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Studying Abroad in Ulm, Germany- How to tackle weekend trips?

My biggest concern is trying to tackle weekend trips to places outside of Germany. I have family in the Netherlands and friends in Italy, but I'd also like to visit other places. I will be studying abroad for three months- so that's roughly 11-12 weekends to use to explore.

Posted by
15566 posts

For long distance travel to places like the Netherlands and Italy, plan ahead and buy nonrefundable train tickets for a discount. Look at budget airlines as well. Ryanair flies from nearby Memmingen airport.
Local trips are easier using Baden-Wuertemberg or Bayern day tickets.

Posted by
5552 posts

My grandchild is studying abroad in Europe too and been traveling all over on budget airlines.

Posted by
3431 posts

www.skyscanner.com

www.seat61.com

The first lesson is that longer train trips are priced on an escalating scale, like the budget airlines. The sooner you buy, the less it will cost. Be spontaneous and last minute, and your cost goes up.

Posted by
561 posts

A good rule of thumb for me is that any air travel is worth it if a train trip will take more than four hours (which is what you spend getting to the Airport early, security, flight, etc.).

You will get very familiar with Bahn.com

https://www.bahn.com/i/view/index.shtml

Particularly check out the Special Offers.

To book "early" for the train you will need to make some plans on where you want to go in the first month...

Also, start with the RS guidebooks for ideas and travel tips, and investigate the Regions, State, and City operated Tourist websites....

For example, in Germany you have (among many others):

https://museums.nuernberg.de/nuremberg-municipal-museums/

https://www.schloesser.bayern.de/englisch/palace/index.htm

Italy, for example:

https://www.suedtirol.info/en

Don't over plan too much though because traveling with new friends is part of the fun. Regional trains go slower but have standard fares, and local fares like the Bayern tickets can cover more than one person.

Posted by
16601 posts

Good advice above.

Skyscanner.com is a good source of schedule/fare information for flights within Europe. You can enter a vague destination (Italy, or even Europe) to see what's available on your travel date from a designated origin.

If you go to the Wikipedia articles for the airports accessible from Ulm (first step: check on which ones you can reach easily by train or bus), each will have a chart showing flight destinations. The cheapest places to fly to will normally be the ones you can reach without changing planes. Note that the listed flights may not run every day, and you may be outside the period for the "seasonal" flights; that's where you turn to Skyscanner.

The Memmingen airport isn't a large one, and the fares there may not be particularly low. You may need to look at flight options from Stuttgart and Munich, but of course you'll lose part of your weekend just getting to the airport.

Although everyone wants to go to places like London, Paris and Rome, keep in mind that there's a bit more overhead involved when you take a short trip to such large cities. The main sights may be rather far apart and the airport may be rather far from town. And the lodging costs will probably also be higher. You'll probably end up with more actual sightseeing time if you hop on a plane going to a somewhat smaller destination.

If you have any 3- or 4-day weekends, I'd focus first on planning those.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for the advice above!

One thing I'd like thoughts on:
In America, it is usually cheaper to fly to large city vs smaller city airports. Is this typically true in Europe?

I know it would be more efficient to fly to a big city and train to the small one vs train all the way to the small town, but is the price gap big or small? If it's small, I'd rather fly, but if it's big, I'd rather save money. Or is train rides more expensive to long they travel? :)

Ex.: My family in the Netherlands- I could fly to Amsterdam and then train to their city, or just ride the train from Ulm to their city.

Really appreciate the help and kindness! :)

Posted by
8889 posts

In America, it is usually cheaper to fly to large city vs smaller city airports. Is this typically true in Europe?

Not that I've noticed. One thing that is significant, if a route has multiple operators, especially if one is a economy airline (Easyjet, Ryanair etc.), then it will have lots of discounted tickets, the "traditional" airline will be as cheap as the economy one (competition). If there is only one operator, it is likely to be more expensive.
And make sure you choose your airports with care. Some economy airlines operate from remote and obscure places - any strip of concrete as long as it is cheap. Make sure you check exactly which airport it is and scope out transport to your final destination before booking.

I know it would be more efficient to fly to a big city and train to the small one vs train all the way to the small town, but is the price gap big or small? If it's small, I'd rather fly, but if it's big, I'd rather save money.

