Packing for a month long trip to Eastern Europe

Train lockers in Eastern Europe - cultivatedrambler.comWhen we decided to make this adventure happen, we knew that it was only going to work if we were highly mobile ie. no checked luggage. I did my due diligence and rounded us up some convertible backpacks for the journey. When we arrived to the airport, I knew our bags where too big despite my best efforts to make sure they were the right size. P.S. – my Rick Steves bag specifically said it was for international travel. WTF Rick? I was very nervous that we’d get caught and have to pay the steep checked baggage fees. You know that I hate to be a rule breaker. **Note to future travelers – get an even smaller bag if you are looking to breezily pass the carry-on restrictions.

We got away with them on the way there, but were finally caught on our last flight back to Seattle and the bags had to be checked. Luckily, it was at the gate so we didn’t have to pay 🙂

While we did appreciate the backpack aspects of them, we packed them to the gills and they were truly back breaking at times. If I could do it all over again, I would totally bring less. We were able to wash as we went but I really struggled with the wide variety of climates – the north being more like Seattle with rain and the south being warm and sunny. I did the best I could and never felt ill prepared but knew I’d, once again, over packed! Typical Leslie.

What I would bring next time:
4 tee shirts I’d go with 3
4 tank tops 2 would have been fine
1 zip sweatshirt
2 button downs I’d go with 1
1 vest
1 black suit jacket
2 cardigans I’d go with 1
1 fancy top
2 pairs of jeans I’d go with 1
1 pair of leggings
1 black skirt
2 pairs of shorts I’d go with 1
1 dress
1 small purse
1 reusable bag
1 large purse
1 baseball hat Never even wore it!
1 scarf
Nike tennis shoes
Dansko booties
Plastic black Birkenstock sandals
1 bathing suit
1 set of light weight pajamas
Socks, bras, underwear
1 rain jacket
1 light jacket
I also broke down and bought a pair of light weight loose fitting animal print capris pants at H&M, which ended up being awesome for the warm nights in Croatia.

Lessons learned:
• We didn’t need to get as fancy dressed up as I thought we would so I could have gotten away with fewer of my nicer pieces. Most of my basics were enough to get by for sightseeing during the day and dinner at night.
• Choose plain colored tees and tanks so you don’t have to worry about mixing and matching them to your bottoms.
• Black jeans were my best decision. They dressed up and dressed down and always looked flattering.
• Not all athletic shoes are created equal. I thought these ultra-light weight Nike shoes would be perfect for travel, but they gave this gal major plantar fasciitis as they were meant to mimic barefoot walking. I paid dearly for that!
• BUT Dansko booties are the way to go! And Birkenstock Madrid Slides are the bee’s knee’s. Lightweight, comfortable and super versatile.
• Having a light weight set of PJ’s helped keep my shirts, well shirts, so that I could wear them a few times before washing.
• I brought this large, fabric multi-compartment purse, which seemed like a good idea, but wasn’t in the end. It was way too heavy and not comfortable to walk around with. Plus, it’s like the black hole. I could never find what I needed.
• I bought a few pairs of earrings and two necklaces. I could have only brought one of each and been fine.
• We bought two of those money fanny pack things to keep our valuables close and safe. Yeah, didn’t need those at all. Same with the backpack locks. Not needed (at least in the areas we traveled.)
• In the end, I really learned that an ambitious itinerary like ours really didn’t allow for much brain power to devote to outfit selection. Bring the classic, key pieces you love and save your energy for the adventure!


Dubrovnik travel highlights

Bustling Dubrovnik harbor, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comstayed: An air bnb studio apartment next to the main cathedral in Old Town. We looked out our window to the side of it and the tram zipping up the hill. Although it looks like it’s deep into town, the apartment is only a five minute walk from either gate. Close to plenty of interesting restaurants, away from the crowds and a stone throw away from Buza Bar 2. *Note to travelers: there was a garbage pick-up spot in front of the building so it was quite noisy in the AM if you accidentally left your window open.

Dubrovnik, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comsaw: Dubrovnik was really a feast for the eyes! I felt like I was walking into a movie set when we arrived to the Pile Gate in Old Town. It almost didn’t feel real. I’d highly recommend staying within the Old Town walls. It’s a bit more expensive, but you really get to submerge yourself in the history.

Walking Old Town Wall, Dubrovnik, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comPicturesque views from the wall. The back part of the wall had many more interesting views than the front part. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to make the full loop, which we started at 9 a.m. to beat the crowds. This photo looks crowded, but that wasn’t even that bad unfortunately.

Hanging laundry, Dubrovnik - cultivatedrambler.comNeatly hung laundry. That inspired me to start hanging some of ours at home.

Sunset over Dubrovnik, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comThe sunset from a Buza Bar. The beer was expensive ($8!) but the view and atmosphere were great. I think many BYOB’ed, which was probably the cheaper, rule breaking way to go.

Trsteno Arboretum, Dubrovnik, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comconquered: Public transportation. We decided at the last minute to get out of town and explore another GoT filming sight – Trsteno Arboretum. As a hardcore planner, this had not been “on the list” and I was a bit nervous to just hop on a bus. But it happened, and it was totally a piece of cake. We were also far away from the crowds, which was a nice change of pace. I think we saw two other groups while we were there.

Fort Lovrijenac, Dubrovnik, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comFort Lovrijenac. Because Dubrovnik’s Old Town wasn’t enough?! This fort is right across a tiny bay (also a GoT filming location) and gave the town even more beefy, defense power. We came across quite a few GoT $200 per person tours and were happy to listen in when we could J

Driving in the most epic of epic rain storms to Dubrovnik from Mostar. Water was running like rivers down the hillside, taking over staircases and flooding the streets. It was hard enough driving in an unfamiliar city let alone in a huge thunderstorm. We were both a little frazzled after that.

Dubrovnik harbor, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comEven more relaxation. The final day was spent sleeping in, taking a siesta and eating a pack of Skittles in the harbor. I didn’t even take out my camera the last day and it was PERFECT.

other travel notes:
Food is expensive within the walls. Azur was great for dinner though, hello Asian flavors! We’d missed you! Segreto was also delicious with their lamb and this killer pea/mint sauce. Oliva Pizza was consumed a few times too.

That stupid tram line! We never found a good time where the line wasn’t a million miles long. Not sure how to get around that…

Dubrovnik rooftops, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comGetting basic service inside an old town with narrow streets and lots of steps – how does it all work?! It seemed like a logistical nightmare but people have been making it work for hundreds of years. Towards the end of our trip, I noticed special delivery hand trucks just under the size of the narrow streets making deliveries all day long. That’s a job undo itself.

And that concludes our epic Eastern Europe travel adventure! Phew. So what did you think? Did we do it justice? Does it make you want to pack your bags and go explore? I hope so 🙂


Mostar travel highlights

Mostar, Bosnia - cultivatedrambler.comstayed: An air bnb with a beautiful view of the Mostar Bridge. Our host, Emir, was fabulous and his organic garden and chicken coop were even more so. I about died when I walked into the courtyard draped in grapevines and kiwis. It was like a second homecoming for me. He was making homemade chutney when we arrived – I mean, come on! A true oasis in the city!

Mostar Bridge, Bosnia - cultivatedrambler.comsaw: Ballsy men jumping off the top of the bridge in tiny bathing suits. Yeesh. Our guide (from Fortuna Tours) told us that the river, as lovely as it looks, is very polluted and filled with drown worthy whirlpools. Locals don’t let their kids go near it. He also said he’s seen tourists bathe in the small “waterfalls” taking photos. Yeah, that’s straight sewer run-off folks.

Turkish Home in Mostar, Bosnia - cultivatedrambler.comA rich Bosnian’s Turkish home. With turtles, nach. About 30 family members lived in this rich man’s compound, which seemed fun and totally not fun at the same time. Our guide told us that Bosnians are very passive aggressive and will serve you cold coffee if they don’t want your company as a subtle way to let you know.

