Stunning landscapes, incredible history, and safe-to-travel-to countries, add the Balkans to your must-visit list!
Naan first heard about the beauty of #Croatia in 2009 when a colleague who was going there for his honeymoon said "who knew the former Yugoslavia was so beautiful?" She googled pictures at the time and was enamored. It would definitely be on the bucket list. Since then a couple friends had visited but it was largely still a secret destination. So, when it came time to take our first trip with Baby SuDS it was one of top choices given its beauty, safety, and ease of traveling with baby. It was the perfect choice!
“Who knew the former Yugoslavia was so beautiful?!"
We flew into Zagreb, Croatia rented a car and drove to Slovenia. Here is our itinerary:
Day 1: Zagreb, Croatia
Day 2: Ljubliana, Slovenia (then stopped in Lake Bohinj)
Day 3: Lake Bled, Slovenia (then stopped in Predjama Castle and Postjana Caves)
Day 5: Rovinj, Croatia
Day 7: Lake Plitvices,Croatia
Day 8: Split, Croatia
Day 9: Hvar, Croatia
Day 11: Mostar, Bosnia
Day 13: Dubrovnik, Croatia
We flew into #Zagreb and out of #Dubrovnik so you'll want to align the car rental accordingly.
Top 10 Tips for Traveling to the Balkans:
1. Pack A Carrier AND a Stroller:
You’ll find exploring in some places is easier with a carrier, as we discovered in the breattaking #Plitvices Natonal Park, and in some places a stroller is preferred like the coastal town of Split. Baby SuDS was 25 pounds so carrying her in the carrier for long periods of time was hard on our hips and back. It’s also not super comfortable for the baby (have you ever seen a toddler walking like a cowboy?). We did A LOT of walking, as is expected when you travel, so it was nice to plop her in the stroller even though our #Chicco stroller seemed ill-equipped to handle the cobble stone streets in #Mostar, #Rovinj, and #Dubrovnik. You'll definitely need one with 4 wheel drive!
2. Bring Some Comfort Food.
We learned in advance that the Balkans are not super vegetarian friendly. Naan can adjust to that and always manages to find something but we were not sure baby SuDS could do the same. We were primarily on a pizza and pasta diet for much of the time (yes, that too can get old) so it was nice to have some comfort food for her. Naan transferred her boxed baby cereal into ziploc bags so all we needed to do was add hot water. We would make that for her for breakfast every morning so we were also saving some money. We also packed a ziploc bag of dry rice and yellow lentils with smaller bags of salt and turmeric. Every couple of nights, Naan would make her kichadi (a Gujarati comfort food) and sometimes even pack it for a long day of travel. It was great to know she had warm, nourishing food as often as she wanted. Once her tummy was full for dinner, we could venture out in search of a good restaurant that could accommodate us and not worry about it getting too late and having her hanger rear it's ugly head.
3. Pack Light
When Naan & Challah went our 30 day, 8 country, 26 city honeymoon through western Europe, we each had packed only 1 carryon bag! We were so happy we did. We traveled on the Eurorail between countries and found ourselves often running to catch trains and buses. They also don’t have as many escalators as they do in America so climbing train station stairs or stairs to our lodging with a lot of luggage was not our idea of fun. Besides, Challah was carrying both of them many times anyway. With a child, packing light is more difficult given all the things they need. We still managed to do okay. We had 1 medium sized checked bag and 1 carry-on. We also had the stroller and carseat. There wasn't as much running for trains or buses but it was helpful when our lodging was four flights up in a building with no elevator.
4. Plan for and Expect Sickness
Most parents by now know this all too well. We had an ambitious itinerary of 9 cities in 15 days and baby SuDS was a trooper! However, she had a super sensitive stomach since she turned 1 and periodic vomiting was unfortunately a part of our life. This did not go away on vacation. She threw up a few times on the speedy catamaran to and from Split to Hvar on a day of a rough seas and on the car ride to the Positana Caves and Plitvices National Park. She was suffering from seasickness and motion sickness. Having vomit bags to try to catch it, garbage bags to put soiled clothes in, and an extra pair of clothes was clutch. She also got a stomach bug in Mostar but some homemade mint tea from the host family cured her in a matter of a few hours! We gave her ginger juice before long rides to prevent the motion sickness. In hindsight, a homeopathic motion sickness remedy might have been helpful.
5. Pack for Different Temperatures
During our early September trip, we experienced different climates and temperatures from Dubrovnik hot to Plitvices cold. Having options to layer was helpful and we definitely needed rain gear. Umbrellas can be difficult to manage with a child so a poncho would've been helpful. Otherwise, pack hoodies/ sweater, shawl for the ladies, sunblock, sunglasses, and sunhat.
6. Prepare for Smoking
Smoking is very much ubiquitous in the Balkans. It seemed like everyone smoked from the young to elders, men, women, various socio economic levels. this can be difficult when you're standing in line or having a picnic. You don't want to say anything since it's a cultural norm but also don't want to subject a child to so much toxicity so you might have to move around a lot.
7. Learn the Language
Like most trips, we learned some words in the local language(s) to use while we were there. Our research revealed that many people spoke English, which was disappointing, as we wanted to be pushed to have to learn the language to communicate.
This was our first time using AirBnB internationally. We were definitely nervous about it but it was one of the best decisions of the trip. Aside from being more affordable, it allowed us to cook meals for baby SuDS, go back easily for nap time, and meet locals. At our first stop in Zagreb, my daughter was playing with the daughter of our host. They couldn't communicate but since when is language necessary to play! However, when you book, look for a place with a nice view, with a balcony or patio so that when the baby is sleeping, your fun doesn't have to end.
9. Pack a Picnic or Get Takeout
While we love traveling, eating out can get old quickly. And eating out with a toddler can be tiresome. Sometimes it was nice to just get a few ingredients for sandwiches for lunch on Lake Bled or getting pizza to eat on the pier in Split instead of sitting in a restaurant expecting baby SuDS to be still for an hour.
10. Adjust Expectations
Our itinerary was ambitious and baby SuDS was a trooper, given it was her first international trip, but we were not traveling like we did when it was just the two of us. There was time we had to honor for her sleeping and eating, which was necessary for us all to have an enjoyable time. Of course, it was exhausting and stressful, at times, but seeing her running the cobble stone roads of Roman Emperor, Diocletian's palace or saying "Doberdan" (thank you) on the Turkish Airlines flight home made it all worth it.