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Your First Post-COVID Trip Should Be to Croatia

Your First Post-COVID Trip Should Be to Croatia

At some point, we will take our first post-COVID trips. Maybe it will be in summer 2021. Maybe it will be a bit later than that. But with vaccines being distributed in greater numbers, post-COVID travel is on its way.

Do we know what traveling after COVID is going to be like? Not really! Through this whole pandemic we’ve been rolling with the punches, learning in real time what actually happens when the deadliest pandemic in a century takes over the world.

Remember back when we were told not to buy masks because medical professionals needed them more? Remember when we were told to wipe down our groceries with bleach? Times change, and the more we learn about the virus, the better equipped we are to fight it.

But one thing’s for sure: we will travel again at some point. So we should go somewhere fabulous.

This post was updated as of January 2021.

A quick note:

Please note that the COVID situation and regulations for traveling to Croatia can change at anytime. We don’t know what summer 2021 is going to look like just yet. Don’t take this post as a substitute for doing your own research on COVID rules and regulations, and if you’re looking for medical advice, talk to a medical professional.

If you choose to visit Croatia, I urge you follow every rule and regulation to protect other people and yourself.

I encourage you to wait until you’ve received the COVID vaccine to travel internationally if possible.

And finally, while I’ve worked with Croatia Tourism on a few campaigns in the past, they didn’t ask for this post — in fact, they have no idea I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I want to.

Taking in the view from the top of the island of Brač.

I spent two months in Croatia during COVID in summer 2020.

I didn’t plan to travel during COVID, but I ended up in Croatia for two months unexpectedly in 2020. For months I had been awaiting authorization to return to the Czech Republic, where my name is on a lease and my partner is a permanent resident. I flew from the US to Serbia to meet him; shortly after arrival, we found out my authorization would be delayed, so we would stay in Serbia until I could go back.

Then political unrest began in Serbia in July. The unrest alone wasn’t a reason to leave, but with Serbian border crossings already tenuous in the time of COVID, we weighed our options and decided to cross into Croatia and wait there until the Czechs let me return. We were in Croatia for two months.

Croatia has been one of my all-time favorite countries since my first visit in 2012. I knew Croatia well before 2020 — but these additional two months in Croatia allowed me to get to know the country much better.

More than that, Croatia was one of the best places I could have possibly been in Europe during COVID. Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, filled with waterfalls, stone towns, and a spectacular coastline — but it’s also a place where you can travel independently and spend the vast majority of your time outdoors, all for reasonable prices (particularly outside Hvar, Vis, Rovinj, and Dubrovnik).

And this is why I think Croatia makes a great choice for your first post-COVID trip.

The mountaintop town of Motovun, perched on top of a hill, underneath a blue and white sky.
Could you imagine quarantining in a hill town like Motovun?

When is it safe to travel after COVID?

A lot of people are hoping that international travel will be emerging in summer 2021. By this point, hundreds of millions of people will be vaccinated and looking to travel. A growing percentage of people in developed countries will be vaccinated.

This doesn’t mean that COVID will be eradicated; full eradication is likely years away.

It also doesn’t mean that travel will be like it used to. I think we’ll be wearing masks in many indoor places for quite some time. And while I think travel will pick up sooner in developed countries, it will take a long time for the travel industry to pick up in developing countries that haven’t had as much access to the vaccine.

But there will be travel. And if it doesn’t quite happen by summer 2021, I’m sure it will be fall 2021. Some of my travel industry friends have been reporting that September 2021 trips are booking up FAST!

Small towns like Groznjan make you happy to be alive.

Your first international trip with a COVID vaccine should be somewhere low-key, easy, and in a place where vaccination is common.

We have lived through a major trauma event. I’m sure that most people aren’t comfortable immediately going back to jam-packed cities or teeming cruise ships, or spending the days at packed music festivals.

Which is why your first trip should be both a gentle place and a wonderful place.

Croatia is perfect for that reason. It’s a very easy and safe place to travel under ordinary circumstances, and it has the strong travel infrastructure that makes it easy to get from place to place.

As an EU nation, Croatia has access to several different vaccines and has begun vaccinating medical workers, seniors, and high-risk people. By the summer, it’s probable that most Croatian adults will have been vaccinated, including those who are at greatest risk.

A stunning orange-yellow-pink sunset with the tower of Rovinj in the background; in the foreground are small white boats.
Is Rovinj special? HELL YEAH.

Your first trip post-COVID should be somewhere special.

After all we’ve been through with COVID, we deserve something special. Well, Croatia is one of the most special travel destinations that I’ve ever visited.

Croatia is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with both natural and constructed beauty. The Croatian coastline is one of the most visually stunning coastlines I’ve ever seen. Whether by the sea or on a mountaintop, Croatia is home to picture-perfect stone towns. And if you venture into the national parks, you’ll find dramatic mountains and waterfalls.

Croatia is the kind of place people choose for their honeymoon, for their milestone birthday or graduation or anniversary.

Croatia is the kind of place your friends go next summer after hearing you rave about it.

Kate standing on the edge of the rocky coastline in Dubrovnik, wearing a red dress and sunglasses, looking out to sea.

Americans were able to visit Croatia in 2020.

Headlines stated that Americans were banned from visiting the EU in 2020 — but that wasn’t the whole story. Banning Americans from EU countries was a recommendation, not a requirement; countries were allowed to make their own decisions.

Croatia chose to allow Americans with proof that their visit was in the economic interest of Croatia (i.e. that you had proof of a paid accommodation booking, rather than staying with friends) and with a negative PCR test taken in the past 48 hours.

Some EU countries, like Italy and France, allowed Americans if they had spent the last 14 consecutive days in the EU. This is how I was able to go to Italy from Croatia; after a few weeks in Italy, I received my authorization to return to the Czech Republic and promptly returned. I have been in Prague since.

Croatia was a rare European country where Americans could go in 2020. In fact, Charlie and I appeared on an episode of Nightline about couples banned from each other’s countries reuniting in Croatia.

As I write this in January 2021, COVID cases have increased along with restrictions, and Americans can only visit Croatia for essential reasons. You can find a detailed update here.

But cases will improve because Croatia has begun vaccinating its population. I am certain that the landscape will look far better in summer 2021, and that Croatia will be welcoming Americans again.

People sitting outside in Massimo Bar on Korcula, sitting at distanced tables in what looks like the top of a castle, overlooking the mountains on shore.

Almost everything can be done outdoors in Croatia.

This was the absolute best thing about being in Croatia during COVID. This country is a summer travel powerhouse, so everything is designed to be done outdoors. The Dalmatia region, home to Dubrovnik and islands like Hvar, Vis, and Korčula, is home to the most sunshine in the country, with almost flawless summer weather.

If you’re going to eat, it will likely be outdoors. I can only think of two occasions in two months when we ate in an indoor restaurants. (One was during the monster rainstorm we experienced in Pelješac.) Other than that, it was entirely outdoor restaurants and meals that we cooked in our accommodation.

As for accommodation, we always had generous outdoor spaces, whether it was a private shaded patio in an apartment or a massive, spaced out outdoor lounge area in a hotel.

Transportation? If it was public transportation, it was mostly outdoors. We mostly drove our car around and walked, but we also took ferries, most of which had outdoor seating (excluding catamarans we took from Dubrovnik to Mljet and from Vis to Hvar). We rode bikes. We took water taxis on some of the islands. There were occasional Uber rides in Dubrovnik.

Activities? Outdoors! We did a cycling tour to wineries in Korčula. We had a peka meal in a backyard in Dubrovnik. We took a boat around the island of Vis. We hiked to the top of Montekuc in Mljet. We tasted wine overlooking endless vineyards in Motovun. We relaxed on beaches and took long walks in small towns all over the country.

A blood-red medieval building in Vodnjan set against a bright blue sky.
Drive around Croatia independently and you can stop in towns like Vodnjan.

It’s easy to travel independently in Croatia.

I highly recommend getting around Croatia by car rather than by public transportation. The roads are in excellent condition and Croatian drivers are far less aggressive than their neighbors in Slovenia and Montenegro. Tolls are a bit on the pricey side if you take the highways, but the scenery is more beautiful if you drive along the coast.

