BOOM What’s up motherfuckers!!! Welcome back for the start of my EPIC 3-week Eurotrip, a whirlwind of culture, cities, sights, people, whale mats, bus rides, bunk beds, and, most importantly, gettin’ fucked up WOOOO!!!
Note: This all takes place back in early July.
Stop 1 of the trip was Budapest, the capital of Hungary, known for being really old, not very expensive, cool looking, stew, wine apparently, and having a totally sick nightlife.
I landed and exchanged $50 for like 40,000 Hungarian florins, and hopped on the bus to the city. I helped a lost-looking Polish girl figure out which bus to get on, and ended up chatting to her on the way into the city (fuckin’ world-wise ladykiller, you know me guys, this is classic Steve). However, this ended up getting me into a little bit more than I bargained for.
The Polish girl, who we’ll call Olga, told me she was visiting Budapest for a week as part of an organization called WorldVentures DreamTrips (mouthful) that sets up “dream vacations” for their members. She had been a part of WorldVentures for 3 years, and she loved it; she got to go on dream vacations to tons of different places, and had friends now “all over the world”. And these dream trips were, believe it or not, cheaper than regular trips! Membership in the WorldVentures, though, was invite-only; they only wanted to travel with people that were fun to travel with (obvi). She worked in banking, but her true passion was travel, and she wanted to work with WorldVentures full-time someday. She handed me a business card with her name on it, and on the other side it just said “Follow Your Dreams.”
Alright so this was all real fuckin’ weird, but you know what, there was a language barrier, and I didn’t get to talk to her too much about it, so I didn’t read too much into it right then. We friended each other on Facebook, and she invited me to check out the city with her and her friend the next morning. Hell yeah, just arrived and already made a friend with a foreign stranger, fucking CRUSHING this single traveling adventure.
So the next morning I met up with Olga and her friend, who turned out to be like, 40, and also didn’t speak a word of English, to go on one of those Hop On/Hop Off double-decker bus tours you see in every major city.
Travel pro tip – never go on one of these fucking things. Stupidest way to see a city ever. It’s full of fat tourists and their fat kids who got on the bus because for them it’s easier than karting their families through the metro or down busy city streets, and they just want to sit for a while and see the sights with as little effort as possible, because traveling with children is exhausting and miserable. You put on these garbage airplane headphones with the scratchy ass black earpieces and listen to a pre-recorded voice drone about everything as you pass by. It cost like $35 and it’s just the least authentic, most un-immersive drive-by way to see a foreign city ever conceived.
Of course I didn’t really realize this at the time, and I was happy to have travel companions, so I bought myself a ticket and hopped on. We stayed on the bus for maybe 1.5 hours, and I did get to see most of the main sights of Budapest, and got a pretty good lay of the land. But mainly stewed and formed the opinion of hop on/hop off bus tours that was expressed in the previous paragraph.
We finally got off that double-decker, spilt-ice-cream-cone and I ❤ Budapest t-shirt nightmare family vacation wagon at Gellért Hill, a big ass hill on the West side of the river that overlooks the whole city and has some dope views.
At the first main viewing point, Olga and her friend unrolled a blue and white sign that said “You should be here” and asked me to take a picture. I guess “You should be here” is the totally fuckin obnoxious slogan of WorldVentures, that just very kindly gets straight to the whole bullshit my-life-is-amazing god-I-love-traveling look-at-me social media photo bragging that everyone loves to engage in nowadays, anytime they leave their zip code (hate people like that, nobody cares about your travel adventures, idk how people can be so self-unaware).
Alright I feel like I should say I do feel a little bad being as critical of this day as I am, because Olga was very nice and friendly, and I’m sure she’d feel bad if she read this, but she probably won’t, and hey you know what else, I’m not here to censor myself because then what’s the fuckin’ point, right!? I’m just up here spouting bullshit!? You come here cuz you know its gonna be REAL, and if I’m not gonna tell it like it is, then I might as well roll out a “You Should Be Here” sign myself for a Valencia-filtered Instagram shot of me shoving a baguette up my ass at the Eiffel Tower with the caption “Take Me Back #WanderLust”.
On the way to the top of the hill were a bunch of stands selling little touristy knick-knacks and a couple fun, authentic, Budapest-specific historical activities you can only do there, like shooting a bow and arrow.
At the top of Gellért Hill is the Liberty Statue, Hungary’s shitty ripoff of the our much larger and more impressively named Statue of Liberty.
