Seattle, sort of zigzagging \r\nacross the country, staying off the interstates entirely and in Decorah,\r\n Iowa, I stopped in this little town in northeast Iowa one evening and \r\nfound a bed and breakfast, arranged to stay there for the night, walked \r\ndown a hill and found this cute, little bistro, La Rana Bistro, The \r\nFrog. And walked in and got a glass of wine and some bread and cheese at\r\n the counter and started talking to the owners and about five minutes \r\nafter they met me, they said, “Hey, you need a place to stay?” You know,\r\n they had a lovely house, they had a whole wing of the house with its \r\nown bedroom and bathroom all to itself that they just offered to me for \r\nthree or four days, just because they liked me. I was an interesting \r\ntraveler who was passing through, let’s give him a place to stay. 

So,\r\n yeah, whether you’re driving or walking, that’s, you know, that’s going\r\n to happen.

Recorded on April 15, 2010

When you walk long distances, you see places that no one else has seen.

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