Many of the lasting memories from your overseas experience will come from the times you leave your home away from home. Travel within Germany is relatively cheap (with a student travel card) and easy, and getting around Europe is too. Depending on when and how long you choose to study abroad you may have ample opportunity to do some independent exploring. There are many ways to get out of town. Here is a break down of travel both within Germany and abroad.
Travel within Germany
It is possible to get to any point via bus, train, plane, or ferry. While booking your own independent adventure is exciting, also consider traveling with planned tours. Many times there are international student organizations which organize excursions near and far from your home university. Also, in most German students unions, there are travel agents or advisors who will help you get out of town. This makes the logistics of travel easy for you (transportation, accommodation, and some meals are usually included in tours), and it also gives you the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
The German Rail System
Purple lines are high-speed trains, red lines are normal routes
German Rail ( Deutsche Bahn) links the major cities of Germany, with stops in between at smaller towns and villages. The fastest (and most expensive) trains are the Inter-City Express trains (ICE). If you have time, you can save money by taking regular trains from point A to point B. Another option is to purchase a German Rail Pass, which allows you to travel on any Deutsch Bahn train during the validity of the pass.
As a student at a German university, you will receive discounted fares for most trains. You should also consider buying a BahnCard, which results in 25 - 50% discounts on regular train fares.
Getting a ride with someone going your way
Typical ad for Mitfahrzentrale
As is the case in most European countries, the cost of gasoline is very high and Germans want to make the most of it. It is fairly common for someone who owns a car and is traveling to a particular destination to advertise the fact via bulletin boards at the university, in the local Mitfahrgelegenheit office, or through the internet using Mitfahrzentrale, a ride-sharing scheme whereby you, the passenger, pay the driver a few Euros to take you where you both want to go. Of course, this is not as convenient as train travel because you have to arrange your travel schedule with that of the driver’s. But it costs a lot less than a train ticket.
Travel outside of Germany
Student travelers in Europe have varying strategies for their travels. Some take part in a whirl-wind, multi-stop, been-there-done-that adventure that offers the most site-seeing possible in the shortest amount of time. Others opt for a more focused tour of a particular region, where rather than concentrating on the most popular spots, they seek out the paths less traveled and take in the full culture of a country or area. Either method of travel can be the right approach for you, or even a combination of two. The key is to decide before you leave what you are up for, and plan according. Not doing so can cost you time, stress, and possibly most importantly, lots of MONEY!
Traveling Europe by Air
Bargain airlines have revolutionized travel within Europe. They link virtually every capitol city and also the most populous or interesting/important ones. Some of the biggest airlines are Ryanair, German Wings, and EasyJet.
Watch these websites often, as special offers on selected flights are common, and a good way to help decide where and when to travel!
One drawback to travel via a budget airline is that they frequently use regional airports instead of the major international ones. For example, instead of flying into London’s Heathrow, you may end up at London Stansted, about 1.5 hours by train from the city center. You may need to budget for ground transportation and allow extra time to get from the airport to where you want to go. You are also limited in the amount of luggage you can check, and there are stiff penalties if you don’t observe those limits. On the other hand, you may have taken advantage of an internet special and only had to pay € 1 for your ticket. Really.
Traveling Europe by Train
Many students believe that the best way to get around is by purchasing a rail pass. This may be appropriate, but it is also important to consider exactly what kind of holiday you would like and where you want to go before you purchase a pass.
The flexibility of rail passes is the most valuable feature. Rail passes allow you to hop on and off any train in the specified region. You can also travel wherever you want with in that region. Most importantly, you can go wherever you want. This is especially useful for travelers who do not want to be impaired by a rigid travel schedule. It also allows you to spend more time in places you like, and even to return to favorite cities before you return to Germany.
Rail passes can be expensive, so you need to put some thought into it before you purchase one. Pre-trip planning can really pay off. If you plan to only see a small number of cities, it may be cheaper to forgo the pass and purchase point-to-point tickets as you go. Trains in Europe are generally reasonably priced and reliable, so don’t be afraid to consider this option. Use travel guides or agents to estimate the cost and time tables of individual journeys.
If a rail pass is the way to go, the most popular is the Eurail pass. Many travel options are available, including regional passes. Make sure to understand exactly what your train pass entitles you to, and where you can go. There are various other multi-national passes available, such as the Interrail pass for students who have resided in Germany for at least six months (i.e., students on academic year programs). Use travel guides to determine the most appropriate one for you based on cost and flexibility.
Travel by Car
The Autobahn at night
Many student travelers attempt to get around by renting a car. While this offers the most freedom and flexibility, it comes with its own new set of precautions. Car accidents are the #1 cause of death among student abroad students. Before you set out, make sure you learn the rules of the road and the meaning of the local traffic signs for the area you will be driving in. Also, unless you need the feel of the open road, for small groups renting a car is not the cheapest option. Plan wisely. Finally, remember, in Germany there is no speed limit on the Autobahn. You have to watch out for what’s behind you just as much as for what’s in front of you.