The Bastei and the Saxon Switzerland National Park

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The Bastei bridge and the Lilienstein mountain in the background

Saxon Switzerland (in German, Sächsische Schweiz) is a region and national park located 43 km southeast of Dresden. It got this name because the landscape full of mountains may resemble Switzerland – but it’s actually Eastern Germany, almost at the border with Czech Republic.

The most popular attraction of the national park is the Bastei – a sandstone rock formation formed during the Cretaceous period (100 million years ago). There, one can see the famous Bastei bridge (Basteibrücke), 194 meters above the Elbe river. There are a few viewpoints at the Bastei that allow a nice outlook of the bridge and the mountains around.

On one end of the bridge is the Felsenburg Neurathen – the ruins of an old rock castle. Admission is only 2 euros. It is an open-air museum with beautiful views to the region in suspended bridges.

The access to the Bastei is easy and no real hiking is needed to get there – only climbing stairs, if you don’t go by car. But those who want to go hiking or trekking have several options throughout the national park. Besides the Bastei, another popular landmark of the region is the Königstein fortress. We prefered to visit the small town of Pirna by the river instead.

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Entrance to Felsenburg Neurathen

How long to stay:
One day was enough for us to visit the Bastei and Pirna. If you want to see other spots or go trekking, add more days.

How to get there:

By car: drive towards the Bastei Berghotel, where the entrance to the Bastei is. Since only guests staying at the hotel can park their cars there, leave your car in the parking lot of the national park, 3 km before getting to the hotel. From there, a bus can take you to the entrance of the Bastei (and the Berghotel) for 2 euros (return ticket).

By train: take the S1 in Dresden direction Bad Schandau (it takes 30 minutes), get off at Kurort Rathen and take a ferry to cross the river. From there, climb the stairs up until you reach the Bastei.

We went by car and the access was quite easy (we rented a car in Dresden for 22 euros per day). But we saw many people climbing the stairs up to the Bastei. It looks tiring, but it’s doable. The stairs are wide and relatively new.

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Entrance to the Bastei bridge
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View to the Elbe river

Saxon Switzerland is an area where one can wander around nature and admire the views to impressive rock formations. Dresden is 2h30 away from Berlin, and there are quite cheap buses doing this route. So it’s a very feasible option for a weekend trip from Berlin – or a day trip from Dresden or Leipzig.

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Four years in Europe… But how long are 4 years?

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I like symbolisms. The other day I was looking at my eraser (yes, the one I use to erase stuff when I write with a pencil), and I thought: ‘wow, my eraser is really old and tiny!’. I can barely hold it anymore when erasing something. And then I remembered that I purchased this same eraser right before I moved to Europe. I must have thought ‘I’m going to do a Master’s abroad, I need a decent eraser’. Four years later, it remains my loyal rubbery companion.

If you’ve always wondered what an eraser looks like after 4 years of use, it’s something like this:

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My eraser: before (for illustration purposes only) and after (real)

Besides symbolisms, I also like looking back and making comparisons. This helps me observe and analyze the trajectory of events from a wider perspective. Moving to Europe was a big ‘before and after’ landmark in my life. And the eraser purchased in this exact landmark enabled me (completely unintentionally) to observe how an object has changed since I came here.

Four years ago, I:
a) left my parents’ house
b) started living alone (and paying all my bills)
c) moved to Europe
d) got my Bachelor’s degree and started the Master’s

All at the same time. Sometimes people start paying their own bills but keep living with their parents; or leave home but stay in the same city; or even move to another country but to live with another person. I, apparently, went and ticked all theses boxes at once.

Today the blog has its 1st year anniversary. I decided to start it when I realized that soon it would be 3 years since I had moved to Europe and I had a lot to tell. And now, one more year has passed, making it my 4th Euro-versary.

But how long are four years?

Well, four years is the amount of time that it takes to wear out a brand-new eraser almost completely.

