When Travel Life Doesn’t Go To Plan

Our initial plan was to spend one week in Croatia, then a week each in Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania on our way down to Greece. What actually happened was that we eventually spent 3 weeks in Croatia then zoomed through the other 3 countries in 3 weeks and were actually in all 4 countries within just 7 days! It was partly because we loved Croatia so much and just wanted to stay there longer to explore more of the beautiful coastline and national parks but also because our insurance company completely let us down.

Another glorious sunset in Split, Croatia

By this time we’d been living and travelling in our motorhome full time for 6 weeks. Before we left Jersey we were completely honest with our insurance company, telling them that we’d be travelling full time (a lot of companies have a 90 day travel limit outside of the UK/your home country). We’d also talked about what we’d planned to do and where we wanted to go which included leaving the EU (& Schengen area) to travel through Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania to arrive in Greece for December. They said “that’s fine, there’s an extra charge but we can cover you in the EU until your renewal date, just let us know when you’ll be leaving and re-entering the EU and we’ll make sure you’re covered for the other countries”.

When we arrived in Split we found an incredible campsite (Camping Stobrec) which was right on the beach but also had swimming pools and hot tubs, laundry facilities and it’s own shop. I know that this is usual for many campsites but we’d mostly been staying at camper stops and wild camping without such luxuries. As it was right at the end of the tourist season they were charging a bargain price of 100 Kuna (about €13) per night for 3 nights, which included 7 showers a day EACH! We’d been lucky to have one shower a week (plus sink washing) since we’d left Jersey. We’d planned to stay for those three days, contact our insurance company then head down through Bosnia Herzegovina to get to Dubrovnik. We called the insurance company and they said “we’ll get back to you”. A day or so past and we still hadn’t had an answer. We were still using Belgium sim cards so calling a UK number meant incurring roaming charges. A week went past and eventually we got an update: “as you’ll be leaving the EU we won’t be able to insure you. As you’ll be driving in those countries without insurance, our risk department has advised us to revoke your EU cover as well. We’re giving you three days to get home”. What?! We were 5,000km from home and they were going to pull our insurance, that we’d already paid for! After lots of to-ing and fro-ing back and forth, costing us lots in phone charges, they eventually said “If you cancel your insurance with us today, we can get you a discount with our partner company for outside the EU. It’ll only be fire and theft insurance, for a maximum of two weeks”. After speaking to the partner company, they wanted to charge us £250 for a week, when we’d paid £1,000 for the original (fully comprehensive) insurance! We declined their offer and decided to chance getting the 3rd party insurance that you can buy at the border of each of the countries which happened to be €20 for each of the first two countries and €49 for Albania, so just €89 all in.

We are both huge Game of Thrones fans and knew that lots of scenes were filmed in Dubrovnik so it was on our hit list. To travel from the north part of Croatia (just past Split) to the south (where you’ll find Dubrovnik) you have to travel through Bosnia H, which as I said above, means leaving the EU. On the way out of Croatia we also visited Fort Kliss. It was another site that had featured in Game of Thrones and was certainly worth visiting. The views themselves are just incredible, along with the actual construction, history of the fort and the Game of Thrones references. All that for only about €10 for the both of us.

All this trouble with the insurance meant that we were already a bit nervous about exiting Croatia and driving through the next three countries. Added to that we had been told by a lot of people to “be careful” and wary for our security and the van. We had no problems with either crime or safety in any of these countries. Crossing in and out of Albania did mean that we were faced with the realities of poverty for some of the people that we met, who were begging at the border with their families. It did make us realise just how lucky we are to be living this life.

We had found a campsite online and crossed the border into Bosnia H. in the late afternoon. Evidence of the not so distant history was all around us as we passed many cemeteries and memorials on our way through. As the sun was setting and it had started to get dark we were near the campsite but we just couldn’t find it. We went up and down the same bit of road several times until we saw a tiny ‘campsite’ sign at the side of the road. We pulled off and followed this gravel track down the side of the motorway until it turned into a paved road. The only lights we had were our headlights and right ahead of us on the road was written in red spray paint “RUN!” I was petrified! Callum was a little on edge, but my gut was telling me to turn around and get out of there. The motorhome has a wide turning circle, so we kept driving, looking for somewhere to turn around. The track was just about wide enough for us with slopes falling away on either side of us, so we drove a little further along the road, only to see the red spray paint again. This time, the ‘artist’ had written “WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING YET?”. It probably didn’t help that it was the night after Halloween and we’d spent the previous night watching horror movies, but we were both waiting for someone to jump out of the bushes with a chainsaw or an axe! The road finally widened and flattened out so we were going to turn around but we saw lights ahead of us, down the hill.

