Travel Tips

Planning Travel Between Cities Using Google Maps

A great vacation usually entails connections between cities.  Unless you are planning on staying in one city the entirety of your trip, you will need to plan some travel connections between cities on your trip.  Travel between cities can be quite an experience and an adventure versus just a chore to get to your next travel destination.  There are many options from getting from point A to Point B including rail, car, bus, airplane, or even perhaps a boat.  We are currently in the early planning phase of a trip to Amsterdam, Germany, and Norway.  I wanted to share some of the ways I plan the connections between cities using Google Maps and other resources to ensure we have quick, safe and a memorable experience.

Travel Between Cities, Which Ones?

Knowing your list of cities that you need to plan travel between can only be limited by your imagination.  Logistically you need to make sure that travel between cities on your dream list can be achieved in the time frame allotted to your trip.  Currently our vacations vary between a week for domestic trips and up to two weeks for international travel. Planning for our upcoming trip of Amsterdam, Germany, and Norway the two week mark seems like a good fit.  I tend to enjoy up to three or four full days in each destination.  This is a good amount of time to see the highlights and explore, but not get too bored with one location.  If we find something that we really enjoyed like Berwick Upon Tweed, we can always plan a trip to spend more time at a particular location.

Basic geography of the area is something you need to take into account when planning your travel between cities.  Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo have been on our list of places to see for some time and they are relatively close together.  Assessing the geography in this region it looks like crossing multiple borders, and even part of the North Sea is in order.  Luckily the rail service in Europe is more convenient and economical to air travel in the area.  Google maps is a great resource for the first step of basic geography research to the final step of booking your tickets.  It is truly a one stop shop for providing up to date information when planning travel between cities.

The order in which you visit the cities can be centered around personal preference, a particular event in a city, or perhaps even the ability to get a cheaper ticket if you go in reverse or forward order on your list of cities.  In the case of Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo my preferred route will be Amsterdam, Berlin, then Oslo.  This is because American Airlines is about to start direct flights from Dallas to Amsterdam and the route home from Oslo is more indirect with connections.  I would rather handle connections on my way home versus on the start of my trip.  This will enable us to get right into the trip, versus wasting time and energy at the airport.

How to See Potential Connections in the City

The routing of the connections between known cities is a snap with Google.  Now that we know that our first stop will be Amsterdam, the next geographically logical destination is Berlin.  A simple Google Search of Amsterdam to Berlin brings up the powerful Google routing tool right at the top of the search.

Travel Between Cities
Google Routing Screenshot

This gives us an option of four tabs car, train, walking, and bicycling.  Sometimes air travel will also be provided.  In this case it was not, so I also used a site such as Kayak to gauge time and cost for air travel.  In the case of Europe, I pretty much had already decided rail travel would be the way to go.  Choose the train tab you are presented with many options.  Clicking Google Route Optionson the map will bring up more information and different routes.  The default information provides routes for the near future which is not what we are looking for, but can give you valuable resources such as route names, transportation companies and distance information.  Looking at the proposed routes for transportation between the cities there appears to be a rail service between the cities with a connection on the ‘IC’ and ‘ICE’ lines.  A trip time of a little over six hours is not terrible.  A flight is about an hour and half for direct flights not counting travel to and from airports and runs well over a hundred dollars a person.  Clicking on the Details information on the route screen will give route, as well as information about the transportation providers so you can go to their website and get updated information.  In this case we found Deutsche Bahn as the train provider between Berlin and Amsterdam that Google routes identified.

Once on the providers website you can typically input your start and end cities and see the routes they have tickets for sell.  From the information from Google we know the best route has one connection and should be a little over six hours.  This far in advance I have no idea what days we might be traveling so I try to pick days of the week about two to three months out from the current date to see what prices I might expect.  Some sights let you save a route and date if you know it and they will email out alerts when those tickets open up so you can get the best price.  Typically I try to leave town on on Wednesday which means we will be in our first destination by Thursday.  Not really counting Thursday as a day I then plan on staying there for the weekend.  This brings us to Monday as the day we will leave Amsterdam and head to Berlin.