It’s the duration of a Bachelor’s program, or a PhD (at least in Brazil). It’s the amount of time between two Olympics, World Cups, presidential elections, leap years. When I arrived in Europe, the Olympic Games of London 2012 were finishing, and now the same is happening to the ones of Rio 2016. From now on, I won’t watch anymore any of the major regular world events for the first time since I came to Europe – they will now all be repeated. That’s how you realize that four years is quite a lot.

But at the same time, four years is nothing. They go by very fast.

I don’t know what the future holds, don’t know how many more anniversaries I will still have in Europe… All I know is that I’ve learned A LOT during these last 4 years, and I’m extremely grateful for everything I’ve lived here so far.

And as to my eraser, it is still working and being used on a daily basis.

Malta travel itinerary

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Valetta seen from Sliema

As said in the previous post, Malta was a special trip. And, as my travel planning is usually proportional to my excitement, you can imagine that I did quite some preparation for this trip. Summing everything I learned by researching and visiting this destination, I put together a time-efficient itinerary with the best points of interest in Malta.

This guide is ideal for 6 days – but, if your stay is shorter than this, you can simply prioritize the places you want to see the most.


  • Day 1: Valetta + Sliema + St. Julian’s + Paceville

Valetta
Malta’s capital city – the smallest capital in the European Union.
Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens, with views to the Grand Harbor and the Three Cities on the other side. At the Upper Barrakka Garden, a cannon is fired daily at noon and at 4pm by the saluting battery.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Republic Street: main shopping street
Explore the deserted old town side streets

Sliema
Promenade along the coast with great views of Valetta, several restaurants and swimming spots, going all the way to St. Julian’s

St. Julian’s
A big ‘love’ sculpture at the entrance
Many restaurants and bars
St. George’s Bay (beach): easy to reach, therefore usually crowded with tourists
Paceville: the youth party zone

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Blue Lagoon
  •  Day 2: Blue Lagoon + Millieha or Golden Bay

Blue Lagoon
Probably the biggest must-see in Malta!
This natural pool with transparent waters is located on the island of Comino. How to get there: drive or take a bus to Cirkewwa, and from there take a boat to the Blue Lagoon. All the boats make a few stops on the way back, showing the local caves. It’s recommended to go in the morning, when it’s less crowded.
There, you can rent a chair and umbrella to sit on the small sandy area, or simply take a seat on the rocks. We chose the second option because (a) it was free; (b) it was still easy to get in the water; and (c) we even had a great view to the Blue Lagoon from above.

If spending half a day in Blue Lagoon is sufficient for you (it was for us), you can still go relax on another beach on the main island for the rest of the day. But, of course, compared to the Blue Lagoon, they are not as impressive.
Some options near the disembark area in Malta are the Milleha Bay or the Golden Bay. In the Golden Bay, there are 3 beaches next to one another to choose from: Golden Bay per se (most easily reachable and most crowded), Gnejna and Ghajn Tuffieha (a bit more hidden and less populated).

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Azure Window, Gozo
  •  Day 3: Gozo

The neighboring island deserves a full-day visit.
How to get there: take a ferry that leaves from Cirkewwa. The ride takes about 25 minutes and there is no need to buy a ticket before boarding – you only pay on the way back. (More information and fares here).
Board with your car if you have one. If you’re using the public transport, it might be worth it to get one of the hop-on hop-off buses to visit the points of interest on the island.

Citadel: located in the capital city of Gozo – Rabat, or Victoria (many cities in Malta have two names). A medieval fortress, with a cathedral and a view to the surroundings.
Azure Window and Fungus Rock in Dwejra Bay: the famous and imposing rocky arch, where Game of Thrones filmed the scene where Daenerys gets married to Khal Drogo. As the rock is still under erosion, it is believed that the arch will disappear in a few decades.
Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary: a large church, where many believers have left messages being thankful for the cure of their illnesses.
Ramla Bay: a cozy beach with reddish sand. The Calypso Cave viewpoint has a beautiful view to the Ramla Bay.
Xlendi Bay: another beach, with several restaurants around it (including a great ice cream shop). Ideal for a pit-stop to eat.
Ggantija Temples: Gozo’s megalithic temples. If you already plan to visit the other temples on the island of Malta, maybe you can skip this one.

