What My Trip to Berlin Taught Me About Travel and Planning

Konzerthaus Berlin

This June I traveled to Berlin for an author event. Why? Well for those of you who don’t know, when I am not a travel writer, I write fiction books. I am what they call a hybrid – self-published and published by small independent publishers. Yes, I like to stay indie! I even have an author blog – Alina Popescu, Writer. Anyway, that said, author conferences and book signings are a big thing for me. I travel to attend them, plan way ahead of time, and get super excited about them. This suits me, to be honest, as when you own a dog, spur of the moment travel is not always an easy option.

I had been planning this trip for about a year. Well, pretty much since the first edition of the event, in July 2015. Earlier this year (and six months before the event), I thought to turn it into a trip with my boyfriend. I could do both, right? Do the event and have fun with him! Especially since I intended to arrive in Berlin two days before the conference started. It would have made a perfect birthday gift for him (even if a little early one). All I needed to sort out for this was his plane ticket and conference attendance.

Gendarmenmarkt Platz, Berlin
Gendarmenmarkt Platz, Berlin

With pretty much a year of planning, everything should have gone smoothly, right? Wrong! Here’s the realizations I came to:

What works for one traveler might not work for another

When I booked the flights, I did this based on what I thought I wanted. A very early flight, which gave me a lot of time to see what was close to the hotel. I knew the Berlin Zoo was five minutes away, and so was this huge park that honestly seemed to never end. The zoo, turns out, is just a small section of said park. Well, my boyfriend is a different traveler altogether. He’s not really a morning person. But having to wake up at 3 am to make it to the airport in time for our flight? That’s more than a little annoying, as it impacts his actual physical well-being.

Sunrise Departure Otopeni Airport, Bucharest
Sunrise departure from Bucharest to Berlin

Despite my normal cheer and because I don’t really sleep before a trip, I was too exhausted myself. And between the two of us, the six hours we had to kill till our room was ready were tough to navigate.

Your travel planning doesn’t fight off last minute emergencies

The week before our trip was murder. Long, long hours of work, a few little disasters and crises, which all lead to both of us working till the wee hours of the morning. I was beyond stressed as some of my stuff for the conference was stuck in customs and I only found out they’d been cleared Friday night (with the con starting on Saturday morning). Not the best mood to travel. And the fatigue set us back quite a bit in terms of what we wanted to see and what we actually saw.

Berlin Zoo Entrance
Despite being exhausted, we loved our time at the Berlin Zoo

Walking is good for your health but it can irritate you quite a bit

We did a lot of walking in Berlin. We walked from the hotel to the zoo and then for another few hours around the zoo. The next day we did a walking tour, after a 40-minute walk to where the tour started. Another 40-minute walk back after the tour almost brought us to tears. We were so tired, when we left the bench we stopped on to rest, we left my DSLR camera behind! Luckily, we figured it out fast enough and went back to get it. A lovely couple was watching out for us and handed the camera over, with bright smiles to soften the embarrassment.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Brandenburg Gate, departure point for our free walking tour

Forget the 48-hour guides!

Don’t get me wrong, they are great to inspire you and tell you how much you can see in a short amount of time. But don’t stress about it. We ended up seeing quite a bit, but clearly not as much as I would have wanted to after reading all those guides.  They work great if you’re not grumpy and exhausted beyond belief.

Holocaust Memorial Berlin
Holocaust Memorial or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Some errors are funny and you should go with them

On Friday we went on a walking tour. It lasted a few good hours and was wonderful. But we hadn’t planned for it! A good friend of mine had booked us on this tour, thinking it was a free boat tour.  To be honest, I was a little reluctant, because boats don’t usually work without gas and staff and other things that cost. Of course, it was a Google translate error and it was a walking tour. As we were there, we thought we’d go along. Do I regret it? No. It was amazing, we saw a lot of the major sights in Berlin and our guide was brilliant. I can’t link you to the actual tour, because I can’t find it, but I’ll keep trying!

