Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tips for Traveling in Germany

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We were lucky enough to live in Germany twice. The first time was for three years and it was before we had children. During these years we would drive off in a direction with nothing but a small suitcase and a travel book. We would have a general plan, but really play it by ear and stay wherever we wanted as it became time to find a bed. The next time we moved to Germany, we had three children between the ages of 5 months and 7 years. Our travel style definitely was quite different but it was still a tremendous amount of fun. Gone were the days of not having a hotel reservation, but there were still opportunities for spontaneity and having children motivated us to see areas we would have overlooked otherwise.
traveling with kids
Rotenburg ab de Tauber

When you do your research either through a travel book (We like DK and Fodors) or some tech-savvy app, you will get all sorts of great travel tips. But I would like to share some of the biggest lessons we learned about traveling in Germany.
First, Germans, like most Europeans, have small families, so hotels are not ready to accommodate a family of five or more. Yes, in Germany, we were a freakish anomaly with our huge brood of three. If you fit the German mold, I recommend you stay at a Gasthaus or pension. These are small family run hotels and have a wonderful local flavor. But, if you have 3 or more children, it would be much less expensive and easy use an apartment service like homeaway.com. This way, you are all in the same location (not having to pay for two separate hotel rooms) and you will have access to a kitchen.

traveling with kids

That brings me to my next big tip; Shop at local grocery stores. Eating out can be expensive and if you can pick up things at a store, you can still experience German food but at a lower cost. That is even easier if you have a small kitchen in your accommodations. This also allows for you parents to have a quiet evening snack or drink after putting the kids to bed.
If you are staying at a Gasthaus or pension, breakfast is often a part of the deal. If not, you need to know that restaurants that serve breakfast are very rare. What is available is a Backarii … a German bakery. And these are amazing. I highly recommend that you visit one for breakfast or for mid-day snacks.

traveling with kids

If you are visiting a city, I highly recommend you take the train. Public transportation is efficient and fits well into a budget.  Most cities have discounted tram passes for family day passes and you may want to take advantage.  Plus, it can be a lot of fun for train loving kids.  My son would put up with any museum if the day had a train ride.  Duetche Bahn is the train that goes between cities and the Strassenbahn, or S-Bahn, is the tram for in the city.  You can drive out to the city and then simply take the S-Bahn to all your sites.

Learn polite German words. Most Germans speak wonderful English, but good manners goes a long way. And if you ever get lost on a windy road, knowing a few key phrases is very important.  I recommend a greeting of the day, please, thank, you, a few numbers, and a couple directional phrases.

traveling with kids

The road signage and right of way rules in Germany are a little different in the United States.  I recommend that you go to AAA or similar organization and ask for a European study guide.  Through such and organization you can also get an international driver’s license.  This makes travel easier if you are renting a car and greatly improves your safety.

traveling with kids

There is no such thing as "free" in Germany.  You pay for your water at dinner, your ketchup at McDonald's, and to use public restrooms.  Yes, you heard me, at a public restroom you will be expected to pay any where from 20 Euro cents to 1 whole Euro ... usually the lesser amount.  But you will want to always have change for potty breaks.  Another thing that as Americans, we can find surprising is that the public restrooms are sometimes coed. Don't let this alarm you, there are stalls and you will be just fine.  The advantage of paying for use of the toilet is that there is almost always someone in there cleaning up.  Thus most public toilets are relatively clean.
Another thing to be aware of is that Germans do not usually dress as casual as those in the United States.  In order to not stick out or to look poorly dressed in restaurants or museums, I recommend that you wear only dressier jeans and a nice top.  Men would do well to wear a polo or other shirt with a collar.  And women would be appropriate with a blouse, or nice top.  I am not saying that you have to be 'dressy', but going out and about in a t-shirt and sweats is certainly not appropriate.  I also advise you wear comfortable walking shoes but not sneekers.   

In addition, you are likely going to want to visit the beautiful old churches and cathedrals that have amazing art, architecture, and stain-glass windows.  When visiting these sites, it is polite to not have exposed shoulders or skirts that go much higher than your knee.  I found these rules are more strictly enforced in Italy, but still, in Germany it does not hurt to be respectful as many of the churches play a role as both a tourist attraction and a place of worship.

traveling with kids
Now you are zipping around the city on public transportation, smartly dressed, and change in your pocket but are hungry.  The food in Germany is quite tasty and you will want to sample the local fair.  As you order, you will look over the beverage menu and may be surprised at some of the prices.  As I mentioned earlier, there is no free table water.  And water tends to be more expensive than the local beer or wine selections.  If you enjoy beer and wine, this is great news!  Enjoy living on a budget while sampling these tasty beverages.  If you do not drink alcohol, just make sure you add into your budget money for juice and water.

traveling with kids

Well, all of these tips may have seemed quite random.  But they are some of the important details that made our travels more smooth and enjoyable.  You will have a list of places you want to see, but the logistics of going to and fro and the interactions you have with the locals will set the tone and mood of your trip.  Paying attention to these details should be helpful.

If you are interested in hearing more from us, there are a couple ways for you to keep in touch!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post. Hope so that in my next trip I will also be able to enjoy all these things. Hope so that this can help me enjoy Germany up to its extreme extends. But this time I won't forget to keep a detailed Germany Road Map along with my other stuffs.


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