Friday, December 4, 2009

Travel: 3 hints to Getting around in Germany (and neighboring countries)

Traveling about Europe just got a little bit harder for me (and maybe for you too).

The train station (at least the Dutch ticket counter at Schipol Airport) only takes credit card transactions with PIN entry. Which means the corporate card I use was not good for me. So if you travel by train in these areas you might consider the following:

  1. buy your tickets in advance online 
  2. pre-order Eurail passes for multiple countries multiple days
  3. carry cash
Up until recently I could count on buying the tickets at the ticket window with my credit card and signature. However the EU has been shifting more and more to PIN transactions (for security) however if you are like me you may have a corporate card with no PIN (avoid high cash advance fees etc). But that means that the US is getting to be a minority among developed nations in regards to the handling of these "signature" transactions. 

Buy online: Honestly the first two hints are really the same. But I find that I can spot buy the tickets and print out very easily the rail tickets I need by using the DeutscheBahn (DB) web site. If I know that I want even more travel I will buy the Eurail pass. As long as you travel at least 5 days by rail within 60 days, and average  200 km each day this option makes sense. It amounts to roughly $300 US ($60/day) the trip from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf (Nord-Rhein) region was 65Euro (nearly 90 dollars). The Germany-Benelux option is my most used ticket. I Also used the 3 country select pass. For a small premium taking the night train for very long trips (700-800 km) the night train is a great deal. You pay a small add-on in addition to the rail pass to get a bed for the night (saves the hotel room fee, and you arrive at destination bright eyed and busy tailed).

Cash is always a smart option when traveling. Travelers checks are getting more difficult and expensive to cash and convert into Euros. I use a service away from the Airport to convert my dollars to Euros before I leave. The rates are competitive to any airport exchange and hotel concierge. ATMs give decent rates at times, but surcharges pop up unexpectedly. So I have shyed away from them.