Travel in Germany and Europe
From Indians in Magdeburg - A Guide for Students
What this article is not!!
There are plenty of online resources to plan your travel in Europe (e.g. this). They are full of useful information about where to go and what to do. This thread is not about what places to visit or what to do there (though there might be an occasional recommendation or two). This thread is only a compilation of useful information - based mostly on personal travel experiences. The aim is to enunciate these experiences into a single resource.
Let's keep this one short. You travel for a variety of reasons - to experience a new place or to get to watch your favorite band perform live. Or maybe you want to go hiking or skiing. Wherever your interest may lie, Europe has a lot to offer in terms of architecture, history, culture, nature and music festivals.
How to travel?
This is perhaps the most important question and, unfortunately, cannot be answered as easily. The following sections will cover the major means of transport and give you an idea about how each one works.
You can either rent a car or share a ride with someone who has one. A quick google search should give you enough options for car rentals. For the first six months of your stay here, your Indian drivers license is considered valid and you need not get another one made (which is a very expensive and elaborate process). More information about this here and here.
A much cheaper option is to share a ride. Usually a person traveling from place A to place B will put up his/her itinerary online in hope of sharing the fuel costs. The person can be contacted and an informal deal is struck between the driver and the rider. This is usually a very safe option. There are quite a few websites that facilitate this kind of car-pooling, e.g:
There are also quite a few other websites and some facebook groups, too. Search for "Mitfahrgelegenheiten" or "Fahrgemeinschaften" with the name of your city to find if there are some local groups for your city in particular. This option costs about 5€ for every 100 km. Because of the Autobahns, traveling by road is much faster than even a direct train. But there is always a level of uncertainty that goes with this sort of thing. Both parties can cancel the informal agreement anytime they want. This is quite infrequent but I would not rely on carpooling if I had a flight to catch.
This is perhaps the most common way of traveling in Germany. The Deutsch Bahn (DB) has a very comprehensive rail network and the connections are very well laid out. Although it is not always possible to find direct connections to a particular place, the trains are usually very reliable and run on time. However, delays can also happen anytime owing to construction work, snowfall or other domino effects. You should always recheck the train connections before you leave (I have nearly missed two flights due to train delays). The tickets are more expensive than carpooling and their cost also depends on how early/late you book the tickets. There are two options: Normalpreis (you may take any train connection on that day) or Sparpreis (ticket valid only on the stated train connections). Sparpreis tickets usually work quite well if you don't mess things up at your end (arriving late, missing vital train announcements, etc.). In case you are unable to make the connections due to train delays, cancellations, etc. you can go to the DB desk where they will stamp your ticket and it becomes a Normalpreis ticket for that day. If the cancellation/delay happens to be your last connection of the day, DB can also provide you with a place to stay and another ticket for the next day free of charge. Alternatively, depending on the train delays, you also get reimbursed for the additional costs you had to incur (hotel / cab / tickets). Just make sure you get a stamped letter from the DB officials on the train/station.
Apart from this, there are various group tickets you can buy. These tickets are valid either in a specific state (Länder-Ticket) or throughout Germany (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket / Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket). These are not valid on fast trains like ICE or IC but can be used on other trains like RE, RB and even S-Bahns. DB has some train stations outside Germany but close to the border (e.g. Salzburg, Basel). These tickets can also be used on trains going to these places, but no further.
When taking an international flight from/to Germany, you can also avail a "Rail & Fly" offer. This gives you a Normalpreis train ticket for a rather low additional price. For more information, check here. There are many more offers you can find on the Deutsche Bahn website.
Finally, there is the LTUR website that lets you book cheap train tickets upto a day in advance. Tickets may not always be available, though. Also, the train connections on offer have really unusual timings but they still make enough sense for money-deprived students.
Buses were not common in Germany till last year (2013) when a restriction on them was lifted and buses were free to compete with DB. There are more and more bus services coming by the day so the following may not be a complete list. As of the writing of this post, buses are comparatively cheaper than trains, though not by a lot. You could start looking for a bus with the Busliniensuche search engine. It lists a lot of bus connections and can also give you information about indirect routes which can be quite helpful. Links to most common services are at the end of this section.
This article sums up the bus situation very well. However, I still feel obliged to write more from my personal experiences. Student Agency Bus is quite nice and cheap, DB Buses are also very luxurious. Meinfernbus is also quite comfortable but they have some weird policies - if you miss a connecting bus due to their very own bus delay, you are treated as if you were late even if you had made the booking as one journey from their website. But the worst of the lot by far happens to be Eurolines. Few people have managed to catch this elusive bus and, when they have, not once been spared by its neck-wrecking seats. Eurolines should be avoided when possible. If you have to, carry a neck pillow and make sure you confirm the exact location of the bus stop. Speaking of bus stops, this problem is common with other buses as well. The bus stop is usually an ambiguous place which no one seems to know about. You wont have this problem in big places like Berlin, Nürnberg, München, Vienna or Prague. But when it comes to the smaller ones in between, you cannot be so sure. I think this is mostly because bus services are relatively new.
Flying can be sometimes the cheapest and fastest way of travel. There are a lot of cheap flights like RyanAir and EasyJet. Search engines like Skyscanner and Momondo can be quite helpful in finding options. You should be aware of the hidden costs though and always read the fine print. For example, you may be charged extra for not checking-in online and printing your boarding pass yourself or exceeding the specified baggage dimensions/limit. Nothing much to be said in this section - just read and follow airline rules and everything should be fine. Helpful tips like when to book tickets can be found here and here. This list is also quite a useful resource.
Where to stay?
The most obvious options are hostels you can easily find on websites like:
They offer quite nice options and should definitely be checked. Even when you have to share a room with 8-10 other people, it is still quite safe. Just make sure to stow away all your valuables in the locker or keep them on you, just in case. Obviously, Youth hostels or Jugendherberge should also be high on your list. These places usually have some places for last minute arrivals as well. An ISIC card card is quite helpful here and also in places like Museums.
Lesser known, but equally good (perhaps, better) options are Couchsurfing and AirBnB. Couchsurfing allows you to host people at your place and/or surf at other people's places and interact with them. Needless to say, there is no money involved but you will need to be an active member of the community or it will be difficult to find hosts. Airbnb is more focused on renting out your unused place for travelers and it may be cheaper and nicer than a hostel room. On similar lines of Airbnb, there is a concept of "Ferienwohnung" in Germany where you pay a small fee for a room/apartment. My experiences with Ferienwohnung in Germany has been wonderful. Some of these places are not much expensive than a hostel, especially when traveling in a group. The people who host you are also quite nice and their advice/food is incredible.
Useful travel tips
- Always check for bus/train/flight connections on multiple websites and different times of the day.
- Book well in advance to get cheap fares.
- Check the weather forecast.
- Re-check your connections before you start your travel.
- Never exchange money from a travel bank or other money exchangers. The easiest way is to use your debit card at an ATM at your destination country.
- Cash is king. A lot of places in Germany still don't accept cards.
- Always ask the tourist information desk for a free map and their advice.
- Walking is not advised big cities like Amsterdam or Vienna. Renting a bike or a boat (with a map) is better.
- Buy a good neck pillow if you plan to travel long distances by bus, especially if you travel in Eurolines.