Upcoming travel to the Balkans
If you’ve been following along with this blogging concern, you know that last month I quit a job I’d held for nearly twelve years and left the Boston area in order to pursue a different life for myself. This new life involves travel (and a lot of it!), and I thought that I’d let you know about my travel plans for the remainder of this year. If I do say so myself, they are good ones—nearly three months in the Balkans! You are most definitely coming with.
A little backstory about my Balkans plans
Just about three years ago, I very nearly dragged the slider across my screen to buy a plane ticket to the Balkans when something told me that I should wait. While I have in the past sometimes ignored my intuition (to my peril), this time I did not, figuring that I’d just book the trip later on that month.
Two days later, my then-landlord texted me to say that he was selling the East Somerville townhouse where I’d lived for the last twelve years. That took my mad money for that season, and then, well . . . you know what happened next. Along with Vietnam, the Balkans sat at the top of my Wanderlust List.
Fast forward to two months ago, when this time, I did, in fact, advance the slider, not for a two-week trip to the Balkans, but a nearly three-month one, starting in just under a month. I’ve never taken a trip this long before, and I can’t wait to share this journey with you!
The Balkans sat atop my Wanderlust List for years
So where, exactly, in the Balkans am I going?
I’ll be spending three weeks in Kotor, Montenegro; a month in Split, Croatia; and a month in Zagreb, Croatia. I’ll be making side trips to Bosnia-Herzegovina and to Slovenia as well. Not only am I going to a gobsmackingly beautiful part of the world, but my rooms, they have views. I’ll be staying right along Kotor Bay in Montenegro. In Split, I’ll have a birds-eye view of the Old Town, and I’ll be right in Old Town in Zagreb.
Why the Balkans?
Ever since I saw photos of this part of the world, I knew that I had to go there. It was the first thing I thought of when I decided to take a long trip this year. However, given the general state of things in that general part of the world, I’d wondered if it was safe and had originally thought that I would go back to Portugal or Spain for my trip instead. Still, I couldn’t get the Balkans out of my mind, and, after some more research, felt better about it. Now I just can’t wait to get there!
A vision of what my ideal life would look like
A couple of years ago, Emily, the leader of a group I’m a part of, asked me to envision the life I wanted for myself. What would a day in that be like? At first, I pictured myself in Lisbon, looking over the rooftops and writing and then heading out for the day to meet friends, go to the market, and cook dinner. However, not long after I’d started entertaining the vision, I pictured myself in the Balkans.
I have this vision in my mind of waking up each morning and taking a little wander about with Ollie and my camera. Then heading back “home” and doing my morning rituals and writing for a while. Later on, I’d venture out and do a little sightseeing or hang out in a café or some other fun thing. I’m so lucky to be able to have a chance to make this vision a reality.
Shoulder-season travel suits me fine
I’ll be along the coast in the autumn, and, while there should still be some good beach days for the first month or so of my trip, it’s going to be a bit moodier. This New England gal is OK with that. It should help keep me inside enough to do some writing, while looking out on medieval rooftops in Split, or the bay in Kotor.
What will I be doing? Besides having a blast, obviously
From my rooms with their views (and cafés, and, for the first part of the trip at least, the beach), I plan to work on a book that I’ve had in my head for many, many years but never had the time to devote to it. Given that I’ll be in such a beautiful part of the world, I’m also going to use the time to hone my photography skills. I have a good eye, but my camera still befuddles me.
Obviously, I’ll keep up this blog—I have big plans for Wonder & Sundry, actually. My ultimate goal is to become one of those digital nomad people who can work from anywhere and to keep traveling. As I said to my newsletter group (you can be a part of it, too, by subscribing!), I’ve always been a bit jealous of digital nomads.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to be jealous of my own life?
A slower-paced trip
I’m really looking forward to a slower pace with this trip. I have more time in each location than I have spent just about anywhere in my travels to see the sights, But I also want to feel a bit what it’s like to actually live in them.
I’m also trying to test my dream. Is this really something that I want?
Is this some kind of midlife crisis?
WHY am I doing this? Did I have a midlife crisis?
Why am I doing this? So what happened? Did I just have a midlife crisis or something? To that last one, maybe. I have no temptation to buy a sportscar or find myself some twenty-year-old arm candy, but pop culture certainly has the trope of middle age ladies taking off on adventures.
I have, as you know, been giving some pretty serious thought to my life and what I wanted from it. I liked a lot of my life, except for one big glaring thing. My job just didn’t figure into my happiness or fulfillment anymore.
