“How did you plan your trip through Croatia?” is a question I received multiple times. I traveled through Croatia for 16 days on a budget and it was an amazing experience visiting several cities and national parks. And guess what? It wasn’t even that hard to create the perfect itinerary! First tip; book early! Having “said” that, let’s continue!
How to plan a trip through Croatia on a budget
Determine where you want to go
If you are reading this post it’s probably because you want to go to Croatia one day. And if you want to go to Croatia, I’m sure it’s because you saw some beautiful pictures somewhere that inspired you (maybe even mine). First determine what places you want to visit in Croatia. The two places on my list were Plitvice Lakes and Dubrovnik. But the distance between them is about 432 kilometers. So I thought it would be more fun to visit other places in between. So you can do as I did and take a map to write down a few cities that are situated in between the places you want to visit.
If you want to travel on a budget, a rental car often isn’t the cheapest way to travel (unless you’re traveling with 3 or 4). The best option is to travel by train or bus. Check whether the places you wrote down are easy to reach. I quickly discovered traveling by train wasn’t an option, since the train network only covers Croatia’s interior and not the coast. So by digging a little deeper I found out that Croatia has a fantastic bus network. It covered all the places I wrote down! Check if the places on your list are reachable here.
Check your list
So now you have a list of all the possible places you may visit. Check if all these places are what you’re looking for. Some places you probably haven’t heard of before, so you can Google them to get more information. Search Instagram for interesting pictures and after your research you can finally decide what places you want to visit.
Decide how long you want to stay
You have determined your route, so now you can decide how much time you want to spend in each place. Write it down so you can add dates later to book the hotels and flights. An extra tip; if you plan on visiting Plitvice Lakes NP, make sure you don’t book your stay there in the weekend. It will be way too crowded!
Is there an airport close to the first place of your list? If yes, you’re lucky! If not, check what airports are nearest and check the prices for the period you want to go. My first stop on the list was Plitvice Lakes. So I had a few options, but I found that flying to Zagreb was the cheapest way from Brussels. So I added Zagreb to the list. Which was a great extra, because the city is definitely worth your time! First I only booked a flight to Zagreb, because flights back from Dubrovnik were too expensive at the time. I waited until prices got cheaper and even added 2 more nights to stay there, because it was cheaper to fly back on a later day and prolong my stay at the apartment.
Find cheap hotels or guesthouses
You have your list and your arrival date, so now you can add all dates to your list based on how long you want to stay in each place. That list is your guide to book your hotels or guesthouses, because now you know exactly when and where you will arrive and leave.
First check where the bus stations are situated. That way you can check out hotels that are near the bus station, so you don’t need to drag your bags all around town. The easiest way to book your stay is via booking.com (in my opinion). Not only does it provide a map where you can check prices and location immediately, it also has a free cancellation option. Look up a city, click the map, find the bus station and main attractions and scroll over the various hotels and guesthouses nearby to discover the prices.
I booked several hotels in the same places to be able to compare. Through the whole 10 month period I kept checking back, because new cheaper places became available every month. I cancelled the more expensive options. That way I managed to book 16 nights for less than 600€ (half of them with breakfast included).
Extra tip: If you plan to go to Plitvice Lakes, check which entrance is the nearest to your guesthouse, so you know at which bus station you need to get off the bus. I advise to find a guesthouse near entrance 1 because you don’t need to take a boat there to start visiting the park.
Book your transport
You have booked your flights and your hotels, so now you can also book your busses! Choose wisely, because some busses take longer routes or are more expensive. You’ll have various options to choose from so you’ll definitely find your perfect choice! All busses have airconditioning and they stop several times so you can buy a snack or give the toilet a visit. I had to book 4 busses and it only costed me 50€ in total. You can’t rent a car for that!
Voila! There you go! That’s how you can plan a trip through Croatia on a budget!
I’ll share my itinerary to give you an idea. I never stayed at luxurious hotels, because I think that’s not necessary since I’m never there. All the places I stayed at were clean, had good beds and an excellent location.
My Croatia itinerary
Read: How to spend 36 hours in Zagreb
Time spend: 2 nights
Best Western Premier Astoria Hotel
Read: Plitvice Lakes NP: the ultimate travel guide
Time spend: 3 nights
Guesthouse Academia Danica, only 400m from entrance 1
Read: The ultimate quick guide to Šibenik
Time spend: 3 nights
Guesthouse Merla, small but perfect location
Day trip to Krka: Tips for Krka NP: what you should know before your visit
Read: Split: things you must see and do
Time spend: 3 nights
Jupiter Luxury Hotel located at Diocletian’s Palace!
Boat trip to Blue & Green Caves & Hvar