Using the booking tool on the providers website I am able to see that they only have bookings out to about a month in advance.  Which is fine, I can still get an idea of prices booking a month out.  In Europe there are a list of different ticket types you can get, check out our traveling by rail page for more information.  I tend to prefer the first class seats if they are not too much different.  In this case I can find two first class tickets on a direct route, which Google did not show, for about 140 euros, this only about 20 euro difference from the lower class tickets.  This is for two travelers and includes the seat, but on that particular train.  Prices can escalate 100 euros quickly if you want a more flexible fare, but this will work for my requirements.  It leaves early in the morning and then arrives early afternoon which is perfect so we do not waste too much time getting around.

Using a similar methodology I can see that there is really no quick route between Berlin and Oslo.  Airlines are an option, but the prices can be high depending on the route and also you cannot really enjoy the journey trapped in a metal bird.  Traveling is for enjoying the country and not the inside of an airplane.

Travel Between Cities Level Expert

So we have a problem, I need to get to Oslo from Berlin and I do not really want to fly.  Google routing could not find much for me, but it is limited because of various factors trying to bring you the most convenient answer.  This problem has a less than usual answer.  Traveling on an overnight cruise to Oslo from the German town of Kiel.  Now how did we find that information?  Lets break it down.

From my geography research above, we can see that Oslo is a seafront city which brings boat travel into the mix.  Not usually a mode of travel selected during trips unless you are going on a cruise, but it could be an interesting option.  Zooming into the Oslo city area we start to see many blue dotted lines on the water.

These blue dotted lines denote ferry links that come into Oslo.  Right on the map we can see Kiel-Oslo which is what I decided after checking the other end connections.  If the route is clearly labeled like these you can simply Google the city to know where it is, but the other option is to zoom out a little and follow the dotted line to its origin.  Another option that can be seen is Denmark, but I figured it would be easier to travel from Berlin to Kiel to make our connection.

A quick search of Kiel to Oslo Ferry brings up the operator, Color Line.  Looking through the booking information it turns out to be a 20 hour cruise and looking at some theoretical dates will range from 248 to 300 euros based on two adults.  This is an inside room and you can upgrade for a price.  Adding in prepaid meals for two travelers on the boat the total comes to 360 euros.  The meals I picked were the cheaper buffet style, which will still beat airplane food, but you can upgrade to three different tiers of food.  Still cheaper than some of the flights I saw, although this will add a day to the trip.  The boats leave Kiel in the afternoon and then arrive in Norway in the late morning of the next day.  Not ideal if you want to get their fast, but it may be a unique experience.  Based on Google reviews it looks like it might be fun.  We can travel to Kiel from Berlin by rail using the same methodology as above for Amsterdam to Berlin.

Now we know how we will connect between the cities, and how long it will take.  Adding the standard two to three days per city, with the exception of Kiel where we will stay the night for our connection, we can see how long the whole trip will take.  We also know how much each of the connections will cost so we can add that to the budget and start getting a savings goal as well.

In recap our rough itinerary accounting for travel between cities is as follows:

  • Wednesday – Leave DFW
  • Thursday – Arrive in Amsterdam, explore and recover from flight
  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday – Three days in Amsterdam
  • Monday – Leave Amsterdam for Berlin, Arrive Early afternoon in Berlin
  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – Three Days in Berlin
  • Friday – Travel to Kiel and Stay the night (might be able to omit this night if we can find a dependable route arriving before the boat leaves)
  • Saturday – Explore Kiel and leave for Oslo in the afternoon
  • Sunday – Arrive in Oslo in the mid-morning
  • Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – Three days in Amsterdam
  • Wednesday or Thursday – Leave to come home

Now we have the grand plan and we can trim at it until we have something doable.  This is right over two weeks from leaving to coming home so I would like to trim it down by a day or so if I can do it without compromising our time in any city.  My next step of researching is what to do around each town which will give me an idea of where I can cut down some days.


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