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Marsaxlokk
  • Day 4: The Three Cities + Marsaxlokk + St. Peter’s Pool

The Three Cities
Birgu (or Vittoriosa), Bormla (or Cospicua) and Isla (or Senglea) – (remember that in Malta many cities have two different names?)
Take a boat from Valetta to the entrance of the cities (the crossing is already a pleasant ride on its own) and explore their streets and waterfront views. If time is short: Vittoriosa is considered the nicest one.

Marsaxlokk
A quite lovable fishing village, with dozens of small colorful fishing boats by the bay. On Sundays, there is a fish market.

St. Peter’s Pool
A big natural pool, amazing to swim and jump into the water. It’s very close to Marsaxlokk, but the walk all the way up probably takes about 1 hour. So it is better to go by car or taxi.

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Entrance of Mdina (or should I say King’s Landing?)
  • Day 5: Mosta + Mdina + Rabat + Dingli Cliffs

Mosta
Rotunda of Mosta: the third largest church in Europe, with a big dome. During the second world war, a 50 kg bomb fell inside the church but did not explode – which was considered a miracle.

Mdina
Known as the ‘silent city’, it’s a medieval town surrounded by walls. The entrance of Mdina was shown in Game of Thrones as the gateway to King’s Landing.
Fontanella Tea Gardens: a tea house offering a famous chocolate cake and a view to the surroundings (including the Rotunda of Mosta).

Rabat
A charming town across from Mdina.
Roman Villa
Church of St. Paul
St. Dominic Convent (was also a Game of Thrones filming location)

Dingli Cliffs
The highest point in Malta (253 meters) and considered the best spot in the island to watch the sunset.

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Blue Grotto seen from above
  • Day 6: Blue Grotto + Hagar Qim & Mnajdra

Blue Grotto
Boat ride through a few grottos and caves, including the Blue Grotto, with bright blue waters. The ideal is to go in the morning to capture the most impressive shade of blue of the sea. The ride is beautiful, but we found it quite short (about 20 minutes) and felt that the boat driver, although very nice, rushed through the stops (maybe because there is a line of boats behind him).
It’s also possible to see the Blue Grotto from above, from a viewpoint next to a bus stop called Panorama.

Hagar Qim & Mnajdra
Near the Blue Grotto, you can find the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, some of the oldest standing monuments in the world (around 3000 BC). The ticket allows visiting both temples, which are next to each other.


For more photos of Malta, click here.

And this was the first trip where I not only took pictures, but also made a video record! (I said Malta was special…). Most places mentioned in the itinerary are shown in the video. Watch it here!  🙂

Traveling to Malta: general information

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I’ve traveled quite a few times in my life, but this trip to Malta at the end of June was one of my most desired and anticipated trips so far. I did a lot of research on this destination before going, and had the opportunity to get to know the country with a group of 4 friends that included a Maltese, besides being hosted by a Maltese lady (my first time on Airbnb). For this reason, I had the privilege to dive into the local culture and live experiences beyond tourist guide books.

Malta is one of the smallest countries in Europe (and in the world), with 316 km2 and a bit over 400,000 inhabitants. It’s an archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and the north of Africa. The biggest and main island is called Malta; the neighboring island is Gozo; and the tiny island between both – too small to be populated – is Comino.

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There are flights from several European countries to Malta International Airport (MLA), also by the low-cost airline Ryanair. Almost all locals speak English (the official languages are Maltese and English), and the local currency is the euro – which makes it very convenient for tourists.

