Ah, Berlin! Germany’s famous capital city. Full of art, history, food, fun, and… lots of stuff you can’t afford. Because you’re young and broke. But will you let that stop you?
In this month-long trip, you’ll take on the challenge of enjoying a big city on a small budget. Armed with a public transport pass and a bunch of new friends, you’ll venture forth into Berlin to discover its secrets, meet its people, and create your own adventures. At night, you’ll return to our nature-based youth hostel to swap stories over dinner. Then we’ll dream and scheme the next day.
In the end, you’ll gain a highly valuable set of skills and attitudes for surviving young adulthood: ones that will help you spend less, save more, create your own fun, and enjoy a more free life.
Sept 28 – Oct 28, 2023
(dates may shift slightly)
16 participants, ages 14-19 (flexible)
Blake Boles, Sydney Moyer, and Vick Barman
$4000 plus flights & lunches
The Priority Application Deadline was February 1st, and we received 30 applications for 16 spots. We now have a long wait-list, and applications are closed.
↑ Our homebase
Every Unschool Adventures trip is created with specific purposes in mind. Here’s what we’ll set out to accomplish.
Here’s a fact of human psychology: When we earn more money, we tend to spend more money—especially when we see other people doing the same.
Sometimes this makes sense, because it genuinely improves our lives. Other times, we spend because other people convince us to. And sometimes, we buy things simply because we’re bored, lonely, or don’t know what else to do.
“Who cares? I’m an unemployed teenager,” you might think. Well, we at Unschool Adventures believe you will care—because as soon as you start earning money, there will be people convincing you to spend it. Some will be friends, some will be advertisers, and one will definitely be yourself. The more money you spend, the more you’ll need to work, and the less time you’ll have for other parts of life.
Throughout this trip we’ll examine the roles that money, consumption, and entertainment play in our lives. Why does buying things feel good? Why do boredom and FOMO feel bad? How does social pressure affect us? How do we weigh current rewards versus future rewards? Whether or not you’re already earning money, these are questions worth asking early and often—and ask we shall.
On this trip, we will become Masters of LCGT: Low Cost Good Times.
Berlin is like New York City. There’s so much happening that there’s no way you can say “I’m bored.” But also like New York, things get expensive quickly. So you’ll need to harness your creativity, flexibility, and research skills to discover all the city has to offer.
Maybe you’ll be the one who discovers Berlin’s many free museums, exhibits, and street art. Maybe you’ll scout out the coolest cafes, parks, bookstores, and libraries. Perhaps you’ll find language exchanges or volunteer opportunities. Perhaps you’ll be the extravert who asks for tips from everyone you meet, or the introvert scouring social media for obscure events, or the one reminding us that it’s okay to sit quietly on a park bench and watch the world go by.
This will be an exercise in collective creativity. If you’re unsure what you might offer, remember this: listening, watching, and following along are parts of the learning process, too. We’re here to learn from each other, inspire each other, and create adventurous moments that we wouldn’t attempt on our own. After a full month, we’re confident that we’ll all be Masters of LCGT.
↑ “Fraternal Kiss” by Dmitri Vrubel, as seen on the Berlin Wall
Hey, did we mention this is Berlin, one of the coolest cities on the planet? Packed with history, culture, and people from all over the world? German yet cosmopolitan? Gritty yet tourist-friendly? Connected by a superb public transportation system? A city that so many people want to visit… and you get to spend a whole month exploring?!
No matter what you’re into, Berlin has it. Board game cafés? Check. Diverse food? Check. Thrift stores? Check. Fascinating history? Big check. While there are a few “must-sees” that we’ll recommend everyone visit together, you’ll be mostly free to indulge your quirky interests and see/do Berlin in your own way. (Minus the drugs and alcohol and nightclubs.)
Worried about the language barrier? While we’ll ask everyone to learn some basic German before the trip, most Berliners do speak some English, and those in the service sector are typically fluent. And when all else fails, there’s Google Translate. And charades.
Finally, we won’t just keep our magical discoveries to ourselves: we’ll share what we’re learning and doing via the Unschool Adventures social media accounts. And at the end of trip, we’ll publish a final document that helps other young people benefit from our experiences. (Tentative title: How to Enjoy Berlin on the Cheap as a Teenager.) Maybe it will be a Google Doc, or maybe we’ll get fancy and publish an actual book/pamphlet/zine. Now that’s a souvenir.
