This is the story of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. You might think that this was my plan all along but it was not. Let me explain…
One of the countries I had wanted to visit for a while was Croatia. Every time I started planning, I would get overwhelmed and end up going somewhere else. When a friend mentioned to me that we should travel together this fall, I immediately said “yes.” After some debate, we settled on visiting Croatia (other options included Portugal and Switzerland).
Instead of trying to plan it on our own, we decided to go with a tour. If you know me, you know that planning a trip is my favorite part of traveling. I love doing the research and the bookings and then executing my plan. Going with a tour was a change for me but I knew it would be best for this trip because we were booking pretty last minute (we booked in mid-July for a trip in September).
I reviewed the itineraries for a bunch of different companies and we ended up settling on Trafalgar and their “Best of Croatia and Slovenia” tour. I have seen Trafalgar tours during my previous visits to Europe and knew they were a reputable company. Trafalgar has been around for over 70 years and is a sister company to Contiki, which is the under 35 tour I traveled with on my first trip to Europe in 2011.
This is where the story should continue with how we successfully booked the trip, packed our bags and had a great time. But things don’t always work out as planned.
We both booked the tour separately and requested to share rooms. It turns out, there was only ONE spot left on the tour. We didn’t find this out until AFTER I paid my deposit for the trip. Ugh!
So where to go from there?! I ended up canceling my registration. The deposit was only $100 so it wasn’t a huge deal to lose it. My friend and I discussed other locations for a few days and then she decided that she really wanted to go to Italy. She found a tour she wanted to go on and asked me to join her.
It was a tough decision because I wanted to travel with her but I have been to Italy twice already and may go back for a third time at some point with family. I didn’t want to go this year when there are so many other places in the world I want to explore. In the end, I politely declined but I told her to go ahead! I knew that’s where she really wanted to go and I was more than fine with her doing that.
After thinking about my options for a couple of days, I decided to email Trafalgar and see if that one spot on the Best of Croatia and Slovenia tour was still available. It was and they were willing to re-book my registration and apply my previously paid deposit to the new booking.
That is how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. Well, sort of solo at least. I was with a tour that included 46 other people but I wasn’t traveling with anyone I knew. So I guess I traveled solo-light. Ha!
The trip was a great success and I had a nice time. I am so glad I decided to go even though my friend wasn’t able to go with me. As I write this post, I’ve been back from the trip a few days. I will publish some detailed posts about the various places we visited in the coming weeks but I have a few initial thoughts/fun tidbits that I thought I would share here.
Skip the cruise
Skip the cruise (or at least the big cruise ship)! Traveling through Croatia via a land tour or small ship that can navigate the rivers is the way to go. Croatia and Slovenia are both beautiful counties. I got to see so much more of both countries than I would have on a cruise. Plus, we could plan our sight seeing and excursions to avoid the deluge of cruise passengers that arrive in cities like Dubrovnik each day.
I never felt unsafe when I was on my own in either country. While I was often with my tourmates, I ate meals alone several times. I would also often set out on my own to explore during our free times. People were always very kind and almost everyone spoke great English. The food, particularly the seafood, was fresh and tasty. I never felt on guard and may have felt safer on my own during this trip than I have in any other foreign country I have visited. I highly recommend traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia (and with Trafalgar) if you are looking for a good solo travel destination.
Slovenia, Croatia & the European Union
The members of the European Union recognized Slovenia as an independent state in January 1992. The United Nations accepted it as a member in May of 1992. Slovenia joined the EU on May 1, 2004. It uses the Euro for currency.
Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003. The European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in 2004. Croatia officially joined the European Union as its 28th member on July 1, 2013. While it is part of the EU now, it still does not use the Euro.
Speaking of Croatia and Its Currency
While switching to the Euro is likely inevitable for Croatia, they currently use a currency called the kuna. The kuna is a weasel-like animal common in the region. In midieval times, the pelts from kunas were used by the Croats as payment for goods and services. When Croatia became an independent state in the 1994, they adopted their own currency and named it the kuna after this old payment practice.
Yugoslavia and the war
One of the things I liked best about touring Slovenia and Croatia as part of a land tour is the opportunity it gave me to learn about the history of the region. I knew that Slovenia and Croatia were both formerly a part of Yugoslavia but didn’t really know much about the region’s past and what caused Yugoslavia to split into the countries it currently is today (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo (which is still being disputed)). While most of the areas are safe and peaceful today and travel is encouraged throughout, we were advised to avoid Kosovo.
Some tension do remain among the countries. This became evident on the second day of our tour. It took us three hours to get through the Croatian/Slovenian border. While very inconvenient, particularly for our coach driver and tour director, it gave me lots of time to nap and try to fight off the jet lag.
A Bit Different Than What I’m Used To
I currently live in Chicago, a city full of people with different skin colors, religions, languages, traditions and beliefs. I thrive on this diversity and love learning new things, meeting new people and observing how different people live. One thing that struck me over and over about Slovenia and Croatia was how non-diverse the countries were. About 85% of Croatians are Catholic. Using my observations as a gauge, I’d guess about 99% of them are white. It was so different than what I’m used to.
The Best Time to Visit Croatia
You probably don’t want to hear this but I think the best time to visit Croatia was probably 3-5 years ago. The word is out and the crowds have arrived en mass. Not only are the inland towns being inundated with land tours, cruise ships are now docking and dropping off thousands of additional tourists every day. I found the crowds in Plitvice Lakes National Park and Dubrovnik to be especially overwhelming. My advice is to go during the shoulder seasons (April/May/September/October). If you go during the summer, plan to explore early in the mornings before most of the crowds are up and moving about. You will have a much more relaxing, enjoyable time.
Croatia and Its Outdoor Cafes (with a Catch)
Croatia has one of the most vibrant cafe cultures I’ve ever seen. Everyone sits outside in cafes to enjoy their coffee and people watch. I love outdoor cafes and I could get used to that lifestyle very easily. The unfortunate thing is that most people in Croatia smoke cigarettes, which was a major annoyance for me. Every time I would sit down to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea, someone would sit next to me and instantly light a cigarette. It was the most annoying thing about this trip for me and it happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I sat down! I would quickly finish, pay and then move on.
Croatia has given the world many things but no Croatian invention is as internationally renowned as the necktie. The history of the necktie can be traced back to Paris in 1630. King Louis XIII was inspecting a line-up of Croatian mercenaries in traditional costume when his eye was taken by pieces of fabric that the soldiers were wearing around their necks. The material ranged from tatty cloths for the soldiers to fine silks for the officers, but the stylishness was ubiquitous. King Louis was impressed by this modern fashion. He recommended it be adopted by the people of France and soon, the necktie became the hottest fashion accessory on the streets of Paris.
Those are my initial thoughts along with a summary of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. I will post more soon but in the meantime, check out a few photos from the trip below and a post listing Four Benefits of Traveling Solo here.