“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag
Travel, in my opinion, is like your soul mate. You never know they exist but the day that you actually meet them, you can’t fathom ever spending a day in your life without them.
Now, you don’t manage to fall in love right away, but over time you develop such a bond that it becomes unbreakable.
I love to travel. It has been this way since I was 3 years old. I grew up on an island, feeling at times trapped and I think that is why I travel so much to this day. From my backyard, I would look to the skies on passing planes and ponder their destination. Taking geography classes help build my knowledge of locations but my passion to fly takes me there.
For anyone who has been around me for five minutes will tell you, travel is all that I think of, talk about and focus on. It is this passion that I hope to one day use in my contribution to one of the airline groups in the world. (MBA graduate as of August 2016, just in case they’re reading) One of the things I look forward to, as well as my classmates, will be our field study this summer in Frankfurt and Cologne, Germany.
Frankfurt is known for being the largest financial hub in Europe. Cologne is a more historic city, famous for the Cologne Cathedral and the Museum Ludwig. We anticipate a great time and an even better experience.
From a conversation with classmates, they all have separate queries with regards to our trip. Some are excited as this is their first trip outside the United States, others are excited because they haven’t been on a trip in quite some time and some want to know what the atmosphere is like, the people, how much to carry, things to do, what to eat amongst other things. Even though I haven’t been to Frankfurt or Cologne, I imagine it would be like visiting any other European country but offer its own diversity and distinction.
Here are a few helpful tips that I hope will benefit the class on our upcoming trip.
Currency - Germany is a part of the European Union. It uses the Euro as its currency. The current exchange rate for buying currency is 1.2042 (as of 06/20/16 and fluctuates daily) for purchasing currency. Considering most of our expenses are paid, I wouldn’t take too much cash since selling it upon return is exchanged at 1.0594. The difference in the rates is the bid and the asking price. Which means it would cost you $120.42 cent to buy €100. If you try to sell that same €100, you will only receive $105.94. Different companies have different exchange rates but most importantly estimate your needs accordingly to avoid loss. Another thing I would add, don’t use airport currency exchanges, they are convenient but have the worst exchange rates I’ve seen. Instead, purchase currency from your local bank.
Debit Cards – Most U.S banks have switched to EMV chip and pin cards, which will be accepted at most stores and ATM’s around Germany. I tend to only use my ATM card to withdraw cash to buy street food and use my credit card for all purchases. (See below) Most US banks charge 3% on all currency withdrawals. Bank of America is a part of the Global ATM Alliance which allows for their customers to have free withdrawals at Deutsche Bank in Germany. My go-to ATM card while abroad is by Charles Schwab. They don’t charge an ATM fee and they reimburse all fees charged by other banks at the end of each month.
Credit Cards – Travel credit cards significantly reduce your costs while traveling and rewards you for traveling as well. A few things to look for in a card are no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and a signup bonus. Since some of us are flying Brussels Air, Lufthansa (both Star Alliance) I suggest getting the Chase United Explorer Card, currently offering a 50,000-mile bonus if you make $3000 in purchases in 90 days. For those flying Delta (Skyteam), get the Delta Gold Sky miles card which gives 50,000 points after $2000 in purchases. Since you will be earning miles on the trip, the cards put you close to a vacation of your own in the near future. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more)
Discounts – As college students, the object is to save a lot and travel more. A good thing to have when traveling is the International Student Identification Card (ICIS). It acts as an ID so you don’t have to carry around your passport and gives you discounts all over the world. Visit www.icis.org to find out more. These cards are sold at the Local STA office. These Id's are valid for 1 year at a price of $25.00
Flights and Hotels
Normally I would group these into two separate categories but in our case, flights and hotels are provided for us on this trip. What I would say if you plan on doing any traveling in the future is to join a loyalty program. There are many ways to earn points and miles and can be very rewarding if you choose to do so. The options again for flight miles are Delta (Skyteam) and Brussels Air and Lufthansa (Star Alliance) The US counterpart of the Star Alliance is United and as mentioned before, can be very lucrative if you sign up for the credit card. In Frankfurt, we are staying at the Intercontinental Hotel which is a part of the International Hotel Group (IHG).
Breakfast is included in our stay at the hotel which leaves us with lunch and dinner. Germany is big on street vendors selling currywurst (sausage covered in curry and ketchup), sausages, and hot dogs for cheap. Restaurants are typically more expensive but there are ways around it. I tend to visit restaurants more for lunch than dinner. At lunch normally have the plate of the day, which is a meal sold at a discount. Normally the same meal costs more around dinner. Depending on your food preference, food should be an inexpensive part of your trip.
If it’s one thing that Germany is famous for is its beer. Its beer industry is one of the largest in the country and a local staple. Visiting pubs and pub crawls is a very exciting thing to do.
Most of our transportation is already arranged, however, for those times we will be on our own, transportation is very inexpensive. I tend to buy tourist cards or city passes to Hop on and off tours so I can see as much of the city in as little time as possible. Walking is still my favorite mode of transportation for any city. I stop when I want to and see the city at a pace that I like. Also, try to invest in a walking tour, you get to see parts of the city and learn about its rich culture as well.
Today, technology has changed the way we travel. The good thing is it has changed it for the better. Google maps is a valuable resource no matter where in the world you are and it is now available offline. Google translate is also very valuable. Most Germans speak English but for those that don’t, this is your app. Depends on your preference, there may be more apps that you use but these can be adjusted on an individual basis.
For those of us that can’t resist but post that awesome shot, we do need our Wi-Fi. If you have T-Mobile, their simple choice plan allows you to roam the world at 3G speeds at no additional cost to you. There is nothing you have to do just use your phone and it will pick up the local network for you to roam from. For all other carriers, please call customer services to find out your options while traveling.
Before You Leave…
Packing is a personal preference and this is something you can’t designate a list to every traveler. What I can say is pack to your discretion and visit the TSA website to be aware of the guidelines that they require for travel. Also, your baggage allowance varies on the airline that you are traveling with. (Brussels Air, Lufthansa, Delta). Carry a laundry back to bring back dirty clothes as hotel laundry is quite expensive. You’ll need to buy an international converter so that you are able to use your electronics at all times during the trip.
The most important part of travel is to have the necessary documents. A valid passport is all you need to enter as a US citizen. If you are from another country, please resolve the visa requirements with the German Consulate in NYC.
The only other advice I can offer to you has an open mind and also “We don’t take a trip; a trip takes us.” John Steinbeck.
Also, check out my blog on Travel Lessons for additional information that will be useful on this trip and on all future trips.
Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any parties mentioned. None of the entities mentioned has reviewed, approved or endorsed the content listed in this post.