Check your banking app or dashboard to see if your debit and credit card work abroad. Check how much commission you have to pay for transactions and ATM withdrawals abroad.
We noticed our bank wanted a big extra for each ATM withdrawal and store transaction abroad, so we got some travel cards, which ended up to save us a lot of money! Plus, it is always good to have an option B if option A fails. (Which happened to us multiple times)
E. Will there be extra costs for your using your smartphone?
You need to check how expensive calls become if you use your phone abroad. Don’t forget to check the price of your data.
We used to turn roaming off to avoid extra costs.
When staying in a country for a lengthy period you might consider getting a local sim card. So if your phone is a dual sim, this is probably the best option.
Most accommodations offer free wifi so you can use Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype or something else to keep in touch with home base.
F. Contact the right people and agencies of your international trip
Do you have any pets? Ensure that someone takes care of them.
Apart from family and friends, there may still be a few agencies that should know your departure, certainly if you leave for a longer period. For example, think of your bank, your insurance, your healthcare, etc.
Over the past few years, my visits to Germany have been looking pretty much the same every time I go: I stop in my hometown to my family, I stop in Berlin because I can’t get enough of the city, and I visit friends in Cologne and Munich. But what about the rest of Germany? Even though I spent quite a bit of time traveling Germany when I was younger and still living in Europe, there are still plenty of places I have yet to visit. On top of my wish list: Spreewald (a biosphere reserve consisting of wetlands and forests southeast of Berlin), a northern Germany road trip including the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven, and Lübeck, which is famous for its brick Gothic architecture, and the coastal region of East Frisia), and a southern Germany road trip along the Romantic Road which covers a bunch of fairytale-like towns in Southern Germany.
When my friend suggested we could meet up in Germany for a few days during my last visit, and asked me to show her Germany beyond Berlin, I immediately started researching possible trips. A quick search for car rentals in Germany revealed that a rental car would cost us less than $25 per day, and that was for a pick-up right in the center of Berlin (note that rental pick-up at one of the airports would’ve cost around $24 per day), which is an amazing rate. Plus, it meant we could bring my favorite furry travel companion along.I decided to introduce my friend to Germany’s nautical side and mapped out a Northern Germany road trip route that is perfect if you have a week to spend in Germany, but which can also be driven in five days. I wanted to include the famous Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, the Baltic Sea, at least one of Germany’s fairy tale castles, a grand Hanseatic city and a smaller town in the countryside.
This kind of trip definitely required a car, since several towns were small and not on the main bus routes (side note: the buses also take the major highways, instead of scenic byways), and taking the train would’ve meant connecting. I created a road trip that had a couple of stops en-route, meaning we would only spend a couple of hours or an afternoon there on the way to our final destination for the day – which is only possible if you have a car. Train and bus travel are solid options in Germany when you just travel from A to B, but to see more of the country and to get ‘off the beaten path’, you really need a vehicle. Luckily, car rentals in Germany are inexpensive and you can get a small rental starting at around $23 per day, or a medium-sized vehicle starting at around $25 per day. And did I mention renting a car meant I’d be able to bring a dog? 🙂
Here’s the map of our route (I excluded highways so that we would only drive scenic country roads):
Read on for the highlights of this road trip through northern Germany and what not to miss in each of the places you drive through:
My Northern Germany Road Trip Itinerary
Germany’s capital has so much to offer, you can easily spend an entire week just there. If you haven’t been yet, get an overview and learn about the comprehensive and complicated history of Berlin during both World War II and the division between East and West Germany on a free walking tour. Go for a bike ride in Tiergarten Park and on Tempelhof airfield, an abandoned airport turned park. Take in the city from above from either Victory Column (only €3, but 270 steps) or the observation deck on top of the Park Inn at Alexanderplatz, right across from the TV Tower (€4).
Eat Middle Eastern food while you’re wandering the streets of Berlin’s trendy Neukölln neighborhood and go flea market hopping on a weekend in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood (don’t miss Mauerpark for the flea market, street food and the largest karaoke event in Germany – every Sunday during the summer months – and the Sunday flea market at Arkonaplatz). Head to the East Side Gallery for fantastic murals, and go barhopping in the vibrant Friedrichshain neighborhood.
