Berlin: The Most Expensive Trip I’ve Ever Taken


ONO spa, in Berlin

At the start of the year, I set myself a series of travel challenges for 2016. They ranged from visiting Bora Bora on a budget (check!) to visiting my big European oversights (check!) to starting to take more defined trips (check!)

Those were all fairly easy to tick off my list, but I’ve been struggling with one particular goal for a while now: to take a trip I never would have considered before. As I wrote in my post:

I want to get out of my comfort zone this year and try something I would normally steer away from. It could be anything from a yoga retreat to a surf instructor course; a spa holiday in a 5* resort to a camping trip. I think it’ll be fun to try something that’s not me at all and see how much I enjoy/hate it.

I pondered it for months until it finally hit me. The perfect way for me to smash this goal would be to splash out and take one of the most luxurious trips I could possibly imagine. I was going to be travelling alone around Europe, which would be the best opportunity for me to do it.

Because every single time I’ve travelled solo, I’ve done it on the tightest budget possible. I stay in cheap dorm rooms, I walk everywhere, I eat inexpensively, I end up dealing with creepy hostel owners, getting bedbugs, and having people throw up in my room two days in a row.

If you’ve been reading my site for any amount of time, you’ll know that my biggest travel splurges have been for the people I love most in my life. I’ll think nothing of splashing out several hundreds — or sometimes even several thousands — of dollars on helping my favourite people celebrate their special occasions in beautiful places around the world. It’s one of my favourite things to do.

…So why don’t I ever do it for myself?

coffee in love statues pai

That was a tough question for me to face. Why don’t I see myself as worthy? Why do I give so much to the people I love, but leave nothing for me? Ack.

It’s been a tough few years for me — you guys know that. So many panic attacks and illnesses and events that have sent my self-esteem down the drain and into the sewers.

But now that my anxiety is finally under control (I’m now three months anxiety free!), I can prioritise building myself back up.

And Berlin was just the place to start.

It would be a trip of firsts for me: my first taste of luxury travel as a solo traveler; my first massage after my traumatising experience in Bangkok (I’ve not had a massage since, and the hotel I chose to stay in has one of the best spas in the world, so I decided to take the plunge!); and my first time treating myself to a fancy AF meal (after spending my early solo travel days surviving on McDonald’s and supermarket food, I was going to eat at a two Michelin star restaurant.)

 

Staying at the Mandala Hotel

I opted to stay at the Mandala Hotel, because I wanted to stay in a hotel that had a spa (for my massage challenge) and their ONO spa had amazing reviews. As did the hotel. It’s a five-star hotel in Potsdamer Platz, ranked 10th on TripAdvisor, and sounded incredible. It looked perfect for my challenge.

And it was after making this decision, I wondered whether my Trip I Would Have Never Considered Taking Before could actually be me accepting a comped stay somewhere.

Because my five night stay in an executive suite at the Mandala came to just over $2,000.

 

In the past, my experiences of luxury travel as a budget traveller haven’t been the greatest. I mean, I loved staying in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives, but it also felt like an enormous rip-off. I immediately decided that if I felt this way in Berlin, I wasn’t going to let it affect my trip: this was a treat for me and, as I kept reminding myself, I was worth it.

Staying in a hotel this luxurious was a novelty for me: It was like having an entire house to myself! And there were all of these crazy features, like if you gave the staff a shopping list they’d go out and buy everything from a supermarket and bring it to your room for you. And they provided you a map of nearby jogging routes. There were five different types of pillows to choose from.

There was a hotel doctor and dentist for guests. I had a walk-in closet the size of my childhood bedroom in London. I had a personal shopper in case I wanted to buy new clothes. They had personal trainers. They had this cool key system where whenever you put your key card in the slot for power, the staff could see you were in your room and wouldn’t disturb you.

The gym was the fanciest I’ve ever been to, with fruit-infused water and ice cold face towels available everywhere. When reception called me a taxi when I was leaving, they walked me out to the street to make sure I found it okay! The list of amazing features was endless, although I didn’t have much use for many of them.

Most importantly of all: when I rocked up looking like a backpacker, covered in sweat with frizzy hair, wearing ugly clothes and carrying a backpack, they were so welcoming to me! No judgment from anyone, while I was half-expecting they were going to ask me if I was lost.

Overall, this was pretty much the most relaxed I’ve felt in a hotel ever. I loved every amazing second I spent at the Mandala.

bedroom at the Mandala Hotel

My verdict: I have mixed feelings on this! The Mandala was undoubtably in my top five favourite places I’ve stayed in around the world, and I absolutely loved every moment I was there. It was probably the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The staff were amazing, my room was incredible, and, well, really, everything was perfect.

