“Are you crazy!?” my friend looked at me, as though I had lost my mind, “haven’t you been watching the news!?”

“Of course I’ve been watching the news!” I said, rolling my eyes.

In truth, I had only been back to the USA for a few days, and have a general aversion to American news, as all the companies are run by corporations, and are therefore, driven more by ratings and views than reality. While in Europe, I kept up a bit with the news, chatting about European Foreign Policy, the rise of both German and Austrian politicians, and the possible eruption of Mount Agung. I skimmed over the articles about President Trump’s twitter feed on general principle. There is only so much I can take before I get annoyed and try to figure out exactly how I can extend my trip indefinitely.

Clearly, I should have been watching more American news because then I would know-

“We’re, like, about to go to war,” my other friend sipped his coffee carefully, “The guy over there has apparently been developing nukes, and all we talk about is Trump’s twitter feed and gun control. This whole thing with gun control is totally distracting us from the bigger picture. Ya know, that we are clearly about to enter some kind of conflict.”

“Well, I booked my ticket back in June, and when I called the airline, they said there are no other options and that it is perfectly safe,” I could feel my blood pressure rise a bit. I have no plan for a probable nuclear holocaust,  “besides, if there is an issue, don’t you think they will target countries further than the 35 miles it is away?”

“Maybe you should cancel just a piece of your trip. It can’t be that safe. Besides, you won’t actually be comfortable, worrying and whatnot will you?”

I sip my coffee.

 

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Walking into Prince coffee, where the popular Korean drama The First Shop of Prince Coffee is filmed onset.

Two days later, I board the plane at Logan airport bound for Seoul.  Twenty-two hours later, I arrive and  notice a sign for quarantine and a line for those arriving from Madagascar. Apparently, the plague is there.

 

“Glad that one isn’t booked yet.” I mutter as I go through customs.

I grab my only bag (a carry-on) get through customs, grab 100000 won from the ATM (about $88.00 USD) and hop on a train. Upon arriving at the hostel, I notice that there is a code to get in. The man at the desk invites me to put my stuff down. The hostel has free coffee, wifi, and is right in the center of Seoul. It is about $15 USD a night, has free breakfast, and most importantly, free coffee. I am left with 70 won for the rest of the stay.

I fall asleep until around 930 pm, and determine that it is an ideal time to hunt some authentic Korean Food down.

 

I walk around the center of the city, looking around. I am by myself. No one cat calls me, even though I am the only white, blonde girl on the streets and am obviously foreign. When I go into the shops, people are nothing but kind, and ask me how I came to Korea, nodding graciously when I explain I arrived about three hours ago. Each one smiles and says, “hope to see you again soon!”  There is not a moment that passes when I feel unsafe.

 

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Just wandering around South Korea, casually looking for soup.

Finally I find some soup, and order take-away. It’s been about an hour and a half of walking after dark, near the center of Seoul, alone in a new country.

 

As I eat my soup, I google the probability of war between North and South Korea. Instead, I find an article describing South Korea’s attitude toward North Korea. Apparently, they are giving North Korea $8 million dollars in humanitarian aid for pregnant women and children, in spite of growing tensions. According to the article:

“Cho Myung-gyon, said the government had “consistently said we would pursue humanitarian aid for North Korea in consideration of the poor conditions there among children and pregnant women”.”

While the rest of the world looks at the government of North Korea, and feels threatened, South Korea, the closest geographically, looks on and sees the women and children who are missing out on nutrients. It sees the lack of any cohesive economic structure. It sees the misuse of resources. And, it wants to ensure that innocent lives- children specifically- are saved.

And, my fear of Nuclear war breaking out during my stay completely dissipates.

 

What is it?

Trogir is a hidden gem in Croatia. It is about an hour’s ferry ride or bus from Split. Again, the streets and buildings are made of ancient limestone and marble. The entire city is walled, and there are beautiful promenades that surround several yachts.

