With less than two months of RTW travel under my belt, my itinerary has already changed a lot. When my Airbnb reservation in Barcelona was canceled, I hadn’t yet left the U.S. So it was a simple matter for me to adjust my plans. I spent two weeks instead of three in Spain, and got to travel overland through France with that extra time. Easy as pie. But I’d be lying if I said the attempted coup in Turkey in July didn’t throw a huge wrench in my travel plans.
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Why abandon Plan A?
A keystone of my RTW itinerary was renting an apartment in Istanbul for the month of October. The metaphorical gateway to the east, Turkey’s largest city seemed a perfect place to end the European leg of my trip. And it was so important to me to have a place I could slow down after spending a few months on the road. Most of my family and friends couldn’t believe I even had Turkey on my itinerary. But the State Department only warned against travel in certain areas of the country, far from Istanbul. I think there’s a clear line between caution and paranoia. I wasn’t about to rule out an entire country months in advance. I told myself I’d keep a close eye on the news and make a decision in August. Then, of course, August rolled around. The State Department isn’t just advising tourists to think seriously about their travel plans. They’re recommending families of government officials leave the country. If that’s not enough to convince you how dire the situation is, consider this. I got a full refund from Airbnb. I didn’t even have to argue with anyone! If that’s not serious, I don’t know what is. What really tipped the scales for me was meeting a backpacker who advised against even connecting in Istanbul’s airport. Security is so tight, they have agents scanning every item in each passenger’s carry-on. This poor girl hadn’t done her laundry and had a stranger airing out her dirty underwear in front of the entire line. I knew going into my trip that I might need to come up with a Plan B. But there’s a big difference between that hypothetical and the reality of having to make last-minute travel plans while you’re on the road.
So how do you make last-minute changes?
I’m very lucky to be a traveler in the 21st century. Having the internet at my disposal makes planning last-minute travel about as painless as it can be. Really, the most difficult part is making decisions on short notice. Below I outline my thought process in rearranging my itinerary. First order of business was cancelling my reservation with Airbnb. Normally, long-term reservations aren’t refundable, so I had to call customer service. The safety issues in Istanbul qualify as an extenuating circumstance, so I did get my money back. But had I gone through the typical online cancellation process, that wouldn’t have been the case. Once I had the money returned, I had two options. Should I pick a different city to spend the month of October? Or should I completely rearrange the remaining two and a half months of my Europe itinerary? The former choice seemed a simpler solution. But I had a lot of trouble thinking of a place I’d want to spend a full month. I toyed with the idea of staying in Athens longer than I originally planned. But that could mean going over my allowed time in the Schengen Area. The same problem prevents me from going to cities like Berlin, Vienna, and Prague. Settling down for such a long time in a place like Bulgaria or Romania – countries I know very little about – seems like too big a risk. Then I remembered how many times this trip I’ve mentioned wanting to go back to England. People often ask about my previous travels and I tell them about my study abroad program in Bath. I had written the idea off because of how expensive the UK is, but Brexit has already taken a toll on the economy. The Backpacker Index used to list London as costing over $100 a night on the strictest budget. It’s currently listed at just over $80 a night – about the same daily cost as Reykjavik, where I began my RTW trip. I can’t think of anywhere else in Europe I’d rather spend a full month. As an added bonus, it will be easy for me to get a flight from London to Delhi in November. I first searched Airbnb for properties in Bath, where my college program was based, but there weren’t any close enough to my ideal budget of $500. The same was true of Edinburgh, but I found a shared apartment just outside London at less than $700 for the month. It’s more than I originally planned on spending, but under the somewhat last-minute circumstances I think it’s my best option. Booking this rental for October also means I can keep my August and September itineraries relatively unchanged. So once I had the reservation, I went to book an overnight ferry from Italy to Croatia, as planned. It was then that I came to a not-so-shocking conclusion. Croatian is hard. Even with Google Translate open on my phone, I had a really difficult time navigating that website. So I went through another round of last-minute travel planning.
Adapting plans on the fly
It’s of course important to be flexible when planning travel on the fly. But having preferred vendors can be a huge help on the convenience front. As much as I love using Rome2Rio to plot out overland travel, after a few weeks on the road, I know Flixbus will have inexpensive, comfortable buses throughout the continent. So for this part of planning, I started booking directly on their site. When I was first sketching out my Mediterranean summer, I toyed with the idea of visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia. The direct ferry now off the table, I could return to that multi-day bus route. I’d travel back up the length of Italy and cross into Ljubljana before coming down the Dalmatian Coast. Having already booked stopovers in Rome and Florence on this trip, I thought I’d check out routes from Salerno to Milan. Found one, booked one. I also booked a stop in Venice before my bus to Ljubljana. I consulted my original itinerary to keep the timing on track – I’d still like to be in Greece by my birthday on September 10. The old plan was to take three days to get from the Amalfi Coast to the Bay of Kotor. I’d spend five days in Montenegro before crossing into Croatia. There I’d spend five nights each in Dubrovnik and Split. So far the new plan uses two of those early travel days on Milan and Venice. That leaves 16 days for the four cities on my list – the three from the old itinerary plus Ljubljana. To keep from losing too much time this early, I booked just three nights at a hostel in Slovenia. Rome2Rio showed me a bus ride from Ljubljana to Split would be a solid 8 to 9 hours, so I thought I’d break it up with a night in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Finding a newly opened hostel in an atomic bunker sealed the deal. Those arrangements made booking four nights each in the remaining cities on my itinerary a simple solution. For the sake of ease, I booked accommodations only through Hostelworld. I sort results by price and look for places that have at least a 7/10 in all categories. I read reviews very thoroughly and pay special attention to those written by women in their 20s.
My refreshed Balkan itinerary
- Take an overnight bus to Milan and another bus to Venice
- One night in Venice
- Take a bus to Slovenia
- Three nights in Ljubljana
- Take a bus to Croatia
- One night in Zagreb
- Take a bus to the Dalmatian coast
- Four nights in Split
- Another short bus ride down the coast
- Four nights in Dubrovnik
- Take a bus or ferry to Montenegro – this hasn’t been booked in advance
- Four nights in Kotor
Want to try your hand at putting together a European itinerary? Check out my tips for planning a trip to Italy.