© 2013 Diana

How to Survive Oktoberfest

Author : Nomadic Matt



“How many days are you at the Wiesn (Oktoberfest) for?” asked the German girl wearing her Bavarian dirndl across the table from me.


“We’re here for 5 days,” I replied, putting down my stein of beer. As she heard this, her facial expression (and that of her friend) became a mix of shock, disbelief, and horror.


“5 days! That is crazy! You’re a bit insane huh?” she said jokingly. “I hope you survive.”


And she was right. My friends and I were a bit insane to think 5 days wasn’t that long at Oktoberfest. I quickly learned that most Germans come simply for a day because, as I was informed many times, “that is enough time at the Wiesn.” It’s the tourists who stay longer.


In retrospect, 5 days at Oktoberfest was overzealous and something I wouldn’t do again. It was overkill. Even the group I was with, filled with able-bodied hardened drinkers, was exhausted by Day 3 and uninterested by Day 5. By the end, I never wanted to see a beer again.


But I survived the experience and had a great time, made a lot of new friends, hardened my liver a bit, met some cool travel bloggers, and learned just how to plan the perfect Oktoberfest trip.


What is Oktoberfest?

Oktoberfest was one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended. It’s a 16–18 day beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It all began when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city, which the locals call “Wies’n” (which means grass, and is why Oktoberfest is nicknamed Wiesn in Germany).


What to Expect at Oktoberfest

It’s great to see so many people dressed up in traditional Bavarian clothes (lederhosen for guys, dirndls for girls), having a good time, celebrating, and drinking good beer. You get a lot of people chugging beer and a lot of people who fail at it…but, no matter what, there is a lot of singing.


One thing that I didn’t expect was that outside the beer tents, it’s a carnival. Literally, a carnival with games, rides, and even haunted houses. I felt like I was at a theme park in Anywhere, U.S.A. It didn’t feel like the Oktoberfest I was expecting until I got inside the tents.


Making a Table Reservation

Yes, you can book tables at the tents at Oktoberfest. In fact, many people do. I had a table reservation every day I was there because my friends and I wanted to make sure we had a place to sit. In the future, though, I’m not so sure I’d reserve tables again. It’s nice to know you have a place to sit down, but other than on weekends or at night, it seemed like you could always find an open seat, even if you had to stand for a while. If I booked a table again, I would only do it for the nighttime hours, when tables are harder to get and you might not want to stand around waiting.


If you do book at one of the tents, be aware that most tables seat between 6-10 people and cost about 300 Euros. My friends and I had to book a whole table so even if it’s just one of you going, you reserve the table as though you are going fill it. While you are supposed to have a full table when you sit down, we showed up a few people under and they didn’t seem to care. Your reservation also gets you food.


Also, each tent has its own personality. Some tend to be heavy on Americans, Australians, older Germans, rich celebrities, etc. So consider this before booking a table.


Booking Accommodation

Book early. Accommodation fills up quickly – and some hotels and hostels book out up to a year in advance. The closer you get to the festival grounds, the more expensive beds are, and the quicker everything fills up. I booked a room in April and most places were already sold out. That room cost me 120 Euros per night, but was close to the festival grounds. I saw hostel rooms going for 60 – 80 Euros.


You can find cheap accommodation at “The Tent,” a hostel (well, really, a massive tent) outside the city for 40 Euros per night. That’s about as cheap as you will find unless you Couchsurf (which is hard because locals get a lot of requests from people looking for a free place to stay) or have friends you can stay with.


Getting Your Traditional Outfit

You can’t go to Oktoberfest without the traditional Bavarian outfit, and those are not cheap. A good lederhosen outfit begins at around 140 Euros. Dirndls, the traditional outfit for girls, begin around 100 Euros. (You can of course find cheaper outfits, though, if you aren’t looking for something of quality.)


How Much Does Oktoberfest Cost?

All the tents are free to enter. Beer is typically 10 Euros and most full meals are between 12 -15 Euros. You can get snacks and small meals for around 5 Euros. You can also buy alcohol outside the tents (but not beer), and the drinks cost around 8 Euros. You’ll also have to put a 2 Euro deposit down on the glass they give you. You’ll find tons of sausage and wurst stands everywhere for 4 Euros too.


General Survival Tips

It’s a marathon, not a sprint – You’ll be drinking all day, so there’s no need to rush it. Too many people pass out on the lawns by dinner time. Pace yourself. Those liters of beer are strong.


Hydrate – Drink a lot of water while you are there. I had Powerade and water bottles lined up in my room for when I got home and woke up.


Get to Kafer early – Most of the tents close at 10:30 p.m. Kafer is the only one open until 1 a.m., so everyone rushes there after the others shut down. Get there a bit before 10:30 p.m. so you have a spot, otherwise you simply won’t be able to get in or get served.


Get a table early – No reservation? Just winging it? If you aren’t there by mid-day, your chances of finding a table shrink greatly. Also try to avoid the times when they switch reservations. All the people that got kicked out are now looking for a free table and competition is fierce.


Eat outside – While all the tents have amazing rotisserie chicken, the food inside is simply expensive. Just walk outside, buy a cheap sausage, and save your money for the overpriced liters of beer.


All of this stuff adds up. It’s virtually impossible to do this event on a tight budget, but it’s definitely worth the expense. It only happens once a year and though it sort of busted my European budget, I don’t regret any of the money I spent. I’m really glad after years of false starts that I finally made it to Oktoberfest. My friends and I are already considering returning next year – though maybe not for 5 days again.


Growing up in Boston, I was never a big traveler. I didn’t take my first trip overseas until I was 23. Outside a cruise with my parents and college trip to Montreal, I had no travel experience. But after college I got a job and with it I got the standard American two weeks a year vacation. I wanted to use that time to travel. After all, it was vacation time, right? So for my first trip overseas, I went on a tour to Costa Rica. That trip changed my life. I came back home and I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to travel. From that moment on, I was hooked. Realizing I was missing out on, I vowed to travel as often as I could.


But like most Americans I only had two weeks of vacation per year and I didn’t know any of the genius ways to save money and travel longer. A trip to Thailand in 2005 changed that. There in the wonderful city of Chiang Mai, I met five backpackers who showed me that I didn’t have to be tied down to my job and that I didn’t need to be rich to travel. How? By just existing. I never viewed traveling the world as an option in my life. But these backpackers showed me it was. After that trip, I went home and knew with utter certainty I wanted to backpack the globe. I finished my MBA, quit my cubicle job, and, in July 2006, set out on an adventure around the world. My original trip was supposed to last a year. I was going to get travel out of my system before I started life in “the real world.” I didn’t come home until 18 months later and, once back, I knew I couldn’t go back to my old life or a typical job.


So I built this website and three months later, I was on the road again. I haven’t stopped since. My goal was to become a travel writer and help people travel more. I want to inspire you the way those five backpackers in Thailand inspired me. I’m here to show you that it’s possible to travel long term without a lot of money. People always say to me how much they would love to do what I do, even if it just for a little while. I’m here to tell you you can do it too.

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