The Good & the Bad of Our Croatia Road Trip

Traveling across Croatia on a 48-day road trip was a dream come true, but it was also one of the most exhausting vacations I have ever taken.

I am still recovering from the vacation, as silly as that sounds. And I am forcing myself to walk in Croatia’s footsteps, taking things polako, or slowly until I’m recharged.

For instance, I’ve been regulating my access to social media and social interaction in general. I started going on nature walks to get some quiet and time away from the computer and my phone. I’ve also allowed myself to break content creation rules, taking time to craft the blog posts I want instead of rushing to produce for the sake of production and increasing followers.

Enjoying Croatia's countryside in Sutina Village
Sutina village, Croatia

As I take things slow, I’ve had time to reflect on our recent Croatia road trip. I’ve looked back at our struggles, and I’ve looked back at our successes and joys. And I decided that, as I had promised before, I still want to share both with you.

Life isn’t perfect, and travel isn’t either. You have good days and you have ugly days. No amount of planning in the world can keep all the issues at bay. The unexpected comes with travel, just as it does with life in general.

And so, I’d like to give you an honest overview of our Croatia road trip–both the good and the bad, because you can’t have one without the other.

An old blue boat on Pag island
An old blue boat in Dinjiška village on Pag island

The Good of Our Croatia Road Trip

First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude for all the good leading up to and during our Croatia road trip. Despite some ugliness, we did have a great time during our travels.

Most importantly, the road trip drew us closer to Croatia, the country of my heritage, allowing us to deepen relationships with family and friends that my parents and grandparents had originally maintained.

The trip helped kick off a new chapter in my family’s connection to Croatia, one that I feel confident will continue to carry through the generations.

Flags flying at the Croatian National Theater in Osijek
The Croatian National Theater in Osijek

There is much to be thankful for, and I am beyond grateful for the following:

  • Family and friends who welcomed us into their homes for either overnight stays and/or delicious meals.
  • Family, friends, and acquaintances who offered to help every step of the way.
  • Everyone online and offline who has supported our trip in some way from positive vibes and well wishes to subscribing to this blog and following my travel Instagram.
  • My parents who gave me many opportunities to experience Croatia and beyond and who continue to inspire me to travel.
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David, our friend Sam, and me, Kristina in Zadar
  • My husband, David (my road trip companion) who willingly and lovingly accepts and supports all my crazy ideas (within reason—lol).
  • My various jobs that have provided me with financial security and flexibility, allowing me to have extended time off and the ability to experience the world and share it with you.
  • The chance to see many amazing places we’d never previously visited, like Imotski, Vukovar, and Podgora, and the chance to revisit some of our favorites, like Rovinj and my family’s home area in Zagorje.
Church wall in Rovinj's Old Town
A church’s wall in Rovinj’s Old Town
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A truffle hunt in Buzet, Istria with Prodan Tartufi
  • Eating great good and drinking good wine and beer. Then eating and drinking some more.
  • All of the memories we’ve made—they’re worth more than gold.

I am endlessly grateful for everything on this list and more, and my gratefulness never faltered for a second during our trip.

However, every day of our dream trip was not a skippin’ good time.

The Bad of Our Croatia Road Trip

Travel isn’t always pretty. You might be in a beautiful place surrounded by beautiful, warm-hearted people but that doesn’t mean you will feel good the entire time. A change of scenery does not necessarily make issues magically disappear.

A road trip can be trying and tiring all on its own with guaranteed logistical challenges, cramped car rides, travel companion irritations, and unexpected car-related issues like scratches, dents, and tire problems (all of which we had on our trip).

A stormy day in colorful Varaždin, Croatia
Stormy day in colorful Varaždin, Croatia

However, once you add other layers, whether good or bad, onto regular road trip stressors—like errands, content creation, a full social calendar, an ambitious itinerary, schedule changes, sick days, and a lack of quiet, relaxation time—then something’s gotta give.

And here’s the truth: I struggled throughout our road trip.

Here’s why:

  • I was already exhausted before we began the trip as I was coming off an insane month of work and graduate school. In the last week before we jetted off to Croatia, for example, I got an average of 4 hours of sleep each night. That did not set me up well for a demanding 48-day road trip.
  • There is ALWAYS SOMETHING. You can be the best planner in the world and something will still go wrong. I know this. But we had a lot of somethings…
  • We didn’t get a lot of quality sleep; switching beds frequently doesn’t do your body any favors. And it doesn’t help you regulate your mood either.
Bush thorns on Pag island
Bush thorns on Pag island
  • We dealt with a few car issues, sometimes with a good attitude and other times less-so. Surprisingly, our biggest car issue, which ended up costing us a whopping 350 euros and took two days to find a solution, barely rattled me yet a few scratches earlier in the trip brought up a storm of anger.
  • We had some changes during our trip that tested our nerves and forced us to make last-minute accommodations and schedule changes. I wanted to scream. And one day I did when we were on the island Pag—I screamed into a pillow. A necessary release.
  • Our schedule was overly packed. I knew our itinerary was ambitious and I’m impressed that we saw as much as we did even though we had to let go of a few stops and activities. But reality is very different from what you write on paper—it’s alive and it’s chaotic.
Rugged landscape on Pag island
Rugged landscape on Pag island
  • Along with an over-packed schedule, we had too many goals. Again, like our itinerary stops, we ended up accomplishing most of them, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t necessarily the smartest idea to have so much riding on one trip. Sacrifices had to be made.
  • I was sick a few different times during our trip and David’s allergies were the worst they’d ever been. Between his scratchy eyes and stuffy nose and my killer migraines, fever, and stress-induced hives and heartburn, we were one mess of a couple at times. We tried to make the best of it—for example, I went on our military tour of Vis even though I had a fever and thought I was going to collapse. Hustle? Yes. Smart? No. It would have been better for us to slow down but a busy schedule comes with sacrifices, so we scarified ourselves one too many times.
A military tunnel during a military tour on Vis island
A military tunnel we walked through during our military tour on Vis island
  • At certain points in our trip, travel fatigue set in from all the above and more and made it difficult to fully enjoy certain stops and interactions. For instance, we decided to go to a beer spa and resort to celebrate our 11-year anniversary of being together. The resort and spa experience were both lovely, but I was so exhausted and strangely wired by that point in our trip that I could not for the life of me calm down and enjoy much of anything. Thoughts and to-do lists ricocheted through my head, leaving me jittery and itching for quiet that never came.
  • I often felt the weight of obligation—the need to take tons of photos, plan content, and produce stories to fulfill the aims of this storytelling project and to satisfy eager online followers. Some days the weight was fine. I knew what I signed up to do and I often did it effortlessly and found it fun. Other days, it was too much to bear with everything else we were trying to accomplish.
A beer bath at San Servolo Beer Spa in Buje
A hops flower in a beer bath at San Servolo Beer Spa in Buje
  • We didn’t have a lot of time to recharge by ourselves, something introverts like us need to feel good. We had tons social time. We had errands. We had cleaning. We had tours and activities. And, of course, we had the actual travel—by plane and car. We also had all the issues we dealt with throughout the trip. Each day was go, go, go. As a result, we were often exhausted and crabby behind closed doors. I personally sought out the artificial recharging powers of coffee, a beverage I normally don’t drink. It was one of the few things that could pull me out of a funk quickly before we had to drive off to meet someone or do something. A bandage to a larger problem. Coffee’s energy-jolt effects only last for so long.

No Complaints, No Regrets

So there you have it: the truth of our Croatia road trip experience—the good and the bad.

You may have noticed that the bad had nothing to do with Croatia. That’s because we didn’t have any bad experiences with a particular location or person in Croatia. Instead, the bad was an accumulation of many small things that drained us over time.

