…You guessed it: For less than the cost of a round-trip ticket!
This story starts like most of my other travel posts. There was an epic travel deal and I couldn’t resist.
Back in September, Air Canada had some fat fingers and posted an error fare: round trip flights to Europe for ~$250. I spotted it thanks to my magical Twitter list. (Seriously, you guys keep asking me how I find these deals. Just subscribe to this list!) I know from stalking airfare, that finding a fare on a full-service carrier under $600 is a rare feat. This was a no-brainer. 20 minutes after seeing the deal, I’d booked 2 different itineraries (as I always do!) and then decided to keep the one that would have me in Berlin in time for the Christmas Markets which has been on my bucket list since 2009.
The itinerary I picked was a few dollars more expensive, but had the right timing. An extra $20 for a bucket list item? Easy decision.
I didn’t actually plan any of the trip until a few days before I left. I managed to wrangle Jimelle into joining me and we decided to hop around to a few different cities rather than staying in Berlin the whole time. Thanks to good ole Buzzfeed with a little help from Travel + Leisure, we took off with the following rough itinerary:
We initially had a few other options including a trip to Innsbruck, but it was kind of out of the way and also meant keeping a bit of a breakneck pace through each city. Luckily we came to our senses and decided to enjoy fewer markets rather than stress over trying to sneak in an extra country.
When we started researching intra-Europe transit options, our original plan was to take Deutschebahn, but when I plugged our route into Rome2Rio (one of the most useful travel tools ever), it turned out that there are budget bus likes in Europe just like our Mega Bus and Bolt Bus lines here. Flixbus (aka Meinfernbus) won the day and shuttled us between cities for about $40 a trip. Major savings compared to the train and often had the same travel time. Win.
We ended up using the Flixbus for all legs except for Dresden to Berlin since the train got us to a better location logistically, especially since we got in around midnight, and wasn’t much more expensive thankfully. I’m probably going to use Flixbus a lot when I go back to Europe in March. It’s a really fantastic option - comfy, wifi, convenient, cheap, and (in our 3 trips) on time!
As for sleeping, hostels were the obvious choice. We stayed at Wombats in Berlin where I’d stayed during my ‘09 Eurotrip and it was just as good this time around. The others left a bit to be desired, but since we were literally using them for sleeping, showering, and storage, as long as it checked 2/3 of those boxes, it got the job done.
Which leaves us with the last part of the triad of major travel expenses: food. Christmas markets are perfect for budget eating. A bratwurst and glühwein was a full meal and a wonderfully cheap €6.50 (€9.50 if you kept the mug, which I did sometimes). We stopped for coffee/hot chocolate once a day to have a place to rest our feet, warm up, and sneak a bathroom break. We averaged about 1 bratwurst and 2 glühwein a day - they are seriously fantastic at keeping your hands warm once the sun sets! Then of course there were the snacks. So many snacks.
Of course there were some gifty-type purchases, but I won’t go into those since Christmas is still a few weeks away and a certain someone (hi mom!) reads this blog.
The final breakdown?
Hostel- and public transit-travel are the exception to the economies of scale that you often benefit from when traveling with someone else. Since the only shared expense we had was the Uber back to our apartments from the airport, the cost benefit of traveling with someone else this time didn’t come in the form of dollars, but in having a second set of eyes, ears, and brains to process everything around you. Plus it’s always fun to have company and it was good practice for when we apply for The Amazing Race (some day!)
Let’s compare that to a quick Google Flights search for a round trip fare to Berlin around this time of year:
Right now the average flight to Berlin is $1300. Even in the off-holiday season, round trip fare on a full-service carrier falls into the $800-1000 range. And that’s before you even get into accommodation and food.
This just goes to show that applying the same formula over and over can bring you huge savings that extend your travel budget. Find a cheap flight. Stay in inexpensive accommodation (that doesn’t mean sacrificing cleanliness or safety!). Eat what the locals eat. And even though we broke the “travel slowly” rule that often leads to inexpensive trips, we still managed to come in at under half the price of an average trip.
$1300 (+food and accommodation) vs. $600 all-in? That’s a $700 savings toward my next adventure. :) You can do it too!