Europe 2015: The Planning Process Part 2

It suddenly hit me that I now have less than 100 days left before boarding my first Qatar Airways flight to Munich. There were a number of factors involved in my decision around the date that I would be leaving, and after ironing out everything, I was able to book my flights.

My trusty flight-booking website is Travelstart, which I was introduced to by a friend 2 years ago. Travelstart, similarly to Expedia and Skyscanner, allows you to plug in multiple destinations, then gives you a list of every airline and flight for the dates you specify. You can sort it to give you the cheapest flights first, or the quickest.

Quick tip: use your browser’s incognito mode to book flights. Usually when you search multiple times, your browser and the website remember what you’ve searched for, so the prices increase each time.

As mentioned in my previous post about this trip, I am planning to attend Oktoberfest this year. It officially starts on 19 September and runs for 2 solid weeks. When I did my initial research, I remember someone on TripAdvisor recommending the second week as opposed to the first since the festival would be less busy. However, due to work commitments, I did not want to risk pushing my holiday till later. I knew I was going to fly into Munich and out of Berlin, but the only thing I was really clear about was the fact that I was not going to choose Etihad.

So why not Etihad? My first and last experience with Etihad was very disappointing. Having flown with Emirates on several occasions, I expected a similar level of service. Alas, however, it was not the case. The food was decent, but upon my arrival in Geneva, I found that my bag had been so badly handled that the handle had broken*, so I had to lug around a 21kg bag by the handle. Also, on my return flight from Abu Dhabi, we were put onto Air Seychelles, a much cheaper carrier that is partnered with Etihad. Air Seychelles was undoubtedly the most uncomfortable airline I’ve ever been on.

Once my flights were booked, the hunt for accommodation started. I’ve used Booking.com a few times and find it to be rather handy. My choice of accommodation was based on a good balance of price and location. Besides allowing you to get exactly what you want, the thing I like about Booking.com is that you have the choice of booking with a free cancellation policy. I’m sure they aren’t the only site that does that, but since I’m comfortable with Booking.com, it worked for me.

I had to be smart about what I wanted with a free cancellation policy, however, so that I could pace myself in terms of budget. A lot of the free cancellation policies come with a “pay later” option, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The good thing is that your booking would be confirmed before you actually pay anything, and should you want to cancel or modify the booking, there would be no cost involved (provided it was done in advance). It also allows you to make upfront payments for other places so that you don’t end up with a massive credit card bill at the end of it all, since you’d be paying towards part of the holiday before you even go. The downside is that with the fluctuating exchange rate, you might end up paying more when you arrive at your destination, even though the cost in local currency would remain.

Boat Hotel Matylda, Prague.  (Photo Courtesy: http://www.botelmatylda.cz/en/)

Boat Hotel Matylda, Prague.
(Photo Courtesy: http://www.botelmatylda.cz/en/)

Due to the fact that I’m going during the busiest time of the year, Munich was the first place I had to book. I know that accommodation there sells like hot cakes, so it was vital that I booked as quickly as I possibly could. The problem though is that due to the date period, the prices are sky high. The only way to get something relatively affordable is to book outside of the city borders. This was how I came about a place in the town of Aschheim, at least 14km out of the city – way too far to walk. This would not only bring about additional transport costs, but also steal valuable time that could be spent doing other things. I was also not keen on going that far out of the city after spending around 16 hours travelling. I closed my eyes and reserved my booking, but made sure it was one of the places I’d book with the free cancellation policy because my gut told me that I’d find something not only cheaper, but much closer to the city centre. Till then, I would take my time (sort of) to find places to stay in Salzburg, Prague and lastly, Berlin.

Compared to Munich, the other cities were really reasonable. I looked for places that had high ratings but were cheaper in order to somehow balance the amount I was spending in Munich. It didn’t take me long to find accommodation in Salzburg and Prague as both are relatively small cities so it is easy to get around no matter where you are.

My hotel in Prague (pictured above) was one of the places I didn’t bother booking with a free cancellation policy. I booked it almost immediately after seeing it because there is no way that I will get an opportunity to stay in an anchored boat hotel anywhere ever again. At least, not one that is in a beautiful city like Prague. It is probably the place I am most looking forward to staying in purely because it will be such a unique experience.

Aquadom, Berlin.  (Photo courtesy: http://icm-corp.com/)

Aquadom, Berlin.
(Photo courtesy: http://icm-corp.com/)

Berlin is surprisingly affordable all around the city so I was actually spoilt for choice. I ended up with a beautiful hotel right on Potsdammer Platz – a mere 3 minute walk from Brandenburg Gate. It is also walking distance to Legoland and the Berlin Cathedral, among other things.

Even though all my accommodation was booked, I was still uneasy about my choice in Munich, however I wasn’t getting any joy from Booking.com. It was then that I decided to check out AirBnB, and boy am I glad I did.

When I was doing my initial research for my trip, before I booked anything, I had a look at AirBnB, but at the time I was too unsure of what I wanted and when I wanted to go. However, once my dates and other accommodation was confirmed, I went back onto it to find something decent for Munich. It didn’t take me long to find a lovely apartment, only 5km out of the city centre, for about ZAR2000 cheaper than what I was going to pay in the far out town of Aschheim. It was an absolute bargain so I hope that it lives up to my expectations. I’m glad that it will give me an opportunity to walk as well, which is the one thing I enjoy the most about Europe.

Now that the big bookings are done, all I’m left with, apart from the obvious visa and travel insurance, is the nitty-gritty stuff like what I will be doing each day, which Part 3 of the planning process will focus on. Till then, I shall continue on my quest to make this trip as awesome as it possibly could be.

*Etihad compensated me with voyager miles.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Europe 2015: The Planning Process Part 2

  1. Hi Aradhna,

    Thanks for the Travelstart shout out! Your trip sounds like it’s going to be amazing … enjoy it 🙂

    Russell Jarvis,
    Travelstart.co.za

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s