As you all know, I love planning a trip without making plans; however, once in awhile that way of thinking bites me in the ass, such as with my latest trip to Croatia. It may sound lazy — and honestly it partially is — but I hate doing extensive travel research about bus routes and times beforehand. You never even know if they’ll be accurate.
One thing I really wanted to do on my trip was visit Plitvice Lakes National Park as a day trip from Zadar. I was visiting in off season, but this was a major national park — the largest in Croatia and the oldest in Southeast Europe. OBVIOUSLY they’d have buses running all the time to and from Zadar to go there.
“It’ll be fine,” I thought to myself.
When I got to Croatia‘s capital, Zagreb, everyone told me it would make more sense to visit the lakes on the way from Zagreb to Zadar. I hadn’t planned for that, though, and instead of bringing my backpack was traveling with a carry-on suitcase to better accommodate my camera gear. I figured I’d want my tripod, GoPro and accessories DSLR and microphone in the national parks. It wasn’t ideal, but I figured a few hours (four round trip!) wasted going back in the direction I came wasn’t terrible to be comfortable. Picturing myself dragging my tattered maroon rolly made me laugh and grimace, but I knew I wouldn’t end up enjoying myself in that situation, especially while navigating my camera.
As soon as I arrived to my hostel in Zadar I checked on bus times to the lakes for the following day. Pulling up the screen, the front desk guy clicked and clicked for what seemed like 20 minutes.
“There’s a bus leaving at 2:30pm,” he said. “Arriving around 4:30pm. That’s the earliest.”
“That’s impossible, though!” I replied, getting panicked. “That’s so late. It’s a major national park.” As if he didn’t know.
He was kind enough to call the bus company to double check for me, but, sadly, the online schedule was correct. And because I was visiting off season there was no tours. I’d paid $1,000 and traveled 20 hours on a plane, each way, to miss Croatia’s #1 natural attraction. Major FML.
Luckily, there was a second, albeit smaller, option: Krka National Park, known for its beautiful waterfalls.
“You should just visit that when you go to Split,” advised my hostel. “It’s on the way.”
If I’d had done a bit more planning, I would have packed smarter, planned my routes better and, in all honesty, probably have waited until April, when tourist season is just starting, to visit.
This all being said, there have been times I’ve done my travel research and planned all the trip details — only to regret it because I became locked into places and activities I didn’t end up wanting to experience. While on the road it’s inevitable you’ll meet people, hear about cities you didn’t know about before, fall in love, learn about a great hostel…all events that may make you want to change your original plans.
In the case of Croatia, I could have easily sulked and let missing the lakes ruin my trip. And I did sulk a bit. But then I forced myself snap out of it and make alternative plans to discover experiences lesser-known to tourists.
Really, all I knew about the lakes was what I read on Tripadvisor. And while they sounded spectacular, I thought the things I did were also pretty amazing. And as I’m the type of person who likes to discover my trips organically, the setback ended up not being so bad.
So, I’ve got two major takeaways for you. One, if there’s something you really want to do, a little trip planning doesn’t hurt. And two, when things don’t go right on a trip it’s up to you whether the setback will ruin the entire journey or just lead you to an interesting alternative path. You decide.