Check out my detailed guide to Berlin for more ideas on what to see and do.
Drive: Berlin to Neuruppin: 80 kilometers / 50 miles – about 90 minutes
Suggested stop along the way: Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg just north of Berlin. The visit is a somber but educational experience.
Leave Berlin and drive north towards the lake district. Once you’ve left the city limits behind you, you’ll find yourself driving through lush green parkland and forests, along small rivers and canals. Neuruppin sits right on the shore of Ruppin Lake, and there is a beautiful trail along the lake. The town is known as a garrison town and was mainly built in Neoclassical style – the many pastel colored houses provide gorgeous photo opps. The remarkable minster Sankt Trinitatis, a historic church with adjacent monastery, was built in 1264 (the oldest building in Neuruppin) is the centerpiece of the small town.
If you’re a fan of sauna culture, plan in enough time for a visit to the thermal bath in Neuruppin which is the largest lake sauna for swimming in all of Germany. The views of the Ruppin Lake from the many different saunas are fabulous.
Plau Am See
Drive: Neuruppin to Plau Am See, 90 kilometers / 56 miles – about 90 minutes
The small town is the gateway to the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, and its name translates to ‘Plau On The Lake’. The city was founded around 1235 and has a lovely historic Old Town with half-timbered houses that’s worth a stroll. The main sights include the historic church, the Neo-classical town hall, the ruins of Plau Castle, and a bridge that is vertically lifted every time a boat wants to pass through the channel below. There is also a historic water mill that dates to 1273.
Drive: Plau Am See to Schwerin, 73 kilometers / 45 miles – about 1 hour
You’ll drive through the picturesque lake district for about an hour before you reach Schwerin, the state capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The city is famous for its majestic palace, Schwerin Castle, which sits on an island in Lake Schwerin, one of several scenic lakes. Until 1918, the picture-perfect fairytale palace was a main residence of the dukes and grand dukes of Mecklenburg, and since 1990, it has been the seat of the state parliament.
Schwerin is the oldest city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (first mentioned in 1018) and has a well preserved Old Town, including the beautiful Schwerin Cathedral, built in Brick Gothic style (1260 – 1416).
Tip: If you don’t have time for an extended visit, I recommend a pit stop on your northern Germany road trip in Schwerin to see at least the stunning castle.
Wismar / Kühlungsborn
Drive: Schwerin to Kühlungsborn, 70 kilometers / 44 miles – around 1 hour and 15 minutes
Recommended stop along the way: Wismar
If you have time, stop in Wismar, about halfway in between Schwerin and Kühlungsborn. It’ll add only 15 – 20 mins to the drive, but you’ll get to see the remarkable medieval buildings of Wismar’s well preserved Old Town, which is part of the shared UNESCO World Heritage site of Wismar and Stralsund (another city on the Baltic coast). Both Wismar and Schwerin were major trading centers of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe, founded in the late 1100s.
As you drive towards Kühlungsborn you’ll enjoy lovely views of the countryside, little hamlets, forests, and eventually, the azure blue Baltic Sea.
Kühlungsborn is a famous German seaside resort on the Baltic Sea – the main attraction here is the 4 kilometer (2.5 miles) long beach promenade, one of the longest in Germany. There’s not much to do here beyond the beach, but that’s exactly why 3 million people flock to Kühlungsborn every year: to simply soak up some of the salty sea air, take a dip in the freezing cold Baltic Sea (the water temperature in the summer averages a cool 18°C / 64°F).
Spend a day lounging in a Strandkorb (a sheltered straw ‘beach basket’ seat typical for the seaside resorts along the Baltic Sea coast) on its long and wide sand beach. When you find yourself getting hungry, go for a stroll along the promenade and stop in one of the many seafood restaurants for the Catch of the Day.
If you want to be more active, rent bikes and ride along the ‘Kühlung’, the unique a forested ridge, part of a cycling route along the coast. Worth visiting are also nearby Heiligendamm, Germany’s very first seaside resort, and lighthouse Buk, built in 1878. The views over the surrounding area and the Baltic Sea from the top of the lighthouse are unrivaled.
Drive:Kühlungsborn to Rostock, 33 kilometers / 21 miles – about 40 minutes
Rostock is the largest city in the state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern and used to be the most significant member of the Hanseatic League (see above). The city celebrated its 800th (!) birthday in 2018 and is famous not only for its past as an important seaport in the Baltic Sea, but also its striking architecture (many buildings were built in Brick Gothic style, typical for the Hanseatic cities), several grand churches (dating to the 13th century), the impressive harbor and restored gable houses from the 15th and 16th centuries. You can even still see parts of the medieval city wall.
Drive:Rostock to Warnemünde, 10 kilometers / 6 miles – about 12 minutes
If you have time, don’t miss nearby Warnemünde, which is a district of Rostock that is located right on the Baltic Sea (Rostock is further inland, connected to the Baltic Sea via the Unterwarnow, the estuary of the Warnow River). Warnemünde has managed to maintain the character of a small fishing village (population 8,400), despite having become a popular cruise ship destination.
The promenade is lined with colorful houses, hotels, restaurants and little shops, and the main canal, Alter Strom, is lined with beautiful boats. The historic lighthouse, built in 1898, is worth the climb (135 steps) for the glorious coastal vistas.
Tip: If you haven’t set the dates for your Northern Germany road trip yet, try to head to Rostock and Warnemünde during the second weekend in August, when Hanse Sail takes place. Hanse Sail is a huge maritime festival with up to 1..5 million visitors, celebrating maritime traditions and culture. Around 250 sailing ships of all types and sizes from different countries sail to Rostock for the festival – a truly unique spectacle. (If you’re planning to spend the night – book your accommodation well in advance!).
Final Stretch: Circling Back to Berlin
Drive: Rostock to Berlin, 240 kilometers / 150 miles, about 4 hours
If you decide to head straight back to Berlin from Rostock, it’ll take you about four hours to get back to where you started. If you have time for an additional stop on the way back, I recommend to break up the drive in either of these two places:
(88 kilometers / 55 miles, about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Rostock; 152 kilometers / 95 miles – about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Berlin)
Waren sits right on Lake Müritz and is known for its historic town center, boasting a large number of historic buildings and monuments. It’s a pleasant city for a wander around town or along the lake. Lake Müritz is the second largest lake in all of Germany and the largest one in the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, an Müritz National Park stretches the long eastern shoreline of the lake.
(134 kilometers / 83 miles – about 2 hours and 10 minutes from Rostock; 111 kilometers / 69 miles – about 2 hours from Berlin)
Neustrelitz is also located right in the Mecklenburg Lake District, sitting on the shores of Lake Zierker See. The historic town center is known for its stunning Baroque architecture, with a wide open market square. While the palace of Neustrelitz was destroyed during World War II, the palace gardens are still intact, and they are delightful!
And that was our Northern Germany road trip. Have you visited Northern Germany? Which stops would you add to my itinerary?
Hello from Vietnam! It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update, and what better occasion to do exactly that than my first solo trip in two years.
“Two years since my last solo trip, can this really be?”, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out the last time I’d traveled on my own. But yes, the last time I set off on a solo adventure was in February 2017, when I headed to Ecuador, the second-to-last country on the South American continent I wanted to visit (I have only been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – but Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname are currently not high on my list – the big one left there is Brazil).
Technically, I set off on a solo trip in September 2017, when I flew from Germany to France to walk the Camino de Santiago, but since I quickly learned on that journey that is actually pretty difficult to get some alone time on this famous pilgrimage across Spain and ended up walking over three weeks of the Camino with someone, I feel like that one doesn’t count. And all the other trips I’ve taken since were with other people. I felt like it another solo trip was long overdue.
So, why Vietnam? Some friends were surprised by the country I chose for my ‘Winter Escape’, but to be honest, Vietnam has been on my travel wish list for a long time. In 2011, when I traveled to Asia for the very first time, I was sure that Vietnam would be part of that trip, but back then, my travels were much more on the fly than they are now. I’d follow the path as it appeared in front of me, without much planning. I lingered in Thailand because it was convenient and easy, I spent more time in Malaysia than I needed to, and before I knew it, I had only three weeks left before I was flying to India for what would be a life changing experience.