But it was so expensive. I struggled with justifying such a huge amount of money on something I basically have when I’m not on the move.

So, would I do it again? Probably not to this extent.

But it did show me how much more enjoyable and stress-free my solo travels could be and encouraged me to seek out nicer places to stay in the future. I don’t have to always opt for sleepless nights in dorm rooms and try to travel on as tight a budget as possible.

And even though I did come to the conclusion that splurging on 5 star hotels around the world isn’t for me, it was an incredible experience that I’m glad I had. Just the first step towards showing myself more love in my life.

 

Finally Facing Up to My Massage Fears

The ONO spa is ranked the best in Berlin, and was also voted World’s Best Boutique Spa by Senses Wellness Guide (whatever that is…) — I knew I wanted a professional environment for dipping my toe back into the massage waters, and that definitely fit my criteria. It cost 100 euros for an hour-long massage.

And god, was I anxious!

When my masseuse asked me to remove all of my clothes, I panicked. Because after sharing what happened during my last massage, a load of people had reached out to tell me that my first sign something was wrong was me being told to take off all of my clothes — that you should never be told to be strip completely naked.

And I’m cool with being naked and all that, but if I wasn’t supposed to remove all of my clothes, what should I do instead? But also, I was in Germany, where nakedness isn’t weird, so maybe I was supposed to take them all off. I couldn’t believe I was panicking already.

ONO spa, in Berlin

Funny story: when I was chatting to the masseuse before the massage, she asked if I was here for the marathon. At the time, I had no idea that the Berlin marathon was on during my stay, so I immediately assumed she was asking me if I was here to have a marathon massage. Which sounded like something I probably didn’t want — I didn’t have all day and a marathon massage sounded like it would take a long time.

“Um, so what exactly is the marathon?” I asked.

And then I had to stand and listen to her explain exactly what a marathon was to me. She must have thought I was so dumb!

So, I had the massage and I felt a little out of my depth at first, because she asked me what kind of massage I liked and I had no idea beyond a non-intrusive one? And she asked about my favourite oils, and again, I had no idea. I definitely felt like a little kid who had no idea what they were even doing.

But once that was out of the way and there were no awkward conversations, I was all good. And I was proud of myself for facing up to my fears!

Cup of tea at ONO spa, Berlin

My verdict: I’m actually surprised to say it probably wasn’t worth it for me. The massage was relaxing and it did feel indulgent, but honestly? I’ve felt more relaxed after 15 minutes in those massage chairs at airports. I was really expecting to feel amazing afterwards and was disappointed that I didn’t.

And that could totally be because I was hyper-aware of everything that was going on to the point where I couldn’t fully allow myself to relax, but either way, I came away feeling that it was a nice experience, but it wasn’t 100 euros nice. When I went back down to my room afterwards, I felt normal.

Would I have another massage in the future? I probably would! But it most likely wouldn’t be in a Western country with crazy-expensive prices. It just didn’t do enough for me for me to justify spending so much.

Eating alone at Facil, Berlin

From Picky Eater to Fearful Solo Diner to Nothing But Confidence

You all know the story. When I first started travelling, I was the pickiest eater ever. I hated foods with flavour. I hated anything I’d never tried before. I spent my first few months of travel surviving on McDonald’s and junk food from the supermarket. I was too afraid to try the local foods, because I assumed they would make me sick.

And that sucked. What a miserable way to travel!

Gradually, I worked up the courage to start trying new foods, and eventually my belief that every new flavour would send me into anaphylactic shock faded away. I started to realise the bland diet I’d kept to pre-travel had been incredibly boring. I kept trying more and more foods, each one exposing me to new flavours and textures, each one building up my confidence. And that continued until I reached the point where there’s literally nothing I can think of that I wouldn’t try eating now.

The only barrier that remained was my fear of eating alone.

I hated it.

I avoided it whenever I could.

I was so uncomfortable eating alone that sometimes, I’d just choose to not eat at all. When I travelled alone, I’d often revert back to eating supermarket food because it was easy to obtain, and I only really enjoyed what I ate when I was eating with somebody else and therefore didn’t have to be afraid of restaurants.

I decided to make a change, and I feel like I should tell you here that it wasn’t easy, but it was. Super easy. I just started eating at restaurants. And at first, I was uncomfortable and awkward — I even spent five hours in a restaurant once because I was too nervous to ask for the bill.

But then I wasn’t so weird anymore. After a week of eating at restaurants for every meal, I was fine.