Not particularly. There is a big time penalty transitioning from plane to train. You have to allow contingency for the plane being late (1-3 hours). Plus you have to get from the airport into the city, that wastes 30-90 minutes. With the exception of airports that have a long-distance station (most just have local trains).
Airports with long-distance stations: Zürich, Geneva, Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Vienna and others.
London Heathrow for example, only has trains into London. If you want to go west (Bath), you go into London, and double back passing ~5 Km north of the airport - inefficient.

And from Ulm, you have to factor in getting to the airport (Munich?). By train, you start direct from Ulm station, and could be many 100's of Km away by the time you are checking in at the airport.

Posted by
16601 posts

The devil is in the details, including time needed for transportation to and from airports and how well the air/rail schedules mesh. My advice is to research options for each destination; do not make assumptions.

Rome2Rio.com can be helpful for a first look at options. Do not trust the specific fares, travel times and frequencies displayed there; they can be laughably off-base. But the website can be helpful in suggesting possibilities, and if you keep drilling down you'll find the name of the bus company operating the route when a bus is part of the solution. There's usually also a link to the bus-company website. You need to go there, or to the rail website, or to the airline website, to get accurate information. Rome2Rio is useful in suggesting which websites to visit next.

Posted by
4669 posts

Go to the student office for advice on whether your visa qualifies you for a discount DB railcard. (This is not a “pass” but a discount tool.) It may not save on international portions of a trip, but I have no experience.

Posted by
5238 posts

Road trips with your new classmates? If someone has a car, you can be more spontaneous.

Posted by
12084 posts

From Ulm take the train to Hechingen and Sigmaringen to see the Hohenzollerner Burg and Schloß...if you're into Prussian-German history, easily done as day trips.

Posted by
634 posts

Ulm is a great, mostly unknown to American tourists, town. It's a railroad hub so that make travel fairly easy. You'll have most of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Northern Italy less than 2 hours away. And if you stay anywhere near the city center you'll walk to the nearest train/bus transfer point in 5 minutes or less.

As for air travel, be advised that a number of the smaller airlines are struggling. In the last couple months, not counting Thomas Cooks planes, Adria Airways has suspended operations; Condor is only alive due to the German gov't bailing it out and who knows how long that will last; XL Airways stopped operations; Aigle Azur entered liquidation (bankruptcy in America); and Norwegian Air Shuttle had to "restructure it's debt". The CEO for RyanAir has commented that more bankruptcies are coming as low fares are causing companies to lose money. I wouldn't plan too far out...

Posted by
12084 posts

Since you will be in Ulm anyway, I heartily recommend visiting the cathedral....one of the most famous in Germany, das Ulmer Münster, , etc.

Posted by
17618 posts

For Bahn schedules and fares, I find this webpage to be the best. Other links just get you there eventually, anyway; might as well go there directly.

Posted by
16745 posts

Flying may be the best plan for some weekends, especially when flights save time. But if you identify several potential weekend destinations where you plan to travel a longer distance by train, then a Eurail Global Pass can be a very good value. For instance, a youth pass for 10 travel days within 2 months at $339 covers 5 weekend roundtrips. The 2-month travel window starts when you first activate the pass in a station, such as March 15 - May 14.

The $40 per day pass price is cheap compared to most regular or even discounted ticket prices to cross countries! For instance, train tickets from Ulm to Bruges or Ulm to Amsterdam cost anywhere from €40 when booked a couple of months in advance to €160 on the day of travel. The price range from Ulm to Prague is €20-100 or Ulm to Interlaken €32-130. (If heading to Switzerland's Berner Oberland, a the Eurail pass gives you 25% discounts on trains and mountain lifts past Interlaken, and these discounts apply during your whole stay, without using a counted pass travel day.)

For travel in Germany and from there to Austria, Switzerland, Belgium (choosing IC and ICE trains, not Thalys), Netherlands, and Czechia, you don't need seat reservations in addition to the pass, so there are no extra steps, expenses, or early-booking deadlines/incentives. France and Italy do require paid seat reservations on all medium-speed and faster trains and international trains to/from France limit the number of places for pass. Poland has free seat reservations. Couchettes and sleepers on night trains also cost extra.