 

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The View from the tower at St Lawrence’s Cathedral: The harbor of Trogir

 

Why you should go:

Trogir is a great day trip from the Port of Split and it is also only three kilometers away from the airport. There is enough to do to be occupied for a couple of days, and there are several opportunities to learn more about the history of Croatia.

 

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The Main Square

 

Three Budget-friendly Activities to do in Trogir:

Note: Bring your student ID if you have one! You will get discounts at all the historic sites and museums!

Check out the St Lawrence Cathedral:

 

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St Lawrence’s Cathedral

 

This cathedral is one of the oldest, and most fascinating cathedrals in all of Croatia. The 15 kuna admission fee included climbing to the top of the tower, seeing the inside of the cathedral, and exploring. It was beautiful both inside and out, and is worth the visit.

 

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The Inside of The Cathedral

Get Lost in the City Streets:

 

These streets are narrow and beautiful. They are made of limestone, and like many of the other cities in Croatia, you can get lost in the beauty.

 

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This historic wall abuts a soccer field where children casually play.

 

Visit Central Square in Trogir:

The Central Square is surrounded with small shops and places to eat. You could either pack a lunch or you could sit down and enjoy the views with an inexpensive beverage. 🙂

 

While in Split, I took two separate day trips. One to Krka, and one to Trogir. Both were beautiful and totally worth the expense.

 

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Those little black shapes are fish swimming around the water.

 

Krka is worth seeing. It is not as big as Plitvice, but has less people and a very educational section in which you learn all about the mills in Croatia. This educational facility is unique to Krka.

Day Trip: Krka

For this trip, I ended up meeting a bunch of people at my hostel who also wanted to go. Alex, one of the people at the hostel, graciously agreed to drive us there, and we carpooled up to Krka. It took only an hour to get there from the Port of Split, and we spent nearly 5 hours enjoying the waterfalls, picnicking and touring the forest.

 

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Our view of the Falls while we picnicked.

 

Fun Fact 1: The water in Croatia is clear almost everywhere. I’m not sure if this is completely true, but I think it’s because limestone is everywhere and is a natural filter. It causes dirt and pollutants to sink to the ground. Thus, the water in Krka is clear enough to see through.

Fun Fact #2: Unlike Plitvice Parks, there are no rules against swimming in Krka. The falls are way to strong to get very close, but it’s a super refreshing dip after a day of hiking. Most people swim at the bottom of the falls and it is absolutely breathtakingly clear.

Fun Fact #3: After realizing that lime is a natural filter, and knowing that running water is typically void of germs, I totally filled up my water bottle with water from the waterfall. No one swims on top, and I figured I would be fine. I was.

Fun Fact #4: There are a bunch of people selling figs, almonds, and other delicious mediteranean  snacks near the swimming area. We packed our food, but just in case you aren’t the plan-ahead type.

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Fun Fact #5: The boats around the park aren’t actually included in the ticket. Only the bus from the entrance to the park is. Therefore, bring extra cash if you are planning to explore some of the other parts of the park.

 

 

 

 

Split, first and foremost, is a beach town. It has tons to do, and it has a reputation of being relaxing and wonderful. I scheduled five nights here, and I’m so glad I did. There is so much to do, and I really needed to rest after the action-packed adventure that was Dubrovnik.

 

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The Main Street in Split, lit up at night.

While I was in Split, I went hiking, swimming, enjoyed sunsets, and met loads of incredible people. It’s not as expensive as Dubrovnik, but offers up incredible sites like Diocletian’s Palace, another beautiful limestone city, and incredible views. additionally, there are open-air markets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. There are ferries going out from the port of Split to several of Croatia’s majestic islands, as well as multiple buses leaving for the National Parks.

 

Dos and Don’ts of Split, Croatia:

 

Do:

Shop in the local markets. The food is fresh, the vendors are inexpensive, and it’s a great way to stock up on snacks.

Don’t:

Be lured into spending a lot of money in restaurants. If you stay somewhere with a kitchen it is easy enough to cook delicious food from the markets.

