A 32-Year-Old's $4,658.69, Three-Week Solo Trip To Croatia

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Welcome to Away Game, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real millennial women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 32-year-old life insurance underwriter spends 20 days on a solo adventure, touring Croatia.
Open to tracking your travel expenses during an upcoming trip? Fill out the template, here. For questions or feedback, email us at traveldiary@refinery29.com.
Age: 32
Occupation: Life Insurance Underwriter
Salary: $70,500
Travel Companions: None
Hometown: Herndon VA (Washington DC Suburbs)
Trip Location: Croatia
Annual # Of Vacation Days: I accrue a total of 4 weeks/year and rolled over 3 weeks from 2017.
Trip Length: 3 weeks
Transportation: I flew from Washington Dulles to Zagreb, with a layover in Frankfurt (same on return). Within Croatia I flew from Zagreb to Dubrovnik.
Flights: D.C. to Zagreb: $1075 (This included extra charges for Economy Plus seating.)
Zagreb to Dubrovnik: $77
Total: $1,152
Accommodations: I was city-hopping a lot so I stayed in a variety of hotels and Airbnbs. I am not a fan of hostels or shared accommodations, am willing to pay for good location, and the hotel stays included breakfast so this is where I spent the most. Total cost of accommodations was $1772.
2 nights in Zagreb hotel: $178
5 nights in hotel in LaPad neighborhood of Dubrovnik: $481
2 nights in Split Airbnb: $121
3 nights in Hvar Airbnb: $188
2 nights in Split hotel: $249
5 nights in Zagreb hotel: $555
Total: $1,772
Pre-vacation spending: Croatian language audio course: $54.95
I thought it would be a good idea to try to learn some of the native language before I went, and I had a $40 off coupon code for a Pimsleur course. It was surprisingly easy to learn enough to speak conversationally and ask directions, but I rarely actually needed to since most people I cam in contact with spoke perfect English.
Post-vacation spending:
None. Thankfully my brother cat/house sat for free since he lives so close and was happy to live alone without his 3 roommates.

Day One

4 p.m. — I arrive in Zagreb and am out of the airport in less than 10 minutes since I didn’t check a bag and the airport is so tiny. I stop at an ATM to grab some cash and try to pull up the Uber app on my phone to get a car to my hotel. Despite having a connection I can't get the app to find my location, so I give up and grab a waiting taxi. The driver is really nice and chatty, telling me about all the areas we are passing during the 30-minute drive to the hotel. $30
5 p.m. — I check into my hotel and immediately shower and promptly fall asleep. Jet lag + travel grime is just the worst. I purposefully planned a day and a half in Zagreb just to adjust and relax, so I’m not missing anything by sleeping early, and I saved money being too tired to eat dinner.
Daily Total: $30

Day Two

7 a.m. — I wake up, get dressed, and head to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I fill up, making the most of the meal included in the price of my stay, and head out into the city.
10 a.m. — I’ve been wandering a while just looking around and getting the lay of the land, and am now headed to the Britanski Trg antique market. The actual square is smaller than I expected from the photos I’d seen, but the place is jam-packed with vendors. I walk around a bit and then grab a seat at a neighboring cafe, have a coffee, and people watch for a while. It’s a beautiful day so I decide to walk to the botanical gardens instead of taking the tram. The gardens are free to enter and are beautiful, so I spend a long time walking around. Jet lag starts to creep up on me again so I make my way back to the hotel for a nap. $2
6 p.m. — After my big breakfast I just snacked on a Kind bar I brought with me for lunch, so when I wake up after a 2 hour nap my stomach is growling. I leave the hotel and head up the street to a restaurant I’d read about called Heritage. It’s super small with only enough seating for about 6-8 people, and I grab the only open stool at the bar along the wall. I order a glass of white wine and some Croatian tapas, and when the server brings the food and wine over he points out what region of the country every ingredient is from on a map that’s hanging on the wall in front of me. It’s all delicious, and I’m glad I got there when I did because people are starting to come by and get upset that there are no seats available. When I finish I’m stuffed, and when I get the bill and figure out the cost in USD I’m shocked how much I got for so little. $9
7:30 p.m. — I walk over to Ban Jelačić Square and do some more people watching for a bit, before walking back to my hotel for the night. I’m still dragging and want to get plenty of sleep so I can hit Dubrovnik running tomorrow.
Daily Total: $11

Day 3

8 a.m. — I sleep in a bit today and head to breakfast. I fill up again and then go back to my room to pack up my things, check out, and get an Uber to the airport. $17
2 p.m. — I’ve landed in Dubrovnik and after a little difficulty finding my Uber driver, I’m on my way to my hotel. I’m staying in Lapad, which is an area filled with hotels and restaurants down a pedestrian walkway. My driver’s GPS tells him to drop me off in the parking lot behind a different hotel because it’s the closest a car can go, but I don’t have to drag my suitcase too far. I check-in to my hotel, get settled, and shower. $32.75
4 p.m. — I head out and hop on the #7 bus out to the Old City. When I get out at the Pile Gate there are so many people it's difficult to walk. I walk around for a few hours just taking in the sights, popping into stores, and looking around. I’m going to be in this city a while so I’m not in a rush, and don’t buy any souvenirs yet. $1.80
6:30 p.m. — I’ve been checking out restaurant menus as I walk around and I finally sit down at one and order a glass of white wine, and a pasta dish with figs. After dinner I walk around and window shop some more, and then head out the Pile Gate back to the bus stop. There are so many people I have to wait while 2 busses fill up before I actually get on one. $13.80
9 p.m. — I get back to Lapad and walk down to the beach to take in the view for a bit, and then head back to the hotel for the night.
Daily Total: $65.35

Day 4

8 a.m. — I wake up and go down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, and then go catch the #7 bus back to the Pile Gate for a tour I booked for the day. I’m going on a Game of Thrones walking tour and am supposed to look for my guide in the square outside the gate holding a GoT flag, which isn’t super helpful because there are at least 3 of them. I eventually find the group and we set off. For 4 hours we walk all around the Old City and Fort Lovrijenac. I hit 10K steps in no time. The guide is great, not only showing stills from the show to compare to the buildings and sights we’re looking at, but also telling us a ton about the history of the city. I learned a lot more than I expected from a Game of Thrones-themed tour, and we covered a lot of ground. I chose to add on a trip to the Trsteno Arboretum so after the majority of the group departs, three of us get into a van with the tour guide and a driver and take a lovely 30 minute ride along the coast. There is no one else in the arboretum so we have the place to ourselves as we walk around checking out the filming location of many of the scenes that take place in the palace gardens in season 3 and 4 and learn a lot about the place’s interesting history. $148.60
5 p.m. — I’m dropped back at the Pile Gate entrance and I hop on a bus back to Lapad. I’m starving so I stop at the only fast food option near my hotel and grab a chicken wrap. Thankfully I carry a collapsible water bottle and Dubrovnik’s Old City has a few large public fountains, so I’m finding I don’t need to spend money on bottled water. $3.80
7 p.m. — I head down to the beach to hang out and read, and watch the sunset. I end up chatting with another solo traveler who was doing the same and we decide to go get a drink at a nearby bar. He picks up the tab and we agree to meet up tomorrow so I can buy lunch.
Daily Total: $152.41

Day 5

8 a.m. — Breakfast at the hotel again and off to the bus stop and back to Pile Gate. I walk to the entrance of the Mount Srd cable car and buy a one-way ticket. The view of the Old City and the Adriatic sea on the way up are stunning, and once I get to the top I spend some time taking in the view and snapping some pictures. Then I head to the Homeland War Museum and spend quite a while looking at the exhibits. It’s amazing to see the pictures and videos of the destruction in the Old City and think about just how recently the devastation occurred. Watching some of the videos brought me to tears. After the museum I take a leisurely hike down the mountain on a trail that zig-zags under the cable car route. $16.30
2 p.m. — I meet up with the guy I met the night before, for lunch. We share a pizza and have a couple beers each, and I pay. We walk around the city a bit and sit chatting at the docks. He leaves to meet a walking tour and I head to the modern art museum. I buy a ticket that also allows entrance to a few other museums I’ll visit later. $36.28
8 p.m. — Back to Lapad on the bus. I stop for dinner at a cafe whose outdoor tables have bench swings instead of chairs. I have a salad and some wine, and people watch while street cats crowd around begging for food. $14.70
Daily Total: $67.28

Day 6

6 a.m. — I’m up early for breakfast today. During my walking tour earlier in the week the guide mentioned that there were going to be four cruise ships in Dubrovnik today so the city would be packed. I decided not to be where the crowds are and booked a small-group tour of Montenegro on Viator. $53.85
7 a.m. — The minibus picks me up near the bus stop and after picking up a few more tourists we’re on our way. The guide is friendly and knowledgeable, and speaks Croatian, English, Spanish, and German fluently! We spend the day driving around the Bay of Kotor and stopping in Perast, Kotor, and Budva. The whole day I feel like someone dropped me in the middle of a postcard, it’s so beautiful.
2 p.m. — Walking around the old city in Kotor I do some souvenir shopping. I buy a few brightly decorated ceramic bowls and a spoon rest since I recently broke the one I had in my kitchen. I also pick up a couple magnets, and a pair of pretty teal and white ceramic stud earrings. $56.16
4 p.m. — We have more time than is really necessary to walk around Budva on our own. The old city is small and the rest of the city is lots of shops and high-rises, so I just walk around the old city and grab late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant there. I have a glass of wine and some risotto before meeting the group again. It’s been a long day so I sleep most of the way back to Dubrovnik, waking up at border crossings to hand over my passport. $12.50
8:30 p.m. — I get dropped off at Lapad and am so thankful I don’t have to deal with the crowded busses at the Pile Gate tonight. I tip the guide and driver, and head back to the hotel because I. Am. Beat. $20
Daily Total: $142.51

Day 7

8 a.m. — Today is my last day in Dubrovnik. I have breakfast at the hotel and take the bus back to the Old City to walk the city walls. The entrance fee was included in the ticket for Fort Lovrijenac that was included in my tour earlier in the week. $1.80
11 a.m. — I walk around the Old City popping into a few small museums that are included with the ticket I bought to the art museum the other day, and I go shopping to get souvenirs I’ve been looking at all week. I get a magnet for myself and one for a friend, a pair of traditional filigree earrings in silver for myself and a gold pair for my mother, and some rose facial moisturizer from the oldest pharmacy in the city for a friend. The earrings and rose cream are very touristy purchases, but are also so typical of Dubrovnik that they are perfect reminders of my trip. $123.44
1 p.m. — I head to the docks on the other side of the Old City and hop on a boat to Lokrum island. The island has some nice hiking trails, a Game of Thrones exhibition center (the island was a filming location too), and amazing views. I spend the rest of my day exploring the island and trying very hard not to stop and pet all the adorable wild rabbits. They’re everywhere, and so are the peacocks. For lunch I snack on trail mix and fruit leather I brought from home. $6.14
8 p.m. — I take the bus back to Lapad and go to dinner at a cafe near the beach. A street cat sleeps next to me on a stone wall while I enjoy some prawn scampi — large whole prawns sauteed in tomato sauce and garlic — and it’s delicious. I also have two glasses of wine while I enjoy the view of the beach at sunset. $43.68
Daily Total: $173.26

Day 8

8 a.m. — I have breakfast at the hotel and pack up my things before jumping on the city bus to the bus station. Once there I buy a ticket and board a bus to Split. $20.97
5:30 p.m. — Traffic was heavy so the bus ride took nearly 6 hours, but the view along the coast for the whole drive was so beautiful I barely minded. I grabbed a hot dog at a rest stop on the way for lunch. I arrive in Split and walk to my Airbnb, which is only a half mile from the bus station. $1.53
8 p.m. — I’ve showered off the travel grime and head out to get something to eat. The old city area in Split is called Diocletian’s palace, and is the former vacation home of the emperor Diocletian. It’s packed with tourists, restaurants, and shops. I wander around checking out menus and pick a restaurant with a lamb dish that sounds really good, and has a great view of a plaza where lots of people are hanging out. It’s on the pricier side so I go without wine. Probably a good idea since I’m tired and haven’t eaten much, so I don’t need to be tipsy walking back to my Airbnb in a strange city. $26.84
Daily Total: $49.34
Day 9
9 a.m. — I leave my Airbnb and walk towards Diocletian’s Palace. On the way I stop at a market with vendors selling fruits and vegetables, and buy some fresh cherries that I eat for breakfast while sitting on a bench on the Riva with a view of the sea and boats. I walk around Diocletian’s Palace for an hour or so window shopping and getting lost down the narrow pathways. $2.30
12 p.m. — I go to Split’s gallery of fine arts and after that, Froggyland. Froggyland is a weird little tourist trap of a museum, but worth the visit and entrance fee. It houses the largest collection of taxidermied frogs, all posed in dioramas performing different activities. It was bizarre, but I kind of loved it. $15.30
2 p.m. — I grab a cheese pastry called a Börek from a bakery for lunch and eat it as I walk to the basement halls of Diocletian’s palace. This is another Game of Thrones filming location, but I’m not doing a tour and just plan on walking around myself. While I’m wandering the halls I run into a small GoT tour group and overhear the guide’s story about his experience as an extra in the fight scene where Barristan Selmy died, filmed in the hall where we were standing. $7.90
4 p.m. — I’m back at my Airbnb and pack a bag to go hang out at a nearby beach. I’m super pale and freckly and don’t fare well in the sun, so late afternoon or early evening is my ideal beach time. Bacvice beach is just under a mile from where I’m staying so I walk over and plotz on one of the few sand beaches in Croatia (most are rocky). I bring a book and my travel journal and spend a long time reading, writing, and relaxing before heading back.
9 p.m. — I go for dinner at a very busy restaurant just around the corner from my Airbnb. The place is packed and I’m told they don’t have space without a reservation, and the bar is too full for me to find a seat to eat there. As I go to leave a woman stops me and says she had a reservation for one and asks if I want to join her at the empty seat at her table. I jump at the chance and we have a great time. She was visiting from London with friends who just left that day, and her flight isn’t till the next morning. We share a bottle of wine and a traditional meat platter for two, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to be there at the same time as her! $40
Daily Total: $65.50
Day 10
9 a.m. — I have a few hours to kill before I have to check out of my Airbnb and catch a ferry, so I go back to the beach early today for a few hours. I bring the rest of my fresh cherries from yesterday and some trail mix for breakfast.
3 p.m. — After an hour on the ferry from Split, I’ve arrived on the island of Hvar. I make my way through Hvar town to the bus/taxi area where my Airbnb host is waiting to pick me up. The apartment is less than half a mile from the town but the driveway is up an incredibly steep hill, so they make a point to pick up guests in town and drive them up with their luggage, which is really nice. I get settled and have a shower cause it’s super hot out and I’m disgusting from dragging my luggage through Split and Hvar today. $6.12
6 p.m. — I walk down the hill and back into Hvar town for dinner. I skipped lunch in fear of getting sick on the ferry, so I’m famished. I walk around a bit and decide to stop at a restaurant with outdoor seating in a little square hidden between apartments. There are beautiful bougainvillea streaming from the apartment balconies around the tables, and it’s quiet away from the main street. I enjoy some fresh calamari, a salad, and a glass of wine. After dinner I get a gelato down in the main square and watch the sunset. $32
Daily Total: $38.12
Day 11
7 a.m. — I head out early because today I plan on hiking all day. I stop at a grocery store at the edge of Hvar town and grab a sandwich for lunch, a couple bananas, and box of what appear to be the Croatian version of Nutrigrain bars to eat for breakfast and snacks. $11.57
7 p.m. — I make it back to my Airbnb after a long day hiking. I went to the fortress atop a tall hill with beautiful views of Hvar town and the Pakleni islands, then walked just under 5 miles to an abandoned village called Malo Grablje. After wandering around there a bit I walked back to Hvar town and dragged myself up the hill to my Airbnb. I take a shower and plan to go into town for dinner but accidently fall asleep. When I wake up two hours later I can’t bear the thought of walking anywhere. I find a cabinet in the kitchen with a few half bags of pasta left by previous tourists, and some butter in the mini-fridge, so I make myself a bowl of buttered noodles for dinner and eat like a little kid.
Daily Total: $11.57
Day 12
9 a.m. — Today I book myself on a small group tour of the Pakleni islands. I have one of the bars I bought yesterday for breakfast as I wait to meet the boat in the Hvar town harbor. I booked the tour through Viator and it’s being run by a company called Amazing Hvar, a husband and wife duo who are so sweet and funny. There are seven of us on the tour: a couple from the UK, and mother and daughter from Canada, two cousins from the US, and me. $118.59
2 p.m. — After running into a pod of dolphins 15 minutes off the coast of Hvar, touring the amazing blue cave on the island Bisevo, hopping a few other islands, and eating sea urchin that our guide plucked from the ocean and pried open right in front of us, we’ve stopped at an island that has a few restaurants and a beach bar. We all end up at the same restaurant, and I share a table with the UK couple and American cousins. I order some risotto and a glass of wine, and our tour guides send glasses of sparkling wine to everyone. One of the Americans and I dominate the conversation for a little while after we discover we live within an hour of each other and are both big fans of the Washington Capitals. After we lament the fact that we haven’t been able to watch our boys playing in the Stanley Cup Finals while we’re traveling, we all head back to the boat. $22.96
6 p.m. — After the fantastic tour of the islands we get dropped off at the harbor in Hvar town. I walk back towards the parking/taxi area with the wife half of our guides and chat with her about the difficulties of owning a tourism business. They work 24/7 during the tourist season and it sounds incredibly stressful, but you’d never know from how well they ran the tour. I had so much fun with them and tell her so, thanking her profusely. I am a bit sunburnt, quite tired, and desperately want a shower so I decide to have dinner in and stop at the grocery store on the way out of town to pick up a sandwich and some fruit instead of going to a restaurant. $8.42
Daily Total: $149.97

Day 13

10 a.m. — I’m leaving Hvar today, but my ferry isn’t until the early afternoon so my Airbnb host has graciously offered to keep my luggage at the apartment after check-out and drive it down to the bus/taxi area just before my ferry. This is a huge help, and lets me plan on spending a few hours at the beach before I head back to Split. I pack a day-bag with some snacks and head down the hill to Hvar town. While walking past some cafes I swear I hear someone shouting my name and look around. I see the Canadian mother and daughter from my tour yesterday sitting at a table and waving at me. I make my way over and join them and we chat for a couple hours over coffee. $2.30
12 p.m. — We decide to move on to another cafe and grab lunch. My beach plans are clearly out the window now but I don’t mind at all. It was just a way to spend a few hours and I’d much rather do that while hanging out with these two ladies. We walk around until we settle on a cafe that serves quick sandwiches and salads. $6.90
2 p.m. — Before I know it it's time for me to meet my Airbnb host and pick up my luggage. I exchange phone numbers with the daughter so we can try to meet up when we’re both in Split in a few days. Unfortunately I wasn’t using WhatsApp and don’t think I put my number in her phone in the format for her to call/text a US number from Canada or abroad, so we never connect. $6.12
4 p.m. — I arrive back in Split and drag my luggage down the Riva and into Diocletian’s palace in search of my hotel. Thankfully I happened to walk past it while exploring Split in the days before I went to Hvar, otherwise it would’ve been difficult to find. It’s not far from one of the entrances to the palace but is up a few stairs in a corner that’s slightly away from the busy shops and restaurants. I check in and have a shower and a nap.
8 p.m. — My hotel has a dinner special in their restaurant for guests and I decide to take advantage because it’s so cheap, the restaurant gets good reviews on Trip Advisor, and the sample menu at check-in included a dish I’ve been meaning to try — Pašticada. The dish originates in the Dalmatian region, so I knew that Split was my last chance to really try it as I’d be leaving the coast soon. Dinner includes soup, main, and dessert for only 100 kuna (about $16), a price which seemed like a mistake since Split isn’t cheap. I order a nice glass of red wine and am told by the server that Pasticada isn’t an option on the hotel guest special menu that night. While I’m disappointed, I see the restaurant next door has it on their menu so I figure I’ll go there tomorrow and order something else tonight. When my main course comes, it’s Pašticada! It turns out the receptionist heard me being told I couldn’t have it. She went to the kitchen to tell the cook I’d mentioned wanting to try it, so they made an exception. I’m very thankful because it was DELICIOUS. It’s like a super rich and flavorful Croatian version of pot roast, but with better meat and a more involved recipe, and served with gnocchi. $23
Daily Total: $38.32

Day 14

8 a.m. — Today I’ve got an activity booked that I’ve really been looking forward to — I’m going ziplining in Omis, a town not far from Split that has a beautiful river gorge. I have breakfast at the hotel (included with my stay) and pack a day-bag with trail mix and a water bottle. I get picked up by a driver from the company I booked the activity through, Splitlicious. He tells me and the other people in the van to call him Dragon. He’s very friendly and has lived in the area his whole life so he points out places to go and makes suggestions as we may our way to Omis to check-in and pay for the excursion. $61
11 a.m. — With a group of about 10 other people and 2 guides, I’m driven halfway up a mountain and hike up the other half to the first of 8 ziplines. This first line is the longest at 700 meters long and 150 meters high, and even though we had a little training session on a practice line, I’m pretty nervous. As soon as my feet leave the platform the nerves go away because the view is amazing and it’s so much fun. Over the next couple hours my group mates and I zip back and forth across the gorge and trade phones and cameras so we can take pictures of each other coming and going. At the sixth line we’re allowed to use just one hand to operate the brake instead of two, so this is the only line where we can use a camera while we fly. I put my phone on my selfie-stick because I’m afraid I’ll drop it with the big bulky glove on my hand and I get an excellent video of the view as I fly parallel to the river gorge. At the end I make sure to tip the two guides. $15
6 p.m. I’m back in Split, freshly showered after getting so sweaty from hiking and ziplining in the hot sun, and head out to do some souvenir shopping. I stop in a typical tourist shop and grab a bunch of Croatian lavender mini soaps to bring back for my coworkers, and a couple magnets for myself. $30
8 p.m. I walk to a restaurant not far from the Airbnb I’d stayed in previously and have the black cuttlefish risotto, which is fantastic. After dinner I walk back to the Riva outside Diocletian’s palace, get a gelato, and watch street performers on a stage that’s been set up. There’s a stand-up comedian, and I’m actually able to understand about half of what he’s saying thanks to that language course. $15
Daily total: $121.00

Day 15

9 a.m. — I wake up, pack my things, and head to the hotel restaurant for breakfast before checking out. I haul my luggage to the bus station and buy a ticket for a bus to Zagreb that leaves in an hour. $20.39
1 p.m. — The bus is about halfway to Zagreb and we stop for a quick break at a reststop. I grab a sausage wrapped in pastry for lunch. $1.53
4p.m. — I arrive at the Zagreb bus station, hop on the tram to Ban Jelačić Square, and walk half a block to my new hotel to check in. $0.61
6 p.m. — After getting settled and having a quick nap, I head out into the city. By complete chance I booked the end of my trip in Zagreb during an international street performance festival called Cest is d’best. There are little stages and performance spots all over the city, with the main stage being in the square just outside my hotel. I walk around for a few hours stopping to watch the various musicians, magicians, and dancers perform.
9 p.m. — I grab a bite to eat at a little fast-casual style place that serves pita sandwiches and salads. I have a falafel pita and sit at a table outside watching a musician play across the street at a festival performance spot. $5.37
Daily total: $27.90

Day 16

8a.m. — I wake up and have breakfast at the hotel (included in my stay) and as I leave I swing by the main Cest is d’best stage area in Ban Jelačić Square to grab a program with the performance schedule. I walk a few blocks to the funicular, which takes you on a 1-minute ride up a hill to the Upper Town, and head to the Museum of Broken Relationships. It’s a small museum that houses a collection of mementos that people have donated along with stories about their broken relationships and the item’s significance. This museum is at the top of a lot of suggested museum lists I came across in my planning, but I wasn’t sure I’d spend much time there. Surprisingly, I end up reading the whole story next to every single item in there, and some of them even make me cry a little. $9.19
11 a.m. — I dry my eyes and head the the Atelijer Meštrović, a small gallery showcasing the sculptures of Ivan Meštrović. I love sculpture and find myself very taken with the work displayed here, so even though it’s not large I’m there for quite a while. Still, it doesn’t feel like long before my stomach growls and I realize I should grab some lunch. $3.07
1:30 p.m. — There’s a nice looking restaurant up the block from the gallery and I manage to grab a table before the staff start turning people away. There are plenty of other tables open but just after my food comes I find out why they weren’t seating anyone else when a large tour group shows up. I have an amazing dish of chicken in some kind of tomato sauce with roasted potatoes and vegetables. $13.03
3 p.m. — I walk through the Upper Town back towards Ban Jelačić Square. On the way I stop in the jewelry store of local artist Ivana Bačura, because the enamel and silver jewelry in the window caught my eye. I like to buy jewelry when I travel because it’s easy to bring home, and every time I wear it it’s a reminder of my trip. I buy a small silver and green enamel pendant necklace, and set of earrings for a good friend. $76.65
8:30 p.m. — After wandering around and watching a few street performers, I go back to my hotel for a quick nap and then head back to the Upper Town for a “ghosts and dragons” tour with Secret Zagreb. I meet the guide and group of 7 other tourists and we set off for a couple hours of walking through the dark and mostly deserted streets, as well as a couple graveyards, while listening to creepy stories. It’s a lot of fun and the guide is very enthusiastic. After the tour I grab a cheese Börek from a bakery on the way down from the Upper Town and eat while watching the last street performer on the main stage that night. $16.10
Daily total: $118.04

Day 17

8 a.m. — I get up, have breakfast at the hotel, and head out to meet my tour guide for the day at a park a couple blocks from my hotel. I’ve booked a day-long tour in Slovenia through Viator and will be visiting the capital Ljubljana and Bled. When I get to the meeting spot there’s no one around except one guy and a small car where I expected a minibus typical of small-group tours. The guy asks if I’m A and introduces himself (we’ll call him K), explaining I’m the only one who booked the tour for that day so it’ll be just the two of us. I’m a little worried since I’m in a strange country and don’t know this man, and now am expected to spend all day with him driving around and visiting other cities. Also, this could be really awkward just trying to make conversation all day. He shows me his ID and despite my apprehension I actually get in the car. My worries dissipate a little when I remember that my mother is obsessively tracking my movements back home using an app, so I text and update her on the situation so she can pay extra attention today just in case. $188.81
10 a.m. — After driving with the guide for 2 hours my fears are completely gone. K is a lot of fun to talk to and keeps having to interrupt our casual conversation to remember to actually go through his tour guide script. I guessed that he was a child during the Croatian War of Independence, since we seem to be about the same age, and when I ask, he tells me a little about what his experience was like during that time, even though he mentions he doesn’t often talk about it with tour groups. We arrive in Ljubljana and he passes me off to a local guide while he parks the car. That guide takes me up a funicular to the castle and we walk around for about 45 minutes while she tells me about it’s history. When we go back down the funicular K is waiting, and the three of us walk around the town doing the typical tour thing for about an hour.
12p.m. — I’m given an hour on my own to get lunch and wander so I grab a bite to eat at a sausage shop that the Slovenian guide pointed out. Carniolan sausage is a pork sausage that originates in Slovenia and is a protected traditional specialty, so few people/companies are actually permitted to make it and sell the sausage with that name. I order a half sausage which comes sliced with a roll, grainy mustard, and horseradish. It’s very good and I inquire about how long the packaged sausage keeps because I’d love to bring some home to my brother, but the shop owner says it’d only be good out of refrigeration for a day or two. $4.45
2 p.m. — We arrive in Bled and K tells me about the history of the castle and town surrounding the lake as we walk around the castle grounds. The castle sits atop a tall hill overlooking a lake, which has a small island with a church on it. On a clear day the Alps are visible, but today is a bit cloudy. I walk around by myself for about 20 minutes taking in the views and checking out the castle’s little museum. After that we hop back in the car and drive down to the lake, where K points me towards a restaurant that serves a cream cake that Bled is famous for. I have more alone time so I go in and order a slice of cake, which I’m not thrilled with. It tastes good but it’s basically a lot of custard and some puff pastry, and I wonder how something so bland supposedly got so famous. After the cake I hit the tourist shops and buy some t-shirts with dragons to bring home to my friends’ kids. A handful of good friends all had baby boys within the past 2-3 years so I anticipate the dragons will be a hit. I also grab a magnet with a photograph of Bled so I can keep a picture at home of the beautiful view on a clear day. $51.35
7 p.m. — We arrive back in Zagreb and K gives me his contact info before we part ways. I had such a good day after being so worried at the beginning of it. Slovenia was beautiful and I’m glad I went on the tour. I walk back to my hotel and grab a sandwich from a bakery on the way for dinner. $1.83
Daily total: $246.44

Day 18

9 a.m. — I have breakfast at the hotel and hop on the tram to go to Zagreb’s contemporary art museum. There’s almost no one here and I browse nearly all alone in the massive building for a few hours. I spend a long time looking at one particular installation called “Women’s House” by Sanja Ivekovic. It consists of 21 plaster casts of women’s faces, all on top of pedestals with the woman’s story printed on the side. All the women were casted by the artist while living in shelters, and their stories of domestic abuse or going to the shelter after being abandoned by their families due to an HIV diagnosis are heartbreaking. I read every single one and have to find a restroom because I’ve run out of tissues. $6.13
2 p.m. — I buy a yummy tomato and zucchini sandwich from a bakery and eat it while watching some performers on the main Cest is d’best stage for a while. There’s a dance troupe, and then a guy who does some balancing acts. After that I walk to the Memorial Centre of the Rocket Attacks and tour the exhibits showing photographs, videos, and other artifacts of the bombing, including pieces of the actual rockets that hit the city. $1.15
8 p.m. I make a dinner reservation at a restaurant around the corner from my hotel that K recommended. On the drive back to Zagreb yesterday he insisted I make a list on my phone of his suggestions for things to eat and places to go, even though I told him I only have one more full day to spend in Zagreb. I’ve been instructed to try a traditional Croatian meal of Lamb Under a Bell, which is lamb, vegetables, and potatoes all cooked under a terra cotta dome with burning embers on top of it. This restaurant is fancy and eating here is the first time during this whole trip I’ve felt a little conspicuous at a table for one. I get over it eventually and the food is delicious. I have some white wine, the lamb, and a deconstructed version of a traditional Croatian dessert called Imotski rafioli. I text K afterward to thank him for the recommendation. $33.70
Daily total: $40.98

Day 19

8 a.m. — I booked a small-group tour to Plitvice Lakes National Park through Viator, and get picked up behind my hotel after breakfast. This time there’s 9 other people on the tour, not just me, and 4 of us are solo female travelers. There's an 18 year old from Norway, a 40-something from Japan, a 60-something from Northern CA, and me. $103.09
2 p.m. — It took about 3 hours to drive to the park because there was a lot of traffic, and it’s moderately crowded so the walk through it is slow going. That’s not a bad thing though, because it’s so beautiful there, so moving slowly gives us more time to look around and take pictures. The water is a beautiful turquoise color you’d never expect from inland lakes, it looks nearly the same as the Adriatic sea did. After walking around for a few hours we stop for a break at an area with restrooms and cafeteria-style restaurants. I have a sandwich and enjoy conversation with the solo ladies in the group and our guide, who is about my age and has extensive travel experience herself. She tells us about her recent solo trip volunteering in Jerusalem and we’re all in awe. $5.38
5 p.m. — We’ve taken a boat ride across the largest lake in the park and hiked back to the bus waiting for us on the other side. I stop in the gift shop before we leave and pick up a magnet. - $1.54
8 p.m. — I’m dropped off at my hotel and am super tired. I’m leaving for home early in the morning and need to get packed, so for dinner I walk a few blocks to a gelato shop K recommended. The tourist areas are flooded with them, but he said this one is the best and actually makes their own gelato instead of buying from big brands. He’s right, it’s amazing. I text him to say thanks for another recommendation and he laughs that I’m having gelato for dinner. $3.84
Daily total: $113.85

Day 20

5 a.m. — I’m up too early for breakfast at the hotel so I eat some trail mix in my room while I get ready, then go down to meet my Uber to the airport. $16.90
4 p.m. - I fly from Zagreb to Frankfurt, from Frankfurt to Dulles, and now I’m home. By some miracle the flight home from Frankfurt was fairly empty and I had an entire row to myself in Economy Plus. I was actually able to lay down and sleep a little, which I never manage while flying. Still, I’m super tired when I land and fall asleep in the car when my mom picks me up for the the 5 minute ride to my apartment. I go to sleep as soon as I get home and wake up to unpack a few hours later while I watch the Capitals win the Stanley Cup.
Daily total: $16.90
How did you prepare for this trip?
My former roommate had gone on a shorter trip to Croatia and other central European countries a year before with a group of friends, and had an insanely detailed google doc spreadsheet that he shared with me. I used the spreadsheet for some ideas, and scoured travel blogs and Pinterest. I also created my own Google Doc to keep track of costs, reservation details, and my itinerary.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
I booked my flight 3 months before my trip, and compared to other prices at the time I felt I got a good deal. While I didn’t use any points/miles on to pay for this trip I’m pretty loyal to United’s frequent flyer program and have used program points/miles to pay for previous international round-trip flights. I used my United Mileage Plus card to buy the tickets to, from, and within Croatia, so I earned miles on the purchase in addition to the miles earned from the travel.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
I went on some fantastic small-group tours that were all booked through Viator. With Viator it’s not always clear who the tour operator will be when you book, but the reviews are helpful and I’ve never had an experience that wasn’t fantastic. My favorite tours were the Hvar islands boat tour, Plitvice Lakes trip from Zagreb, and my unintentionally private tour of Slovenia.
What was the best meal you ate while you were there?
Pašticada in Split.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Be prepared, in high tourist season it’s very expensive and crazy crowded on the Croatian coast. If you’re going to Dubrovnik pay attention to the cruise schedule and try to avoid the days where there are lots of ships. I found out later that the day I arrived it was so crowded because there were 3 cruises docked, so I’m very glad I went to Montenegro the day there were 4.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I might’ve researched hotels/Airbnbs a little longer to find something less expensive but still central.
Would you stay at your hotels/Airbnbs again?
Yes, especially the Hvar airbnb.
Would you recommend the locations you were staying in?
I thought all the locations I stayed in were perfect because they were pretty central. I certainly paid for the location though, so if you’re trying to save money and have the time to research it could be easy to find a decent place a little further out that isn’t an inconvenience.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time?
Sometimes I think I didn’t need to spend as much time as I did in each place, and I could’ve saved some money if my trip was a little shorter. Still, I don’t regret it because I was relaxed instead of trying to cram in everything I wanted to do.
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