There are a lot of reasons for that, and I won’t go into them here, but, suffice it to say that work in the corporate sphere just wasn’t working for me anymore, and I decided that rather than trying to find a new role within my former company or a new one somewhere else that I would instead make a change.
A big one.
How can you afford this?
So, I quit your job. How can I afford to travel?
You might remember some months ago that I wrote about how I afford to travel and ways to save money and maximize points and miles. Well, I cashed in. In a way, the pandemic helped to make this possible, because I had so many rewards points available.
Cashing in miles and travel reward points
I booked the flights with miles I had with American, thanks mostly to a huge credit card signing bonus (you can get 50,000 miles by using my link—keep in mind your own financial situation before applying for a credit card). I used my travel reward points with Capital One Venture Card (get 50,000 miles with my link) to cover most of my hotel and Airbnb costs. My main out-of-pocket expense was travel insurance that would allow me to cancel for any reason (always, always make sure you have travel insurance).
Given that I’m going to be gone for so long, I booked flights that are longer than I otherwise would have done in order to maximize my miles—I still have enough for another one-way trip to Europe or a roundtrip in the US.
I’m planning a different type of trip
While I plan to do plenty of sightseeing on this trip, this isn’t a typical holiday for me, and I don’t plan on spending as much per day as I typically do while on vacation. I’ll have kitchens where I’m going, so I fully plan on going to the food markets (this one in Kotor has me excited) and cooking. Alas, this will not be one of those Michelin star restaurant trips (though I have to admit that pilgrimage to Hiša Franko in Slovenia is in my heart if I can possibly swing it). However, it will be a trip where I get to know more of the local customs and hopefully many local dishes! I hope to post some interesting recipes on this adventure.
Traveling is cheaper than living in Boston
I lived in one of the most expensive rental markets in the US. The truth is that even if I’d paid out of pocket for this trip, my cost of living for my destinations is about half of what it was in Somerville. Granted, I need to figure out how to make money over the next few months, but when I think about it from this point of view, it doesn’t sound as ill-advised as it might on first blush.
I’m very fortunate
I should also add that I have wonderful parents who opened up their home to me this month after my lease expired. They’re most definitely helping, and I am very, very fortunate to have their help. I’m also doing this from a place of privilege. I had some savings available, and I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to develop a skillset that would put me in a good place, should I need to find another job after this is over.
What about Ollie?
Alas, for this trip, my little Doodlebug will be staying with my parents. He knows them well already, and we are here in New Hampshire with them for this month.
It’s best for him
Ollie is just a smidge too big to fly in the cabin, and, after consulting with his vet, I decided that flying him was not a good idea. He’s a nervous dog in good conditions, and I think that the cargo hold of a plane would really scare him.
The other reason for not taking Ollie is because I have never traveled like this before, and I think that trying to navigate this with a dog could get complicated. I’d like to have my legs before I take him along.
If this all works out, and I continue to travel, I’ll be looking into how to take him with me (I do know that he QE II ship allows dogs onboard, and, if we go back to Europe, that might be a good way to get over there).
Ollie will be getting the good snacks
My parents absolutely adore Ollie, and he will find himself well cared for. He might not even miss me that much, for his Gaga lavishes him with the good snacks.
My questions for YOU, dear community
My dear community, I seek your wisdom. Please share in the comments below the post, or feel free to email me. I have many, many questions, but here are some that come to mind.
Have you been to the Balkans, specifically Kotor, Split, and Zagreb? I’m all ears for the tips. I’ve been stalking Instagram accounts (in particular Kat from a way abroad), but I really want to know what you think I can’t miss.
Longer-term travel tips?
Have you taken long trips like this before? I’d love to hear from you about your experiences and any tips. I’m starting to look at packing lists (I’m rather likely to experience everything from beach weather to snow), and trying to figure out what kinds of activities, day trips, etc. are feasible. I very much want a slower pace on this trip, balanced with getting to know the region.
Are you a digital nomad? Know one?
If you’re reading this and are a digital nomad (or know one), I’d love to pick your brain about how to make this work. I’m thinking less working for others as a job and more as a freelancer.
Are you a writer?
Finally, writers. I’d love to hear any advice you might have about actually finishing a book manuscript. My plan is to have dedicated time each day for writing, but if there are other tips, I’m all ears.
What would you like to know?
I’m an enthusiastic over-sharer about my travels, as you know, but I’d love to hear if there’s something specific you’d like to hear more about. Itinerary (knowing that I like to keep mine loose)? Packing lists? More on affording travel? I am planning on keeping a travelogue and have been giving some thought about how to share that, as well. Please let me know what YOU would like to know!