Many of our friends and acquaintances had visited parts of Croatia and all commented positively about their holiday experiences. We’d got out of the swing of travelling independently as the last few long haul holidays had been arranged by tour operators for us, but we were determined to start travelling again with our own itinerary. It soon became clear why some of these customised operators have to charge heavily for their tour packages as sorting a holiday from scratch is extremely demanding of your time.
All we knew was that we wanted to visit Dubrovnik but other than that we were painfully ignorant about Croatia. We checked out the map but only a few places rang bells and so we rang round a few friends who were close to their Croatian holidays. One had sorted a self-drive with a tour operator so getting hold of their itinerary was a good start. Another couple had planned their rambling holiday independently and they gave us some accommodation web site references, details of their itinerary and a quick run-down of some places we might like to visit. So we’d now got the foundation for a two week sight-seeing holiday in Croatia and needed to start somewhere.
My wife began a trawl of the internet to get some idea of costing as although we didn’t want to travel totally on the cheap we equally well didn’t want an overly expensive holiday. After several hours on the internet and referring to our friends’ itineraries she came up with a good plan. The route had been mapped out with "Google Maps" and the stop-off points seemed realistic to travel to and we were surprised as to how easy it seemed, on paper, to travel in Croatia. No distances were off the wall and it looked like out total travel would be less than 1000 miles spread over two weeks.
One of the sound pieces of advice had been to only pick up a hire car after we’d explored Dubrovnik. So we set about looking for a place to stay in, or close to the centre of the old town. After some time she presented me with a couple of options and as the site (Booking.com) did not demand payment and allowed changes and cancellations without a penalty we decided to "hit the reserve button". The itinerary at least had a start position although we had one small defect in the plan so far. We hadn’t checked on the availability of cheap flights.
This required the patience that only my wife could bring and so she started to look for the possibilities. There were a couple of options: to fly into Dubrovnik and out from a town in the North of the country or to accept that we’d travel back by the same route and fly out of Dubrovnik. However, close scrutiny of the airlines soon enabled us to ditch the second options as it seemed that no to there were no flights that left our preferred airport (East Midlands) to Dubrovnik returning by another route. That made the decision easy – we’d fly from East Midlands with Jet2 (only a 30 minute journey from home to airport) into Dubrovnik and back the same route.
The next step, booking the flight should, we thought be easy, but we hadn’t banked on the complexities of the payment system. First you select flights outward and inward – that was easy! But next we had to decide whether or not to book-in on line. Each step of the way required an extra supplement, but still the flight came in extremely competitively and with a 22Kg bag allowance for the hold and 10kgs each for carry on we were soon booked and confirmed.
Next we had to sort out car parking at the airport and again after extensive searing on the internet my wife came up with an excellent deal a mere 2 minute walk away from departures. It was interesting that this site came in much cheaper than off-site parking which required a bus journey to reach it.
Thinking of cars led us to consider the need to get car hire sorted out. We hadn’t a clue what options there were in Croatia and as my wife trawled the internet I telephoned some of the hire companies that I’d heard of. Prices seemed pretty even but just before we’d done the deed we received an email from Jet2, the budget airline that we were using, offering the best rates for car hire. Well that sounded too good to be true and I gave them a call. Sure enough, even with full CDW and a separate insurance to cover the excess in the event of an accident, their offer was the best deal. There seemed to be no point in wasting too much time so we booked the car hire.
Things were coming together well, because my wife had now got into "the zone" and numerous B&B’s or apartments were being booked. I had, however, just a little thought. A small niggle - a concern. And that was how easy was it going to be to find all this accommodation in a country in which we had no language skills. Normal maps would not have the detail that we required for the many places we’d be stopping in. We’d got a SatNav (TomTom) but to upgrade to all Europe was going to be quite expensive , especially if we wanted to build in regular updates.
I was, speaking to a friend a few days later and he told me about Garmin who offer life-time free updates for UK maps. Perhaps they did the same for Full Europe. "Watch out internet here I come!" Sure enough for just over £100 I could get a Garmin SatNav with Full UK and Europe coverage, life time map update, Bluetooth and live traffic update. This sounded like a no brainer to me as we are travelling to Northern Ireland for my nephew’s wedding next year and plan to roll it together with a tour of part of Ireland. The purchase was made, via amazon, and two days later this amazing bit of equipment was delivered to me.
All that was left was to order some Croatian Kunus and we’d been advised that the best rate could always be got by ordering from Travelex and collecting the airport. Of course we needed to check it out first as many shops, travel agents, banks and institutions are offering "best currency rates". Of course they can’t all be the best rate! We checked some of the main players out and sure enough Travelex came in the best. So our order was placed to be picked up a the airport agency just before we went through to departures.
We were all sorted and the ever faithful "list" of what we need to pack for holidays was printed off the computer and items placed on the bed in the spare room. So what could go wrong?
All is revealed in my separate experience, "what can happen next?"