The good, on the other hand, was an excellent combination of culture, community, and adventure rooted in our direct experiences with Croatians and the country itself.

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A sunset we caught while driving through Pag island

Even though I struggled to enjoy our trip at times and to keep up with all the activity, I wouldn’t change anything. I have no complaints. I also have no regrets.

The good was beyond amazing and the bad was part of the process. In fact, the entire road trip was one big learning process, and I’ll be sharing some of the lessons we learned in an upcoming blog post, so stayed tuned!

A Lesson Relearned

For now, I’ll leave you with one lesson I relearned during our trip:

This road trip was an absolute pleasure to take and organize with the help of friends, family, and accommodating tour operators. This trip was also a privilege.

Travel, in general, is a privilege, one that many do not have access to through various socio-economic and political factors that keep some struggling while allowing others the opportunity to rise up.

Trg bana Josipa Jelačića in Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb’s central square, Trg bana Josipa Jelačića

As I bought souvenirs at a gift shop for family and friends in the States, I was acutely aware that I had easy access to ATM machines and knew that money would come out of these machines with a push of a few buttons. I also knew that our trip is not the norm.

In fact, 1 in 10 people in our world scrap by on less than $1.90 USD a day. Poverty is declining worldwide, but struggles far beyond anything we encountered on our trip remain.

I don’t share this information to make you feel badly or guilty about your decision or dreams to travel. By all means–go for it if it’s within your grasp today, tomorrow, or in the future. I know both David and I will continue to travel, and I hope you have the opportunity to do so too.

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The abandoned watermill village of Kotli on a rainy day

I hope you get the experience of learning new lessons, of getting shocked out of your comfort zone, of meeting new people and hearing their stories, and of learning about other cultures and their history.

But I am of the camp that believes we have a responsibility to do our part to help those around us–both human and nonhuman alike.

And so I challenge you to travel consciously, to live consciously. To understand that yes, you will have good days and you will have bad days, but there is more to this world than our own cycles of up and down.

The Adriatic Sea and beyond from Lun on Pag island
The view of the Adriatic Sea and beyond from Lun on Pag island

Many of us have the opportunity to make a difference, however small, in the lives of others. There will always be people with more than us. And there will always be those with less.

So travel, and live. But also give back, and speak up.

More soon,

KP

P.S. Many fine organizations and causes exist that are worth fighting for. Here are some Croatian organizations David and I recently supported through our road trip budget. Find an organization that speaks to you and lend a helping hand through a gift of money, time, or skill. Take your pick and leave a mark of good upon the world.

All Photos: Kristina Pepelko

8 thoughts on “The Good & the Bad of Our Croatia Road Trip

  1. Love this! You truly did go on an amazing trip but I love that you are honest with what went wrong and told us. Sometimes we make life look perfect on social media when it’s not!

  2. Negatives and positives, just like daily life. It’s kind of funny that we find ourselves expecting travels to come off without a hitch since the rest of our lives don’t. The cool thing is that even the negatives end up turning into interesting and even funny stories. Sometimes that turning happens almost instantly, other times the negatives have to stew awhile with the positives before they become something delicious. I eagerly await those stories, both yours and mine!

    1. Yes it’s true. I’m guessing we hope travel might be better because it’s a “break from regular life” but in reality it’s all part of the same process. And yes, stories can come out of not so great times and sometimes they’re pretty memorable!

  3. You’ve been throughout Croatia way more than an average Croatian will ever be during his lifetime. Even I learned something as it’s citizen. Next stop the republic of Ireland? 🙂

    1. Yea, that’s crazy to think about! I’m grateful we were able to do such a big trip, and I am especially grateful for friends and family who helped make it happen! Glad we got to hang out a bit in Zagreb before your move! And yes, perhaps Ireland! It’s always been a place I’ve wanted to go, but there are so many places to experience, and so little time…we shall see what the future brings!

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