Long time no read! I think I'll spend this post catching you all up on what I've been doing since my last post (thankfully, I haven't had to test the effectiveness of my insurance here again.) What I have been doing is a lot of traveling within Germany plus I got to go on a big birthday trip to Paris and London with my boyfriend! On my own, I made a big trip to Berlin as well as a couple day trips to Freiburg, Stuttgart, and Heidelberg. The number of castles and museums I've been to is a little bit unreal. Europe really loves castles and museums. I'll be sharing some of my best tips and tools for traveling in Europe, as I've gotten very familiar (and very frustrated) with public transportation here.
One of the first places I check when I'm planning a trip is the website GoEuro. It's a tool that helps you compare the prices and travel times for different methods of travel- train, bus, and plane. It's really good for helping you weigh the pros and cons of different ways to travel. I haven't actually flown anywhere in Europe because I don't want to deal with the hassle of airport security and passports and everything. I traveled to Munich, Berlin, Paris, and London by train and Freiburg, Stuttgart, and Heidelberg by bus. It really comes down to how much you want to spend versus how much time you are willing to give up (buses generally take longer than trains).
2. DeutscheBahn and FlixBus
DeutscheBahn (otherwise known as DB) is the train system within Germany and FlixBus is the cheapest bus option for traveling within Europe. I have the DB app on my phone because if you buy a ticket at the station, it doesn't actually tell you what platform to go to, which was something totally foreign to me (everything is foreign to me, really). With the app you are able to locate the platform you'll depart from as well as check for delays or buy tickets. One giant problem I've had with DB is delays. I don't know who coined the term "German efficiency" but whoever did never rode with Deutsche Bahn. I had to take 3 trains to get to Berlin and I missed every single connection because of unexplained delays. There was one point in the train station where I was literally on the verge of tears because I was so frustrated so when a panhandler asked me for money it almost set me over the edge. My biggest tip is that if you have connections, leave 30+ minutes between them or you will more than likely miss your train. And make sure to buy a FlexPreis ticket because this ensures that even if you miss the train you were supposed to take, you can get on the next one for no extra charge.
3. Always travel with cash
A big adjustment I've had to make in Europe is that everything is very cash based. I'm used to being able to go to the store and buy a pack of gum with my debit card. A lot of establishments in smaller German cities don't accept cards at all, or you can only use one if you spend a certain amount of money. I didn't encounter this problem as much in bigger cities like Paris or Berlin, but if you're planning on stopping for any street food or going on a hop on/hop off bus tour, it's good to have cash just in case.
4. Speaking of hop on/hop off bus tours
DO THEM! I got the chance to take one while I was in Berlin and it's the cheapest way to travel within a city. It's good to do one entire round on the tour first so you can get your bearings and make note of where you may want to stop. Once you've done that, you can hop off on the next round at any of the spots you'd like to experience more in depth. A lot of the times it'll be much cheaper and a whole lot easier than navigating the city bus or train (definitely cheaper than a taxi) and you'll get to hear about the city in English during the tour.
5. Staying safe while traveling
This isn't a really surprising tip but with everything that has been happening within Europe, it's important I mention it. I'm lucky to be living and studying in such a small town in Southern Germany because it's so far from the locations of the recent terror attacks. However, my boyfriend and I visited Notre Dame the day before a terror attack and then we got to London the morning after the London Bridge attack. Big cities in Europe have been hit hard with terrorism lately, which is why I've done a lot more of my solo traveling in the latter part of my study abroad in smaller towns like Freiburg and Heidelberg. Not only is it safer, but you'll also get to have a much different cultural experience than bigger, more touristy places. This is a good article on how to stay safe while traveling in Europe.
As my study abroad comes to an end (I have 11 more days left in Germany) it's good to reflect on all the traveling I've been able to do. On my way home I'll have an 8 hour layover in Istanbul so I can check that off my list too (though this might be cheating since I'm not even going to leave the airport). I have my first final exam on Friday which I'm pretty nervous about, but I will be talking more about my university experience in my next post.