And now eating alone is one of my favourite parts of solo travel. It’s a time to treat myself, read a book, people watch, and try some new foods. I’m no longer afraid of what people might be thinking of me. Especially because they’re most likely not thinking about me at all.

Facil dessert

Eating at Facil was all about proving how far I’ve come.

I knew I would have truly defeated my eating alone demons if I could rock up to a two Michelin star restaurant in faded jeans and a top that’s seen the inside of 18 different washing machines around the world, confidently sit down, and enjoy my meal.

And that’s exactly what I did.

I was surrounded by stuffy businessmen in suits and rich-looking people, and yet I owned that lunch. I didn’t care.

I even took a selfie.

My verdict: 10/10; one of the best meals of my life; would totally do it again. 

 

I loved every second of my time in Berlin, and I’m so glad I decided to treat myself on this trip. While I came away thinking that I probably wouldn’t repeat such an experience to that level again, it was wonderful to have a taste of luxury in my life — even if it was for just five days.

This was one of my favourite trips ever!

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25 Comments

  1. Natalie
    October 17, 2016
    Reply

    On the topic of massages, I choose deep tissue massages. In fact, if they are relaxing while I’m getting them, I’m not going to feel better later.

    If you are ever in Columbus, Ohio USA, I have a recommendation for the (my opinion) best massage therapist there. But you will have to brave enough to tell her if she is or isn’t going too deep. She’s also less expensive than 100 euros an hour. And oh so worth what she charges!

    I don’t like spending a lot on a massage, only to feel meh about it afterwards. It’s so disappointing for me!

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      I think I’d probably prefer deep tissue massages, actually! They’re next on my list to try :-)

  2. Andy
    October 17, 2016
    Reply

    Nice post. Finding the balance between ultra budget and ideal comfort isn’t always easy. I’ve had a couple of nights recently in a city in Siberia and booked a Doubletree at £25/night as a bit of comfort after a 25 hour train ride. Because I use the chain quite a bit with work, I got an immediate upgrade to a suite bigger than my flat at home. And in this massive suite, there’s me looking scruffy while sink washing my underwear. ? It didn’t feel right. And I certainly feel more comfortable in somewhere more basic.

    Glad you conquered eating alone. ?

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      Oh, nice! Yeah, I definitely felt a little odd staying in such a fancy place while looking like a grubby backpackers haha.

  3. Dominique
    October 17, 2016
    Reply

    Haha when I first read the title I became very concerned. Berlin is one of my oversights in Europe too, and I really want to visit it next year. I’m happy your post is about the conscious decision for you to spend a lot of money on Berlin and not that Berlin is the most expensive destination :) It looks like a super indulgent trip! And you do deserve it! Everyone should treat themselves every now and then when they can !

    • Lauren
      October 17, 2016
      Reply

      Hahaha, no, Berlin is actually pretty inexpensive for Western Europe. Thank you! :-)

  4. Kevin R. Thompson
    October 17, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve always loved finding out the random amenities that some luxury hotels provide, even if I find most of them unnecessary. Berlin is definitely on my list of top places to go in Europe so I’m glad to hear that you liked it. I’m a Cold War-era buff and so it’s definitely a place I have to go.

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      There were definitely some odd ones at this hotel! There was also this: “Even the windows work towards creating your inner balance: invisible crystals inside neutralize the electronic smog our technologically advanced life brings with it.” haha

  5. Lotte
    October 17, 2016
    Reply

    Good for you, treating yourself to a fancy weekend! And you can definitely be very proud of achieving every goal you set yourself in the beginning of 2016:-)

    But ouch, €2000 for a 5 night stay, I can imagine it hurts a little when you swipe your card and see a 4-digit number disappear from your account. Ah well, it’s only money;-)

    • Lauren
      October 18, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you! :-) And oh, it hurt so much! I was only able to justify it because I knew I’d be heading back to Lisbon to work solidly for two months afterwards.

      • Lotte
        October 18, 2016
        Reply

        Haha I completely understand. I already wince when I have to pay a plane ticket which costs more than €500,..

        Good luck with work the next 2 months in Lisbon, I’m sure it’s a nice city in winter as well:-)

  6. Brooklyn Murtaugh
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    Three months anxiety free?! GOOD JOB! As someone who has anxiety I know how much of an accomplishment that is! :)

    I love eating alone. I remember being a teenager and being jealous when I saw people eating alone at restaurants, but I never did it for myself.
    Now I do and I love it.

    This stay looks gorgeous, but holy expensive!

