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Advice on solo itinerary/tour for Croatia & Balkans?

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Jun 6th, 2014, 02:08 PM
  #1
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Advice on solo itinerary/tour for Croatia & Balkans?

I will be traveling by myself for the first time since my backpacking days in my late teens/early 20s (harder to find travel companions in your late 30s when you're single and friends now all have babies or no money!), and have decided on Croatia at the beginning of September. I am planning to join a small group tour of the Dalmatian Coast for about a week - that part I have pretty much figured out, other than just making a final choice on the tour. The problem I'm having is that the more I read about this region, the more additional locations I want to tack on pre-/post-tour, and I am trying to figure out what I can reasonably do in the approximately two weeks I can spend traveling. I hear raves from everyone who's been to Ljubljana/Lake Bled. I'd also like to visit Plitvice Lakes, and Sarajevo/Mostar, as well as do a day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotar. I came up with an itinerary that would fit everything in, but it's pretty packed - maybe too packed? I'd have about 2 days in Ljubljana, 1 day in Lake Bled, and 1.5 days in Sarajevo, though I *might* be able to squeeze in one more day somewhere. Here's what I was thinking:

Day 1 Arrive Ljubljana;
Day 2 Ljubljana
Day 3 Day trip to Lake Bled from Ljubljana
Day 4 Morning in Ljubljana, Flight to Sarajevo (1 hour, looks like the one nonstop on Adria would arrive Sarajevo at 2:35); explore Sarajevo
Day 5 Sarajevo (tour of city, tunnels)
Day 6 Private or small group tour from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, stopping in Mostar with Sarajevo Funky Tours
Day 7 Dubrovnik
Day 8 Day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotor, Montenegro
Day 9 Meet tour group in Dubrovnik
Day 10 Tour
Day 11 Tour
Day 12 Tour
Day 13 Tour
Day 14 Tour ends morning/afternoon; explore Split
Day 15 Day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Split
Day 16 Fly Home from Split

If I pared this down instead and omitted Ljubljana and Sarajevo, I was thinking something like this, maybe also adding an additional day in Split?:

Day 1 Arrive Dubrovnik
Day 2 Dubrovnik
Day 3 Day trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar
Day 4 Day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotor
Day 5 Meet tour group in Dubrovnik
Day 6 Tour
Day 7 Tour
Day 8 Tour
Day 9 Tour
Day 10 Tour ends morning/afternoon; explore Split
Day 11 Day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Split
Day 12 Fly Home from Split

On the one hand, I think maybe I should set Sarajevo and Ljubljana aside until another trip where I'd be able to spend more time in those cities and regions. On the other hand, there are lots of places in the world I want to go and I have limited vacation time (basically one "big" 1-2 week trip/year, and then a long weekend or two somewhere), so whether/how soon I could actually make that happen is unclear. Cost is not an issue and maybe it's better to at least see/get a taste of these places now? I'd be interested in any thoughts/feedback.

Also for the Dalmatian Coast tour portion, I am choosing between Backroads, Classic Journeys, and CW Adventures (Country Walkers) if anyone has any feedback on those operators. The prices and itineraries are all pretty similar, except that Backroads uses a private boat instead of ferries for inter-island transit, and Classic Journeys omits Korcula and Brac (visits Cavtat and Kolocep instead, plus I think more time on Hvar). Thanks!
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Jun 6th, 2014, 03:26 PM
  #2
 
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Any special reason you're ding a tour at all? That's a very easy area to travel on your own, using buses and boats (see http://www.jadrolinija.hr/en/home for ferry info). Click on my name for my "B trip" TRs traveling solo in that area.

I would restrict Dubrovnik to one day/two nights - it's cute, but totally overrun with cruise ship pasengers most days. See http://www.portdubrovnik.hr/girica1.php for cruise ship arrivals.

