I admit, this was not an entirely “budget” trip. It’s a great privilege to be able to go to Europe, and with a little help from family and friends, we were able to do it as our “senior year of college” trip! This required a lot of headaches on my part, as I usually refuse to buy plane tickets that are over $400! But, I bit the bullet and bought a round trip ticket from JFK to Berlin. I was able to get a slight discount (of $300+) after signing up for the International Student ID Card and booking through a student group.
Berlin was the cheapest to fly to from the US at the time, and we chose our other destination of Paris, France as well for the cheaper connecting flights from within Europe. Our third destination, Ireland, was a must-do, as M wanted to visit his friends from his first year of college.
The biggest cost for the Eurotrip was flights- make sure you plan very well to see where to fly into, if you’re flexible! I found that Dublin and Berlin are often two of the most affordable cities to fly into. We spent most of the time (3 days) in Berlin, as that’s simply when we could find cheap tickets before flying to Ireland. One of our friends (pictured above) was on a funded photography trip to Germany as well, so we met up with her for a few days (s/o to this friend, I’ve realized that we’ve done MANY of my budget trips together! Yay travel buddies!) Berlin was the cheapest city we’d visited – many sites are historic and free, and there’s great pleasure in walking around the city. The food was also the cheapest out of the three countries we visited, and very hearty; one meal of a huge beer, many sausages, and potatoes was only and average of $6! I thought the famous currywurst was overrated, but Turkish halal food at 3 am in the outskirts of the city – delicious and cheap.
As I don’t speak German, I opted out of AirBnB for our hotel stay. Instead we found a cheap hotel with rewards that only cost $50 per night for the two of us, that was at the center of most things. We took the subway everywhere, as the system is very easy to navigate, and also VERY CLEAN. The subway stations are like luxury malls!
There was a lot of walking around between landmarks. Center city of Berlin is very walkable, with lots to see! My favorite was probably Museum Island, on which the Berlin Dom but also many other great museums are located with minimal or no admission fees. The only tourist attraction I don’t recommend is the Skytower – pricey with long lines and mediocre views. There are so many other cute street fairs, art shows, and little shops to explore instead!
We felt as if the city was at our feet because the subway was so close. We even ventured off to the outskirts of the city (and got lost a few times, lol), but we always simply followed the train back to our hotel. We refused to take taxis, even when lost (except when the trains stopped running, around 2 am….)!
We did a cruise down the Spree River on our last day, to see every part of the city and learn some history. I also highly recommend the City of Berlin museum (not part of the traditional Museum Island)- very powerful and interactive, and completely worth the money for a comprehensive overview of the city’s history. And what a resilient city it is indeed!
Tombs from 14th century
I was super excited to visit the fabled Irish countryside. As we were staying with a friend in Dublin for only two days, we couldn’t make the trip all the way out to the Cliffs of Moher. Instead, we took a day trip to Glendalough National Park, via a cheap bus from the center of Dublin that departed at 9 AM and came back at 6 PM. As we drove toward Glendalough, we passed by exactly the countryside I was looking for- double rainbow and everything.
Glendalough itself seems like a charming place to take a small backpacking trip, with little inns scattered around and goats and sheep roaming about everywhere. We visited tombs from the 13th century (which apparently aren’t even old by comparison- sometimes I forget what a young country America is) and many old monastery hideouts scattered throughout the beautiful park. The day was spent exploring the mountain, glacial lakes, random waterfalls, and little trails where wild sheep roamed.
We only spent a full day in Dublin, as we had plans/I insisted to go to the countryside during our Ireland trip. Most of the time was spent catching up with old Trinity College friends (M transferred after his freshman year), exploring nightlife, and wandering around the tiny, proud city. I was transported back to the time of Joyce and Seamus Heaney – an incredibly inspiring city for great literature, somehow. Food wasn’t too cheap, but the best part was the black currant Guinness I ordered at some small bar – Guinness does indeed taste better when you’re closer to the brewery!
I was most excited for this leg of the trip, but also a little worried – what if this tourist-friendly city was overrated and dirty and overrun by crowds??
Paris, while being completely touristy, is not overrated at all. Every step down the street takes you past some beautiful bridge or sculpture or gold monument, history is rich, and the food delicious. The Parisian charm is real, as I noticed in every single cafe that I went to (bonus that most people spoke English! Made me feel terrible about my lack of second language skills…). We tried to hit as many of the landmarks as we could, and invested in one of those bus tour companies that drive you around the city and you can hop on and hop off at different stops. In this way, we were able to at least see every major Parisian landmark, even if we didn’t enter most of them. Still in awe at the streets literally made out of gold.
To be fair, Paris is a relatively expensive city. Wine was cheap, but that was about it- especially tiny portion (but delicious and probably healthy) meals. We were able to save a bit of money as our parents kindly reserved hotels for us as a treat, and we walked around everywhere. We didn’t go to any fancy places to eat or see a world-renowned show at the Opera (although I would like to, someday).
The second day we went to as many of the museums as possible (the Louvre is impossible in a day..we got so sick of it after a few hours), and many of the palaces and squares- one of my favorites was the Pantheon, where many great intellects and Parisian national heroes are at rest (Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, etc). And at night, we followed the tourists and climbed the Eiffel Tower, although we didn’t get to go to the very top as we arrived almost at midnight. Paris, in day and at night, is simply beautiful-there are no words than can describe its charm (besides the words of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Their books were right!). There was still so much left to do, both inside and outside the city (Palace of Versailles is on my bucket list for next time)- we must return at some point in the near future!