Travelling Germany on a budget the fun way

Last year I was on exchange with my engineering degree working for Airbus in Hamburg Germany. As I was an Australian student with no prior support, my local university gave me a $3000 scholarship which just covered air fairs. At   the time as the AU dollar was about 0.60 the Euro. Anyway, I was in Europe for 4months working (un-paid) and traveling.  I traveled mostly through Germany and central Europe including Poland, Slovakia and Czech.

My method of traveling is this: Keep it simple, travel light, don’t hesitate, stay open minded and be willing to spend a couple of nights here and there outside of your comfort zone.  I like to meet locals and experience their true culture, I don’t like staying in hotels and where possible neither hostels.

Communication

Primary communication resources I used: The internet- it is essential to organise wireless broadband and I found it cheapest to purchase a modem or use an unlocked smart phone and use a local sim card with data access in each country rather than one sim card for all countries in EU (expensive as most calls and data access is international). One good idea is to bring your iphone or android phone unlocked and just swap out sim cards in each country usually readily available at the corner store. This way you can use skype and other VoIP protocols to call home and access social media like facebook and twitter when ever you have wireless access or just over the broadband data service locally for a cheap premium.

Accommodation

Obviously a place to sleep at night is essential; however, to spend over 15Euro a night on accommodation was way over my budget. The best resource I found not only in terms of affordability but also in terms of experience hotels, hostels and any paid accommodation don’t offer is www.couchsurfing.org. This is a highly effective community. Expect fairly quick responses as only active users are allowed to keep their accounts. Sign up and create your profile, and as you go people will comment on your stay and develop your reputation. When you stay on someone’s couch, generally you are not paying for a service or rent and there is no commitment by you to pay anything at all; your stay is at the expense of the other person’s generosity. I like to always bring something to the game- make dinner, bring some wine. The people offering couches are generally open-minded local travelers like yourself, they can help submerse you in culture and if you are lucky they will become your friend and so will their friends.

Most of the time I didn’t know what tomorrow would hold, I just took opportunities as they arose. That being the case, I did find going to major area  like Berlin difficult to find a couch on short notice as people want more time. So in that case, always carry a lonely planet directory or something similar with a list of hostel options as a backup. However,  couch surfing has been by far the most successful social networking opportunities while abroad; in hotels and hostels you will meet other travelers, often not locals.

Transportation

Ok, lets put things in perspective. German public transport is very effective and you can nearly get anywhere in Europe from any major city. Germany has around 84million residence, whereas Australia has around 25million. Germany is the size of NSW, the whole of Europe fits inside Australia. Germany has 16 states each with its own capital city.

Germanies Deutsche bahn network is vast, fast and moderate in price. For timetabling and ticketing check out:

http://www.deutschebahn.com/site/bahn/de/start.html

However, traveling by train to other countries is VERY expensive, even with a europass it is ridiculously expensive if you are on a budget similar to mine. Of course, the other option is cheap airways like Ryan Air

http://www.ryanair.com/en

You can get some good deals; however, keep in mind luggage restrictions. Read the fine print carefully. Neither of these options were that useful for me though as I used the train network only locally within hamburg city and for a few intermediate travel sections to fill in the gaps. However, my primary mode of transport is rideshare:

http://www.rideshare.co.uk/ and

http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/

Think about it, a place smaller than 1/8th the size of Australia with almost 4times the population is bound to be someone doing the same journey as you.  Basically, it is the cheapest way to travel in and around Germany and even the EU.  I traveled from a small town called Poprad in Slovakia where I had couch surfed with a friend back to Dresden in Germany through Poland for 40Euros (1200kms later), as this is considered an international trip, by train you’d be look at over 100 Euros. After that, I traveled from Dresden back to Hamburg via Berlin for $20 euros. In this time, I met some very interesting characters and made some good friends- you won’t regret it :).

One of the first things I did when I identified a place I would be staying for a while was purchase a bicycle, as most of Europe is biking friendly as it has been apart of their heritage it is built into their infrastructure.

Here are some pics from my trip: