Croatia is a breathtakingly gorgeous Eastern European country resting across from Italy, bordering Slovenia, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and lined by the crisp, deep blue Adriatic Sea on the West. With over 1200+ islands and islets, 3,500 miles of coastline, and 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites, it’s no wonder why Croatia has become the new hot spot for adventure seekers looking to explore more unique travel destinations. A blend between beautiful pristine coastlines, numerous desirable islands, fascinating historical landmarks, ancient villages, and mouth-watering food, Croatia has much to offer and should be on the top of every traveler’s bucket list! If your’e planning a visit to this amazing country, act now! Europe’s best kept secret is surely becoming the “it” destination soon to be highly overcrowded by tourism.
1. (Relatively) Cheap Prices
Unreal colors of the Adriatic Sea
Although Croatia joined the European Union in July 2013, they have yet to adopt the Euro currency of their Western European counterparts. The local currency in Croatia remains the Kuna, and the current exchange rate is 6.7 Kuna to $1 (at the time of this article’s publishing). With the dollar being so strong at the moment, your money will go a long way there! To get a feel of the prices, a coffee costs about 8 Kuna ($1.20) and a roundtrip catamaran ticket to Hvar and back costs about 80 Kuna ($12). As you can see, Croatia is extremely affordable and this just adds to its allure.
Croatia is well-known for sailing, and this is the absolute best way to explore the islands. As the location of the infamous “Yacht Week”, Croatia has fast become the prime spot for sailing trips in Europe. With over 1200 islands throughout the coast, one could spend weeks exploring and never get bored. At the forefront of the tourism boom, these 7-day sailing trips attract more and more tourists every year eager to explore the fabulous Adriatic coastline. Most boats depart from Split or Dubrovnik and navigate to 4-5 islands within the week-long trip. A mix of partying, culture, site-seeing, exploring, great food, theme nights, and numerous swim stops, the sailing experience is one you will never forget. From personal experience, I can go as far as to say this was the best week of my life!
Sailing the Croatian islands
3. Local Food and Wine
Fantastically fresh and flavourful seafood straight from the ocean to your plate, local olive oil, and family owned wineries producing the finest Croatian wines will leave your taste buds craving more. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, some white wines from a little town called Trstenik are even imported to the White House. Additionally, and of an honourable mention, Split boasts some of the best gelato I have ever tried! Coming from someone who’s been to Italy 10+ times, that’s a bold statement.
Mussels in tomato sauce-yum!
4. Sunsets, Sunsets, and More Sunsets
Words cannot do them justice, so I’ll let the pictures speak. But can I just say something? Perfect. Sunsets. Every. Night.
Just a casual stroll down the Split Riva, and BAM! No filter..
Sunset over the marina
From the hike to Hvar Fortress
Walking up to the Hvar Fortress, and what do you know…there’s that infamous pink sky!
In Croatia, there’s never any rush to get anywhere. As a whole, they are a laid-back culture unbound to time constraints and really know how to enjoy every moment of life. So when you’re there, do as the locals do, relax, have a cocktail, and set your clock to “ish time”. Why not? You’re on holiday!
Bonus #6: Numerous Game of Thrones Locations
If you are a huge GOT fanatic like me, you will understand that being able to visit the actual filming locations is like a dream come true! As you may know, Dubrovnik is the major backdrop and filming site for King’s Landing.
King’s Landing in Dubrovnik
Numerous scenes are also shot throughout Split and the surrounding area (Diocletian’s Palace and Klis Fortress), as well as nearby Šibenik. If you’re lucky enough, you may even get to sneak a peak at a live filming!! Jon Snow stalker alert!!!
Throughout all of my travels, smaller towns have really seemed to capture my heart. That is not to say that Rome, Paris, and Istanbul are not amazing cities. There is just something so special about these tiny, quaint little cities that are so charming and unique that they really leave an everlasting impact on you.
Fun fact: the one thing all 4 of these towns have in common? They are all car-less!
1. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov is a car-free town located in the South Bohemian Region. The Old Town, surrounded by the Vltava River, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture is what makes this tiny city so unique, and can be described as a blend of Renaissance, Baroque, Medieval, and Gothic. You will instantly feel as if you’re stepping back in time.
Must-See: Cesky Krumlov Castle will give you an amazing view of the town and the surrounding land. Not to mention, it’s one of the well-preserved castles I’ve ever been to.