At the top, which offered some great views of the city, and which I’d really recommend visiting, we ran into 3 dudes who were also part of WorldVentures. Apparently there was some sort of big event this weekend, and a bunch of WorldVentures people were in town. Olga asked me if I wanted to go – she said there would be around 7,000 people there. I said “What kind of event is it? Is it a party?” And she said “Um, well, it is sort of like a party,” which is a really disconcerting way to describe anything.
Apparently these other dudes are pretty big deals in WorldVentures, real higher up types. Olga and her friend were very impressed by their status level. It was 3 older men, in like their late 30s or 40s. And this is when I finally really got tipped off as to what WorldVentures is all about.
I witnessed the highest-up WorldVentures big fish take a video of himself on his phone that went like this, as best I can remember: “What’s up everyone, I’m here at the Liberty Statue in Budapest, Hungary, and I’ve got just a beautiful view of the city from up here, truly amazing. The Liberty Statue up there, you can see it behind me – Liberty, what’s that mean? It means freedom – the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. That’s real freedom. But most people out there, they never get that. They’re tied down by this system in a 40 hour a week, 9 to 5 job that they hate, and they never get to do what they truly want to do. But you can be just like me. You just have to get out and do it. With WorldVentures, we travel around to all these incredible places all over the world, and wherever we go we run into friends!” here he puts in the Polish girls in the frame, and they wave and go “Heeeeyyy!”
So now I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of exactly what WorldVentures is all about. I do some quick Googling on my phone and find a variety of sites confirming my suspicions.
Turns out that WorldVentures is a classic example of a multi-level marketing company, also called an MLM, which is basically the modern version of a pyramid scheme, but with enough steps in between to technically be legal. It checks all the boxes for a typical MLM: too-good-too-be-true sales pitch: the promise of leaving behind your 9-to-5 job and fulling living your life, being a self-starting entrepreneur, etc.
You pay $55/month plus a $250 signup fee (total $910 for first year) to get access to their travel packages, which are purportedly at discounted prices; however, the discounts for any given trip is like maybe an $80 value, so you need to travel and spend a ton of money for it to really be worth it. But, you can get your monthly fees waived for a given year by recruiting 4 other people to Dream Trips.
You can read more about Dream Trips here. There’s also a great This American Life podcast about MLMs in general, which I’d heard before this trip and is what really clued me in, that does a great job illustrating how these companies prey on people who are unsatisfied with their lives, and the kind of damage they can do.
So now I know that these Polish girls are completely taken in by this scam, and I’m thinking, 1 – I need to get the fuck out of here, and 2 – should I tell them? I go through scenarios in my mind of how I can try to explain to this poor girl that not only has she been taken in as a sucker for the past 3 years and probably lost thousands of dollars with WorldVentures, but also that her dream of leaving behind her unfulfilling life as a banker and achieving self-actualization by traveling full time is almost certainly doomed to fail.
Between the language barrier, the fact that we just met, and the level to which she has probably already had to delude herself to reach this point, I couldn’t imagine that conversation being successful. So I decide to cut my losses and bail.
I stick with them for another meandering 2 hours while they try to navigate using solely the hop on/hop off bus system (which is a fuckin’ dumb ass way to try to get around) and while I cast about for some plausible excuse to ditch them.
Finally I go with “I’m tired and am gonna go back to the hostel and nap, hopefully we can meet up later?” (classic) and bounce. We did not meet up later.
Instead I made the absolute most of my time on my own, with the freedom to do what I wanted to do: I walked around taking pictures of the city at night, hiked back up Gellert Hill and got sorta lost on the way, made a great Snapchat story, decided to wait it out a few hours until sunrise so I could snag a sick sunrise shot, tried to sleep on a bench using a trash bag for warmth, gave up after an hour, and walked back to the hostel without seeing the sunrise.
Right so that’s Budapest Day 1! What a great time! If you want to have experiences like this and travel the world like me – check out WorldVentures DreamTrips! The more you travel, the more you travel!
P.S. I felt bad after I wrote this and sent Olga a message on Facebook telling her in the nicest terms I could that she might be the victim of a predatory pyramid scheme that is scamming her out of all her money with the empty promise of a more fulfilling life, along with a few helpful links. She hasn’t responded. Also don’t worry I set my Facebook post on this blog so that she wouldn’t see it, so, hopefully that function works properly.