What to expect from Malta
Malta is a destination both for beaches and for sightseeing in historical places. Everywhere you can see stone houses with their beige color, typical of the Mediterranean and Middle East. There are several paradise beaches with crystal clear water. But, contrary to what one might imagine, it’s not a very green country, especially in the summer – the landscape is sandy and dry, full of cactus, almost like a desert. Some regions are fancier, but in general the atmosphere is quite simple and casual. The nightlife is concentrated in Paceville, an area in St. Julian’s, mostly attended by very young folks (~15-20 year-olds) and/or tourists. The traffic is sometimes slow, as there are not many options of roads from one place to the other. Despite being one of the most densely populated countries in the world, it’s common not to see so many people on the streets in some cities. By the way, they are in fact cities, but with the size of neighborhoods. The Maltese people are extremely friendly and welcoming, and many times I felt as if I were back home in Brazil.

When to go
Malta has mild temperatures and is generally sunny all year long, but between October and May it might not be warm enough to enjoy the beaches. Therefore, it would be ideal to visit between June and September. July and August are always the most crowded months, as it’s the tourist peak season. We went at the end of June and it was already quite warm (over 30°C during the day and around 25°C in the evening).

How to get around in Malta
You must decide between renting a car or taking the public transport.
Having a car available is, without a doubt, more advantageous, both for the freedom and the convenience. But keep in mind that Malta uses the British driving system, as it used to be a UK colony. The driver sits on the right in the car and drives along the left lane. If that is not an issue, renting a car is the most recommended option, as you will be able to visit more places during the time you have there.
But it’s also possible to get to know Malta only by using its public transport system, and sometimes cabs. The problem is that some buses don’t come by very often and, for many routes, you need to change buses and wait for the next one, even if it’s not the most direct way to your destination. So the ride certainly takes longer than by car, and more planning and time management is needed, but you will also reach your destination.
Each bus ticket can be used for up to 2 hours and costs 2 euros in the summer or 1.50 euros in the winter during the day, and 3 euros at night. If you’re staying for around 5 days or more, it’s probably worth buying the Tallinja Card ‘Explore’, which costs 21 euros and allows unlimited trips for 7 days. More information on the official website of the Maltese public transport.

How long to stay
I’m the type of tourist who doesn’t like to waste time, and my suggestion is to spend at least 5 full days there. We saw everything we wanted to see in 6 full days, plus an arrival evening and a morning to leave (so 7 nights). But this was because we were spoiled by our Maltese friend, who took us to most places by car. So, in case you have a car: 7 nights or 6 full days are enough to see all the points of interest in Malta. If you are using the public transport system, you should add about 2 more days to that – or, instead, leave out a few tourist spots for a future visit.

Where to find accommodation
The cities with the best location for tourists are: St. Julian’s, Sliema and Valetta. If you’re counting on public transport to get around, I would recommend staying in Valetta because, for many routes, you need to change buses there anyway.


The second semester of 2016 is just beginning but I already think that Malta will be my favorite trip of the year! Highly recommended! 🙂

Check out here the full itinerary of what to see and do in Malta!

Top tourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro: also known as Cidade Maravilhosa (Wonderful City) – my beloved city where I was born and raised. ❤

Rio offers thousands of interesting possibilities for tourists. Here, I put together a list with my main recommendations, or the things you shouldn’t miss during your first visit. These tips can serve as a basis for an itinerary, depending on the amount of time available and the traveler’s interests.

→ Important note for foreigners:
Brazilian cities are not like European cities, where most of the tourist attractions are located in the city center. The city center of Rio is a huge district, with some points of interests for tourists, but also filled with office buildings and people rushing around. Most of the tourist attractions in Rio are located in the south zone (zona sul), where you will probably spend most of your time.


WHAT TO SEE/DO IN RIO:

Beaches
There are several, including: Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, São Conrado, Barra. (I would say the most famous ones are Copacabana e Ipanema.)

Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer
The Christ statue (Cristo) is on a hill called Corcovado. You can get there by funicular or van, leaving from different locations in the city. Infos (unfortunately only in Portuguese) here.

Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar)
Infos about the cable car ride to the top here.
From there, one can go walk around Praia Vermelha, Pista Claudio Coutinho and Urca.

Pedra do Arpoador
A huge rock that separates the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. The classical must-do is to watch the sunset from there (and clap at the end!).
Close by is the Copacabana Fortress (Forte de Copacabana), which can be visited. Many like to go to the Confeitaria Colombo café inside. And next to the fortress, on the Copacabana beach sidewalk, you can find the statue of the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Mirante do Leblon (viewpoint)
Next to posto 12 (lifeguard watchtower #12), offering a view to the Leblon beach.

Mirante Dona Marta (viewpoint)
To me, this is by far the best viewing spot in Rio de Janeiro. It’s located just below the gateway to the Christ, so both views are similar – only in Mirante Dona Marta you can also see the Christ, and without the hundreds of tourists around you. An amazing spot for photos, and for free!

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View from Mirante Dona Marta

Santa Teresa
A residential and bohemian neighborhood, loved by foreigners and considered one of the most charming ones in Rio. Since it’s located on a hill side of the city, it offers beautiful views, both to the city center and to the south zone.
Points of interest: Largo dos Guimarães, Curvelo, Chácara do Céu, Parque das Ruínas, and the famous yellow tram (bonde) riding through the district.
Recommendations: Bar do Arnaudo (Brazilian Northeastern food) and Bar do Gomes (official name: Armazém São Thiago).
One suggestion is to go sightseeing in Santa Teresa and, from there, walk down to Lapa.

Lapa
Points of interest: the Arches (Arcos da Lapa – the old aqueduct) and the cone-shaped cathedral behind; Escadaria Selarón.
At night: some of the most popular night clubs (with live music) are Clube dos Democráticos, Rio Scenarium and Lapa 40 Graus.

City center
Points of interest: Teatro Municipal (Concert, Ballet and Opera House), Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã) and Rio Art Museum (MAR) at Praça Mauá, Olympic Boulevard, AquaRio, Banco do Brasil Cultural Center (CCBB), live samba music (roda de samba) at Arco do Teles.

Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (Lagoa)
After a walk by the lagoon, one can also visit Rio’s Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico), and Parque Lage.

Tijuca Forest (Floresta da Tijuca)
The world’s largest urban forest.
Points of interest: hiking trails, picnic spots, waterfalls. Close by: Mesa do Imperador, Vista Chinesa (viewpoints).

Hang gliding or paragliding
Those who are feeling adventurous and would like to jump from Pedra Bonita with an instructor should look for the training academy Escola São Conrado de Voo Livre. It’s an amazing experience!

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Hang gliding in Rio

Go trekking (and enjoy the view)
Relatively easy: Dois Irmãos, Pedra Bonita
Difficult: Pedra da Gávea

Waterfalls
There are several ones in Tijuca Forest and in the neighborhood of Horto.

Pavilion of Northeastern Culture (Feira de São Cristóvão)
A huge space with restaurants, bars, shops and live music, dedicated to the Northeastern culture of Brazil. Infos (in Portuguese) here.

Maracanã Stadium
The biggest football stadium in Rio, host to World Cup and Olympic matches, can be visited for a game, or in a tour (or even just seen from the outside).

Sambadrome (Sambódromo)
During Carnival, it’s worth going there to watch one of the samba schools parades. Out of season, it can also be seen from the outside while passing nearby by car.

Casual bars and botecos
Those who wish to do like the cariocas (people from Rio) and go have a beer or ten in a very casual and laid-back way, outdoors and standing up, have several options, such as: Baixo Gávea, Praça São Salvador, Urca, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Baixo Botafogo (the end of the Voluntários da Pátria street).


HOW LONG TO STAY:
At least one week to see the main tourist attractions of the city. This duration should be increased if one wishes to visit other destinations in the state of Rio.

WHERE TO STAY:
For those who want to stay in a great hostel, with amazing location (right next to Botafogo subway station), with nice and cheerful people, I recommend the Rio Soul Hostel.
For those looking for a more “staying at home” flair, in a Bed & Breakfast or Airbnb-style accommodation: the Casa Dois Irmãos is very spacious and stylish and offers an unbelievable view to the city, together with the warm reception by the siblings Kris and Jo.


If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below.
Have a great trip and enjoy Rio!! 🙂

Festivals in Germany: Baumblütenfest

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The Baumblütenfest (literal translation: festival of the tree blossoms) is a festival that takes place annually in the small town of Werder (Havel), very close to Potsdam and 45 minutes from Berlin. The name was given because it takes place at the beginning of Spring, but doesn’t suit the festival so much. Instead, maybe it should be called something like ‘festival of the sweet wine’. 😛

In this free, open-air street festival, people who live in Werder sell their own home-made wine, a very sweet and liqueur-like wine, right outside their houses. So you walk along the town streets and eventually stop in front of houses to try out and purchase some of the home-made wine. There are several flavors available, usually wild berries: strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, amongst many others. Prices in general are 2 euros per cup and 7-9 euros per bottle.

The town is taken over by young people, lively and cheerful from the wine. For safety reasons, it’s forbidden to walk around with glass bottles, so you’ll only find beer in specific places. The wine is super sweet, which really disguises the actual amount of alcohol. And since the combo ‘people + alcohol’ may eventually cause some trouble, there are police officers watching over throughout the whole town.

The town is also full of tents selling street food, some spread out stages with live music, and even an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and other rides. And going up a street from the main square will lead you to the top of a hill, where you’ll find a big open-air area, with a stage, a Biergarten and a nice view of the surroundings.

I’ve already been to this festival in 2 consecutive years and plan to keep attending. The best thing about it is that everyone there is happy and laid-back (of course, the wine helps, haha). It’s a really cool and fun vibe (which sometimes can be rare in Germany). A great option for those who don’t dislike crowds and want to enjoy the start of the warm and sunny weather outside.

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Different wine flavors at the Baumblütenfest

When: the Baumblütenfest lasts for 1 week, including the weekends before and after, always at the end of April / beginning of May. In 2016, it goes from April 30th to May 8th.
How to get there: by taking a regional train RE1 from Berlin and getting off at the station ‘Werder (Havel)’. Price of the transport ABC ticket (each way): 3,30 euros. In Berlin, the train leaves from the main stations, such as Hauptbahnhof, Friedrichstr., Zoologischer Garten and Charlottenburg.

How I plan my trips (with little time and money)

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Here is the first part of this article:
“How do you manage to travel so much?”

So if traveling is a priority for you in your leisure time, you should pursue it. And the best way to optimize your maybe-not-so-abundant amount of time and money is to plan in advance.

There are several ways of planning a trip that work just fine. Here, I’ll explain step by step how I do it and what works for me. (You’ll see I’m quite methodical.)

I’ve never used the services of a travel agency I always check and book everything on my own. This method might be a bit more time-consuming, but I prefer it as I have more control over my trip and I believe it to be less expensive as well.

For me, planning a trip is like getting ready for a party: it’s almost half the fun!

Things to consider:

HOW:
Define the style of traveling that works for you, i.e., what is doable (several small trips a year, or one or two longer trips a year, or a mix of both; traveling inside your country or continent, or traveling to further destinations, or a mix of both; etc.)

WHEN:
Here is what I do first of all: I open a calendar that has all the bank holidays of the year. (Important: make sure they are actually valid for the city where you live! Many holidays in German calendars, for example, are only valid in certain states, and unfortunately not in Berlin.)
Then, I list the long weekends I will have throughout the year. As an example, here are the ones in Berlin in 2016:

  • Easter: from 24/03 evening to 28/03 = 4 nights
  • Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt): from 04/05 evening to 08/05 = 4 nights
    (Note: here, only Thursday 5th is a holiday – Friday 6th is not. But it is clearly worth it to take this day off, as you get a 4-day holiday for the ‘cost’ of 1 workday.)
  • Pentecost / Whitsunt (Pfingst): from 13/05 evening to 16/05 = 3 nights
  • German Unification (Tag der Deutschen Einheit): from 30/09 evening to 03/10 = 3 nights

As you can see, it’s only 4 (May 1st will be a Sunday and Christmas / New Year’s doesn’t really count). So I know that this year I have 4 opportunities of long weekends to travel: 2 x 4-night trips and 2 x 3-night trips.