But, if you have to go out:

Check with your hotel or hostel to see if they are partnered with any local restaurants. I scored a delectable free breakfast at CokArt which was pretty close to my hostel. Additionally hotels and hostels offer discounts on tours, pub crawls and transit.

 

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Watching Sunset over the Cliffs from the beach at Park Suma Marjan

 

Do:

Hike the cliffs around Park Suma Marjan. They are beautiful, it is absolutely free, and there are buses from the Main town to take you there. Additionally, you can walk there if you are really trying to save money.

Don’t:

Go to the first beach you see. The beach closest to Park Suma Marjan is surrounded by cliffs and is absolutely worth the extra travel time.

But if you really don’t want to walk that far:

Ubers are actually available in Split, and do not cost very much. See if you can share the transit costs with a friend.

 

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One of the Churches built into the Mountainside at Park Suma Marjan

Do:

 

Take advantage of the day trip opportunities available from Split. I was able to ferry to Trogir, and carpool to Krka. Both places are worth a day to explore, and have a blast.

Don’t:

Worry to much about booking Day-trip tickets online. In my experience all were available at the harbor.

Always:

Carry Cash in Kuna and Lipa around in Split. Several places don’t take card, and it is so much easier if you have the cash on you to enjoy the scenery without worry.

 

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An old staircase we found exploring.

 

Personally, I found it incredibly exciting to follow paths and try to explore on foot. The last day I was there, my friend and I found several old abandoned staircases that seemed to lead to nowhere, and ended the trip with some bushwhacking about the park. Split should definitely be on your radar for Croatia.

 

The Arrival:

I caught a bus from Zagreb to Zadar along with Marty, Blake and Dre. We packed snacks for the ride and slept through most of it. After about three hours we arrived in Zadar. It was pouring rain, and the streets were flooded when we arrived.

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The Moonlight effecting the streets on that first night.

I was wearing these two-year old, beat up flip flops and carrying about 13 kilograms of luggage. I mention this only because the streets in Zadar happen to be made of marble. Years ago, when the city was designed, they were originally limestone, but over the course of the years, the limestone turned to marble. Or at least that is what I was told.

Anyway, upon arrival, the old flip-flops, limestone-marble streets and rain were a deadly combination. I gave up walking like a regular human being and opted instead to skate.

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The view of the church from the Pavilion.

After walking through the rain, wet streets and about five flights of stairs, we finally opened the door to our hostel: Hostel Home Zadar. It was a quiet hostel with a good-sized kitchen, but no common space.  I got a message from Ina, saying she arrived, and in spite of the rain, we decided to go explore the city at night.

I’m so glad we did! Zadar is beautiful, and the streets were empty. The rain let up, and eventually dissipate. We had an entire city to explore, and there were no crowds wreaking havoc on our plans.

The Look:

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Another gorgeous street with a limestone building.

The juxtaposition of the white limestone and marble against the dark sky was an incredible backdrop. Although we arrived on a Monday, someone told us about an outdoor club that’s located next to an old castle wall and medieval wells. We don’t have anything comparable to this in the USA.

As if the beauty of the city wasn’t enough it is also inexpensive (compared to Dubrovnik) and rich in both activities and history. There’s a clean and beautiful beach close by, towers to climb, and the city’s streets are incredibly fun to get lost in.

Things to do In Zadar

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How Zadar looks during the day

The Singing Stairs and Outdoor Lights

The singing stairs are a set of stairs that leads into the water. As you go toward the stairs, you begin to hear whistles and differing tones. The tides somehow reverberate against the stairs and create whistling.

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Me, at the outdoor lights near the singing stairs.

Climbing the Bell Tower

There’s a Bell Tower in Zadar that you can climb up. It has narrow, winding stone staircases that make you glad you aren’t wearing a suit of armor! From the top you can see 360 degree views of the entire city. It is absolutely gorgeous, and it is a must-do. This costs about 15 kuna (roughly $1.50).

