Want to visit England and Germany this summer
April 30, 2010 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Is it too late to take a trip to Europe this summer from the US?

A friend who lives in Europe has been urging me to meet up with him for a vacation in Berlin for years. I like the idea in principle, but am extremely nervous about traveling. Scared of it. Never go anywhere. So although I keep saying "yeah, we should totally do that," I keep putting off doing anything about it. (I did look in my files and verify that I have a valid passport.)

People who travel a lot probably can't understand my dread. Just as it would be difficult for me to understand how anyone could be afraid of, say, horses, which I find utterly unintimidating. It's just one of those things. Even a day trip in the car makes me a little nervous.

I'd like to get over this blockage and actually take the trip. Travel makes you a better person. It challenges you and increases your intelligence. I'm getting older and I don't want to look back on my life and say I never went anywhere. I must do it.

Can I still do it this summer, or have I procrastinated too long? Let's say I wanted to spend four days in London (I've been wanting to visit England for years) and five or six days with my friend in Berlin. Is it possible to do that for under $5,000?

I understand that August is the peak month for vacationing. For that reason, I'd like to go before August. Perhaps late July.

In order to do this, what steps do I have to take? Where do I start? Look at plane flights? Hotels? Where do you look?

Maybe if I just had a well-defined first step to start with I could get some momentum going and overcome my hesitancy.
posted by eeby to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I always start with airfare, as its the most expensive part. Go to kayak.com and see what kind of flights you can get to London. Your dates are flexible, which should help you find some lower fares. Once you have a general idea of how much airfare will cost, check into lodging in London (and Berlin, if you need it there.) Hotels are okay, but if you're traveling alone you may be able to save money by staying at a hostel.

And yes, the sooner the better in terms of peak season. I'd shoot for May/June.

Once you have airfare and lodging figured out, you're well on your way. From there it's all about doing some research and deciding what you want to get up to while you're there. Good luck!
posted by lholladay at 11:40 AM on April 30, 2010

Spending 4 days in London would be quite expensive, regardless of when you book it, unless you're willing to stay in a hostel. Considering you're not much of a traveler, I suggest starting small(er).

Would you be staying with your friend in Berlin? Why not just visit your friend, this time around, and get comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad? It also will make cost much less of an issue. You can definitely still do it! And, if you just stay with your friend, you can definitely do it for under $5K. If you can pull off doing it for more than that, I'd be impressed.

First I would suggest solidifying a 2-week window that your friend will be available for hosting you.

After that, just dive in to flights! Start with something like travelocity or orbitz, (or, on preview, kayak,) see what they offer and try the actual airline's website. Sometimes going directly through the airline is cheaper.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by inmediasres at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2010

Should be cake eeby. You'll have the time of your life, Berlin in the Summer is fantastic. Not as run-down with tourists, very friendly, excellent climate, beautiful city.

Start with booking your dates online via a travel aggregator (Kayak, vayama, travelocity, priceline come to mind) and then go from there. Decide if you want to stay in a hotel or hostel or with your friend. Change your currency at your bank so you are up and running (better exchange rate than cambio stations).
posted by Hurst at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2010

One way to possibly ease your anxiety is to make the planning process as simple as possible. You might want to use an old-fashioned travel agent, who discover and deal with all the details. Or, I like using Expedia. Choose flight + hotel and look at the package deals they've got going. Prices are reasonable right now, IMHO. You can do home/london/berlin/home. There's a box you can check for "I only need a hotel for part of my stay." Then pick a package and book it. Just get yourself over there and you may actually have a grand old time!
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:53 AM on April 30, 2010

Tip for finding a cheap flight to Germany: check out flights on or within one day of their National Holidays. Last summer I flew back to North America on May 2nd, early morning after Labour Day/MayDay, and it was roughly 1000$ cheaper than any other flight I saw (probably cause the whole freakin' continent was hungover and nobody wanted to go anywhere!).
posted by mannequito at 12:02 PM on April 30, 2010

When I went to berlin, I found a ticket several hundred dollars cheaper through Vayama. I hear they have issues with changing, but if you're set in your dates, no problem
posted by CharlesV42 at 12:10 PM on April 30, 2010

I know you're not asking about how to overcome a fear of travel, but the way you bring it up--and then ask if three full months is enough time to plan a trip to two western European nations--makes me think that what you're really asking is: is it late enough in the year that you can not go, and blame procrastination instead of fear.

