Planning without a travel agent

My son will be spending the month of June in Freiburg, Germany. We would like to meet up with him at the end of his class and tour Germany for a few days and then travel to London, where we'll stay with family. We have never traveled overseas without making plans with a travel agent. We're not sure if we should contact an agent for a short time in Germany or do it on our own. London is set with a place to stay and family guiding us. What do you suggest? Where do we start with the planning??
Thanks!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Kathleen I am not sure what generation you are, but I am 50 and haven't used a TA for at least 15-20 years.. With the internet I find I can plan and book my trip alot cheaper, alot more personalized to my tastes, and its alot easier then you think. I am no whiz at anything so I just take it step by step. Rough out some dates and timelines. Book my airline ticket, for you, I would look at flying into one city and out of London. When looking on airline sites you are looking for what they call an
"open jaw" or "multi destination" ticket, these are cheaper then booking two one ways, and only slightly more then a simple return ticket from one city, but this slight bit extra is offset by the fact that you don't have to loop back to your start point, saving some time and money. Then you start figuring out how much time you want to spend where, and how to get from a to b. So first, look at airfares. Many swear by using Kayak for comparing airfares, where I live we only have so many international airlines so its pretty easy for me to see my choices. Then to get from Germany to London I would look at the lo cost inter-europeon airlines. Easyjet, Airberliner etc. How long is your trip in total? Are you simply interested in Germany and then London, or do you have time to hit another city( Paris maybe?). Alot depends on how much time you have, and what you want to see.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

howdy, Ive only used a travel agent once and that was they were on every block. had a good experience tho and got me room in Waikiki for 50 uSD/nt. Couldnt beat that. so far ive been doing my own travel planning. I like it since it gets me pumped up for the real mccoy. also, it allows me to discover what i want to do and see. Not what someone wants me to do, but what I want to do. also, if i can cherry pick what i want. If you have the time do do alot of googling and or reading up on where you want to go, it helps alot. I use RS book from the start. He has some really great ideas on how to travel and the best part hes already done 95% of the work. If you dont like what he offers, then dont do it, its as simple as that. But if you follow or use what he has to offer, then you can get an idea on if its a fit for you for the next time. Worst is that you get an idea on what to do and see. Yes there are others thing not mentioned in his book, but you can fill up your time using his recommendations. one thing tho. your trip isnt that far out. if you arent sure what to do and see, then you can chewup your time pondering and air fair prices will go up. if you can make quick decisions on flights and trains then the rest can be done at a slower pace. happy trails.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Freiburg is about an hour NW of Hamburg. You can go to an online airline reservation website like Kayak.com and sign into multi city. You can book your flights into Hamburg and out of London. A comprehensive website like Booking.com has accommodations everywhere, and finding a room at your desired price is easy and efficient. You didn't say how many days you'll have to tour Germany, but there are many rail maps of Germany online. It's up to you to figure out where you want to go in the days allotted. It'd be nice if you could end up your trip of Germany in Amsterdam. From there you could fly on a budget European airline into Gatwick or go west to Brussels where you could catch the Eurostar into London. Inexpensive flights to London are also available from Munich Airport. I prefer EasyJet.com over other air carriers, and reservations can be made online.
Good luck and enjoy your planning.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

"Freiburg is about an hour NW of Hamburg" Unless there's another Freiburg that I don't know about it's nowhere near Hamburg. It's in the SW between Strasbourg and Basel. You could fly into Zurich (it's closer) but Frankfurt often has lower fares, it all depends, then fly home from London. Once you get your flights done and you know where you want to go in Germany (or wherever) you can post questions here for help with places to stay, transport between places, etc. Everyone here is happy to help with the details. EDIT: OK I see another Freiburg up by Hamburg (oops). Where you fly into depends on which Freiburg your son is staying in.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2281 posts

You did not say which Freiburg. I would assume Freiburg-im-Breisgau, home of the University of Freiburg, and no where near Hamburg. But I've been wrong before. Back on topic, I guess you've posted on site where everyone likes doing things themselves. Travel agents charge a fee to purchase airline tickets you can easily buy yourself on the internet. Now that airlines quit giving them commissions, they have to find another way to turn a buck, so pushing tours, cruises and high priced hotels is the only way to survive.
Your son is liable to have a whole bucket list of things to see in Germany after a month of studying there. So for now, look at booking a flight over,as mentioned, open jaw, into Frankfurt, Zurich, or Munich, and out from London. (assuming Freiburg iB is the location). Then you can put the bucket list together.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17792 posts

