Welcome to Germany! Once you’ve gotten all of the inappropriate questions about World War II, David Hasselhoff, and Rammstein out of your system, it’s time to start exploring.
But while Germany is a long way from the crazed exercise in expense of places like London, it’ll still cost a lot more to travel here than in most places in the world. Follow these tips to get as far as you can around the country on as little Euro as possible.
Speak German. Talk to people.
It’d be more than a little ironic to travel the land that gave the English language wanderlust and not be able to speak a word of the rest of the language. As is true of traveling in nearly every foreign context, the more of the language you know, the less stupid will be the decisions you make as you go. Where stupid, in this case, is measured in money spent on sub-optimal travel arrangements.
It’s a simple case of making decisions on as complete a set of information as possible. The more you are actually able to read the signs at Bushaltestellen, Bahnhöfe, and Flughäfen, the more chance you stand of capitalizing on last-minute offers, locally available rates, and other specific details that don’t make it into the English internet when you’re searching for rates online.
But if you don’t speak any German, and aren’t inclined to learn, all is not lost — although you may still have a torrid time outside of the larger cities.
Take the bus…
First up, bus travel in Germany has been putting up some stiff competition against the national rail system. Connecting most of the major cities, and letting you do fun things like surf the internet on board, bus travel is — on many routes — the cheapest option available by a long, long shot.
Berlinlinienbus is a popular choice, but the ADAC Postbus service (yes, it’s a collaboration with the German postal service) is by far the cheapest . With trips from Berlin to Erfurt (in the center of the country) via Leipzig for as little as 9 EUR, and free internet on board, their bumblebee-coloured buses should be your first call when trying to get between major centers.
As a further useful aside, while ADAC Postbus doesn’t go overseas, many of the other buses do — with departures to Prague and Eastern Europe more generally leaving from Berlin, Dresden, and a few other places. Moreover, since buses all over the world are inclined to gather together at common shelters like antelope on the savannah, it’s frequently a short hop from your 9 EUR bumblebee bus to something that’ll take you further east when it’s time to move on.
…but sometimes it’s better to take the train.
The only catch in taking the bumblebee (or any other coloured) buses is that they will generally only cover major routes. If you’re trying to get out into the forests of Thüringen, or seek out some tiny village festival, you’ll need to turn to the train system.
In Germany, the train service permeates nearly every tiny town you could conceivably want to go to — with extension bus services from the train stations for the very, very small places. Booking a train ticket is a simple matter of either using the kiosks in the train station, or the www.bahn.de website.
Before you book your ticket, realize that the cheapest way to travel on Deutsche Bahn — especially long distances — is very rarely to book the route you want directly and buy a single ticket in that direction. Or to book at the last minute.
If you know your route in advance, you can get huge discounts on the express train service (called the ICE). And if you’ll be traveling only within a particular German state, you can buy a general ticket for 22 EUR that entitles you to use all non-express, second-class trains in the state until 3am the next morning. As a rule of thumb (and in keeping with the colour-classification of transport), any train that isn’t white will be a non-express train, and you can happily clamber aboard.
If you’re intending to get some sightseeing in, being able to hop on and off trains all day at will for one price will mean more money for beer and bretzels all day long. Plus, if you bring a friend (or up to four, actually), they can piggy back on your day pass for an extra 4 EUR each.
Which brings us to group savings.
As a general rule, any ticket that lets you travel as much as you like on non-express trains will become much cheaper the more people you pack onto it. The state-wide tickets above can each have up to four extra passengers traveling with you, for example.
But, gloriously, the same is true again of the nationwide all-non-express-train tickets. Essentially the same idea as the state tickets, the Quer-durch-Lands ticket and the Schönes-Wochenende ticket both allow you to take as many of the non-express trains in Germany as you like, up until 3am the next day. So if you want to get from Hamburg to Munich and don’t mind a few changeovers, you can use either of these tickets to get you right across the country. The difference between the two is that the Quer-durch-Lands ticket works on weekdays (and costs 44 EUR for one, plus 8 EUR for every friend you bring along up to four), while the Schönes-Wochenende ticket costs a straight 44 EUR (and the four extras can come along for free).
So, if you can find some friends to travel with, all of Germany will be your cut-price oyster. Except without the increased likelihood of food poisoning, or stretching of metaphors.
Don’t have a horde? Let the internet find you one.
Finally, if you don’t have four friends to travel with, and are happy jumping on someone else’s group ticket, the unpronounceable www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de website is your best friend. Other people traveling on Schönes-Wochenende tickets will often advertise their routes on the transport-sharing website, allowing you to get in touch and travel with them for a fraction of the cost of buying a ticket of your own. If you’ve bought a Schönes-Wochenende ticket, you can also go ahead and advertise your intended route, to make a couple of friends along the way and defray the cost of your journey.
The site also lists all kind of other travel, including some of the bus lines above, and people traveling between cities in their own private cars who are looking for co-travelers to share expenses. So it’s always worth checking before booking on alternative routes, in case there’s a good deal going that’ll spare you buying a ticket of your own.
So there you go. Making your way across the land of bratwurst, windmills, and really long compound words need not be an exercise in needless expense. With a bit of planning, and some familiarity with your cheap(er) travel options, wanderlust will become so much less of a tax.