Traveling is scary to most people who hasn't done a lot of it. When I was in college I went to Ireland on study abroad and for the entire week leading up to my flight I was so terrified that I wanted to cry. I'd already even been to Ireland, I was 20 years old, and I'd lived away from home for 2 years, but I was still scared silly. For me, at least, the same parts of traveling that is stressful, scary, and nerve-racking are also the same qualities which you say "makes you a better person[:] It challenges you and increases your intelligence." My grandfather (maybe not mine, specifically, but somebody's grandfather) would say that it's character building.

You're going to be scared. Just admit it, tell yourself it will be okay, and have a double G&T on the plane. If it wasn't scary then it wouldn't make you a better person. But it is, and it does, and that's a good thing.

As for logistics:
First you should find out when your friend is free, and plan you trip around that. Then airfare. Then, if you're not staying with your friend, ask them to recommend a neighborhood or a specific hotel to stay in. If you're worried about the trip from the airport to the city, ask your friend to meet you there. Maybe if your friend has free time then they'll go with you to London--traveling with someone is much easier then traveling alone. Your friend is a great resource, take advantage of that.

You'll have a great time, trust me.
posted by Hoenikker at 12:17 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Totally do-able and you should do it! Everyone else has good advice, so I'll just add that we found a hotel chain in England called Premiere Inn. Stayed at two and both were just fine. Clean, quiet, relatively spacious (especially for London), and cheap for London prices (like 89 BP for a double). Yes, London is expensive, but it's a great city.
posted by cooker girl at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2010

It shouldn't cost anywhere near 5k unless you're especially extravagant. I agree to start with airfare, get yourself to whichever country you wish to go to first, and plan from there. Once you buy that first ticket (go nonrefundable, it's cheaper and then you'll have to go!) you'll be able to start looking at hotels and your flight to the other country. If you have anxiety, I honestly think the best recommendation is to spend so much time planning that you start feeling more comfortable with it. Read guidebooks, read online, familiarize yourself with prices and areas. Tripadvisor is a great resource for discovering good hotels and places to eat. I've had very good luck buying 4 star hotels all around the world on Hotwire, which is great if you want to save money, but not ideal if savings aren't your top priority.

In summation, it's not too late! Two months is plenty of time to plan and purchase for a trip like this. Also if you do most of the research and planning yourself, it feels really great when everything falls into place. Good luck! Memail me if you have any questions about saving money while travelling, I've made it somewhat of an artform (without going the hostel route, which is the ultimate way to travel cheap, but not for everyone).
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:25 PM on April 30, 2010

You've got plenty of time and you could do it easily for under $2K. I'd highly recommend staying in a hostel or couchsurfing when you're in London - not only will it be much cheaper but you'll meet lovely people who will make the whole travelling thing much easier. Also, stay for as long as you can but at least two weeks.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:41 PM on April 30, 2010

You can definitely do it. That is a lot of money, you can live very well for less than that. And since about April of last year London has been much cheaper for people with dollars. Still expensive, of course, but not crazy like it was when I was there in 2007.

You've also got more than enough time to plan. Airfare is probably not going to be cheap in the summer, but you are early enough to find something decent.

Passport control and customs in Germany is super easy. (Also true of the rest of Europe in my experience.)

If you want something very easy, a site like orbitz or travelocity will let you book hotels and flights and cars all in one step. You can start browsing around now, looking at the different places you can stay and the different dates you can fly. (Make sure to look at a range of dates - airfare can vary a lot throughout a single week.) Even if you decide not to book that way (and the hostel recommendation is a good one - you really do meet interesting people) it will give you a feel for the options.

