Germany — the land of the castles and the home of the beer. That sums it up right?
Almost. While my knowledge of Germany is wanting until I can get my butt there and discover it firsthand, I have at least enough know-how to find a way to get there for cheap.
Now the following outlines my budget for an upcoming trip. Meaning there’s a chance a wild boar might escape from the Berlin Zoo and pummel me on my way to the train station, causing me to miss my transport to Münich and have to find a new train the next day and pay for another night in a hostel — costing an extra $200 or something plus hospital bills for the boar attack. That would completely discredit my claim in this post.
But that probably won’t be the case. Especially because the Berlin Zoo doesn’t have wild boars.
So, given that all goes accordingly, here here’s how my boyfriend and I are doing a week in Germany (and a day in Austria) for less than $1,300 each:
I prepared for the worst when I first searched LAX to SXL on Skyscanner and watched the results start to roll in. I thought that the move from East Coast to West Coast (3,000 miles in the opposite direction from Europe) would mean nearly double the cost for a flight to Germany. The first result was $1,200 (okay, what I was expecting), then I saw $830, then $600. My heart fluttered. $600 – I can afford that!
But the wheel kept spinning and more results loaded. $580, $530, $500. I felt like I was watching my tickets fly out of the dispenser at an arcade. The wheel stopped spinning and the final result beamed at the top. LAX to SXL for $420.
So I had heard of WOW Air before. But in the time that the airline had evolved into a major player in the budget travel community, I hadn’t searched flights in regions the airline serviced.
In my last semester of college I completed a mock PR plan to revamp Spirit Airlines’ reputation, and I consequently learned all the rules and facets involved with their bare-bones business model. WOW Air draws many similarities to Spirit in that its prices include the bare minimum fare to get from point A to point B — meaning you’re SOL of you seek such luxuries as in-flight entertainment, leg room and food. But if you’re prepared with a preloaded iPad and 8-hours worth of protein bars and Goldfish, you’re peachy and you get a cheap flight.
WOW Air offered a smattering of flights from the U.S. to Germany for around $400 each, and on the day I am flying, $420. So why does the header of this section say $531? Because they charge $50 for carry-on luggage each way — and then extra taxes. So tack on $100 to the tab, but even that $531 ticket was cheaper than the next cheapest option. I of course have my hesitations about doing such a long journey without common airline inclusions; but I’ve had it too good for too long and it’ll make me feel young again to be cramped up in an uncomfortable seat with a bag of homemade granola and a juice box.
The nifty part about this airline is that every U.S.-to-Europe flight includes a stopover in Iceland as a way to entice tourists to explore (and spend money) in the country. We’ll have 16 hours to explore Reykjavik before our 3-hour connecting flight to Berlin.
Post-trip, I’ll share a review of my experience with WOW and determine if it was really worth it. It will either be my new favorite way to travel to Europe or my favorite horror story to share at dinner parties.
This is where we splurged a little. We kept costs low by booking only hostels, of course, with help from my favorite hostel booking site HostelWorld. We could have stayed in hostels for as cheap as €15 per night. But for the first time, I didn’t sort by price “low –> high.”
I chose each of the hostels based on a rigid criteria of rating, reviews, location and amenities. This will be my boyfriend’s first experience in a hostel and I didn’t want to overwhelm him with the crowded summer camp cabin ambience of some of the hostels I’ve stayed in before. So I booked us private rooms in top-rated hostels and saved money by choosing hostels that:
- are located within walking distance to most tourist hubs so we will save money on transportation
- have breakfast included or available for less than €4
- have proprietary bars/restaurants because it’s almost always cheaper to drink at the hostel bar first before going out
- offer social activities or – at minimum – free walking tours
Grand Hostel Berlin (Private room: $30/person/night)
Euro Youth Hostel (Private room: $33/person/night)
YOHO International Youth Hostel (Private room: $38.50/person/night)
SleepCheapHostel (Private room: $24/person/night)
Inter-city transport: $96.00
Through my research (aka gleefully reading through travel blogs), I’ve found mixed opinions on whether or not to pre-book trains. I’ve traveled both ways before, and there are always ups and downs – like the risk of missing your pre-booked train and not getting a refund, or, on the other hand, arriving to the station without a ticket just to find all the trains are booked or cost twice as much as they did online. I’ve chosen to pre-book for this trip because, from my understanding, inter-city trains can get pretty pricey in Germany and you can save if you book in advance. I used GoEuro.com to book as it seemed like the prices on that site were the most reasonable, but if there is anyone reading this who know of a better rail-booking site accessible from the U.S. let me know!
I compromised departure time for price here, going for the cheapest tickets I could find (at odd times) that were at least late enough in the morning that I knew we wouldn’t snooze through them.
Here’s the breakdown:
Per Diem (total): $450.00
This is the area that could push us over the $1,300 mark but I’m confident we can survive on this amount.
For 10 days, I’m allocating $45/day to cover food, souvenirs and entertainment. (Luckily the USD to Euro conversion rate is happily in our favor now so the following prices estimates are in USD but should roughly be the same in euros.) If we stick to free or cheap hostel breakfast, we’ll clock in around $4/day maximum for breakfast $10 lunch, and $16 for dinner and cheap beer. That leaves $15/day for things like museums and “free” walking tours. Our itinerary is filled with free things to do in all three cities so hopefully we won’t even spend the entertainment ration. On days when we don’t spend the full amount the rest will go toward souvenirs (or more beer).
Annnnnnnnd there you have it folks!
$531.00$221.50$ 96.00+ $450.00= $1,298.50
Post-trip, I’ll do an analysis of how closely we stuck to our budget. Fingers crossed the boars stay at bay and we can proceed as outlined.
People say they can’t travel because it’s too expensive or they just don’t have the money right now. I get that, and I’ve been there. But I don’t think many realize just how cheap travel can be if you 1.) do your research and 2.) are willing to sacrifice a few luxuries for the trip of a lifetime. No, my travel style isn’t spending a week at a resort and spa on the beach. Yeah, that could get pricey. My style is being immersed in a new culture, discovering unfamiliar foods and traditions and languages, and meeting people who have a completely different perspective on life — and that doesn’t have to cost a life’s savings.