Since I have already dedicated two posts to a somewhat emo explanation of why we are leaving everything we know behind to travel, I figured I should probably write about exactly where we are going, and what we are doing.
In my mind, the entirety of this trip has 3 different phases to it, and can range anywhere from 3-6 months in duration. It is possible that we will be gone longer than 6 months as we do not currently have a return date or flight, and at this point, our trip is open ended. However, right now Al and I both agree that it is pretty likely that we will return back to the U.S. within the first couple months of 2017.
As I mentioned before, we are officially leaving O’Hare International Airport on August 4th, and arriving for phase 1 of our trip in our first city…
I like to act really dramatic when I announce that to anyone who asks, and then watch their blank faces stare back at me. It doesn’t get quite the same reaction as say, “Paris!” or “London!” might, and I usually find myself going into an long (and totally unnecessary) explanation of the Balkan region, and the fall of the former Yugoslavia.
I am not being judgmental and travel snobby here – I have just become aware of a large majority of the cities we are traveling to this year in the Balkan region within the past 18 months, and would have given the same confused blank stare back at anyone else who had told me they were going to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I really doubt I would have ever been able to locate it on a map. Not to mention that I have known we are starting in Ljubljana for the better part of a year, and I still struggle with how to pronounce it (in case you are wondering, you can read my sister’s helpful explanation here).
So, that is where we are starting this big adventure of ours. We have rented an automatic car, successfully gotten our international drivers licenses, and plan to drive the route you can click through in the map above from August 2016-October 2016.
Since deciding to do this, the most common question that I have been asked is why did you choose this particular region to travel?
I really wish that I had some type of poetic answer for this question. Maybe that I had dreamed of this part of the world since I was young, or that Al or I had historic family ties to Macedonia, or that it was a long personal goal of mine to see all the UNSECO world heritage sites, and the Balkans have over 47 of them, so I decided to start there.
None of those things are why we chose to start with a Balkan road trip. What really happened was a little different. About a year ago, Al and I realized we needed to decide exactly what we wanted this RTW trip to look like, where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to do. We were tossing around so many different destinations, but were having a difficult time committing to any of them (which I realize is the best kind of problem to have).
It was becoming more difficult to plan, and we were not as excited as we wanted to be about the locations we had on our short list. We decided to completely scrap our original plan, and start over. A huge part of this trip is about Al and I spending time together, having experiences and doing things that we have always dreamed of doing, and we knew that we would not be able to accomplish any of that unless we focused on asking ourselves the following question: what do we really want to do, if we could do anything? With that question in mind, we came up with these three points:
- Complete freedom to explore on our own schedule. Al and I have always loved going on road trips together, and we loved the idea of doing a road trip where we have control of where we go and what we do. We didn’t want to be tied to bus schedules, or specific areas because it was easier to travel via train or bus. To us, driving around a new place in our own car represented the ultimate travel freedom.
- Culture, Coastlines, Cuisine, and Camping. OK, so camping wasn’t really one of them, but being outdoors was, and camping starts with a ‘C’ so it worked out. We wanted to go to places where we could be surrounded by natural beauty, a new culture, and inexpensive food. I always feel instantly better when I am near water, so being near a coastline was added to the wish list.
- A place neither of us have been to, or know much about. Many of the destinations we were coming up with were places that one of us had either been to at some point, or had been somewhere similar. We wanted to travel somewhere that would be completely new for both of us, so that we could each be learning and experiencing everything for the first time together.
Once we realized this was what we actually wanted out of the first part of our trip, I immediately thought of Croatia. Al and I had wanted to go to Croatia back in 2013, but it didn’t work out, so I decided to take another look. We started researching Croatia, and around the same time, my sister took a trip to Bled, Slovenia for a friend’s wedding. This led me to start researching Slovenia. Once I started looking into this tiny country that is filled with mountains, coastlines, wine regions, and beautiful European cities, I immediately fell in love, and our road trip idea was born.
As we expanded our research and planning into the other Balkan cities on our itinerary, I felt like I had opened the Pandora’s box of the world. There are the stunning views of the the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, the deepest underwater cave in the world in Macedonia, one of Europe’s last remaining rainforests, the historic town of Mostar built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, the Julian Alps that cut through Slovenia, and the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, arguably the world’s most beautiful coastline (I will report back on this one). This extremely short list barely scratches the surface of the endless amount of must do items we have on the agenda for our two month adventure in the Balkans.
It is a huge bonus that the Balkans are much more inexpensive than more popular cities in Western Europe (except some of the major cities in Croatia), with just as much beauty, food and culture (being so close to Italy and Greece) and I cannot wait to start exploring a part of the world that I never imagined myself going to.
After these discoveries (and it didn’t hurt finding out Game of Thrones is filmed in Dubrovnik), we decided to make the leap, book our flights to Ljubljana, and commit to the route shown in the map above. If you have any suggestions for stops or places that we didn’t include on our Balkan itinerary, please let me know.
5 weeks to go!