I guess my main point is, with your budget, this could be like the easiest trip ever.
posted by Nothing at 1:09 PM on April 30, 2010

Oh, and get an oyster card in London. :) You'll save a bundle on the tube.

posted by Nothing at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2010

No worries - totally do-able and your budget of $5K is generous.

You can either get a flight to london and then a follow-on flight to Berlin (this is probably cheapest). You can also get a flight with a layover in London (they will give you a layover of several days, if you ask).

On accommodation in London, you can try the Park Plaza Hotel chain - they have specials of 99 pounds per night, or I would try laterooms.co.uk or the NY times had a great article about hostels in Europe, especially London (if you prefer hostels)

I would also try to get out of london too - plan at least a week in the UK and do a side trip to Bath or the Cotswolds (for rural english charm). If you want recommendations for places to go in London for high tea, mefimail me.
posted by zia at 1:58 PM on April 30, 2010

Spending 4 days in London would be quite expensive, regardless of when you book it, unless you're willing to stay in a hostel.

This isn't really true considering that eeby is throwing around the idea of a $5,000 budget for a 10-day trip. It's true that London is one of the more expensive cities in the world, but you can easily find reasonably comfortable hotel rooms for well under $200 a night in many parts of the city.

And yeah, the Oyster card is your friend. Don't use the Tube without one.
posted by dhammond at 2:51 PM on April 30, 2010

Check out AirBnB for flat rental. I recently did this successfully in London and could provide a recommendation if you memail me.
posted by theraflu at 4:44 PM on April 30, 2010

I totally second the recommendation for getting the help of a travel agent. Yes, it is relatively easy to book flights over the internet, etc. etc., but if you've never done it before it's nice to have help. See if you can get a local recommendation for a good travel agent and then go to them with your dates and parameters in mind. I always book my easy travel (domestic flights, no connections) online by myself, but I took a sort of complicated trip a couple of years ago and the travel agent was lovely and saved me a bundle.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:11 PM on April 30, 2010

This is definitely doable. If flying from San Francisco, all your flights shouldn't cost more than $2000 or $1500 if you're up for some more stopovers. Here's a list of sample itineraries using Kayak. It's really easy to modify. To change the dates, click "modify" on the upper left corner. Since you're traveling through 3 cities, it's listed as a "multi-city" itinerary. You can change SFO to OAK, although I think SFO is cheaper in this case.

There are a few other things to consider, the first being airports. London has quite a few airports of varying distance from the city center-- you can research them here. Heathrow and Gatwick are both great options, Stansted is a bit further away and tends to have lots of early-morning flights, but lots of budget airlines use it. On Kayak, on the left sidebar, you'll see "Flight 1 - 2 - 3". Click on either flight, and you'll find a slider to adjust a window of acceptable take-off or landing times. Once in Europe you should avoid early take-offs, since you won't be familiar with your surroundings. Best to arrive before dark, too. You can also select acceptable airports, and the number of stops.

Kayak, which is just a search engine, will send you to another site to buy tickets. There will be a confirmation page-- print that out-- and they'll send you an emailed itinerary too. Just bring either one with you to the airport.

Then you can book a hotel! There are lots of sites, like expedia, that have tons of reviews and information. Unless you have VERY expensive tastes, this won't break your budget.
posted by acidic at 2:18 AM on May 1, 2010

Five grand is plenty!

For that money, go to a travel agent and book direct flights at convenient times. Nothing early morning or late night. The worst part of travel after transitting in strange airports is getting from the airport to your hotel. Research it before you go, but if possible, have someone meet you. You could probably even find a car service that you can book to meet your plane.

Travel is cool, but if it stresses you out, then prioritise ease over economy. Travel agents are happy to be paid to make your life easier.
posted by kjs4 at 6:57 AM on May 1, 2010

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