Definitely try to see Plitvice. Also, I found Sarajevo the most interesting of the cities.
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Jun 6th, 2014, 05:57 PM
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I don't think option 1 is any more 'packed' than option 2, it's just longer (which I think is better). I have been to all the places you mention except Sarajevo - so I can't comment on if that is 'worth it' or enough time. But for the rest of it I think it sounds very reasonable. I did these areas on two separate trips but about the same total amount of time in each place.

I did three days in Ljubljana with a day trip to Lake Bled and it was great. I loved Ljubljana and that amount of time was about perfect. On a different trip I did four days in Dubrovnik with one day trip to Mostar and one to Kotor. Dubrovnik was completely jam packed during the days when the cruise ships were there, but beautiful after 5 once they were gone. So having several evenings there and doing day trips turned out to be a good way to do it. One of the days we were there there were no cruise ships, what a difference.

The trip to Ljubljana I was solo, the Dubrovnik trip (which also included Korcula and Split, as well as the Amalfi Coast) I was with my husband but it was an area I would have been very comfortable alone. The only thing I probably would not have done is drive there. But the day trips (I usually hate group tours) were good in this case.

Here is my trip report - scroll half way through it to get to the Croatia part) - http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...rful-weeks.cfm

Here's the Ljubljana one - http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...e-slovenia.cfm

Photos - www.pbase.com/annforcier/croatia
www.pbase.com/annforcier/slovenia
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Jun 6th, 2014, 06:56 PM
  #4
kja
 
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Your time in Ljubljana/Bled is reasonable. I was glad to have had one more day there, but I used part of that extra day for other parts of Slovenia. I doubt that you'll be able to see everything that Bled has to offer in a single day trip (you'll probably have to "settle" for 2 of the following 3 -- castle, lake, Vintgar Gorge), but you should be able to have an enjoyable time there and see its highlights.

Sarajevo -- I had only 1.5 days there and saw a LOT by using every possible moment to full advantage. I would have loved to be able to give it more time, but I don't think your plan is unreasonable. It is a fascinating place!

"From Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, stopping in Mostar with Sarajevo Funky Tours" -- consider going on your own (e.g., train from Sarajevo to Mostar, then bus from Mostar to Dubrovnik) and consider spending a night in Mostar, which I liked far better after day trippers had left. I watched the sunset from a cliff-side table with a full view of the Stari Most -- stunning!

"Meet tour group in Dubrovnik" -- I agree with thursdaysd (as I so often do!) -- are you fully committed to joining a tour? You will be in a part of the world where it is very easy for solo women to travel independently. If you are committed to joining this tour, what is on the agenda?

Split: I loved Split, which I found dynamic and energetic; I thought it deserved a day and a half. Some people don't like it at all.

If at all possible, arrange to spend a night at the Plitvice Lakes and plan to spend as much time as you can there. Spending 6 or 7 hours there is not unreasonable!

Its a beautiful part of the world (as isabel's photographs show) - enjoy!
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Jun 6th, 2014, 08:23 PM
  #5
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Thanks very much - this is all very helpful. As for the tour, yes, I fully realize that I could capably travel on my own and I have before in many parts of Europe. But as I get older with limited vacation time I find it more relaxing to not have to constantly be worrying about travel connections, ferry times, hotel bookings, constantly schlepping luggage on and off trains and buses, etc. I also enjoy having the camaraderie of a small group for meals, etc. and have also come to appreciate the value of great guides. I did a small group walking/culinary tour in Provence two years ago with a friend that I very much enjoyed and am hoping for a similar experience - the tours I am looking at are all around 16-18 people max. They also all include hiking/walks and other experiences in off the beaten path areas that I would likely not find on my own - here's the itinerary for the Backroads tour, which I think is the one I am leaning towards: http://s3.amazonaws.com/backroads_we...wdcqr1g_14.pdf
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Jun 6th, 2014, 09:40 PM
  #6
kja
 
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Sounds like a tour that will offer some great moments!

OK, looks like you have a half day in Dubrovnik on Day 1 of the tour, day 9 of your first proposed itinerary. In that case, you might not need a full other day there (your day 7), so you have a bit of time to add the overnight in Mostar if you want to on your day 6, reaching Dubrovnik in the afternoon of your day 7. On the other hand, I found more than enough to keep me happily busy in Dubrovnik for a day and a half, so you could also proceed with your current plan.

