You want to travel in Germany on a true budget?!
Then how about hitchhiking or by bike? That’s not only a lot of fun, but also keeps your carbon footprint low. Zero emission traveling! I have done it plenty of times and I can tell you, it works! Nevertheless, there are some things to consider and if you really want to try it you should check Hitchwiki: the Hitchhiker’s guide, to find out more about hitchhiking in Germany.
If you can imagine to travel by bicycle, check out the blog of “Our Unlimited Traveling Dream”! Stephan and Yuily share about their travels. This post is actually an updated version of their transport guide.
That said, I’m aware that hitchhiking or long distance bike rides might not be for all of you. Maybe you like it a bit more comfortable or you just have a tight schedule. I this case, go for carpooling or public transport.
The BlaBlaCar carpooling service connects drivers with empty seats to people travelling the same way. You have to register on the website to use the service and also pay online before the ride, I recommend to use this option only, if you are capable to speak at least a little bit of German, to avoid possible misunderstanding or dissatisfaction.
Otherwise, public transport is your option to travel within Germany! Unfortunately the German train ticket fare system is pretty expensive (a single ticket Frankfurt-Munich bought at the station will set you back a whopping €100 plus), complicated (Normalpreis, Sparpreis, BahnCard, Länderticket, Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket, what is this mess) and not always reliable (be prepared for delays).
There are multiple guides on the internet attempting on explaining this, but to Stephan’s, Yuily’s and my dissatisfaction, all of them lack simplicity and are just overwhelming to a simple traveler wanting to experience a beautiful country. And usually they focus on trains and not other forms of transport. So many people just end up getting a very expensive rail pass, when it’s almost always cheaper to buy tickets as you go if you know what you are doing. That being said, to keep it simple we will not explain the whole system, just the cheapest way for you to get a ticket on your particular route. Let’s start!
It’s that simple. In almost all scenarios, this will get you the cheapest ticket you can get.
It needs to be said, that In Germany generally your chances to get cheap tickets for train and bus (Sparpreis (saver fare)) are as higher as earlier you book the tickets. You can buy ticket up to 6-12 month in advance.
If you require further explanation to the different ticket types, continue on reading.
Local vs. Long Distance
There are two main distinctions with all public transport in Germany. The distinction between these two is very well defined – you will find this distinction to be very important, as the ticketing rules are completely different. Let me tell you what is considered long distance transport:
- ICE – InterCity Express, German high-speed trains
- IC – InterCity, German long distance trains
- Fernbus (mainly FlixBus) – Long distance buses
- TGV, RJ, THA – Foreign high-speed trains
- EC – EuroCity, International long distance trains
- CNL, EN – German / International night trains
Usually the ticket you buy is only valid for a specific train or bus and you are not allowed to just take another train or bus on the same route.
Local transport methods are considered as follows:
- BUS – Local buses
- STR – Trams
- U – U-Bahn / Stadtbahn, Subway / Light Rail
- S – S-Bahn, commuter train
- RB – Regionalbahn, local train stopping everywhere
- RE – Regional-Express, local express train skipping some stops
- IRE – InterRegio-Express, local express train skipping some stops
- Private trains (ME, CAN, NOB, BOB, ALX, and many many others)
Usually, a ticket you hold is valid on any of these forms of transport. For example, if you buy a ticket from Munich to Freising, you are free to use the RE, ALX, RB, S-Bahn or local buses going there with this ticket.
Long distance prices vary like airline tickets if booked in advance and work in a very similar way. The full fare (Normalpreis) is very expensive, but allows for full refunds and free changes, while the discounted tickets (Sparpreis) are only change- and refundable against a fee, or not at all, and are only valid on a specific train or bus.
This all sounds very simple, just look on www.busradar.com and buy the cheapest ticket, right?
While this may get you what you are looking for, I want you to stop and consider:
Stops of the buses are sometimes a bit outside of the city center, so be aware that you might need to get another transport to get to or away from the stops. Make sure where exactly you want to go and where your bus is going to start and stop.
