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An effortless trip requires
an effortful plan

Our most valuable travel advice

Top tips for organizing your trip

After we returned home, James said, "That was an effortless trip." That's because the Rick Steves tour guides took care of most of the planning! However, if you take a Rick Steves tour, the guided activities will usually be over by early afternoon, leaving you with plenty of time to fill. We organized our free time beforehand and arrived in Europe with a solid plan. Here are our top tips for creating an itinerary.

Study your Rick Steves guidebook(s)

The guidebooks were our main resource for planning our trip. Lindsey read each twice, marking passages as she went with color-coded flags. We then arranged flagged activities in our itinerary, and our free time was set!

Learn how to travel

Whether by plane, train, streetcar, bus, car, bicycle, or riverboat, travel is a crucial component of any trip. When it goes wrong, it can throw off the best-laid plans. It's therefore worth learning about before you leave. 

Public Transportation

Public transportation in our hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina is nearly non-existent. We were nervous to try the buses, trams, and trains of Europe but quickly learned the basics. With Google Maps and a few key pieces of information posted at every stop or station, we soon zipped around Berlin, Prague, and Vienna like natives.

At any stop, you can find a schedule that tells you:


(1) Train, tram, or bus number

Numbers are posted on the front of every public vehicle. Position yourself at your stop so you can see vehicles as they arrive.


(4) Departure times

A paper schedule is usually posted, listing every departure. At train stations, overhead displays show when the next train is scheduled to arrive.


(2) Destination

All means of public transportation are labeled by their last stop. To know which train, bus, or tram to take, you must know its end point. 

(5) Platform


Many stops have multiple platforms. Make sure you're waiting in the right place.


(3) Your location

On a posted schedule, the stop where you're currently waiting will be highlighted. 

German travel terms

U-Bahn (OO-bahn) = subway

S-Bahn (ESS-bahn) = local train

Fahrkarte (FAHR-kar-tuh), Fahrscheine (FAHR-shine-uh), or Ticket = ticket

Gleis (glice) = track, platform

Haltestelle (HALT-uh-shtell-uh) = bus/train stop

Hauptbahnhof (howpt-BAHN-hoff) = main train station

Entwerten (ENT-ver-tehn) = validate (your ticket)

Ankunft (AHN-koonft) = arrival

Abfahrt (AP-fahrt) = departure

Eingang (AYN-gahng) = entrance

Ausgang (OWSS-gahng) = exit

Verspätung (fair-SHPAY-tung) = delay

Zeit (tseyt) = time

Ziel (tseel) = destination

Schwartzfahren (shvarts-fahr-en) = Literally "black riding", this means a passenger is riding public transportation without a valid ticket. Over concerns about racism, cities in Germany and Austria banned the word in 2021, instead saying that fare dodgers are "Fahrgästen ohne gültiges Ticket": riders without a valid ticket. Regardless of the term, those who are caught on public transportation without a valid ticket face a heavy fine. So, entwerten Sie Ihr Ticket! 


Enjoy the Practical Aspects

A vacation is more than sightseeing. Flights, walking, public transportation, laundry...all are necessary aspects of a successful trip. They also take up a significant amount of time. If you dread these things, you're taking some joy out of your vacation. Here are our tips for making the most out of the mundane:

  • Bring entertainment. Doing laundry, Lindsey played games on her phone while James did Sudoku puzzles he had printed out beforehand. Lindsey also downloaded her favorite movies before leaving, so entertainment was always on hand.

  • Be social. While doing laundry in Dresden, we met a nice couple from California who were also on vacation. We spent most of the wash cycle chatting with them. While on a train in Berlin, we overheard two men discussing their destination, which was the same as ours. We asked if we could join in and had a pleasant chat with two new friends. 

  • Enjoy the novelty. Sure, walking, taking the bus, and doing laundry aren't normally that exciting. But doing them in another country? That's interesting. Take care to notice and appreciate the differences.

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