The European Hacker Fare

File this under “don’t ever do that again.” The last time I went home to Miami, I flew out of Germany. This made sense because I was in Germany to apply for my visa and visit a friend.

When I was looking for flights home over Christmas, the cheapest fares were once again out of Germany. And being the thrifty traveler I am, I decided to book it. I figured Europe is small and easily accessible. I’m used to going to other countries in the EU on an hour-long flight or on a bus for a few hours. Prague is basically a suburb of Berlin!

As my flight drew nearer, I had to finalize arrangements to get to Berlin. I had many options. There are at least a dozen buses and trains running there every day. And of course, I could also fly. I opted for the cheapest route, the bus. The only question was when. Because Berlin is expensive and I’ve been there a few times already this year, I decided to see if I could avoid the hotel stay by booking a bus that would get there a few hours before my flight.

Booking the right bus

I’ve been on my share of European buses by now. And if those trips have taught me anything, it’s that there is at least a 40% chance of delay. And the problem with disjointed travel itineraries like this is that my airline doesn’t care if the bus didn’t get me to Berlin on time. If my bus had been late, I would have missed my flight home for Christmas. So I gave myself leeway – 4 hours of leeway to be exact. And the only bus that would do that on my timetable left Prague at 1 am.

Though unrelated to my ghetto itinerary, I hadn’t slept particularly well the night before. I intended to get some rest during the day, but that didn’t work out either. So by the time I went to wait for the bus, I was already half zombie.

The train station

All the buses I’ve taken out of Prague have left out of Florenc, which is the main bus terminal. And even in the middle of the day, that has its share of colorful characters. So I was both curious and a bit concerned about what I would find at the bus terminal in the wee hours of the morning.

But didn’t get to find out. I realized this bus was leaving out of the main train station, not the main bus station. Prague’s main train station is huge and pretty. But sometime around midnight, it’s huge and desolate, save for a few would be squatters. And by 12:30, it’s also closed. The bus stops outside the train station are basically on a highway. And because the historic part of the train station, which faces said highway, is currently being renovated, the only thing you have out there is the freezing cold and some construction fencing. Unlike Florenc, there is no bus timetable so you actually don’t know if your bus is on time or delayed. And you have no way of finding out.

So already standing out there freezing my ass off for 25 minutes, I was thinking I made a huge mistake. And my trip hadn’t even started.

The bus trip

bus trip

Luckily, the bus wasn’t late. But for a bus in the middle of the night, it was really packed. We stopped at least four times and picked up more people along the way. I had managed to get a row to myself and I pretended to be asleep every time people boarded so I could keep my second seat. I say pretended, because I can’t ever sleep upright and while moving at a speed of more than zero.

The entire ride was almost exactly 5 hours. And that’s where I’ll start counting the total length of my trip.

The Berlin airport

It’s really easy to get from the main bus terminal in Berlin to Berlin Tegel Airport, only about 30 minutes by public transportation. I arrived there by 7 am, a full five and a half hours before my flight. Fuck me.

The Berlin airport sucks. It’s like a warehouse with the minimum amount of seating possible. Since I had all the time in the world, I sat down at Cindy’s Diner inside Terminal C and had breakfast. I took my time, started writing this post, wrote all my Christmas cards, and people watched for what felt like an eternity.

berlin candy's

Running time: 11 hours

So a little longer than the amount of time it takes to get from Prague to China.

Berlin – Madrid flight

And maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had a direct flight from Berlin to Miami. But I had a connection in Madrid. The flight to Madrid was 2:30 hours.

Running time: 13.5 hours

Madrid airport

Everyone loves short connections. They want to get to their destination as soon as possible. I hate them. Because if you have to go through any checkpoints like security or immigration, you’re scrambling not to miss your connecting flight. And if your first flight is even a little bit delayed, you have to start thinking about being rebooked before you even land.

I had 1:10 minutes in Madrid to get off the plane, go through passport control, and board my second flight. But my flight from Berlin didn’t even arrive until half an hour before we were supposed to be airborne. So as I watched the clock countdown, I began to imagine another sleepless night in the Madrid airport.

But luckily I landed with enough time to run for 15 minutes straight and take a train to my departing gate.

Running time: 14.5 hours and change

Madrid – Miami flight

Finally, I was at the last, but longest stretch of the trip: the 9.5 hour flight. As luck would have it, this was perhaps the best flight I’ve ever been on. I had a two seater to myself, which has never happened in my life. I actually slept, as best I could anyway. I’m still pretty tall to cram into two seats. But when I wasn’t sleeping, I was lounging with my feet up as if it was first class.

This made it a little less painful, but it didn’t take away from the fact that it was another 9 hours of travel.

Total trip time: 24 hours and change

So was this ridiculous travel hack worth it?

berlin madrid flight

I saved myself at least $400 on the flight compared to any flight I could have taken from Prague. So if money is the main consideration (and it is mine), then yeah, totally. But was it convenient? No, it was absurdly long and uncomfortable. For how long I traveled I feel like I should be in New Zealand.

Would I do it again?

Yeah probably, but hopefully from a closer airport than Berlin. When you’re doing it all at once, that really doesn’t feel as close to Prague as I had deluded myself into thinking it was.