How to Get There: A 3-hour bus ride from Prague and costs about $18 roundtrip on Student Agency Bus. Busses run every 2 hours.
Time Needed for Visit: You can do the trip in one day. It’s a small city so a day trip from Prague is all you need.
Bonus: In the summer, you can raft/tube down the river running through the city 🙂
2. Hallstatt, Austria
Hallstatt is the quintessential fairytale town. Nestled between the salt-topped mountains and a beautiful lake, it is so unbelievable picture-perfect that it looks like it’s photoshopped. Unsurprisingly, there has even been a real-life replica of the town built in Luoyang, China. Fairly unknown to most, this makes this town refreshingly untouched by mass tourism (at least in the winter).
Must-See: Everything!!! Just walk around the village for numerous photo-ops, you really can’t go wrong.
How to Get There: A little tricky to get to, but it’s well-worth it. It takes about 3 hours total by bus from Salzburg, and you must switch busses twice. The total cost is about $18 each way. (Bus 150 from Salsburg Hbf, then switch to Bus 542, then 543). It’s a lot smoother than it sounds. Don’t let it overwhelm you! Another option is to take a ferry across the lake.
Time Needed for Visit: The village is extremely small so a day trip is all you need.
3. Positano, Italy
Probably the most well-known on this list, but it doesn’t take away from the beauty and magic of this place. The colourful houses nudged into the mountainside, the breeze from the ocean, and the heir of romance make this place so magical and unforgettable. Positano is far from cheap, but it’s one of those places you must visit once in your lifetime.
What to do: Take a private boat tour to the island of Capri for the day, explore the tiny streets and many steep steps of the city, sunbathe on the beach with a breathtaking backdrop of the city behind you, enjoy the fabulous food in one of the seaside restaurants, admire the artists painting live images of the town right in front of your eyes.
Where to eat: Chez Black Restaurant for authentic homemade pasta, seafood, and wine.
Splurge on: Reserve a spot on the balcony of La Sirenuse Hotel restaurant for a spectacular view of the city and a magnificent sunset. Cocktails run about $18, but the view is well worth it.
How to Get There: A 2.5-hour bus or train ride from Naples will run you about $20.
4. Zermatt, Switzerland
I had never heard about Zermatt until my travel partner suggested we visit there on our trip to Switzerland, and man was I blown away! Think of the most beautiful, cozy, make-believe ski town you could ever imagine, and there you will find Zermatt! Home to the infamous Matterhorn Mountain, you will not be disappointed at the endless picture-perfect viewpoints at each and every corner. On top of the shear beauty of this place, everyone is extremely nice, helpful, and happy, something very refreshing to see in a place that is so ritzy and glamorous.
Must-See: To say Switzerland is expensive is an understatement, so if you would like to splurge on the cable car to the top of the mountain (about $85) or paragliding over the alps ($200+), go for it! However, I chose to forgo these expenses and just enjoyed strolling around this visually stunning city while snapping pictures along the way.
How to Get There: Located in the far Southeast of Switzerland, a train ride from Geneva, Zurich, or Basel will take you anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours.
Time Needed for Visit: Due to the extremely high prices, this city can be done in one entire day.
What are some other small fairytale towns you recommend? I’d love to add some more to my list!
I think a lot of people avoid traveling due to common fears associated with going to a different, unfamiliar place. Here are some of the most common concerns I have encountered when talking to people about traveling:
What if Nobody Speaks English and I Can’t Communicate?
Believe it or not, most locals in the big tourist cities (Rome, Paris, Phuket, etc.) speak some English. It is imperative for them to do business, so fear not. Whenever I plan on going to a new city, I usually like to look up a few key words or phrases beforehand (please, thank you, how much is it, etc.) and write them down. Then I will look them over on the long plane ride over or in the hotel room so that I can put them to use when I get there.
What if I get Sick and Need to Go to the Hospital?
This is one of the biggest fears people face when thinking about going abroad. I once got heat stroke while running around Barcelona, Spain trying to find my cruise ship (yes, I missed getting back on the ship). I was horrified when I knew I had to get myself to the hospital. The thought of being treated in a foreign country where nobody spoke the language was frightening. But honestly, unless you’re in a third world country, you really have nothing to worry about. The hospital in Barcelona was pretty modern and they spoke just enough English there to figure out how to treat me. Everything worked out fine in the end and it wasn’t as bad as I imagined.
What If my Wallet/Bag/Passport gets Stolen?
Unfortunately, I have experience in this department first hand. On a train ride from Prague to Vienna, my purse, along with my camera, passport, phone, and some cash, was swiped right from under my nose. Hey it happens. The next day I had a flight to Athens at noon, so I had to go to the local US Embassy in Vienna early that morning to try to get a temporary passport in order to be able to continue my travel. I was amazed at how fast and easy it was to get another passport. They really are efficient there. Tip: always make a photocopy of your passport and email it to yourself so that if something like this happens, you can go online and print it out so that they can easily look up your information. Also, make sure to buy travel insurance before you leave home so that things like this may be reimbursed (unfortunately, I learned the hard way). Lastly, keep an extra credit card or cash in a different location so that if one gets stolen, you have a backup. I was lucky I had another credit card in my backpack!
Being a well-versed traveler, I have experienced a few hiccups on the road. It’s inevitable if you travel a lotandit’s bound to happen at some point. The key is to be prepared and know what to do in certain situations. Prepare before you go and you will feel more at ease if something bad does come up. In the end, you will find that it is well worth it to step out of your comfort zone and open yourself up to experience something new. Don’t let fear prevent you from living your life to the fullest!
Am I rich? Do I have a sugar daddy? Are my parents funding my trips? These are all questions I have to deal with due to all the traveling I have done over the past few years. But the truth is, I work hard between two jobs, I save, and I make traveling my number one priority. If I can do it, anyone can! Here are the top 3 ways I am able to travel as much as I do:
1. SACRIFICE The number one thing I learned is that if travel is your number one priority, there are everyday sacrifices that need to be made. There are little changes that you can make that go a long way. Do you like going out to eat with friends twice a week? Cut it back to once. Do you really need a mani/pedi every 2 weeks? Do it yourself in between and go once every 4-6 weeks. Do you need Starbucks 5 days a week? Cut it in half and you’ll be surprised how much you save just on coffee! Do you have a weakness for shoes or purses? I tend to think of every purchase in terms of travel. Do I really need a $350 purse? That’s like a round trip plane ticket to NYC! Since I stepped out of my comfort zone and started exploring this beautiful world, material things became less and less appealing to me. Five years from now, am I going to remember that amazing trip to Italy or a that new iPad I wanted? When I think of things in terms of making life-long memories, it’s much easier to resist the temptation to spend (waste) money.
2. TRAVEL SAVINGS ACCOUNT This might sound simple, but it really works! Many years ago, I started a travel savings account. I try to put about 15-20% of every paycheck into that account every month. And the key is, DO NOT TOUCH that account unless it’s an emergency. Unless I’m on my death bed and need money for a kidney, I’m not taking a cent out of that account! It’s incredible how easy it is to save when you decide to make a travel account.
3. TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS I left this one for last because it is by far the number one way I’m allowed to travel as much as I do. Getting a travel credit card was the best decision I ever made! I usually get one free plane ticket to Europe each year due to rewards points attained in combination from airline miles programs and travel credit cards. I mainly use the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase United Explorer Card. The United Explorer card is directly connected to United Airlines and all of their Star Alliance partners. So every time I fly with one of their airlines, I get points. I also get points every time I use my card for purchases. Although I really dislike United, I think they have one of the best reward systems of any other airline. It’s so easy to earn points and they have no black out dates for the reward tickets. With this card, you also get your first checked bag free for you and your travel companion, as well as 2 annual passes to the united club lounge at airports. What I really like about this card is that they offer a 10,000 point bonus if you spend $25,000 a year on purchases, which is beneficial if you spend a lot. The Chase Sapphire is great too as they offer 2 points per every dollar spent on travel and dining. You can also use your reward points on any airline, which provides more versatility. Both cards also offer no international transaction fees, which really comes in handy when you travel overseas and would like to avoid those pesty international conversion fees with every purchase. They can really add up, trust me. In summary, both cards are beneficial and have their strengths, you just need to decide which one would be better for you depending on what you spend your money on and what airlines you tend to fly. The key to maximizing the benefits to either of these cards…pay off the balance each month because the interest rates tend to be high!!!