Planning a 48-day road trip across Croatia is no simple feat. It took many tries to get to the itinerary we now have, which I am excited to report is a good mix of activity, socializing, rest, and flexibility. But things didn’t start out quite so easily or happily.
Our Initial Road Trip Plans
To kick off the road trip planning process, I identified main bases–places we would stay overnight while exploring a larger area, such as Rovinj for Istria and Vinkovci for Slavonia. I then reached out to friends and family to see if we could crash with them during our various stops (and it’s thanks to them that we are able to make this trip possible).
As I secured stays, I worked on making lists of places to see and things to do in each of the 7 regions we identified. From there, I narrowed down these lists to our top priority stops and activities.
These lists were originally meant to serve as guides–a collection of things we could pick and choose to do at our leisure as we traveled region-by-region, but then things changed.
Our plans became nightmares on paper, morphing into something that no longer felt familiar and welcoming.
On days 15 to 18 we were somehow suddenly overbooked when I had hoped to be chillin’. Then on day 23 we were scheduled to be in four different places that were two hours away from each other. It was itinerary hell, through and through.
I didn’t understand why things had gotten so crazy on paper, but it was driving me insane. I went to bed and woke up feeling stressed about how to fit everything in.
Stress isn’t a good pre-trip vibe, and so I decided to take a step back from planning and figure out what’s up.
Taking a Step Back from Our Plans
As I put away my Google Doc lists and my finely crafted Excel spreadsheet, I stopped agonizing over the details and turned my attention to the bigger picture–why we were taking this big trip in the first place and what we really wanted out of it.
Through this reflection process, I realized that this trip isn’t exactly your typical vacation. It’s more than that.
- It’s a time to visit with friends and family we don’t regularly see, and meet up with new friends (thanks to Instagram).
- It’s a time to get to know lesser-visited areas of Croatia, such at Imotski in Dalmatia and Vukovar in Slavonia.
- It’s a time to relax, shed our overly busy U.S. selves, and embrace a slower life for awhile.
- It’s also a time to enjoy places we have visited before, like Rovinj, Gornja Stubica, and Zagreb.
- And for me especially, it’s an opportunity to share stories and memories about this beautiful country I adore.
So while 48 days seems like a long time–especially by U.S. vacation standards–it can be eaten up quickly by competing priorities vying for attention and space on your already overstuffed travel itinerary.
Through reflection I realized that I had to re-envision our itinerary and bring it back to our why.
Revising Our Road Trip Plans
I kept our original trip skeleton–our 7 identified regions and the main bases predominately centered around stays with family and friends–but then I scrapped everything else and rebuilt. And then rebuilt again and again.
I revised our trip through the lens of our why. I started to make decisions not on ambition, others’ expectations, or pure interest, but on how to achieve some aspect of the items in the bullet points I outlined above, all of which encapsulate our why.
This meant that, for example, I made sure not to plan any set activities or visits with others while on Vis island since this will be time just for us–an opportunity to go tech-free and plan-free so we can enjoy some slow travel experiences. This also meant that I had to say no to some very kind coastal accommodation offers because it would have meant too much time away from Zagorje, where most of my family resides.
Planning and revising this trip has been a great albeit challenging exercise in balance and prioritization. On the one hand, we want to relax and enjoy it as a vacation but on the other hand, we want to meet new people and try new activities and tours. Figuring out how to mix the two has been difficult but worthwhile since now we can accomplish both in 48 days.
But of course balancing different priorities also means that we had to make some cuts. For instance, we won’t be stopping at Plitvice Lakes National Park on this road trip, one of my absolute favorite places in the world. But we’ve been there before and would like to visit other parks we haven’t yet explored, so we chose to prioritize the new over the familiar in this particular case.
Tough decisions had to be made, but they were for the greater good of both of our sanities and our why.
Reflecting on Our Road Trip Plans
Our 2018 itinerary was truly a labor of love, having gone through various carefully considered iterations over the past few months to become what you see today. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s reasonable. It’s not as free and flexible as I had originally envisioned it to be, but it works in the ways we need it to.
The 3 biggest lessons I’ve learned through this planning process are:
- That your why is important–what is your purpose or mission for your trip? Relaxation? Family time? New activities? Some combination? Whatever it is–plan your trip using that grounding why.
- Multiple drafts are inevitable, especially if you have to balance competing priorities. But don’t sweat it–just scrap it and try again!
- Instead of packing one more item into your itinerary, make time for yourself to simply relax and walk around and do absolutely nothing. Also, be sure to make at least a couple days totally tech-free. You’ll be amazed by how much more present you’ll be in general and how many more random, fun moments you’ll discover!
So, in sum–planning can be fun, and it can be hard. But the most important thing is that your plan should reflect you and your wants and desires.
If your plan starts feeling like a monster, like our trip itinerary initially did, then step the hell away and put a stake through its heart ASAP. Afterwards, shock your plan back into life, but this time with your original intent and personal style grounding the details.
Ciao for now,