    It’s nice to treat yourself though and every now and then spending money like that is worth it, I think :)

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you!! I finally feel as though I’m back to normal again :-)

  7. Alissa
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    Nice post! It’s always fun and interesting reading your reflections, and I’m glad that you enjoyed your Berlin trip and the experience of luxury travel. Also, thank you for sharing your story of facing your fears and getting a massage. It’s obviously never easy to put yourself in a situation that can trigger traumatic memories. I think that it takes a great deal of courage, that and to write about it in the first place! Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty in your writing. As always, looking forward to reading more :)

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you! It was really, really tough, and I don’t think I realised until recently just how much that experience had affected me. But taking that first step in Berlin helped a lot :-)

  8. Stephanie Craig
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    If you decide you want to splurge on accomodation in the States or Canada, I’ve found it’s pretty easy to get 4 star accomodations in major cities for the same price as 2-3 stars if you use the Priceline Name Your Own Price tool. This has made it easier for me to know which situations to splurge in and when I have to go Motel 6 (yuck). I’ve done this mostly on short roadtrips when an AirBnB doesn’t seem worth the effort or they are just as expensive as the hotel options.

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      That’s good to know! I’ve actually never used Priceline before.

  9. Monique
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    Dear Lauren
    First, I must say that I love your blog and your writing style! It inspired me to start a blog of my own (once I find the right topic to write one on^^) .
    I am from berlin, so I was happy you wrote something on my city!
    However, the title does not do Berlin justice. If you just read “Berlin: The Most Expensive Trip I’ve Ever Taken” as a reader interested in the city, it sounds as if Berlin is really expensive itself. Which it’s not.
    Now people that read the post understand that this trip was about indulging in luxury and in treating yourself, and that kind of stuff tends to be expensive in Western countries (Berlin is no exception), of course.
    But as you did not write much about the city itself in your post (and this post is the only one on Germany I can currently find on your blog), it doesn’t seem fair to name the post after Berlin being the most expensive trip destination you went to. Germany is really great for budget travelers, in fact, it’s one of the cheapest Western European countries to travel to. And Berlin especially can give travelers all the flair for half of what you would pay in Paris or London or Rome.
    Don’t get me wrong, of course the Mandala is great and I am happy for you that your massage phobia is now cured.
    Maybe you can be encouraged to write about Berlin itself and what you saw out on the street as well? It would do the city much greater justice than a review of a luxury hotel & spa, which could be found anywhere and which some of us might not have a chance of seeing from the inside anytime soon ;)
    Thank you for your understanding.

    • Lauren
      October 18, 2016
      Reply

      I have about half a dozen posts about Berlin coming up over the next few weeks.

  10. Chloe
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    Good for you! It sounds like you have the right perspective. You tried it, not every part is for you, but the good parts you truly enjoyed.
    Will you write about what else you did in Berlin?

    • Lauren
      October 18, 2016
      Reply

      Yep, I have lots of other posts planned for Berlin! I should have another one going up later tonight, actually :-)

  11. Sam
    October 23, 2016
    Reply

    Just a note to say I’m so glad you didn’t sell out and get a comped hotel stay like 95% of other travel bloggers would have done! The fact you always pay for everything out of your own pocket gives your blog so much more integrity. Thank you!

    • Lauren
      March 2, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Sam! I always want to show my readers that travel is affordable and attainable and I can’t do that if I don’t pay for everything myself :-)

  12. Valerie
    November 7, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Lauren! I am from Berlin and I am so happy that you enjoyed your stay and are planning to come back in spring :) It is so funny that you decided to splurge on a expensive hotel in Berlin, since Berlin is actually known to be poor but sexy. So not really the first place in Germany when you think about spending a little more. Hope you have a little more time at your next stay to just enjoy the hipster and laid back culture. Recommend you to just stroll around Prenzlauer Berg especially Kastanienallee and enjoying a beer in a Biergarten. Recommend you the very girly pink beer which actually tastes more like rasberries than beer, its called Berliner Weiße (i love it :) ) or a Radler, beer mixed with sprite.

    PS: Loving that you are posting so much this month! Your posts and writing are just awesome!

  13. Keir Briscoe
    November 10, 2016
    Reply

    OMFG!! “Non intrusive”. I actually LOLed for that one. I’m super sorry you had nasty experience in Asia. My ex is a massage therapist so I am used to having new techniques tried on me. The critical part of finding a good massage therapist, like any relationship, is good communication. Give them feedback so they can make it better.

    Great article. Only 8 more to go and I have caught up on your blog. I envy your ability to keep pushing out new posts!

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