It occurs to me I haven’t provided some closing information relating to Europe. What are some things I learned, what would I do differently? How much did it cost? Just how much ground did I cover?
Let’s find out!
The final costings for the entire six week adventure came to $14,441.36 (AUD). Considering this is the sum total cost of a six week trip I think budget-wise I did extremely well. I could have done better but this was still much less than the 20k I was anticipating.
Undoubtedly one of the things I would do differently is, where possible, have cash rather than relying on the card so much. I could have chased coming in under 14k if card and currency exchange fees didn’t eat up $453 of the budget. It wasn’t until I was leaving Switzerland and jumped on to transfer money to pay off the credit card that I realised I was getting ravaged with currency exchange. So I definitely made sure to get Euros out of an ATM when I got to Stuttgart and Pound when I got to London. I still had to use the card at stages but certainly dodged a lot more fees than I could have ended up with.
If you are ever planning similar rail travel to my journey in Switzerland, buy the half-fare card. It doesn’t halve the price of seat reservations but for the tickets themselves it saves a heap. Half-fare on the Glacier Express alone almost paid for the pass. All the other rail travel I did between cities more than paid for itself and half-fare first class tickets .
DB have a similar setup for Germany. I would definitely recommend having a decent idea of cities you want to move between and book seat reservations EARLY for those trains (I’m talking weeks early). I struggled with two of my connections thinking I could book them a couple of days beforehand. Regularly found trains were fully booked, even in first class. There were often second class travellers running the gauntlet on riding in first class and sitting for a while before being sent back to second class by conductors.
If you are travelling to a lot of European countries, look into a Eurail Pass. It covers most train travel in some 33 countries and can be bought in X days over Y duration (i.e 7 days travel in 1 month) or solid blocks up to 3 months. All you need to purchase is the seat reservations if you don’t feel like risking it and not getting a seat, but all the other train fees are covered. As I was sticking to only a couple of countries it was better for me to purchase passes directly through SSB and DB.
On the food front, I definitely lived a low-cost lifestyle. Migros and Co-Op in Switzerland were my friends. Pretzels (the normal ones not the US snack ones) were surprisingly efficient at keeping one satisfied on the food front. Although my salt intake increased dramatically during those six weeks. It was super easy to just walk into a Migros and buy a take away sandwich or roll. Sit in a local park or find a spot in a station and watch the world go by for a while. Around train stations is not as easy to do in Germany as there are a lot more professional beggars who will pester you for change.
There was only two real instances of splashing out for food. Once in Chur where I ate a ~$50 bowl of pasta at an Italian restaurant, it was a good bowl of pasta too. The other was a steak lunch in Piccadilly when I was in London. That was about $100, however I didn’t need dinner that night so I think it was value for money!
What about how much distance I covered? The end result weighed in at 578,498 steps totalling 461.5km walked! So I basically covered the distance from Victoria’s Parliament building in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra (if you went in a straight line, that is), that’s 463km as the crow flies. Not that I’d make that walk in a six week period if I were to try it here!
What would I do differently?
If was doing this trip again any time soon (and I would like re-do at least parts of it as there’s locations I would like to revisit at some stage) the three key things I would do differently are:
- Learn more of the local language (German in this case), probably do a professional basic language course rather than rely on Duolingo. I found that Duolingo teaches you the more formal words. I got a lot of strange looks saying sorry because I was using the more formal sorry rather than a casual sorry. It’s a bit like going around saying “my apologies” to everything.
- Use cash more, card fees are a killer!
- Purchase local sim cards that include data. No more getting caught out without tickets!
I think I would also throw in being more strategic in hotel choice, especially location. This trip was 100% booked to lean heavily into the Travelling Ibis gag, the loyalty discount was nice, but often was offset needing to actually get to the damn hotel! Actually I’ll add a fourth:
- Target being in locations that I would stay in for longer and use them as more of a base to do day trips to other locations. Using Dusseldorf as a base and going to Wuppertal and Bonn worked really well but I didn’t feel like I spent enough time in Dusseldorf itself in the end. So basing myself in a location for 4-5 days instead of 2-3 days and day tripping around. Less suitcase hauling thanks.
Also, I’m pretty sure I mentioned it, avoid Stuttgart until the station is finished and the city centre isn’t a construction site. Although, if I was doing this trip again as it was, I would stay in Frankfurt and day trip back to Stuttgart for the Porsche Museum.
Lastly, and I think this speaks to the overall travel experience, I’ve done my solo gig and enjoyed the experience but I think my time spent with Heather and Sean highlighted the fact that travel is just better done with others. So if you’re in the market for a travel companion let me know!
Don’t have mystical issues with your ankles either.