Three weeks to squeeze in all of Vietnam, all while working remotely? No way. I didn’t have any interest in rushing through the country, and decided I’d rather leave it for my next trip to Asia, along with the other countries I ran out out of time for (the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia). And then, upon returning to Asia three years later, life happened once again, leading me to different places I had anticipated, ticking off only one of the countries on my list (the Philippines).
In the fall of 2016, I planned to return to Asia for the winter, and this time I would start in Vietnam. Yet again, however, destiny had other plans for me, this time in the form of US Immigration, informing me that my final visa interview and Green Card decision would happen in early January in Germany, and not in April or May, as they had previously indicated. Once again, I had to scrap my plans to finally visit Vietnam. And that’s why, when I made the decision to take a big trip this winter, I didn’t have to think about my destination for too long. I would finally visit Vietnam!
Hitting The Reset Button On Life
So how does it feel to be on the road again by myself? The last time I traveled to South East Asia by myself was in 2015, exactly four years ago. I had gotten over a bad breakup not long before that trip, I was happily in love, and I wanted to escape the New York winter. Not much about my situation has changed, I guess, only that I haven’t had to get over any heartaches recently.
The big difference between my last solo trips and this one: I am not nomadic anymore. I packed stuff I thought I’d need for the duration of the trip, and that’s it. For all my precious solo trips, I was carrying everything I owned on my back, in a giant 65-liter backpack.To commemorate the start of this new era of my travel life I decided to treat myself to a new backpack and retire the one I’d used ever since I took up the vagabond life in 2010. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t pack light – I tried hard to go for a 40-liter pack that I’d be able to carry on in airplanes, but I was quick to admit to myself that this just wouldn’t happen. (This is the backpack I eventually opted for – and so far, I am loving it).
As I prepared for this trip, I realized how much I needed it. I was hemming and hawing over going at all, now that I am more settled in New York and have a home, I find it harder to leave for long trips. There were also worries about money (I never had to pay rent before for a place I wasn’t using while I was on the road, and I’d already paid rent for two months while I was traveling in November and in December/January – a lot of rent for a place to sit empty) and taking too much time off, but then I remembered that I used to be location independent and that I’m still lucky enough to be able to make money while I’m traveling. So I finally clicked the ‘book’ button after having hovered over it for too long. And of course I am glad I did!
This wasn’t just about a ‘winter escape’ though – and the ever-present urge to explore a new country – it was just as much about hitting the ‘Reset’ button and getting away from my busy New York schedule where I rarely get the chance to spend time with myself, to think about what’s happening in my life, about relationships and successes and failures of the past year, and to simply be. After traveling without much of a schedule for the better part of the last decade, I am still surprised how quickly I adapted to city life again, booked up weeks in advance. I felt the same urge to hit ‘pause’ on my busy life when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2017 – and that was after only having been in New York for three months. You can imagine how much I was craving a slower pace now, after having been in New York for a while (even though, admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time there since last October.)
Until 2015, I had never traveled alone. I was already in my thirties when I set off on my first solo adventure, always thinking that I was a person who needed someone to travel with. Well, as it turned out, I did not need anyone to enjoy myself. I treasure my alone time, being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, what to eat, when to eat, when to sight see, what to see, when to have a lazy day, when to socialize. I don’t mind eating by myself, I enjoy my own company, and these days I never even get the chance to feel lonely because I am always connected. I usually wake up to a number of Whatsup notifications, which I sometimes even find overwhelming. But I also have yet to go on a solo trip and not make new friends along the way.
Speaking of family and friends afar: Feeling so connected to people all over the world is definitely something that I didn’t experience on my first trip to Asia in 2011, which happened before Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other ways we have these days to stay connected with our loved ones back home. Back then, people had to wait for me to post a photo on Facebook to see where I was. I had to wait for an email from them to see how they were doing.
These days, I turn on the camera on my phone and take them on a tour of the beach I’m lazing on, while chatting on a chat app. The first time I went to Asia, I didn’t even have a phone (although admittedly, my iPodTouch was pretty much like a smartphone, just without the call function) and had to find a decent enough WiFi connection to make a Skype call back home. These days, the WiFi is so good that it even reached from a restaurant all the way out into the ocean, where I was chatting with someone back in New York while enjoying a relaxed morning as she was getting ready for bed. Oh, the joys of modern technology. While I appreciate many aspects of it, part of me wishes I wouldn’t just be able to pull up GoogleMaps on my phone to look up directions, to just get lost, to randomly stumble on a remote beach instead of just following travel guides that tell much which beaches are the prettiest.