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The city view from the Bell Tower

Wander the Streets

Zadar is truly a city where you can get lost in the streets and admire the ancient buildings. There’s a section of the city where you can see ruins and it’s absolutely incredible.

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A Ship Sails During Sunset, viewed from the singing stairs.

Go to the Beach

There’s a small, clean beach with great facilities where you can easily relax with friends. It wasn’t crowded when we went, and the water was gorgeous.

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The beach in Zadar: quite pebbly.

 

 

 

 

I took a night bus from Zadar to Dubrovnik. Why? Because it’s an easy way to save money. If I slept on the night bus and arrived early in the morning, I would essentially have a free night. As Dubrovnik is literally the most expensive city in Croatia, this was imperative to me.

 

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The early morning streets of Dubrovnik

I commandeered the back of the bus and fell asleep quickly. However, I did not realize we would be going through Bosnia. There is a bit of Bosnia that cuts through Croatia, so anytime anyone goes through Dubrovnik, they need to go through customs. I had packed my passport below the bus in most of my stuff, and had not been counting on needing it. Bosnia is not part of the European Union.

 

I did, so I was woken up by the Croatian border patrol on the way through. Imagine my surprised look! Obviously, I should have realized that when I looked at the map, but for some reason, I assumed that buses had some kind of uninterrupted route through the country, as they depart from Croatia frequently. They don’t. For the trip to Dubrovnik, just have your passport ready for the border patrol.

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The View of the walls from outside the city.

Thus I arrived in Dubrovnik exhausted, at about 6 in the morning. I walked the 2.5 miles from the main bus station to the old town, where my hostel, King’s Landing Hostel was located. Unfortunately, as I approached the door, it became apparent that I would not be able to get in until about 11am. Sighing deeply, I shouldered my 13 kilos of backpacker gear and walked down the several steep, gorgeous, steps leading into the city.

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The steps descending into the Main Square from my hostel.

Luckily, at 7am it was quite deserted. I explored the city independently, unhindered by the frequent and pervasive crowds that normally envelop the city. Everything is Dubrovnik looks white, polished and elegant. I walked around, dazed and impressed by the beauty, until I arrived at a cafe in the main square. Desiring a rest, I set my stuff down and ordered breakfast: a cappuccino, asparagus, mushroom and feta omelette, and unlimited warm bread. And, that’s when I noticed the price: 93 kuna! For breakfast! That’s roughly $15 USD. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the rest of Croatia, breakfast costs so much less. However, the food was absolutely delicious, and the view was spectacular: the cafe abutted the main square and I had a view of the deliciously white church and several sculptures as I ate.


After breakfast I decided to continue walking with my luggage. I saw the beautiful harbor, the walls surrounding the city, and the small, narrow, limestone streets covered in plants and wildlife. Additionally, I saw where the Prince of Dorne was killed in Game of Thrones, King’s Landing, and the very steps where Cersei Lannister was shamed. There is actually a tour you can pay to do, but you can also download the tour online and take yourself around to explore.

Around 11am I was able to leave my stuff at the hostel. I changed into my swimsuit and went to the harbor I had spotted earlier- it was next to the walls of King’s Landing. While there I heard two American accents, so I quickly introduced myself. The sun reflected off the limestone walls and stones, and we decided to jump into the Adriatic Sea. The refreshing water engulfed my face, and felt like a dream. Throughout Dubrovnik, you can see down to the bottom of the ocean, so as we were swimming, we could see small fish circling our feet.

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Dubrovnik’s picturesque harbor.

After the swim, I went back to the hostel to officially check in (I couldn’t until 2pm) shower, and rest before a late lunch with my new American friends. We found some authentic Croatian food, and agreed to meet up later. However, I still needed a nap, as I was exhausted. After, we met up to explore the city at night and enjoy the sunset from an outdoor area.

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Watching the sunset in Dubrovnik.

