If you’ve been following along on my recent nomad adventures, you know that my husband and I had to abruptly move out of our condo and have since been "couch surfing" and traveling around for the last few months. As adults in our mid-thirties without kids, we decided this was an opportunity to take a really shitty situation and turn it into a once-in-a-lifetime moment. And because we've run our business out of California for the last several years this was also, surprisingly, an opportunity to actually SAVE some money. Since this journey began in September, we’ve lived in Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Big Bear, Mexico, and most recently, Germany.
The last few weeks have been spent settling into our friends’ place in Bad Zwischenahn, and truthfully, we had zero plans set in stone. So, it wasn't until more recently that we finally booked some local travel. As I mentioned before, we made this decision in hopes that we could save money, and throughout this process, I’ve learned some pretty fantastic travel hacks.
For context, Bad Zwischenahn is a gorgeous small town in the northwestern part of Germany (near Oldenburg, Hamburg, and Bremen). From my understanding, it has a higher population of retired folks and is ideal to visit during the summer months when the weather is warm and the days are long. It’s been awesome living in this part of Germany where there are slight cultural differences from places like Munich. That being said, being relatively close to some larger “hubs” has made traveling to cool cities very easy.
Our first order of business was figuring out which places to visit. Here are the places we considered and where we landed:
LOCATION: Bad Zwischenahn
*Image from our walk in Oldenburg
I think it’s worth noting that my husband and I are NOT "A-Type" travelers. We prefer to be much more leisurely and flexible with our plans and sometimes even end up doing a lot of our research days prior to our visits. Our goal for these trips is to slow down, be in the moment, and experience life like locals wherever we are. Typically, we lock in a few "must-do's" and then let the cities we visit take us on a spontaneous adventure. So if you’re a hardcore planner, we’re probably not quite aligned in our style of travel. Additionally, most of our travel this time around was specific to Germany; however, these hacks are still beneficial for any type of traveler and most travel plans/accommodations in Europe.
A couple of things to note before starting your research:
Before deciding exactly where to go, I picked notable cities and did a very light scan of costs for both transportation and lodging. This gave me an idea of whether or not these cities would fit into our budget.
Where to actually stay:
Google is your bestie: Don’t forget you can literally research “Best Places to Stay in _______”. This helped me understand what parts of town were most crowded or most affordable.
Always check to see if lodging is close to public transportation. That is another cost to have to factor in.
Typically, if you're doing an abundance of travel in a fixed amount of time, I might consider or suggest looking into a Eurail pass. However, because many factors have changed a bit over the last few years when it comes to train travel in Europe, I think it's best to research whether or not a Eurail pass is a good fit, or rather, worth it for you depending on your ideal itinerary.
That being said, because we've essentially been traveling on a whim and hadn't necessarily planned on doing a ton of local travel, one of the best hacks I found right off the bat was purchasing one-way tickets. Additionally, this allowed me to be creative in tacking on daily visits to different cities in between each travel arrangement. I learned that it is much more cost-effective than booking round trips, especially if you have the flexibility.
For example, when we went to Berlin, round trip was roughly going to cost us $400 which was way outside of our budget. So I got super creative and looked into one-way tickets in different nearby cities. I splurged $140 on the way to Berlin from Oldenburg and found a bus back to Hamburg for only $45 for the two of us.
This quickly became my go-to method for booking transportation and allowed us to explore a couple more cities that weren't originally on our radar. It can obviously be incredibly tedious, but as long as you organize your notes somewhere, it can be such a lifesaver.
This brings me to the second hot tip, price checking depending on the city. One of the most significant factors in saving us both time and money was the copious amounts of research I did to travel from various nearby cities versus where we were actually located. Bad Zwischenahn is a much smaller city, so it became a bit more expensive and more of a hassle to travel directly out of.
Taking trains or busses (or hitching a ride from a friend) out of Bad Zwischenahn to these "hub cities" ended up being much easier and much cheaper. Take a look at cities nearby that have access to multiple forms of transportation (airplane, bus, train, etc.). This can be used to your advantage when searching for cheap and convenient travel accommodations, especially when considering Tip #1.
This might be a "duh", but as I mentioned above, being close to public transportation is probably more of a necessity than a game changer. Most cities within Europe, especially in Germany, have a solid public transportation system. This includes local busses, subways, and trains. However, there is so much that all forms of transportation have to offer in Europe. I made sure to book lodging that was walkable to public transportation in order to keep costs low and access to "hot spots" high.
*Quick Tips for navigating these systems
Trains: Make sure to always check which gate/platform and platform section (A-E) is specified on the terminal kiosks, even if it is already listed on your ticket.
Gate/Platform numbers can change VERY quickly and you might end up running to get to catch the right train even if you arrived 20 minutes early. You can do this by confirming your train type along with destination/direction you're going. It's usually listed on your ticket with a series of letters and numbers (example: ICE 510).
Gate/Platform number indicates where you board your train.
Section letter (A-E) indicates where on the platform you need to be.
Subways/Metros: Google + Apple Maps are your best friend and make it ridiculously easy to identify transfers and the direction you're going.
Charter Busses: Arrive EARLY at the bus terminals for several reasons
They're not always near main train stations and can be confusing or hard to find if you're not familiar
Depending on the duration of your ride, you might want to grab snacks and water
The busses we've used so far have always had a bathroom, but doesn't hurt to go before
PinkBus and FlixBus are fantastic for traveling at low costs to big cities.
Typically 0-1 transfers
Longer travel time
Even though we’ve been lucky enough to "live" in Germany for an extended period of time, this kind of research can absolutely be done in the comfort of your own home before embarking on your European travels. Being flexible with your travel plans will make your trip more affordable and spontaneous without the stress.
If I didn’t have a temporary free place to stay and the time to look up all of this information, I would probably have started planning our journey like this:
"Root" in 1 or 2 cities (depending on the duration of your trip) where you want to spend more time and book more long-term stays within your budget.
Research all of the cities in between your "root" destinations that would make great day trips or 1-3 day trips. Book them ahead of time or have them on deck if you want to wander a bit more.
Consider hostels: Many of the hostels in major cities are really nice, very affordable, and some even have access to private room accommodations.
Consider parts of the city that are close to public transportation but farther away from tourist attractions. If you're worried about safety or the atmosphere, don't forget to do your due diligence on Google!
I completely understand that this might not be everyone's jam, but sometimes meeting new people in another city can almost be less weird, especially if you're hanging out near international hostels or trying to order coffee from a local cafe. Depending on where you are, many locals also enjoy practicing their English and will sometimes strike up conversations.
Without pre-planning or anticipating this, it has actually helped immensely in our travels whether we're looking for a good restaurant, the right dish to order, or a unique place to stay.
During our travels in Berlin, we looked up a local sports bar to watch the U.S. play in the World Cup. This bar was attached to a hostel and was filled with single travelers and small groups looking for a place to sit. We ended up meeting some really cool people from all over who gave us incredible recommendations on places to stay, where to go, and what to do.
I hope you found this helpful for your next adventure in Europe. Prost! 🍻
Always carry change with you: Most public restrooms require you to pay. It ranges anywhere from 50 euro cent to 1 euro.
Pocket wifi: Sim card can be helpful, but having access to wifi allows you to work and stay connected while traveling.
Luggage Storage: When traveling in between cities, storage lockers might not always be available at each train station. There are services that will take your bag and store it for a few hours. You can pay by the hour and in some cases, it may be more cost effective.
I hope you found this helpful! Be sure to check the Additional Resources at the end of this blog post. 🙂