The place where you seem to have the greatest time crunch, IMO, is Split, so you may want to think through your priorities for it in advance just so you can make the most of the time you do have there.
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Jun 7th, 2014, 04:34 AM
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The tour, and the company, look very nice, the tour looks very well organized. But for me there is no way I could justify spending $5000 on 5 nights/6days for something that could very easily be done independently for a small fraction of the cost. We spent about 50€ a night for a double each night in Croatia and while they certainly weren't luxury they were very nice, excellently located places. That was four years ago. The transportation between Dubrovnik, Korcula, Hvar, and Split is not expensive. There were lots of hiking opportunities around all those places that seemed to be easily reached by short bus rides. If you have the money it sounds like a nice tour (compared to the giant big bus tours) but I could do a whole extra two week trip for what I'd save doing that itinerary independently.
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Jun 7th, 2014, 09:39 AM
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I get it, I do. I put in my time doing the "most travel for the least amount of $$$" thing. But frankly, I have more money than time nowadays, and I like high-end travel. The cost isn't an issue. I'd rather maximize what I can do/see in the limited time I have.
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Jun 7th, 2014, 10:17 AM
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Well, I totally get the time vs money trade off, and also wanting some companionship partway through a long trip. My first Asian trip, back when I was still working, was with the Smithsonian, and it certainly wasn't cheap. But your time doesn't seem that limited, and this trip works out, even counting six days rather than five nights, at $870/day. Surely you could have a very luxurious solo trip for a good bit less than that. But it's your money.
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Jun 7th, 2014, 03:50 PM
  #10
kja
 
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If cost truly isn't an issue (lucky you!), then you might consider opting out of the last day of the tour so you have more time in Split. That might also give you enough time for a few hours in nearby Trogir (only about 1/2 hour from Split by bus, with its incredible stonework.
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Jun 7th, 2014, 06:00 PM
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Hi HLG22,

"But as I get older with limited vacation time I find it more relaxing to not have to constantly be worrying about travel connections, ferry times, hotel bookings, constantly schlepping luggage on and off trains and buses, etc. I also enjoy having the camaraderie of a small group for meals, etc. and have also come to appreciate the value of great guides." Agreed!

Although I have never been to Croatia, I commend your plans for independent travel combined with an escorted tour of your choice. While I am nearer to your mother's generation than yours, I have done that many times in Europe which has worked well for me. Some folks on Fodors are totally opposed to any kind of organized tours and remain very fixated on costs. Good for you - I am sure that you work hard and should enjoy the fruits of your labor in a way that you want.

Hope you provide us with a trip report on your return....
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Jun 9th, 2014, 03:28 PM
  #12
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Thanks, latedaytraveler! It's been a while since I've spent time on these boards and my previous time was spent mostly on the Africa board which wasn't as anti-tour/budget focused, so I was a bit surprised at the response here. I will try and remember to update this when I make a final decision on itinerary - a lot of the suggestions have been helpful - and to do a trip report.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 03:32 PM
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HLG22, I look forward to your trip report.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 06:40 PM
  #14
kja
 
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"my previous time was spent mostly on the Africa board which wasn't as anti-tour/budget focused...." I didn't see anyone say that you should NOT take a tour. Personally, I think we would have been remiss if we hadn't pointed out that you have other options and given you some information to consider as you make your decisions.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 07:05 PM
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Also, there is a BIG difference between travel in Africa, especially on safari, and travel in Europe. Is this your first trip to Europe?
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Jun 10th, 2014, 07:42 AM
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"Also, there is a BIG difference between travel in Africa, especially on safari, and travel in Europe. Is this your first trip to Europe?"

Um, no - I was just referring to the Fodor's boards. I think I've said a couple of times now that I've traveled extensively in Europe independently...I've been going to Europe for the past 18 years and have lived in Spain and France at various times.
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