The backdrop was absolutely gorgeous. Although Dubrovnik can be expensive and touristy the unique beauty of the city, and the white walls of the city juxtaposed to the beautiful azure-blue of the Adriatic sea make the trip worth it.

 

Lifetime Moments: Barcelona

Two years ago, I purchased my first overseas ticket to Portugal. From there, I went to Barcelona, where I would eventually meet up with my friend Junior.

While in Barcelona, I stayed at a Hostel called the St Jordi Rock Hostel with excellent ratings. It was recommended to me by a friend of a friend. Upon arriving, I was not disappointed. The hostel had modern dormitories, a large common area with a kitchen, and individual phone plugs for each guest. Additionally the Hostel hosted several events, and had connections to tours around Barcelona.

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One of the buildings Gaudi designed in Barcelona that we saw during the walking tour.

While at St Jordi, I attended as many of the events as I could. Usually the events consisted of large dinner and sangria for about 8 Euro. At the time, this was about equal to 8 USD. These events gave the hostel and incredibly social atmosphere. Typically, after the festivities, guests could continue to hangout with either in the common area or on a Pub Crawl organized by the hostel.

At one of these events, I ended up meeting a ton of people, one of whom is my friend Angelica. After hanging out, we exchanged contact information, and were able to meet up again on Stockholm. On this same trip, she ended up meeting her fiance who lives in the USA.

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Angelica, Amelia and I exploring around Sweden later on during the first trip.

What’s interesting about this is that we were all at that hostel by chance. Like, I literally began my trip with an impromptu, (and admittedly impulsive) ticket to Lisbon, and literally the cheapest flight I could find out of Lisbon, which brought me to Barcelona.

It has been two years since that trip, and now I have seen her lovely flat in Stockholm, and when we are in the USA I am confident that we will visit and continue to be friends.

That’s the beauty of traveling, these small, seemingly random moments don’t have to end. The good bits can continue to live on, because when you connect with someone, it just works out.

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Angelica and I hanging out two years later.

Why go to Zagreb

Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is beautiful, inexpensive, and convenient. You can fly into Zagreb, and catch buses to every other major city, and it’s the closest ride to Plitvice National Park.

Immediately, I knew I had made the right choice. Everything was fresh, inexpensive and nobody spoke English. I was getting a legitimate Croatian experience.

Things to Do in Zagreb

There is so much to do in Zagreb. First and foremost, stay at Wide World Hostel and Bar, because it is never dull there, and even if there’s a rainy day, the staff will make sure you have a great time!

Open air Cinema- for free!

In Zagreb there’s an open-air cinema. It is absolutely free, but you can buy food and drinks there if you want. When I went with a group from the hostel, we brought all of our own wine and food, and they let us take it all in. The movie was in English with Croatian subtitles.

Pub Crawl

I didn’t go to a pub crawl, but many of the people in my hostel did and they said they had a wonderful time. The pub crawls in Zagreb usually cost between 20 and 30 Euro, and are organized by various groups.

Pirate’s Karakas

My friend Micha and I found this restaurant on a rainy day in Zagreb, and immediately knew we had to check it out. This restaurant is completely pirate themed and reasonably priced. It was absolutely delicious.

Shopping

Zagreb has so many stores, and an incredible open-air market. It is less touristy than all the other cities I visited in Croatia, so it was easy to find food, drinks, shoes, clothes, and souvenirs. The open air market is incredible.

I knew when I initially booked the trip to Croatia I wanted to go to Plitvice. When I arrived at the hostel, I immediately was invited to hang out with a large group of people and check out the cinema. Afterwards, I found out a group of people were renting a car and going to Plitvice.

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One of the many falls in Plitvice

The other option was to pay  to catch a bus at 7 am and stay until around 5pm. The bus trip is estimated to be about two to three hours.The entrance fee to get in is 110 kuna, and the ticket includes rides on the buses and catamarans that transport people around the lakes. There are wooden platforms all over the park as well. Experiencing Plitvice is worth any price you need to pay. It is absolutely gorgeous.