WHERE:
When choosing a destination, first estimate how much time you would need to cover that place. This is a very personal decision, as different people have different paces when traveling. It also depends on whether you want to visit all the museums in town, for example, or just the must-see tourist attractions. I usually google for ‘how many days in …’ and check what other travelers think in travel forum discussions, such as Tripadvisor. If you’re a no-wasting-time traveler like me, you should also check the website Days in a City, which usually has good suggestions.

So after I’ve defined on which days of the year I can travel and how long the trips can be (see WHEN section), I can check which trips would actually fit in this amount of time. For example: I know I can’t plan a trip to Southeast Asia for a 4-night break, because that’s not enough time for this destination. So I try to find destinations that are doable in 3- or 4-night trips.

As I said in the first part of this article, I usually have 5 to 10 days of vacation per year, apart from long weekends and my time spent in Brazil. So when I want to go on longer trips (longer than a long weekend), I usually use some of those vacation days. And to optimize my time, I try to combine it with weekends. For example: if I take 5 days off (Monday to Friday), I can actually go on a 9-night trip, including the weekends before and after. So it’s a ‘9-day-for-the-price-of-5’ deal.

To decide where I’m going to travel to, I always consider:
1) Where I can go in the amount of time I have;
2) Where I am interested in going;
3) Where I can find cheap tickets to and from.

The two most expensive things to pay for in a trip are: transport (to and from your destination) and accommodation. (Food doesn’t count so much, as you will have to eat either on vacation or at home.) Fortunately, there are ways to save a lot on these two points.

TRANSPORT

I’m a scientist, so I don’t trust only one source. I like to check flights in more than one search/comparison website. I use: Google Flights, Skyscanner and Kayak.

Google Flights: this one has been my favorite for a long time now. It allows you to search for flights going ‘everywhere’, or to a country in general. You don’t necessarily have to choose a specific city or airport. You can also see what the prices look like in a whole month and which days are cheapest. You can of course filter your search according to the time when you want to fly or the number of stops, for example. Another big advantage of Google Flights is that you can save a flight that interests you and follow it over time as they show you graphs of the prices. So if you’re logged in on your Google account, you can simply go to Google Flights and see how the prices have changed in the last days. After using this tool for a while, you get a pretty good idea of how much the flights that interest you cost. I use Google Flights so much to keep an eye on ticket prices for the destinations on my bucket list that I’ve grown to learn what’s the cheapest I could pay to fly from Berlin to Stockholm, for example, and what would be paying too much. I also use it a lot to follow flight prices from Germany to Brazil, since these are so expensive and I want to get a good deal. Sometimes it feels like following the stock market: when prices go down, I’ll buy.

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Example search on Google Flights: following prices over time

Skyscanner: has the same search advantages as Google Flights, but doesn’t have the option to save flights and see the graphs. The reason why I still use Skyscanner in addition to Google Flights is that sometimes Google Flights gives me inaccurate prices (maybe it’s not updated as often), so I like to double-check it.

Kayak: since it doesn’t have the ‘everywhere’ search option like the other two, I’ve only been using Kayak now when I want to search for flexible dates. You can search using an option of +/- 3 days for both the outbound and the inbound flights, and they will show you a table with all the possible combinations, and which one is the cheapest. For example:

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Example search on Kayak: in this case, the cheapest option is to depart on 15/07 and return on 18/07

It’s a great feeling to find a good bargain. I’ve booked return flights from Berlin to Copenhagen for 50 euros, to Cologne for 20, to Malta for 70 and to Salzburg for 77.