↑ Berlin in autumn
Our homebase for the month is Jugendherberge Berlin Wannsee, a large youth hostel nestled next a lake (Wannsee) and forest (Grunewald) outside of the city center. You’ll live in 4-person dorms, share meals alongside German student groups, and return to a quiet, green homebase after busy days in the bustling city. Our group will also have exclusive use of a hostel conference room for the month (for meetings and a quiet hangout space).
JH Wannsee is a 10-minute walk from the nearest S-Bahn (light rail) station. From there, it’s 20-40 minutes by train to central Berlin. Multiple supermarkets and restaurants are within walking distance of the hostel for all your lunch and snack-time needs.
7:00-9:30am: Breakfast served
10am: Quick group check-in
10am-6pm: Explorations (with lunch on your own)
5:30-7:30pm: Dinner served
7:30pm: Group meeting & check-in
8:30pm: Free time
Each day is its own adventure, and we’re purposefully keeping things flexible. If you’d like to head off before 10am or do something at night, we’ll do our best to make it happen. If you’re feeling tired, you can stick around the hostel. As long as you follow our simple “going out” guidelines, you can come and go as you please (see FAQ).
↑ JH Wannsee dorm
↑ Giant chess at the hostel
Before applying, please read the Frequently Asked Questions below. Then click “Apply Now” to submit your online application and $40 application fee (fully refundable if you’re not offered a spot).
As with every Unschool Adventures trip, we do interviews to ensure that all participants are good fit for the program. After receiving your application we’ll get in touch with you for a verbal interview over WhatsApp or Telegram. (These will take place in the last two weeks of January 2023.) Complete your application and interview by February 1st (the Priority Application Deadline) for your best chance of joining the trip.
What’s covered by the program fee?
The $4000 UA program fee includes housing, breakfasts and dinners (provided by the hostel), towels, laundry (once a week), a month-long unlimited Berlin transport pass (fare zones A+B), and an Unschool Adventure t-shirt. We also have a small budget for sponsored group activities.
Not included: airfare, lunches, snacks, toiletries, and mobile data. We recommend bringing $10/day for lunches, snacks, and toiletries. Participants are expected to bring a cell phone that can access mobile data in Germany in order to stay in touch with the group.
Who are the trip leaders?
Your illustrious trip leaders are Sydney Moyer and Blake Boles, plus trip assistant Vick Barman. Learn more about us on the Leaders page.
How will flights be organized?
International flights to Berlin will be organized by our long-time group travel specialist, Karen Chieppa of Global Vision Travel, who has secured a group contract for us that departs New York (JFK) 5:30pm on Sep 28, returning Oct 28, for approximately $1200. Participants are responsible for the cost of this international airfare as well as domestic airfare to JFK. For those coming from the west coast, an overnight near JFK (accompanied/facilitated by UA staff) may be required for scheduling reasons.
Flying with the group is wonderful part of the adventure, and a required part of this trip (unless you already live in Europe). If you’d like to stay longer in Europe after the trip, Karen Chieppa may be able to secure you a return deviation.
Can I just hang around the hostel all day?
While we’re serious about offering our teenage participants freedom to make their own choices, we’re also serious about nurturing a culture of exploration and adventure. Translation: This is a trip for doers! If you’re just going to hang out at the hostel all the time, this is not the trip for you. Occasional rest days and down time are fine and necessary—but please only apply if you’re motivated to explore Berlin, push your comfort zone, and take full advantage of this awesome opportunity.
What is the hostel like?
JH Wannsee is part of a youth hostel network designed for student groups. This means you’ll share the common areas and dining hall with multi-aged school groups from Germany and other countries. Many of these students will speak some English (and are excited to practice)—a great opportunity to meet and chat with young people outside our group.
The 4-bed dorm rooms include communal toilets & showers, just like a summer camp. Only members of the UA Berlin will stay in our rooms (i.e., no random strangers). Per JH rules, boys and girls rooms must be separate, but we’ll do our best to put you in your desired room. You can change your bed sheets as frequently as you like, and they’ll give you a new towel once a week.
How much German do I need to learn?
On this trip you’ll be given free rein to explore Berlin, and with that freedom comes the responsibility to know how to orient yourself, understand basic signs, and ask for help if you need it. That’s why we’ll ask everyone to be able to pronounce German syllables/words and speak a few basic phrases before departure. There are many ways to tackle this challenge, and we’ll work on it together in the months prior to the trip. (Feel free to start earlier!)
What can we do in our free time?
During the day, you can go pretty much anywhere in the Berlin A/B tariff area (see map above), as long as you tell a trip leader where you’re going, when you plan to return, and any changes you make along the way. Nighttime outings are different and subject to trip leader approval (we won’t always say yes).
