We had a wonderful 3 weeks driving around Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia.
We had an interesting mix of accommodation type - traditional hotels with breakfasts included, actual apartments with full kitchens, bed and breakfasts and simple comfortable rooms. We had positive interactions with a wide range of people from patient waiters, front desk staff as well as our hosts - whose families have opened their homes to house tourists. Here in America customer service is much more overtly friendly. Certainly a lot more smiles, and more hovering. We found all our interactions to be polite, courteous and professional. We found it interesting that tipping was not expected, and it made it awkward when we did try to tip. (Apart from rounding the bill up.) One thing I really appreciated was at restaurants no matter how crowded, once you had your table and your food and drink, you weren't bothered constantly. I think the expectation was that one would linger and enjoy the meal. There did not seem to be the same pressure to "turn" tables that seems to exist here in America.
I am glad we rented a small shift (manual) car. The road ways we ended up exploring were really narrow. I think we would have really battled with a bigger car. I think that a road trip is the best way to see these countries. The roads are good, and we had mostly very little difficulties navigating.
The driving overall was much more aggressive than what we were used to here. While drivers here in my home town are awful tailgaters, we didn't find tailgating to be a big thing. Rather we had cars overtake on solid white lines, blind rises and around blind curves. Pedestrians were also interesting. Rarely would any vehicle stop for a pedestrian if they were simply standing by the side of the road. Instead, cars would stop or slow down if a pedestrian was in the actual road. I thought that pedestrians were far more vigilant than here.
We used Nova Rent a Car, a local Croatian company. They were great to deal with. I had questions about my booking, and they answered my questions promptly. We had no issues with picking up or dropping the car off. I highly recommend them. We picked up our car in Zagreb down town, and returned it to Zagreb airport prior to our departure.
Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Bosnia and Herzegovina is an amazing country. But it is poorer than Croatia. I think it will only gain in popularity as more American tourists discover it. We found it beautiful and the food and accommodations really cheap. It is a fascinating country. I loved Sarajevo and Mostar. I really would like to return and spend more time exploring. I highly recommend actually staying a couple of nights or longer, instead of simply coming in for a day trip. (It's common for tourists to make the drive, or take a day trip tour to Mostar from Dubrovnik, Croatia) There are parts of this country that are an interesting mix of Eastern and Western Cultures. One of the most magical memories is watching the sunset and the final call to prayer from the local mosque in Mostar. Very moving. Bosnia Herzegovina does deserve a visit for its own sake.
Like Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro is poor. However, its popular tourist attractions - such as its Bay of Kotor region are well established tourist destinations. Hopefully Montenegro won't be too seduced by tourist dollars to overdevelop some of its coast line. The interior does deserve some additional exploring. Hopefully tourists will linger a few more nights, instead of the popular day tripping option that seems popular. While our visit to Lake Skadar wasn't fantastic - mainly due to not choosing the right vendor, I think it would be an interesting area to spend some time - I think that the lake and the bird life would look particularly spectacular either early in the morning or in the evening.
We did notice than in comparison with Croatia - Montenegro had more visible signs of random dumping. As its economy improves, I do hope that it can get serious about controlling this. Kotor really does have a cat problem. While I am a cat person, the number of cats and cats that didn't look healthy that I saw in Kotor were troubling.
I was surprised at how much I liked Dubrovnik and Split. I easily could have spent longer in both places. Our day trip to Hvar Island was not part of the original plan. I really enjoyed it, and now get what all the fuss is about. It is easy to see why Croatia has become such a hot spot with tourists. Its coast line is gorgeous, and it has beautiful cities. I can see why Dubrovnik is called the "Jewel of the Adriatic" and why Diocletian wanted to build his retirement villa in Split.
One thing that became a common refrain throughout our 3 weeks was that we wished we could spend more time in these countries because we really didn't get to see everything that we thought we would. At least, this gives us an excellent excuse to return. (Although I don't think I am going to need any excuses.)
1. For this trip we packed only carry on. It worked splendidly. In fact we ended up buying a small case in Split to pack away all our souvenirs. We computed it would be cheaper than shipping our items home via DHL. I really am a fan of the one bag, carry-on only approach to travel. The secret is clothing selection - pick good quality clothing that wicks, and is quick drying. We would do a quick wash and rinse every night. Even with my limited wardrobe I still packed one or 2 items too much. The other thing that I am a fan of is packing cubes. They really are an incredible way to keep clothing and other items under control.
2. We used Booking.com exclusively to book all our accommodations. This was not intentional it just happened that way. Airbnb, Hotels.com and other sites are all good. One thing that I did like about Booking.com was the free cancellation. You just have to watch the dates. But changing dates or itineraries on Booking.com was really easy. (We changed a number of times as we finalized our planning.)
3. Some of our accommodations were apartments with kitchens. I highly recommend this. It is really fun stopping off at the local supermarket, or bakery and browse the shelves for breakfast, and picnic items. It goes without saying that buying some food at local shops does save money. I bought an amazing bottle of the local wine for about $5.
4. Since we had booked our accommodations ahead of time, we made it a rule to always call our hosts about 30 minutes from our destination. (Rule didn't apply to commercial hotels.) And then we would always call them as we got closer so that we could meet, and they would help us with any final directions and parking arrangements. This worked perfectly.
5. There are different types of travelers. We tend to be planners. Not because we have a rigid schedule that we want to follow regardless, but because that's part of the fun for us. Some of the best experiences are the spontaneous unplanned experiences - such as catching the cable car up Mount Srd and watching the sunset over Dubrovnik. Or deciding to spend the day at Hvar Island. Or instead of going to Plitvice National Park, we ended up exploring the sleepy country roads around Rakovica and Dreznik.
6. We use Skyscanner.com to watch for airline price deals. This means that if you are watching for it, you can get some really good deals. The down side is that you may have to make a decision and pay for tickets well in advance of the actual trip. This is because some airline deals just don't last long. Any delay and you may miss out.
7. One good thing about picking up good flight deals, it leaves more room in the budget if you want to pay a little extra to get some more leg room. I do recommend this, especially on the long trans- ocean flights.
8. Travel insurance. We do budget for travel insurance. We buy cancel for any reason trip cancellation or interruption insurance. It will typically includes medical evacuation insurance.
I love traveling. It is so interesting to see how other people live and view the world. I think it is very good for us to get ourselves outside of our comfort zones. I think traveling makes us better.