Two of the most exciting things about my trip to Leipzig were the hope of being able to visit other countries in Europe on weekends and the prospect of experiencing highbrow culture at a very low price. From US returnees, you always hear about ryanair and easyjet, two airlines where you can buy plane tickets for 10-15 Euros (around 15-20 US) per trip. My German friends, knowing how much I love performing arts, kept telling me about 8 Euro (11 US) tickets to see the local Opera- fantastic venue and performance BTW- with ANY student ID you can show them. And student discounts to other attractions like the Zoo, Museums, and other performance shows, like a fantastic Cabaret featuring acrobats from all over Europe and the US. I was psyched!
Once I got there I realized these options were in fact available and affordable but it takes some planning, and sometimes plain luck, to really make the most of them. The eurorailpass was not an option for me since the really affordable pass (185 Euros for traveling any 5 days in one month between any four countries of your choice) was not available to me since I am over 25 five years old. If you are under 25, however, I do recommend you look into this, it is a good deal and traveling by train is FUN! Easy jet in fact offers really cheap tickets and different schedules, but because I traveled during high- season, it was really difficult to find anything for fewer than 30 Euros (Around 40 US) per trip. Ryan air offers the cheapest tickets; I got round trip from Leipzig, Germany to Pisa, Italy for 35 Euros. Do make sure you read the restrictions though (e.g., it is 60 Euros or more to change a flight!). Still, TOTALLY WORTH IT!
Another option is travel by land; there you have train, bus or car. The train is kind of expensive in Germany, but it is wonderfully maintained and really comfortable. In Italy it is a lot cheaper; I got a ticket from Rome to Pisa (3 hour trip) for 9 Euros. Buses are not as common in Germany but there are some emerging and affordable ones like Fernbus and Flixbus. They are only beginning, so they don’t have as many destinations, but you can totally work something out, if you plan ahead. There is also the option of driving, the roads are great and you will enjoy a great view. If you have an international drivers’ license- most people don’t, though- you can rent a car. If you are an adventurous person who is not afraid to ride with a group of strangers, I recommend carpooling.com, you can find people who are offering rides to a destination for a certain fee, and you can book a ride with them. I was a bit concerned about doing this, but- aside from a few mishaps- I had a good experience. If you opt for this option, do make sure you keep the drivers’ contact information and also give this information to someone in your program.
As for accommodation, there are a lot of really cheap and nice hostels you can stay at. But make sure you check the prices and what they include before you decide to book a trip somewhere. I neglected to do that before my trip to Italy and when I got to booking a place in Rome, I realized the cheapest thing I could find was 20 Euros per night, only for the bed. Also, never go anywhere thinking you are going to find accommodation when you get there. Unless, you want to walk around at night in the freezing rain trying to find a place until 3 AM.
The Opera tickets also have a trick to them; this is one of the few things where the “last minute approach” works best, if luck is on your side. If you book online, don’t even think about getting a low price- though it is still significantly cheaper than the US-. You can go to the Opera House, only a few steps away from the city center tram stop, and ask for the student discount. The closer to the show you buy your tickets, the cheaper they will be. If you buy them on the same day, they will probably be 10 Euros or less, but here you run the risk of not finding any tickets, depending on the show.
Food was the best part in terms of getting a great thing for a fair amount of money. Usually, you can get a meal with beverages, and sometimes even dessert, for 3- 7 Euros (5 to 10 US) depending on the size and venue. I highly recommend the small Doner places- Doner is a Turkish type of Gyro- there two people can eat for 5-7 Euros! The middle range dishes 8-15 Euros (11-20 US) are also quite large so you can get two meals out of them. That is, if you don’t mind a little embarrassment. You’ll see, bringing left overs home is not a common thing to do in Germany, so if you do you’re guaranteed a few weird stares, some looks of disapproval, or a lady turning back to look at your box and commenting “hahaha, doggie bag”.