South East Asia Is Changing
Not just the way most of us travel has changed – Asia has also changed. Remote beaches aren’t all that remote anymore, since roads have been paved and more tourists are coming, particularly noteworthy: Chinese tourists. Making beaches more accessible of course also means more crowds, and in places where you would have not found much beyond a few palm trees six to ten years ago, there are now makeshift restaurants and beach chairs. The roaring sound of jet skis breaks into the calming repetitive sound of the clashing waves.
But it is not just off-the-beaten-path islands that now have been discovered by mass tourism: Life in general is changing here, too. The last time I was in Asia, the people you’d see with a smartphone in their hand were usually tourists, but now it seems like everyone has a smartphone, from the fishermen I see in the ports to the children I see play video games on their phones in small villages.
And then there are the cities – Saigon for example, where more and more of the old French-colonial buildings are being torn down to make room for new shiny skyscrapers which spring up like mushrooms everywhere. Most places I’ve visited on this trip feel like giant construction sites, with jackhammers and stone saws and creating a steady background soundtrack from early morning till long after the sun sets.It’s not just Asia who has evolved: So have I. The bright-eyed backpacker who looked at everything in awe when she first came to Asia almost eight years ago – that’s not me anymore. And not only have I turned into a seasoned traveler, I also have a bigger budget now. The $10 room off of Bangkok’s Kao San Road I stayed in during my first Asia stint resembled the room Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach) was staying in when he arrived in Bangkok, more than I am willing to admit. But back then, I was traveling on a tiny budget, following the South East Asia On A Shoestring guidebook religiously, trying to make my money last as long as possible. Did I have less of a great time back then? Certainly not! But I wouldn’t put myself in a room like that anymore only to save a few dollars.
That said, I still consider myself a frugal traveler, and see it as a waste of money to spend tons of cash on a place for just me. When I am traveling with someone – different story. Especially when traveling with a partner, I want it to feel special. And no question: I do appreciate being able to afford the occasional splurge, and I know that it’ll be a completely different feel to sail through Halong Bay (one of the places I’m most excited to visit) on a luxury boat rather than a backpacker barge filled with roaches and mice. I guess I am now what they call a flashpacker, even though I dislike this term.
Getting My Travel Mojo Back
One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to quickly fall back into a traveler’s life, a life on the road as I lived it for so many years. I fall back into the routine of unpacking my backpack when I arrive in a new place (read: I turn my room into a huge mess in two minutes), laying down on the bed and researching vegetarian restaurants and the best coffee shops in town. Then I head out for a first exploration of the town I am in and plan how many days I want to spend there and how I want to spend them. A few days later, I move on to the next place, rinse, repeat.
Even though I have almost two months to explore this country, which is longer than most people have, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit rushed. Having an end date looming over my trip is something that I am still not used to, and traveling at a rather rapid pace is something I find hard to adjust to. It has happened a few times on this trip already that I found myself in places where I wished I had more time, but had already booked a hotel in the next city, eager to see as much of Vietnam as possible.When I arrived in New York at the end of 2017 after an exhausting year of travel, all I wanted was to take a break from being on the road, and not travel anywhere. Well, I am glad I gave myself this break because leading up to the trip, I could feel my excitement grow each day, consulting my guidebook every night before I went to bed to figure out which places in this huge country I wanted to see, and to map out a route.
I remember that during the last few months of my nomadic life trip planning had started to feel like a chore, and I dreaded the long hours of researching places to stay, things I wanted to see, and finding good food options. When I began to prepare my Vietnam trip, everything got me more stoked for the journey: picking out a new backpack, buying a new bathing suit, making sure all my gear was still in good shape, trying to decide which clothes and tech to bring.
And then, finally arriving in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, felt like a dream come true, as corny as this might sound. I don’t take it for granted that I am able to go travel for such a long time – especially now after meeting so many people in New York who have a very limited amount of vacation days – and in the case of Vietnam, which I’ve been wanting to explore for such a long time, I feel even more grateful that my lifestyle allows me to do this.Expect more Vietnam articles shortly – in the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram.