We’ve gone over the story of my cycling trip along the coast of Croatia, but what about the actual logistics? How did we get the bike to Croatia? Once we got there how did I figure out where we were going + how we were going to get there? What about sleeping? How did we find campgrounds along the way? What did we do when we ended up at crappy campgrounds or on sketchy roads?
Those are just a few things we’ll chat about here…the logistics of my four-week adventure atop a bicycle [+ in a rental car, for a bit] in Croatia. I’ll share our ‘stay safe’ tactics, a few tips on navigating + some insight on Croatian campground during the peak summer season. Let’s kick this off with the first obstacle I had to cover come…
Traveling with a Touring Bike
I started this adventure in Switzerland, which is half a continent away from Croatia. Luckily the European continent is an easy one to travel around! I was faced with a few transportation options — my bike, a handful of trains, a plane or a few buses.
Cycling to Croatia…
…was almost immediately ruled out. I wasn’t opposed to the time in a saddle or the mountainous climb out of Switzerland. That was somewhat appealing. However, the whole point of this trip was to spend time in Croatia [yay, Schengen visa regulations]. Spending two weeks getting to Croatia ate up way too much time, so it was vetoed.
Take the Train…
…was booted early in the planning stage, too. I love taking trains around Europe. They’re easy to walk onto, don’t require advance reservations + are basically buses without the queasy feelings. Unless you have a big ol’ bike. Then they’re a pain. You need to buy bike reservations, which add to the already sorta pricey cost of trains [I did not have a EuroPass, just a SwissPass]. This also means you have to plan out every. single. train. along your route…sometimes with an eight-minute transfer in a massive main station. I’ve seen the size of some train stations — no way would I be able to get from track 2 to track 47 with my bike in time for those transfers!
Fly to Croatia…
…was also a bit of a logistical mess. I’d have to pack my bike up with extra padding + care in hopes that it’d survive the flight. Then I’d need to pay to get it on the train to the airport, then pay to get it on the plane…all after a not-so-cheap plane ticket. Doing that math alone made my head hurt + had me crossing ‘plane’ off the list.
Grab a Bus…
…ended up winning out! With FlixBus I was able to book my entire trip for less than $100USD + that included the 9EUR fee to stash my bike under the bus. There would be no airport personnel tossing my bike around + I’d only need to move it twice [Munich + Venice]. The downfall with the bus was the time…it took me about 27 hours to get from Switzerland to Croatia. I did go through about six countries + had plenty of time to eat my way through my bus-trip snacks!
Navigating Croatia via Touring Bike
Thanks to my Google Fi data plan* I had easy access to Google Maps throughout my trip. With a little extra help from the Nite Ize HandleBand mount I always had my phone in front of me. I could even wrap my portable battery pack around my handlebar with another Nite Ize Gear Tie so I’d always have a charged phone. It was glorious. Honestly, it was easier than navigating in a car…probably because you were moving slower, but also because my phone was always front + center.
Since we always had access to mobile navigation [yea, yea, that’s sorta cheating, but it made life so much easier!] we adjusted our travel plans daily. This reduced the stress of getting from a pre-determined destination, but it also allowed us to very quickly fall behind schedule because we didn’t have to stick to pre-made route plan.
The only thing we had to keep an eye on was the type of road Google Maps opted to send us on. The ‘bicycle route’ was definitely not fine-tuned for Croatia. More than once Google Maps tried to lead us up to the interstate that sped along the coast. We did NOT want to end up on that highway on a bicycle…it sounded terrifying. We kept turning off tolls [that interstate was a toll road], but it didn’t always work. In short, if our navigation ever veered away from the ‘old highway’ along the coast we had to stop + double check it. Sometimes it was legit, taking us away from a steep decent that would dead end as the sea. Other times it was pushing us back up to the interstate toll road.
Overall, our plan to use Google Maps + fly by the seat of our squishy bike shorts worked out fine. I do wish we had created a more aggressive schedule + stuck with it, but eh, it all worked out.
Finding Campgrounds on a Touring Bike
There are quite literally hundreds of campgrounds along the coast of Croatia. Some of them are tiny + adorable, like Camping Kate near Dubrovnik or Camping Romantik east of Pula. Others are basically their own villages with multiple restaurants, bars, pools + convenience stores, like Camp Vrsar in Rovinj or Kamp Ostro near Rijeka. You’ll also find some super sketch campgrounds, such as Camping Kupari in Dubrovnik…that place felt post-apocalyptic + we stayed one weird night before heading out to find Camping Kate [stayed there a total of 4 nights!].
We found each night’s campground while we were on the road. The campgrounds were often clustered around bigger cities with a handful of them scattered along the beach. We would GPS to a city roughly 20-30 miles away, then search for campgrounds nearby. Since we were travelling by bike we had many more options. A lot of the campgrounds were sold out or requiring reservations for cars, but not for bicycles or motorbikes. Nearly every campground had a ‘free for all’ camp area for people who were packing their tents — either on their backs, on their bicycles or on their motorbikes. We just tucked our tent in + called it home for the night. Aside from our time near Dubrovnik [we met a friend there] we only spent a single night at each campground.
If you would prefer to plan ahead websites like camping.hr have a whole slew of campgrounds listed. You can filter through the campgrounds + make reservations. Just be sure you’re looking at the right price — winter season + summer season have very different prices. The summer season prices are often close to 2x the price of winter season!
Staying Safe on a Touring Bike
Since we’ve talked a bit about crazy fast interstates + sketchy campgrounds we should probably talk about staying safe while bike touring! We took a few steps to stay safe, or at least let others know we were safe. Having a phone that was fully functional in Croatia helped — thanks Google Fi*! Sure, it may have been unnecessary to always be connected, but it did offer up some serious peace of mind…for everyone.
At the end of each day, after we set up camp, I would send a GPS pin of my location to a few people in the know. I just wanted them to know where I was + that I had survived another day in the saddle. It also ended up leaving behind breadcrumbs of our trip, so I can look back at all the campgrounds we stayed at.
I also carried a DeLorme inReach SE* for the entire trip [as well as during all other international travel + adventure]. This is a satellite GPS tracking device with texting capabilities. It also uploads map coordinates at regular intervals, which can be accessed via a website that can be password protected. I opted to set this site up + gave the password to only close friends + family. I don’t mind having strangers follow my adventures via social media, but I wasn’t comfortable giving the world my exactly location every 10 minutes!
We did the vast majority of our riding during the day, but having the Nite Ize bike lights on my bike at all times also offered up some peace of mind. I had the INOVA STS Rechargeable headlamp with the STS Bike Mount attachment strapped to the front of my bike. The red LED TwistLit was strategically gear tied behind my pannier bags. Then, just for funsies, I had colorful SpokeLits on both of my tires — they were a hit when we ventured into the cities in the evenings!
All of these safety measures went along with the basics — wearing a helmet, following road rules, using common sense + trusting our guts. Aside from the sketchy campground [which happened to be across the street for a huge complex of abandoned Soviet hotels] we never felt unsafe. Quite frankly, Camping Kupari was more weird + dilapidated than it was scary.
Fitting a Tour Bike in a Tiny Rental Car
Okay, so there’s no denying I’m still a bit bummed I didn’t get to ride the entire coast of Croatia as we initially planned. I talked about it in detail in Cycling Croatia // The Story. However, Robb has promised to go back with me + I am really glad we got to go inland with the rental car.
Yes, in case you didn’t read the whole story of our trip already, there was a rental car on our cycling tour of Croatia’s coast. About a week into the adventure it became clear we would not get to southern Croatia in time for me to take on some volunteer work in Montenegro as planned. Enter Plan B…a rental car.
We got the cheapest option, which also happened to be the smallest option. Thanks to some kind words + a smile [the guy before me was a world-class jerk] I did get a tiny upgrade. Thank goodness…we barely fit our two bikes into the itsy bitsy four door hatchback! We both had to take off tires + scoot our seats forward to make it work. We tucked both bikes [sans front tires] into their bike bags then piled our camping gear + clothes on top. It worked. It also had AC, which was a huge selling point!
The car took us from Rijeka to Dubrovnik with stops at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Krka National Park, Zadar, Split + Maraska along the way. Well worth the few hundred dollars we threw at it.
At the end of it all, everything went really smoothly. It didn’t always feel like that while I was on the bike, but looking back it was all worth it. Our flexible schedule + semi-flexible budget gave us the freedom to add in some of the best parts of the trip [Plitvice Lakes NP + Maraska hiking, hands down worth it!]. We could have definitely done more planning in advance. Doing so would have probably kept us on the bikes longer, if not the entire time. May our ‘failures’ be a stepping stone in your learning process!
If you come upon any questions while scrolling through this word vomit, please let me know! Feel free to comment here or shoot me an email! I’m all ears + clearly capable of throwing out all of the words!
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