Travel is always pitched as a luxury experience. And of course, to be able to travel is a luxury, but luxury travel misses some of the reasons to explore new countries: culture, people, landscapes, food and of course… adventure. There’s so much more to seeing a new place than having the best hotel, or never having to lift a finger other than to signal for another cocktail. Restrictions spark our creativity and force us to think outside of routine (and pricey) options.
1. Get Informed!
Before you travel it’s best to get an idea of what type of holiday you’re looking for and how to achieve it. There are few better sources to get all this info in one place than Jeanne Oliver’s Croatia Traveller site which has been a go-to resource since 1996 and covers almost everything from itineraries to ‘mistakes to avoid’.
2. Vary Your Transport Options
The Blabla Car rideshare app is a great way to meet locals for journeys across the country for a low cost (prices like Zagreb-Split for €10) and a safer alternative to hitch hiking, and can even be used to cross into neighbouring countries. And when you arrive be wary that more touristy sites will have higher prices, so consider whether Plitvice Lakes are worth the extra cost, or whether some more local swimming holes will be as good an experience. Often, less touristed places have their unique charm, and the benefit of feeling more like an adventure than a tailored holiday routine.
3. Escape the Heat to Museums
Museums offer us brilliantly curated insights into national cultures as well as local oddities. While others pack into bars or nap in their fancy hotel rooms, you can explore uninterrupted in some of Croatia’s stunning museums, which are mostly free or low cost. The Croatia Traveller Blog has some great info on the changing face of Croatia’s museums, including a Museum of Hangovers and a Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, and even more in Rijeka, the ‘European Capital of Culture 2020’. The Croatian National History Museum is an artefact in itself, having been around since 1867 in its current building.
4. End of Day Markets
Croatia’s bustling markets are a great way to embrace the sights, sounds, and smells of local life, and being on a budget doesn’t mean you have to be a stranger from life’s feast. The fresh Mediterranean fruit and vegetables don’t stay fresh forever, and locals know quality when they see it. But for the thrifty traveller, the best option is to wait until later in the market, when sellers pack their fruit and veg into bargain bags at a massive discount. Just a few euro can cover more than enough to stock up for the next few days’ worth of beach and hiking picnics. There will be ample samples for you to get familiar with local cured meats, cheeses, olive oils and maybe even wine!
Couchsurfing is much more than a free Airbnb. It is a platform that upholds the values of intercultural exchange closer to its heart. Couchsurfing is a great way to stay and spend time with locals. It might not mean seeing the sights with them, but could lead to stumbling across the hidden gems of your hosts favourite café and beach, or even ending up at their parents’ house for a lively, authentic Croatian dinner.
This option takes more planning because you need to arrange accommodation in advance, and Croatia is a popular destination for travellers looking for hosts. So make sure to give yourself time and don’t send generic requests. Pick a host you think you’ll get along with and send them a personalised message.
Camping is no longer for intrepid explorers roughing it in the outback. Croatia boasts an enormous wealth of campsites that offer luxury facilities at hostel prices, but with the privacy of a tent in the shade, rather than a bunk bed in a dorm. Campsites are perfect for couples, groups and especially parents with young children who can take advantage of waterslides and kids activity groups for extremely cheap prices. Glamping is another option to upgrade your living accommodation to something more comfortable and unique without smashing through a tight budget. Getting a cheap rental car pairs up great with campsites too!
Modern campsites often have their own beaches, rivers, pools or lakes, as well as hot showers, clean toilets and cooking/cleaning facilities. They’re a great place to meet other travellers, to slow down your pace and embrace the simple life. Be sure to have a quick browse of the internet to see what campsites are offering discounts for advance booking.
7. Go Off Peak
Anyone without kids has the luxury of travelling at any time of year, and Croatia has so much more to offer than sizzling July and August temperatures and overflowing cruise ships. Croatian Carnival season comes every year around the same time as Lent and cities like Rijeka will be bursting with colour, while smaller towns will have a unique charm of their own at this time, and you’ll surely be greeted with open arms by the festive locals who aren’t used to having as many tourists come to their towns and villages.
Cold weather brings additional pressures to budgeting, as you’ll want to dash in for a warming slivovitz (Croatian damson plum brandy) or peka (a slow cooked pot of veal, lamb, or octopus with vegetables) that might actually be affordable. So it’s best to stick to spring and autumn times when other tourists have gone home, but there’s still a cool breeze and warm sun to make your days carefree.
With this short guide you’ll have some basic ideas to understand how to enjoy Croatia as much as possible, while spending nothing more than a tight budget allows. When it comes to budgeting though, it’s important to know when to spend. Some memories will be priceless and you won’t want to miss out on black risotto, stuffed peppers, or an ice cold beer for Croatia’s west facing sunsets.