For train options: every country usually has only one national railway company, so I always check and book on their official website it’s not going to be cheaper anywhere else. For German trains, that’s Deutsche Bahn. The train companies do offer cheaper tickets if you book in advance, so it’s always a good idea to check as soon as possible.

For bus options, or for when you don’t know which option is the best (bus, train or flight):
For European destinations, I like to use GoEuro. This website allows you to compare all the transport options (also car rental). And it gives you a nice comparison list of all the different bus companies. (For some time now, Megabus has been offering some of the cheapest bus tickets in Europe. It’s the new Ryanair of the roads.)

Note: I only use all these websites to search and compare prices. Once I’ve found a ticket I’d like to book, I do it on the official company website (I find it to be more trustworthy and cheaper).

There is also the option of car sharing, like BlaBlaCar in Germany (which is quite cheap), or even hitchhiking (which is free). Personally, I’ve never used these options, but go ahead if you feel comfortable with them.

Other things to consider when deciding on transport:

  • Sometimes flights are cheaper than trains or buses;
  • Sometimes buses and trains take the same amount of time (and buses are usually cheaper) one example is the ride from Berlin to Prague;
  • Flight prices don’t always only increase over time with Ryanair, for example, they can fluctuate A LOT.

ACCOMMODATION

I always book my transport tickets first, and only then my accommodation, because the former is usually more expensive. Also because you can often change or cancel your accommodation booking for free, but the same is not true for transport. But it’s a good idea to at least have a look at accommodation options before booking your tickets, to avoid surprises. Some local events such as Oktoberfest in Munich and St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin make accommodation prices become 10 times more expensive.

You should think of what is most important for you when choosing travel accommodation. For me, it’s price and location. (OK, comfort comes third…) And if you don’t mind sharing a room or a bathroom, you will usually find cheaper offers.

WIth this in mind, I usually consider 3 types of accommodation: hostel, hotel or Airbnb.

Hostel: I take this option about 90% of the time. It’s the option I take when it’s a lot cheaper than the other 2 options; or when I’m traveling alone.
To compare and book hostels, I use the websites Hostelbookers and Booking.com.

Hotel: of course, this is the option I give preference to since it’s the most comfortable one but it’s usually also the most expensive one. I take this option about 10% of the time: when it happens to be the same price as the hostel option, or almost. This usually happens when I’m traveling with a group of people. (Note that it’s usually a low-budget hotel or pension.)
To compare and book hotels, I use the website Booking.com.
I really like Booking.com as the platform is very clear and easy to handle (e.g. to filter searches, make alterations in your booking, etc.). And if you have any problem, they have a good customer service and will mediate everything you don’t need to contact the hotel on your own. Plus, after you’ve booked a few places, you become a ‘Genius’ client and get special rates.

Airbnb: this is a website where you can rent a room in someone’s apartment. I’m just starting to experiment with the Airbnb option. I’d take this option only when:
a) hotels are way more expensive than hostels and Airbnb;
b) plus the Airbnb offer and the hostel both have great locations but Airbnb is the same price or cheaper than the hostel;
c) plus the Airbnb offer is a private room (so more comfortable) and the hostel option is a shared dormitory;
d) plus the Airbnb host has great reviews and looks trustworthy;
e) plus when I’m not traveling alone.
(So as you can see, I’d only use Airbnb in very particular cases.)
Website: Airbnb

One also has the option of CouchSurfing staying at someone’s apartment for free. I’ve never taken this option as I don’t feel comfortable with it, but you should consider if it’s worth it for you.

In general, prices for low-budget accommodation in Europe range from 10 to 30 euros per night per person.


I hope this very thorough description of how I plan my trips can be helpful and inspiring! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

Checking travel tickets online is harmless and costs absolutely nothing. So just try it. You’ve got nothing to lose.  🙂

(Note: this post was not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned here.)