Always consider all transport, from door to door, before choosing a ticket! That cheap bus or train ticket suddenly becomes a lot more expensive if you need to take local transport on both ends.
SPARPREISE (Saver fares)
There are three different saver fares:
(1) Super Sparpreis – Super Saver fare
Super saver fare are always available for as little as EUR 19.90 for long-distance services within Germany. They don’t include a City-Ticket for local transport in Germany (in the respective area of validity). These tickets offer the lowest price, you can cancel them and they are not refundable.
(2) Sparpreis – Saver fare
Saver fare tickets prices are as low as Euro 23.90 and include a City-Ticket for local transport in Germany (in the respective area of validity). Tickets can be cancelled for a EUR 10 cancellation fee, the refund will be issued as a voucher.
(3) Gruppen-Sparpreis – Group Saver fare
With the Group saver fare you travel in a group of 6 or more people by train within Germany for as little as EUR 19.90 per person, free seat reservation included. The tickets includes free seat reservation and is available up to 12 months in advance (Available online up to 6 months in advance).
Saver fare tickets can be found for all train categories, including ICE trains, the fastest trains in Germany. You can find them using the Saver fare finder.
FLEXPREIS (flexible fare)
As the name says, flexible tickets are not train-specific. On the day of your ticket’s validity you can take stops and leave your original train and complete your trip on a different one later, as long as the route remains the same. The route is determined by the ticket though. For example, if you buy a Flexpreis ticket from Frankfurt to Munich for 65.80 Euro, the route could be Frankfurt(Main) to Würzburg, Würzburg Hbf to Nürnberg, Nürnberg to München.
Flexible tickets can be bought from max. 6 months in advance until shortly before travel. Prices vary according to route and travel date, are valid for a single journey within Germany and are subject to availability.You can use all long-distance and regional Deutsche Bahn services.
Refunds and exchanges are free of charge before the 1st day of travel, thereafter 17,50 Euro per ticket. If your journey is over 100 km your ticket might include a City-Ticket. This is the case for over 120 German towns/cities and enables you to use public transport. If a City ticket is included it will say “+City” on your ticket.
Flexible tickets are normally more expensive than the saver fare tickets.
Many train tickets in Germany for journeys of more than 100 km include a city ticket, that allows you to use the local public transport, such as busses, S-Bahn and U-Bahn, within the inner area of the cities of the start and end of your trip. This depends on the precise destination on the ticket. If the ticket says “+City”, then you are allowed to take public transport for a single continuation to your final destination. This option exists for major cities only and the area and conditions vary from city to city. If the destination on your ticket includes the specific name of a station, such as “München Hauptbahnhof” or “Munich Hauptbahnhof”, then your ticket is only valid to that station. However, if the destination on your ticket is written as “München” or “MÜNCHEN” or/and has the “+City” remark, then your ticket is also valid to other stations within the city.
QUER-DURCHS-LAND-TICKET (Day ticket for Germany)
With this day ticket you travel throughout Germany for as little as EUR 44 with the day ticket. Book one ticket and take up to four other people with you, every additional passenger only pays 8 Euro. From Monday to Friday from 9 am until 3 am on the following day, on weekends and on public holidays the ticket is valid from midnight on.
LÄNDERTICKET (Regional day tickets)
Travel within one state with a regional day ticket for as little as EUR 23. Germany consists of 16 federal states. Each state has its own charm and many places worth a visit. Discover a state of your choice for a full day.
Travel with up to four fellow passengers per ticket using local and regional services for a whole day. Up to four additional passengers can be added to you ticket for as little as EUR 3 per person. From Monday to Friday from 09:00 until 03:00 on the following day, on weekends and on public holidays the ticket is valid from midnight on.
A detailed guide, including how to buy these tickets and how you can check for connections valid with these tickets you find on the “Our unlimited traveling dream” website.
By Stefan Simon for Collective Green