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My Epic Travel Research Fail In Croatia (And What You Can Learn From It)

travel research
Photo courtesy of Okinawa Steve via flickr

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 to Croatia 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.

Churches of historical Zadar

As soon as I arrived at 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.”


travel research
I guess the views in Krka National Park weren’t so bad 🙂

If I’d had done a bit more planning for this trip to Europe, 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.

What are your thoughts on travel research and planning vs not planning out a trip? 

Bonus Croatia Resources:

Croatian Peka: A Tasty & Traditional One-Pot Dish (With Recipe!)

Exploring The Waterfalls Of Croatia’s Krka National Park [Photo Essay]

Croatia Travel: Exploring Zadar During Off-Season (With Essential Year-Round Advice)

Croatia Adventure: Learning To Rock Climb In Split

Essential Tips For Traveling Croatia

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1 Comment

  1. Becky on at 1:45 pm

    I’m the opposite of you: I am a zealous planner. Not because I need to (and ironically, I disregard 70% of my plans once I’m “on-site”), but because I love the reading and research ahead of time almost as much as the travel itself. Regardless…for future readers…there are LOTS of simple guesthouses near Plitvice, many of which don’t need pre-booking in the off season and as low as $30-50/night. Show up at 4:30 in the afternoon after a bus ride, spend the night in a quiet town, hang out with locals, and check out the park the next day with just an overnight bag before heading back (or onward). Better yet…rent a car for the day! Really easy to drive in Croatia.

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