We headed for the lights and found two wooden cabins on a car park, some overhead lights and another long cabin at the end of the area (which we assumed was the toilet block). We seem to have found the “campsite”. I use the term “campsite” losely – there was no staff on site, everything was shut for the winter, but we were joined by another campervan which contained a Spanish couple and their two huge dogs. When we’re wild camping, we have a rule that if we have a bad feeling about a place, we leave. If we’d had anywhere else to go and had a few more hours of daylight, we’d have left, but here we were. It was dark, we’d been driving all day and we needed to just eat and sleep. It was a restless night; the train was going by all night, dogs were barking across the river and Callum was up most of the night with one ear open. As soon as it was light enough to see the road we packed up, got out of there and started driving towards the Croatian border! Sorry Bosnia, I’m sure you have more to give but that was enough for us at that time. The scenery was pretty good & we went through a LOT of tunnels. If you’d like to check out the video of our time in Bosnia, you can find it here

We arrived back in Croatia with a huge sigh of relief. Our first stop was a tiny little camperstop in someone’s garden in Slano (Camping Bambo). A picturesque site right on the edge of a harbour (check out the video). To get there Callum had to navigate the motorhome down a very narrow lane with a granite wall on one side and a sheer drop into the harbour on the other side – but it was so worth it. We rested for a day, had a rainy day then went for a swim in the sea the following day before we headed south towards Dubrovnik. We learned very quickly that Dubrovnik is NOT motorhome friendly. It’s built into the mountain, the roads are really narrow and winding and the local drivers are just crazy! As it was November, the campsites were also all closed so we wild camped next to a beach (which we cleaned). It actually turned out to be a great choice since we met another vanlife couple, Charleen & Max (chaymax.travel), who we shared a campfire and drinks with as we swapped travel stories as the sunset. That is what travel life is all about! The next day we found (thanks again to park4night) parking near the old city, it was really expensive (110Kn for a few hours, about 15 euros) but it was the only parking near the old city that we could fit in. Dubrovnik old town was great to see, we walked around along the coast for a while too but we were so frustrated by the struggles with parking and driving that we left quite quickly and headed to Montenegro.

Dubrovnik: an archway & harbour used as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones

We paid the insurance at the border and (unintentionally!) drove through Montenegro in one day! We had arrived in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was pouring with rain nearly all day. We stopped only for lunch and groceries, took a delightful little ferry across from Lepetane to Kamenari, drove through the beautiful mountains looking for somewhere to stop and suddenly found ourselves at the Albanian border that evening. Deciding that we were probably best off on a proper campsite during the storm, we continued to Camping Legjenda in Shkoder, where we stayed for three nights. The storm continued, and on the third day Callum asked when it was due to stop. “When it stops!” came the reply, so next day we continued our drive south. Sure enough, the storm continued and it rained all day for our drive through Albania, until we reached our next stop in Vlorë (Camping Vlora). The roads were deserted, which was lucky as we had just come through a tunnel and Callum swerved quickly to avoid the powerline that was stretched across the exit! We eventually arrived at the campsite after dark, in the middle of a thunderstorm. The gates were closed and locked but as we were sat trying to find somewhere else to stay, the owner ran out to open them for us, wrapped in his rain coat and said “park up here under the trees and I’ll come to find you tomorrow”.

The campsite was right on the beach so we initially parked next to the trees, as directed. The storm gradually got worse, and after an hour of watching the trees being buffetted, we started to get nervous. We moved the motorhome to the edge of the campsite to shelter next to a wall, which is where we spent the night. The problem was that the area underneath the trees was gravel, however the area by the wall was not – in our search for shelter, we had parked in a muddy patch, and worse still – we were now stuck!

The motorhome is front wheel drive, 7.5m long and weighs over 3 tonnes; three things which make moving it in the mud a difficult task. After trying (& failing miserably) to remove ourselves we were even more stuck than before. Thankfully, our host made a phone call and in exchange for a six pack of beer and a handful of euros, one of his friends turned up in a huge tow truck to pull us out. He then made us feel better about our moment of madness by telling us about his own mishaps and it wasn’t long before we were swapping stories like we’d known each other for years, rather than days. He told us about his family, his Macedonian heritage and his three children. He proudly told us in a thick Albanian accent that his children were named after famous people. His eldest son was called Marcus Aurelius, named after the Roman emperor/philosopher as he hoped that his son would grow up to be intelligent, strong willed and powerful. His daughter was Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom, for similar reasons. His youngest son was called Simon. “Simon… like from the Bible?” we asked, racking our brains for famous Simons. Laughing, he replied “No, like from Blue. You know… the band Blue. My sister likes them”!

Vlorë, Albania

When the storm finally cleared we headed to Vlorë for our 2 month travel-versary. It was a strange place, as many tourist towns tend to be during off-season. We found secure parking; a huge gated area at the port with razor wire on the top of the walls – it was like something out of Communist era Eastern Europe, but the parking guard was more amused by the prospect of two foreigners coming from the UK (we had to show him Jersey on the map) to Vlorë in the middle of a storm in winter. We found a little restaurant that had remained open, it was busy with locals (always a good sign). The tapas style food was incredible and the waiter at the restaurant was brilliant. It turned out that the waiter knew how to speak (at least the basics of) about 20 languages! Every time he arrived with another plate, he’d teach us a few words in a new language, testing us when he came back with more, a very bizzare but awesome travel experience!

The storm cleared, we had the most beautiful sunset that night and we prepared to leave both the campsite and Albania the next morning to start the next stage of our travels in Greece.

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