Pack Your Bags. You Deserve A Vacation.

It was a Wednesday morning at the office when a colleague of mine asked where I was going for the weekend. She noticed the backpack I had in my cubicle. I told her I was going to Germany for a few days. “Germany? With just a backpack? For a weekend? Are you serious?”

As a recent grad with a new full-time job, I was pretty low on two things: vacation days and money. But when the opportunity to travel to my dream destination arose, I just couldn’t say no. So off to Germany I went with a backpack, a passport, and an old fraternity jacket with the word “Berlin” stitched in gold thread.

In a perfect world, we could all take lavish, three-week vacations without a worry in the world. For most, this just isn’t feasible. With financial burden, unequal work/life balance, and general life getting in the way, the thought of taking a trip can seem impossible. But I’m here to tell you there’s always time and money for travel, you just need to get a little creative.

I departed JFK Wednesday night around 9:45pm. It was an overnight flight that I most certainly should have slept through, but I was much too nervous and excited to rest. (Side note: I’m actually terrified of flying and this was my first international flight all alone.) Once I descended into Munich, I lost control of my emotions. One could say those tears came from sleep deprivation, but I like to think it was a bit more meaningful than that.

After the flight, I met up with my friends at our hostel, which was absolutely beautiful. The space was artsy and fun and the people were fascinating. All walks of life were coming through the doors from different parts of the world. We made a few friends from London, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Once I quickly unpacked, we explored Munich, a quaint fairy tale city. We indulged in Bavarian beer, sausage, and pretzels at the official Hofbräuhaus, explored the cobblestone streets, and poked through local shops filled with handcrafted cuckoo clocks and steins. It was magical. Once we made it back to the hostel, we took a brief two-hour nap in preparation of an early flight to Berlin the following morning.

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The flight was surprisingly easy-breezy and we touched down in Berlin around 8am. We had a few days of nonstop adventure planned and we couldn’t wait to get started. Berlin, much like any major city, was a bit hard to cover all on foot, so we became familiar with our public transit options, which included a bus tour of all the major sites. We also attended the Berlin Webfest, the event that brought us to Germany in the first place. The trip was incredible, and even with a few concerns about the timeline and schedule, everything went smoothly.

So how did we do? Was it worth it? Did it cost an arm and a leg? Let me tell you my secrets:

Stick To A Schedule

Scheduling your trip is the absolute most important part of this process. It will save you time, money, and stress. If you have a limited amount of time to explore, you do not want to leave your adventures up to chance. Do not wing it! My comprehensive schedule included absolutely everything, from confirmation numbers and contact information to dates, times, side notes. I even carried a folder with copies of maps, receipts, and personal documentation to be safe. See below for a small piece of my written itinerary:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

7:00AM — Walk to U Weinmeisterstrasse (U8)

Take U8 > Wittenau

Transfer to S1 (Wittenau/Wilhelmsruher Damm)

Take S1 > Oranienburg

Walk 21 minutes, 1.7 km

Arrive at Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen

Str. der Nationen 22, 16515 Oranienburg, Germany

8:30AM — Arrive at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

11:00AM — Depart Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

12:30PM — Arrive back to Berlin

4:30PM — Dinner reservations at Berliner Fermsehturm (15 min. Walk from hostel)

#: 85XXXX // ID: 122XXXX // Confirmation #: 122XXXX

7:30PM — Free time for activities

9:30PM — Jordan and Maddie attend WebFest Berlin Award Ceremony

Order #: 66066XXXX

Planning is actually a pastime of mine, but I know it isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. It’s easy to do research online to price compare, read reviews, and learn what opportunities are available to you. (I highly suggest Lonely Planet.) The sooner you dive in and book your adventures, the better (and cheaper) it will be for you.

Save Your Pennies

Travel can add up quickly, but it certainly doesn’t have to. Instead of booking an Airbnb or hotel, consider a hostel. You’ll make some new friends, take lots of Insta-worthy photos, and save lots of cash. I spent less than $30 U.S. dollars per night while staying at some pretty high-end hostels. They’re not as scary as they seem!

Instead of taking an Uber or taxi, learn to use public transit, or lace up your sneaks and walk.

Of course, airfare is likely the highest expense you’ll face. This is something you’ll need to save up for, but it’s also important to purchase your flights at the proper moment. An easy Google search can tell you when to expect airfare deals and discounts. You can also learn which days are cheapest to buy, and which are cheapest to fly. Also be sure to delete browsing history and cookies from airline websites, as they like to hike prices up with each site visit.

Push It To The Limit

If you’re young and able, use this to your advantage. A short trip may mean cramming in a lot of different activities. Rest up before your trip to ensure you have the stamina and endurance to push through those long, heavy activity days. Expect little sleep, blisters, and perhaps some crankiness too. It’s all worth it. You can rest again on your flight back home.

Keep Calm And Carry On

Even with a stellar plan, things can still go terribly wrong, or at least take you off track. That’s okay. It’s important to roll with the punches and allow yourself to simply experience the moment. There were a few unexpected twists and turns on my trip, but it made little difference at the end of it all.

Adventures can come in all shapes and sizes and it’s entirely possible to craft a trip that will work well for you. I focused primarily on international travel, but wandering even just a few towns over can be just as much fun. There’s no better time to start planning than right now, so give yourself something awesome to look forward to!

What trips have you taken lately? What’s the best trip you’ve ever been on? Let me know in the comments below!

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