Kathleen, Here are a few suggestions that might help...... Although you've travelled abroad in the past, you might find it helpful to read Europe Through The Back Door, as that provides a LOT of good information on "how" to travel well in Europe. Use the country-specific Guidebooks to plan hotels, sightseeing and transportation in each of the places you'll be visiting. You should be able to find the books at your local Library or larger book stores. Once you have an approximate idea of where you want to go, post the details here and I'm sure the helpful group will be able to provide excellent suggestions to fine tune your plans. You can certainly research trans-atlantic flights online, but you might consider booking with a Travel Agent. That's the method I typically use and once again this year the T.A. found some better flights which saved me several hundred dollars. As you're planning to visit Germany and then return from London, you'll want to book open-jaw flights (inbound Frankfurt, outbound London). It's an easy trip from Frankfurt to Freiburg. There are two rail stations right at the airport, and travel time will be 2 - 3 hours. Train details will depend on which train you're able to connect with after your flight arrives. The Germany Guidebook has suggestions for at least five good, reliable hotels in Freiburg, as well as sightseeing information. Unless you have plans to stop in Paris (or elsewhere), your best bet for travel from Freiburg to London is likely an EasyJet flight from the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport to London Gatwick (flight time 30 minutes). They currently have flights listed as low as CHF 42.45 PP. You could certainly also go by train (about 4 hours or so to Paris and then EuroStar to London). Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Kathleen
Chicago, IL
4 posts

Thanks so much everyone! I have only been to Europe once and that was to chaperone a large group of high school students. It look forward to really enjoying myself this time around without having to be on-duty all the time! Thanks for the where to starts and advice on open-jaw flights. Your comments have really helped!

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Other airports to consider are Stuttgart and Karlsruhe-Baden-Baden. Although I don't even know if the latter has non stops from the U.S., Stuttgart has a few, both are closer to Freiburg than Frankfurt. Or they might be handy for flying out to London - Germanwings flies direct to London Stanstead from Stuttgart, and Ryanair from Karlsruhe-Baden-Baden for very cheap prices (read the fine print, though, especially about luggage!). I agree with the others that you don't need a travel agent. Germany is a very easy place to visit. Anyone you'd deal with at a car rental counter, train representative, etc will speak good English. Freiburg is a lovely town with a lot of great day trip opportunities to the Black Forest, Colmar France and the Route du Vin in Alsace, the Swabian Jura with castles like Hohenzollern and Lichtenstein, Basel in Switzerland...all easily accessible by train or car for the most part. Driving is pretty much a breeze, especially on the scenic secondary routes.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

Kathleen, for the low cost European airlines (to get around within Europe), skyscanner is a good site offering an overview of possibilities. It's often cheaper to fly than take the train, although be careful about where the airport is... it's sometimes relatively far from the identified city. It's worth booking as soon as possible on these airlines since prices keep going up as seats get filled. And read all the fine print for these flights; costs go up markedly for any deviations from the rules. I find the flights with skyscanner, although I book directly with the airline website.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17792 posts

Kathleen, One possibility to consider.... Have your Son meet you in Zürich and then travel immediately to the Berner Oberland. It's one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland (IMHO) and a big favourite with many here. There's a station right at the airport, and the trip from there to Lauterbrunnen will take ~2H:45M, with two changes in Bern and Interlaken Ost (depending on which train you can connect with). I'd suggest Lauterbrunnen as it's convenient to access both sides of the valley. On one side you can visit Mürren, Gimmelwald (one of Rick's favourites) and the Schilthorn, where the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed (I believe that Bond World will be featured there this summer). On the other side you can visit Wengen, Grindelwald and take a trip to "the top of the world" at the Jungfraujoch (that's an expensive trip, so a Swiss Card may be a good investment). You can travel from there to Munich by train, which will require a full travel day. The trip that I'd use is a departure from Interlaken Ost at 08:00, arriving Munich at 15:11 (time 7H:11M, one change at Karlsruhe, savings fare shown as €109 PP). There are other departures and if you don't mind more changes, there are savings fares listed as low as €59 PP. Lee or one of the others will be able to provide more information on the trains in that area. For flights from Munich to London, have a look at the EasyJet website. They offer flights to both Gatwick and Stansted airports (ask your family in the U.K. which airport they'd suggest). When booking with budget airlines, be sure to read their Terms & Conditions carefully, especially relating to luggage weights. Also note that they usually only allow ONE carry-on item per passenger. Good luck with your ongoing planning!

Posted by Kathleen
Chicago, IL
4 posts

OK...doing some planning for the trip. Please tell me how this sounds - We can meet our son in Freiburg and spend the day there or have him meet us in Zurich. Want to spend about 5 days visiting the Swiss Alps and heading towards Munich. Plan to fly out of Munich to London for the rest of the trip. Now looking into the stops we may want to make - where in the Swiss Alps, Austrian Alps, etc. Anyone ever travel this direction before?
Thanks for helping this Do It Yourself European Trip Planner Newbie!

Posted by Kathleen
Chicago, IL
4 posts

Ken, thanks so much! Your advice has guided me in the direction I need.