Konzerthaus Berlin
Konzerthaus Berlin

In the great scheme of your trip, minor hiccups don’t matter

Some hiccups happened. Like collapsing and passing out one night, way too early. Or a minor fight brought on by stress and exhaustion. Or forgetting things and having to go back for them. In the grand scheme that was our Berlin getaway, it did not matter. Once everything settled, all that mattered was the excitement, the fun we had, the great food we experienced, and the amazing people we spent time with. Everything else seemed funny after a while. A shorter while than you’d think.

Dinosaur Statue, Berlin Zoo
Inside joke moment at Berlin Zoo. Yours truly and the dinosaur I used to ride to school in high school..

In most cases, food will make it all seem better

I am not even kidding! We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for the first time and I was in heaven. We went to a German steak house and their burger steak was so good, I had it twice in as many days. Their deserts were super delicious as well. We had a fancier dinner at an Italian restaurant, just the two of us, and I tasted the best tiramisu of my life. Yeah, that made a lot of things seem irrelevant. Like being too tired. Or too scared of the two panels I was part of and the one reading I had to do.

Water break at the Berlin Zoo
First day fatigue made better by a drink of water

Travel planning should be adapted to those you travel with

This is a big one! Gaining a few hours of sightseeing with someone who can’t do early mornings is not that big of a win. In my defense, when I first started planning this, I was single and planned for myself. But this trip was amazing at teaching me how to plan the next ones so that both my boyfriend and I are happy. Not a big ordeal, as Murphy’s laws are real and everything goes crazy right before my trips!

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What My Trip to Berlin Taught Me About Travel and Planning

34 thoughts on “What My Trip to Berlin Taught Me About Travel and Planning

  1. Personally I love early flights…depending on the destination you get to enjoy (even if you are completely tired) more time at your destination. Walking around the cities is the bet way of getting to know the place. As I read your post I can see that it was pretty fun and you had a great time.

    1. Miriam, there is early, and then there is early. If you wake up a 2.30 – 3 am to make a 6 am flight… It might be a bit too much. It was for us, especially since we were tired to begin with and it was a short flight, so no real chance of napping. But yeah, being there around noon would probably be best. You ave enough time for lunch and a quick stroll in the neighborhood before your hotel check in.

  2. I’m a planner myself and that’s because we’re not full-time travellers…having limited time, one feels the compulsion to plan better and accomplish more! But I have to agree, little misadventures do make travel experience richer.

    1. You are completely right! When you have to make the most of a short trip, overplanning happens 😀 As long as one remembers to go with the flow, everything should be okay.

  3. Hello,

    By just reading your post, it makes me feel I’m travelling virtually to Berlin and don’t know how much it makes me happy, and feeds my mind, hahaha. This is morning exciting that watching documentaries.

  4. So many great lessons learned in one trip! I always try to plan as much as possible for our trips as there is so much to think about when kids are involved. Inevitably, I end up working until the wee hours before the plane ride, just like you did, and I am exhausted when we haven’t even started yet. Looking back, it has always worked out though and we have great memories to look back on.

    1. I can only imagine how much more complicated it gets with kids! You are right though, with a little patience and lots of caffeine, it all works out in the end 😀

  5. WOW I did not know you are a fiction writer that is great. Early morning flights kill me as you barely sleep the night before incase you miss your flight.Food does make everything better that is a true story. Lucky you got your camera back.

    1. Yeah, I am and very happy with it. Still just starting out, but getting there 😀 The camera thing was indeed pretty lucky. Other than being a DSLR, it was always a birthday present from my friends 😀

  6. Rightly said – to each their own and well, you learnt it all in one trip. That is one heck of an experience. Thanks for sharing it so that we can all learn from it. Cheers

  7. Yes, yes, food makes everything better. Even a non-food break (a coffee, a beer) will take a horribly tiring afternoon and give it a breather. We need to remember that the breaks, the food, are not a time-out from the travel but are an essential part of the travel and the experience.