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A view of the falls cascading into the brilliantly blue water.

The car fit five people, and we piled into it around 10 am. We piled in, and this is how the OG travel crew formed. It consisted of a brother and sister traveling together named Marty and Indre, Ina, Blake, and myself. We traveled the falls together all day, and discussed future plans.wp-image-8686143701442341378

There are some circumstances in life which inevitably lead to friendship. Road tripping a foreign country is one of those situations. I took the dreaded middle seat, while Marty graciously agreed to drive the entirety of the ride. Blake took on the role of trusty copilot, and Ina and Dre sat in the back seat, trying not to crush me.

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One of the Larger falls at Plitvice.

Upon arriving at Plitvice, we were overwhelmed by the masses of crowds. No matter where we went for the first 45 minutes, it seemed like we were dodging literal hordes of people. It wasn’t until we decided to take the longer trail that we were able to dodge the people and enjoy the falls.

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Limestone Cliffs surrounding the crystal clear water of Plitvice

This park is gorgeous! It is enough of a reason to spend a week in Croatia. Waterfalls abound everywhere, and the water is bluer, and more clear than something out of a fantasy novel. I highly recommend this, as there is nowhere else like it.

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The View from Backpacker’s Fairytale Hostel in Split

I first heard about Croatia when I explored Europe the first time. I met a group of people traveling around Europe in a Camper-Van, and saw incredible photos of Plitvice National Park. I knew I needed to add it to my itinerary this time around.

I knew I needed to make it to Plitvice. Upon arriving to Zagreb, I exchanged my US dollars for Kuna. Zagreb is the closest major city to Plitvice, so I booked 2 nights in Zagreb and stayed in Wide World Hostel. From there, I knew I wanted to check out Medieval cities and experience the local culture. For this reason I chose to do a route going North to South. Many travelers do this route and it is easy to find people going in the same direction as you if you are traveling solo.

Transit:

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Goofing around on a boat ride from Trogir to Split.

In Croatia, the best way to get around is by bus. There is not a developed rail system, so using sites like Getbybus, flixbus, and BusCroatia is the best way to hop from city to city. Additionally, there are buses from the cities to the national parks. Usually tickets are between $5.00-$30.00.

Additionally, there are several small airports in the city, so I was able to fly into Zagreb and out of Split, making it an easy trip. If you want to go to the islands, you can take a ferry or catamaran. If you have more people in your group, you can also rent a smaller boat.

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The view from inside a cave at Plitvice National Park

Currency:

When I first arrived in Croatia, I had the privilege of exchanging $100.00 for Kuna. At the airport, I got about 580 Croatian Kuna. For the entire two weeks, I spent about $400 on food and drinks.

Cities:

My route included Zagreb, Plitvice, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Split, Krka and Trogir. I took buses to all of these cities, and national parks. In terms of affordability, Dubrovnik was by far the most expensive, and Zagreb, Croatia’s capital was the least expensive. Additionally, Dubrovnik was the most crowded.

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Sunsets in Split.

Here is the time breakdown:

Zagreb: 2 nights (one full day in Plitvice)

Zadar: 3 Nights

Dubrovnik: Overnight bus and one night

Split: 5 nights, with a boat to Hvar and day trip to Krka

Lodgings:

I stayed in hostels and never paid over $15.00 a night, with the exception of Dubrovnik. All of the hostels I stayed in were booked through hostelworld, and the rating system was consistently effective.

Best Time to Go:

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One of the many falls at Plitvice National Parks

Summer is peak season in Croatia. That being said, I visited Croatia in September, and there were still plenty of people, ferries running from the beach to all of the islands, and backpackers in hostels. Many of the places I visited had enormous amounts of crowds.

Croatia is an incredible country with beautiful cities, plenty of nature, and great beaches. If Croatia is not on your itinerary, you need to add it as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

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