Following Unschool Adventures tried-and-true rules for group outings, we require that you always go out in a group of 3 or larger. (We make exceptions for short trips to nearby commercial areas—the “1-person/1-block” rule.) Please understand that these rules do limit your autonomy, but we have them for important reasons, which we are always happy to explain to you.
We expect participants to get around Berlin by public transport and foot. Rental bikes and scooters are unfortunately not part of the deal (due to injury and insurance considerations). Same goes for swimming. We also try to focus on activities that all participants can enjoy, regardless of age; so if you’re 18 or 19, you may not always be able to splinter off and do things restricted to age 18+.
Otherwise, Berlin is your oyster! And it’s a pretty fantastic oyster.
Is Berlin safe for teenagers?
Since our first trip in 2008, Unschool Adventures has facilitated independent exploration of foreign cities by teen groups without serious incident. While no such exploration is risk-free, we encourage you to think of Berlin as you might think of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or Vancouver: a big city that young people can successfully navigate with basic precautions, budding street smarts, and regular communication with caring adults (the UA staff). If you’re unsure whether this level of freedom and responsibility is appropriate for your teen, don’t hesitate to contact UA Director Blake Boles (firstname.lastname@example.org) prior to applying.
What’s the weather like?
October should provide us with some lovely autumn days. But this is Northern Europe, which means cold and rain will be part of the deal, too. Layer up, and prepare for anything.
What’s the food like?
Unlike other Unschool Adventures trips, we don’t have to cook for ourselves—because the professional kitchen team at JH Wannsee will cook for us! The hostel offers both meat and vegetarian options, and with notice, they also prepare vegan and gluten-free options. Meals are served cafeteria style, and you can eat as much as you want.
Breakfasts include a wide variety of breads, fruit, cereal, meat and cheese, some sort fresh-made hot-sugary thing (like pancakes or donut holes), as well as coffee and hot cocoa. Dinners are varied and always include a protein, starch, and veggies, plus bread and a dessert. Both meals are served within fixed time windows which we’ll need to work around.
Unfortunately, the hostel does not have a kitchen for guests to use, which means you cannot prepare your own meals. But you can have snacks! Just not ones that need a fridge/freezer. A nearby discount supermarket (Netto) has lots of options at great prices, and you can walk there by yourself (as part of the 1-person/1-block rule).
Will we go anywhere other than Berlin?
This trip is 100% focused on Berlin… unless the group decides together to spend some of our activity budget on a field trip. We can also easily visit nearby Potsdam.
If you’re burning to visit other parts of Germany/Europe, talk with our group travel specialist about extending your stay (and possibly returning from a different airport).
I have a bunch of spending money—do I still need to be thrifty?
Well, good for you—and we humbly suggest you save your money and join us in the pursuit of Low Cost Good Times. Spend whatever you’d like on lunches/snacks, but please don’t bankroll your own (or other teens’) special activities. The point of this trip is learning to do more with less.
What do I need to bring?
No special gear is required for this trip. Just bring layers for different kinds of weather, and you’re set! A full packing list will be provided.
Bedding and towels are provided by the hostel. If you’re particular about pillows, you might want to bring one or obtain one upon arrival, as the hostel’s pillows are very basic.
What are the Covid-19 protocols?
The country of Germany has proven itself to be very serious about Covid. In the past, they have required Covid-19 vaccination for entry, and they have restricted access to public spaces and private businesses for unvaccinated (or unboosted) people. This is why we still require that all participants have at least the basic Covid-19 vaccination series to join—and why it’s possible (if unlikely) that a recent booster may become necessary as well. We’ll know more as we get closer to departure date.
As of December 2022, masks are still required on public transport in Germany, but they are not required (and largely not used) anywhere else.
When is the program fee due?
Upon acceptance to the program (after interviewing), a $1500 nonrefundable deposit is due within two weeks to hold your space, payable by bank transfer (e.g. Zelle, Wise, wire) or credit card (with a 3.5% surcharge). The $2500 balance is due in late June.
Is there a chance this trip won’t happen?
[Update February 2023: We have plenty of applicants! The trip is a “go”!]
All Unschool Adventures programs require a minimum number of participants for a program to run. We anticipate making a “go” or “no go” decision for this trip by April 2023. If cancelled due to low enrollment, all payments are refunded.
When I go home, can I tell people I have a Master’s of LCGT?
Yes! Maybe we’ll even make our own diplomas… 🤔 Just don’t say it’s accredited.
Write Blake anytime: email@example.com
↑ Participants from the UA Writing Retreat 2013, hanging out in a people pile. (Imagine yourself here!)