  8. I believe you should never plan too much. Only plan a lot if you are travelling in a very short time to multiple countries, then it means you need to plan accommodation and transport. The rest go with the flow! About 48h guides, i believe it can work, but if you taxi not walk of course…

    1. Thuymi, I try not to plan a lot, but this was different. I already had two days taken by the author event, so I had to make sure we had fun. I did see more than half of the things I was dying to see, so I call it a win 😀

  9. Never been to Berlin but have read a lot about it. I loved the fact that you walk around the city. i do that always on each of my travels. In fact I prefer, only walking unless its like a hop on hop off bus. It gives me more time to explore the place, imbibe the surroundings and take photographs. I even go out for late night walks after dinner to see the nightscape.

    1. We did do a lot of walking. Especially to and from dinner 😀 That said, a lot of really cool restaurants were very close by. We had to choose from 6-7 that were all a few minutes away on foot.

  10. It will sound a bit bad, but some of the things you say here are exactly the reason why I prefer to travel solo. The freedom. The organization. it’s just the best! Anyhow, you managed to get plenty done and have a good time, so good for you!

    1. I did travel solo for quite e bit before meeting my boyfriend. It takes getting used to and a bit of learning, but at the end of the day, I love it.

    1. Hahaha, yeah, I know, solo travel has its perks 😀 But I do love traveling with my boyfriend too. It just takes a little getting used to after years of doing it on my own.

  11. I am glad that you learned so much even though things did not go exactly as you planned. I am like your boyfriend–I could never wake up at 3AM. I also agree with you that food makes everything better! Usually if I am feeling in a bad mood it is because I need food or sleep. I’m like a baby that way.

  12. We have been to so many trips as a family with our lil one and yes there is always something unexpected happening everytime. But we believe these unexpected things are a great way to learn and most of them turn out to be great memories for the lifetime. Your captures of Berlin are amazing.

  13. Your Berlin trip seems so hectic for you guys but glad to know that you had an amazing time! My last trip to Chicago was very hectic too as most of the time I was walking and I even felt completely exhausted at one point of time! But the wanderlust in you always keeps you motivated on this kind of trips! :)

  14. Of course you cannot see the city in 48 hours. But you can start “tasting” it, and once you enjoy the flavour you want to come back many other times. That’s what happened to me: several time to Berlin already, but never tired to be back again.

  15. Things that sometimes go a little unplanned are also a good thing – and like you said, can be funny too. It was nice to hear about the boat tour that ended up being a walking tour, sometimes you never really know what to expect until you go. 48 Hour guides have a way of increasing your expectations but when you have a short amount of time, picking out the top few things and spending the rest of the time exploring off the beaten track or doing a few local things is a nice way to go. You did so much in Berlin! Travelling always gives you room to learn which is what is so great :)

  16. No matter how much planning is involved in a vacation, event, etc. NOTHING ever goes as you envision. There will always be a hiccup, an issue, etc. I am glad that all worked out well and I agree wholeheartedly that a 3am wake up call isn’t cool!

  17. So true with these points.
    There are times during our travels when things might not turn out to be as we had planned, but as you said, it is good to just go with it sometime, like what happened with your “free boat tour” :)
    Also, I am not a big fan of those “you can see everything in 48 hours” guides. Those are just too tiring and sometimes misleading.

  18. It’s inevitable that traveling won’t always go to plan and can get uncomfortable. People like us who are willing to make the most of this are the best kind of travelers :)

  19. finding the right travel partner is def essential, and over-planning or trying to check everything on a ‘top 10 must do’ list can also kill a trip very quickly. I literally avoid the ‘top 10’ type stuff unless it’s early morning before everyone wakes, or late at night after most people have gone. Have found this to increase my enjoyment 1000%! :)
    I’m curious about which author conference this was? Can you share the name? Looking for more European writing conferences to attend-

  20. Berlin sounds like such a great place to visit- definitely top of my bucketlist! Despite the hiccups, I hope you still enjoyed your trip! And yes, food DOES always make everything seem better 😛

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