Dilemma: We’re in Croatia. We need to get to Lebanon.
Do we A) pay for fast plane tickets or B) take the same money and divvy it up between bus rides, accommodations, food, and a cheaper, shorter flight from northeastern Greece and gain visits to Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece (interspersed with brief stops in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Cyprus) in exchange for roughing-it on a few more bumpy roads?
For Choice A, turn to page 37. For Choice B, turn to page 73. (Kidding, kidding…but if there was a page 73, that’s where we’d be!)
Our decision: Overland through Eastern Europe. For nearly the same cost as two tickets, we gained a ten day visit to new-to-us corners of the world.
Since the beginning of our trip, we’ve had a generous $1200.00 budgeted in transportation funds to get us from Mystery Point A in the Mediterranean to Point B in Lebanon. We knew we’d be in unplanned territory, and we knew that we had to make the connection since our Round the World ticket originated in Beirut.
We toyed with all sorts of ideas. Originally, we’d thought we’d be in Morocco needing a flight to Lebanon but that was early on, before the decision to head to Italy changed our original April-May-June plans.
At one point, in Italy, I’d strung together a ferry route around the Mediterranean, with deck tickets from Ancona, Italy to Patras, Greece and onward from Athens to Chios and Chios to Cesme, Turkey for 299 euros a person. Then we’d overland through Turkey, visit Istanbul, and fly south to Lebanon. But the decision to hide out at an apartment in Croatia nixed that route, as ferry companies didn’t offer the preliminary connection from Croatia to Greece.
At another point, just for kicks, I plotted our historically accurate route through the Ancient Roman Empire. (Great fun, by the way. Highly recommended for Settlers of Catan, Oregon Trail, and Sim City geeks who have travel ambitions and too much time on their hands: “For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.”)
But back to the modern world.
While we sat on the beachfront with laptop and calendar, Ted hunted down prices for flights from Zagreb, but all Croatian outbound flights were steep. The cheapest airfare from anywhere in Eastern Europe to Beirut, Lebanon? Thessaloniki, Greece.
Hm. Greece. We’d both been before, but never as far north as Thessaloniki.
A choose your own adventure moment later, and we booked the flight and began the overland journey to move ourselves and our backpacks a thousand kilometers from the southwestern coast of Croatia to the northeastern coast of Greece.
Here’s the breakdown of how we stretched money for one flight into a ten-day adventure.
(All prices are costs per person in 2012 US Dollars, converted from Croatia’s kuna, Montenegro’s euro, Macedonia’s denar, etc.)
Overland Bus Tickets from Croatia to Greece:
$18.41 – Makarska, Croatia to Dubrovnik, Croatia (plus $0.69 checked baggage check fee)
$4.05 – Dubrovnik, Croatia to Kotor, Montenegro
$3.99 – Kotor, Montenegro to Budva, Montenegro
$42.42 – Budva, Montenegro to Skopje, Macedonia (overnight bus)
$26.22 – Skopje, Macedonia to Thessaloniki, Greece
We purchased all bus tickets at the station counter on the day of travel (with the exception of Skopje to Thessaloniki, purchased the afternoon before a 6am departure). The most challenging task was communicating with station employees: customer service was a grab-bag experience, and language barriers caused a few setbacks. Depending on the season, it can be advisable to purchase in advance, but during our trip crowds were low and buses had plenty of empty seats.
Airfare from Thessaloniki, Greece to Beirut, Lebanon: $207.48
We bought our tickets direct from Cyprus Airways’ website after hunting deals on Kayak.com.
Lodging: seven nights comfortable accommodations plus one overnight bus (not so comfortable) and one night on an airport floor (really not so comfortable): $152.18
Food and Activities: serious splurging on dining out in Dubrovnik, Croatia; ferry ride to Lokrum Island; springing for the first pedicure of the trip, hiking to the old fort, buying artisan olives, and staying two nights in old town Kotor, Montenegro; groceries and DVD purchases (laughter at the request for a rental store!) and four nights in a comfortable apartment in Skopje, Macedonia; a sweet hotel room in Thessaloniki and meals out on the town; a few-hour fling with Cyprus, leaving the airport for a short ride to down and a meal on the waterfront: $199.95
The next few posts will hold photos and tidbits from our stops along the way, but here’s a peek at the fun of strange borders and beautiful views that we’d have missed entirely had we simply hopped a plane.
Border checkpoint between Croatia and Bosnia on our way to…Croatia? Yep, Bosnia holds a 15 mile stretch of coastline that interrupts Croatia’s borders. All goes back to a political agreement during the heyday of the Dubrovnik thalassocracy (see crazy Greek notes on the history of the city); Dubrovnik traded a bit of coastline to the Ottoman Empire in 1699 for protection from the Republic of Venice.
Neum, Bosnia: the country’s only waterfront town. We caught a brief view of the beautiful scenery during a quick rest-stop break.
The coastline of Montenegro as seen from hour #2 into our overnight ride from Budva, Montenegro to Skopje, Macedonia on day one hundred and fifty-one. Windy, twisty, climbing roads rose up from the coast and into the mountains. Once the sun set, we spent a sleepless night crossing through barren barely-moonlit landscapes of Kosovo and on into rough-around-the-edges Macedonia.
Unlike the books I read as a kid, living out the “choose your own adventure” routes means never knowing how the alternative story would’ve ended.There’s no thumbing through the book to read every last variation on the plot.
Though we’ll never know for sure, I think it’s safe to say that bumpy roads and chain smoking bus drivers, confusing signs and countless border guards, terrible radio stations piped through crackling speakers, and odd and beautiful views out dirty windows for a thousand kilometers made for a much more engaging plot than a quick flight with peanuts and ginger ale.
What do you think?
Which adventure would you have chosen?
One Day, One Airplane Trip, Croatia to Lebanon:
Flights: $500 x 2 = $1000
Ten Day Overland + Air, Croatia through Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, and Cyprus to Lebanon:
Bus tickets: $95.78 x 2 = $191.56
Short flight: $207.48 x 2 = $414.96
Lodging: $152.18 x 2 = $304.35
Food and Activities: $199.95 x 2 = $399.91
Thanks for following along on our journey! We love hearing from friends at home and readers around the world and travelers we’ve met along the way, and we’re always glad to have you drop by twoOregonians for a visit. Keep in touch! Depending on internet access, we’re around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Snail mail’s mostly out, but you can always drop us a line at twoOregonians AT gmail.com.