Money saving tips for travelling in Germany
So this year I've been spending my time in Essen, Germany, doing an assistantship in the nearby town of Oberhausen. As any language assistant will tell you, working hours aren't exactly excessive, and you can look forward to at least one weekday off a week (or if you're lucky two!). So what do you do with all your extra time? I decided that on my year abroad I wanted to see as much of my new country as possible, and when I could also go further afield. Being someone who has spent the last two years of uni shutting my eyes and praying while pressing the £10 button on a cash machine, this did not sound very likely. However with a wage coming through and that all important Erasmus grant I found that with a bit of knowledge you can see more than you ever thought possible over the year.
Here are my tips for travelling without resorting to selling vital organs to pay for it.
1. Semester Ticket
This ticket will save you a ridiculous amount of money. Sign up with your local university and for around €200 per semester you'll have a way to get around your Bundesland (county) on regional trains without paying a penny more. As I live in Nordrhein-Westfalen this has meant places like Köln Düsseldorf and Dortmund were in easy reach, and meeting up for a coffee a few towns away becomes second nature. It means that you get a really good knowledge of your local area and you have no excuse not to go exploring. If you're going further afield then you can always travel for free to the edge of your Bundesland and pay for the journey from there. I also am lucky enough to live in an area that borders Holland and Belgium - so I can wander along the border for free. Consult your map- depending on where you live you could be in Poland, Holland, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria or the Czech Republic for next to nothing!
This is ideal for seeing as many Christmas markets as possible, you'll never tire of Feuerzangenbowle (mulled wine, with a cube of sugar doused in rum, set on fire and melted into your drink) or the amazing food on offer. The biggest Christmas tree in Germany in Dortmund (photo, right) is a must see!
This website is a car sharing platform that allows you to get around for a startlingly tiny amount. I would never just jump in a stranger’s car back in the UK - but it’s really popular here and I’ve never felt unsafe. There’s also a French version if you happen to be venturing that way- covoiturage.fr. Plus if you can’t get a lift from/ to exactly where you want you can always use your semester ticket to cover the rest of the difference. You can use this system throughout Germany and also abroad, so if you’ve got some time then you can get across the country for as little as €20! Don’t miss the information on what sort of vehicle you will be travelling in - I travelled back from Berlin in a camper van, which meant a pull out bed and free hot chocolate!
Insist on paying after you have reached your destination if possible or (speaking from experience) your driver may get lost and insist on booting you out on the side of the road in the general area of where you agreed. Tell your driver my story as if it was your own - they won’t mind!
Hannover for the weekend is definitely a possibility!
3. Travel as a group at the weekend
Train tickets at first glance can look expensive - but if there’s a few of you who would like to go on a weekend trip then a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket is your best bet. For only €42 up to five people can travel for one day on a weekend on regional trains across Germany!
4. Shop around
Using a flight comparison website like skyscanner.de to find the best deal, and make sure you clear your cookies so you still get the best deals, regardless of how often you use it. Even domestic flights can sometimes be cheaper as well as quicker than trains.
If you’re not too fussy about your destination but want a break somewhere, then try German Wing’s blind booking from €33 - a surprise destination for a small cost!
Also look into buses and coaches as well as trains through the Deutsche Bahn website, they often have cheap deals for different routes, you can get from Oberhausen to Amsterdam or Nüremberg to Prague for €20!
Book your trains in advance, it’s a lot cheaper!
Often seen as a summer long or gap year pursuit, don’t forget this deal! If you’re under 26 then you can get a reduction on your ticket. I used this over the Easter holidays, 5 days in 10 of travel for €180. It’s a great way to cover a large distance for cheap, couple it with hostels and cheaper destinations (think Eastern Europe!) and the whole thing won’t cost you too much.
Send your tickets to the UK - you can’t use an Interrailing ticket in your country of residence, but if you send it to an address in the UK then use it in Germany along with a British ID.
So get travelling! It’s a great way to understand Germany better, experience new cultures and meet some great people along the way. Travel has made my year abroad, and it will always be the thing I’ll remember most fondly.