In September I’m going to Europe, but not for months this time, just for a few weeks in a Not-So-Big-Trip format – 17 days. Of course, now that I have a job – at a very cool place that’s completely fine with me taking my planned-for-a-year vacation – I realize that my NSBT is actually a BT by American standards. This trip is anchored by my friend B’s wedding to a very cool Germany man and goes all over Europe to see all my other friends who live there. It’s a “Friend Tour 2010” because I just couldn’t be in Germany for a wedding without seeing all my friends.
My next Big Trip looks like this:
- Berlin with Tonia and Aton (Duration: 3 days). These close friends live in England and are meeting me in one of their favorite cities. I’d been to Germany four times before, but mostly in the south and have never been to Berlin. Everyone I’ve talked to says it’s one of the best cities they’ve been to: edgy, dynamic, creative, and fun. We’re renting an apartment for economy stay through Holiday Flats in Berlin.
- Malmo, Sweden with Mia and Andrew (Duration: 4 days). Then it’s off to Malmo via train for four days with one of my closest friends from high school – Mia. We’ve seen each other since then at weddings and a Portugal trip, but this is the first time I’ll meet her children and visit her new home that she’s made with her family.
- Netherlands with Jasmine and friends (Duration: 24 hours) I met this group of friends while in India last winter. I’m going to visit them for a music festival. It’s a long train ride overnight from Copenhagen (easily reached by ferry from Malmo) to South Netherlands, but worth it to see and hang with this group. I’ll take the five hour train from Holland to Paris.
- Paris (Duration 2-3 days). Everything in Europe is so close compared to America so I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit one of my favorite cities: Paris. I’ve been there twice before and have seen most of the sights. Now I want to do what I did on my third trip to Barcelona – walk around, take great pictures, drink amazing wine and eat delicious French food (especially after seeing the movie Julie and Julia). I won’t stay too long, just enough to get the Paris taste. Then, I’ll take the three hour train to Germany from Paris.
- South Germany with Anna and Jon (3-4 days) : Like Maria, Anja and I met in high school. I guess it was foretelling that I made friends with all the foreign exchange students. I’ve visited Ana before – five weeks when I was 17, 2 weeks when I was 21, and then to her wedding in 2002. I’ve known Jon since the second visit and now they are married with kids, whom I’ve never met in a big house I’ve never visited. We’re all excited to see each other and hang out for a couple of days.
- The grand finale wedding (3 days): Several friends from grad school are flying in for the wedding in Mainz, a historic town along the Rhine river. I’m bunking with friend E to save hotel bucks and then the wedding on Saturday. I’ve allowed one day of rest on the Sunday and then a full day of flying back home to start work on Tuesday.
Whew! My “go with the flow” travel ethos has no place on this trip, unfortunately, and that’s the trade-off of settling down and living my new, sustained life in one place. There’ll be no Big Trips after this for a while because of limited vacation days, but I’ll always have Berlin/Malmo/Holland/Germany/Paris.
Transportation Details (So far…)
- Flights: American Airlines
Germany – Deustche Bahn
Berlin to Malmo – Swedish Train Lines
Netherlands – NS Hi Speed Trains
Eurail vs. Individual Train Tickets
You may wonder – why don’t you just buy a Eurail pass? Well, I thought about it and priced it out. I’m over 26 and not a student, so this choice was much more expensive (by several hundred dollars) than buying individual train tickets on the amount of names I needed. Plus, I don’t need to travel first class and that’s all that was available on Rail Europe for anyone my old, assumed affluent age. Finally, some tickets weren’t available on Rail Europe site and their phone customer option was TERRIBLE. There were so many recorded options, I never actually talked with a live agent. Good thing though, they would have charged me $15 to book with a real live person.
Online booking for each of the sites was relatively easy because they have an English language version of their sites. The German trains are the most expensive, but I found that booking soon enough in advance afforded me a special deals on tickets (39 Euros vs. 119 Euros) from Frankfurt to Berlin. The German and Swedish sites allowed me to print my tickets, but the Netherlands one did not – post within Netherlands was the only option and a painful one at that. Luckily I was able to put in my friend’s local address and she’ll mail the ticket to my Swedish friend. Definitely not ideal and if I didn’t have such a time crunch, I wouldn’t do this option, instead taking a bus or showing up to buy the ticket.
Most of the time I’ll be staying with friends in their extra bedrooms, but in Paris I need to find an affordable place. There’s always hostels, but I just read an article in the New York Times entitled “Europe without Hotels” for staying at locals places for a price – one step up and with a better response rate than CouchSurfing. I’m going to check it out and see what I find…
My overall budget for the trip is $2500. The lack of lodging costs makes this possible. The greatest expense is the air fare: $1000 SFO to Frankfurt. The trains will be about $400 total and the rest spending money for day to day and Paris.