When you travel by car in Croatia, you have the maximum freedom. You can drive from Pula to Split and stop in four or five towns along the way. You can keep your own hours and go where you want, when you want.

This past summer, we stayed at a mix of hotels, apartment rentals, and agriturismo-style inns that we chose ourselves; we also stayed at a few properties in partnership with Croatia Tourism.

There are some destinations where I prefer to travel with a group — places where infrastructure is limited. Croatia is not one of them. This is a country that I will forever travel independently.

Kate sitting on the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, wearing a mask and smiling with her eyes.
Soon you’ll see that masks are common in Croatia.

Croatians value safety and wear masks indoors.

A lot of countries haven’t been taking mask-wearing seriously during the pandemic, but Croatians followed the rules. In summer 2020, masks were required in most indoor shops. Honestly, we mainly went indoors to grocery shop, to use the bathroom, or to briefly check out a church or indoor monument. That was it.

Restaurant servers and bartenders always wore face masks (though occasionally wore them under their noses), including when serving outdoors.

There was one big exception where rules weren’t followed — outside on ferries. (The vast majority of passengers on Croatian ferries in summer are international tourists.) Masks were technically required to be worn at all times while on ferries, but few people wore masks when outside on ferries. People did wear them when indoors on ferries.

When walking outdoors in the summer, masks were uncommon.

Anti-maskers exist all over the world — but there are far fewer of them in Croatia than in the United States. I never once saw someone make a big deal about having to wear a mask somewhere.

A long white waterfall with several streams, flowing into a green lake, in the middle of a forest, underneath a blue and white cloud streaked sky.
Krka National Park is one of the most blissful outdoor destinations in Croatia.

Croatia is a safe and easy place to travel.

A lot of people mistakenly think that Croatia is “Eastern European” and therefore “dangerous.” That’s not true at all, and I feel like the movie Taken caused a lot of harm to the Balkans’ travel reputation.

Croatia is a very safe and easy country in which to travel, and calling Croatia “Eastern Europe” is a good way to make enemies. Not all Croatians are a fan of the term “Balkan,” either. You can call it “Central Europe” — and if you want to flatter them, call it “the Adriatic.”

English is universally spoken in touristy parts of Croatia. Believe me, Croatians don’t expect you to know any Croatian! (Though “Hvala” (thank you) is always nice to say.) You’ll find more English speakers than in Spain, France, or Italy.

And if you want to have a company plan a fantastic Croatia trip for you, I recommend making an inquiry with JayWay Travel. I’ve worked with JayWay over the years and they originally started as a Croatia tour company before expanding across Europe — so this is the country they know backwards and forwards.

I had the pleasure of spending time with many of JayWay’s Dubrovnik staff, and they are wonderful people, so passionate about their country!

JayWay will plan you a trip tailored to your interests and needs, all supporting quality local businesses rather than international chains. You can find out more here.

Empty polished streets in the old town of Dubrovnik, underneath a bright blue sky.
Dubrovnik is NEVER this empty in summer — but without cruise ships, it all looks like this!

You’ll get to experience Dubrovnik without cruise ships.

This alone is a major reason to visit Croatia! Dubrovnik is one of the most overtouristed places in the world — well, it WAS one of the most overtouristed places in the world. During the summer months, the streets of Dubrovnik are overflowing with people. Most of whom arrive on cruise ships. Sometimes, several large cruise ships in a single day.

Dubrovnik is a textbook example of why large cruise ships should be banned from small cities, and the city has been grappling with how to deal with this influx of people while preserving the city.

Ordinarily, you can avoid the worst of the cruise ship crowds by visiting Dubrovnik in shoulder season — late September, October, and May are still warm and a lovely time to visit. But in 2020, Dubrovnik was blissfully empty in the heart of July.

Experiencing Dubrovnik without the cruise ship crowds was EXTRAORDINARY. I can’t tell you how wild it was to be in Dubrovnik during peak season and having the freedom to walk around while having the streets mostly to yourself.

I’m certain that megaships will be returning to Dubrovnik at some point, much to my chagrin — so I strongly encourage you to visit Dubrovnik before that happens. It’s so worth it.

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