Turban headstones. I’ve never seen these before and found that to be a very interesting part of the Muslin culture.

Frankly, not much on our car rides. For some reason I was expecting to see more cities and urban sprawl like you do in the good ole USA. Not sure what I was thinking there…Bosnia is a beautiful, barren country with very small villages and moody mountains.

31conquered: The National Platter from Restaurant Sadrvan, which contained: four japrak, four dolma, four bosnian cookies, small cevapcici, duvec, boiled potatoes, rice and sour cream. Put a fork in it, we’re done!

The easiest border crossing ever. People, don’t be afraid to drive into Bosnia, we had zero issues. We flashed them our passports and were back on the road in no time.

other travel notes: Mostar felt very exotic and mysterious to me. I wish we could have gone onto Sarajevo and even further east, but alas we did not. I loved the vibe of this city and made a mental note to one day explore this region even more.

There are still many war-ravaged building in the middle of town. I asked our guide if there were plans to fix or rebuild them and he just shrugged and said probably not. I found that sort of strange that with as much construction going on that they wouldn’t fix what’s already there.

After coming home from our monster dinner, we were invited to drink with our host, his Serbian friend and a fellow American traveler. They proceeded to get drunk on grappa and made Adam play the guitar and sing. It was a funny yet strangely memorable evening!

Air bnb host breakfast not to be missed! - cultivatedrambler.comFor $5 euros, our host made us THE MOST DELICIOUS home cooked breakfast with fresh eggs, chutney, local salami and cheese. Oh and Bosnian coffee. I would have paid five times that amount for such yumminess.

Our host said the police in Bosnia are very friendly and instead of locking you up for a DUI, they’ll just slap you on the wrist and tell you to get home safe. WTF?Sunset over Mostar, Bosnia -


Split travel highlights

Diocletian's Palace, Split Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comstayed: An air bnb a stone throw’s distance from Diocletian’s Palace and the ferry terminal. The road out front was a tad bit noisy but the place was super clean with a lovely view. Everything we needed to see was within walking distance and the host snagged us a free parking spot. Score.

Diocletian's Palace cellars, Split Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comsaw: Another Leslie version of the Rick Steves tour. I guess you COULD pay for a tour, but the palace was pretty straightforward to explore. We did pay to see the cellars of the palace, which were re-discovered in the 1950s. It had been a sewage tank and garbage dump from the Middle Ages on, so there was a lot to clean up but much to discover. They also shot some scenes from Game of Thrones in the cellars so you know this fan had to check it out.

Klis Fortress, Split Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comKlis Fortress, Split Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comKlis Fortress, Split Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comKlis Fortress. OK, if you are a serious Game of Thrones fan like moi, then this is another stop for you! The fortress is perched above Split and scenes from season four were filmed here. As we were exploring, we came across these two dudes sword fighting. They invited us over, let us take photos AND showed us how to use a bow and arrow. The look on my face says it all. HEAVEN.

Split Sailing, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comA day-long private sailing trip. Granted, our captain was MAYBE 17 years old and spent a lot of time on his cell phone but he took us to this lovely cove. He also made us a delicious lunch and we swam and snorkeled the rest of the afternoon. I’ve never seen so many sea urchins in my life! We also had the surprise of a neighboring boat with a nude couple on board. How European! 🙂 Note to travelers – try the anchovies in Croatia. They are gooood!

Split waterfront, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comconquered: Walking on those slick white stones that seem to be everywhere in the palace. I’d hate to be there in a rain storm. It’d be ankle break city.

Split ferry terminal, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comAdam conquered climbing to the top of the bell tower. Yours truly did not. My fear of heights is far too great and I was “that person” waiting at the bottom, desperately clinging to the railing.

Anchovies in Split, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comEating anchovies.

A little bit of relaxation!

Split, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comTHE BEST action shot ever.

other travel notes: The food wasn’t my favorite here and we had some sticker shock when shopping around for dinner every night. I ordered a seafood risotto for lunch one day and it tasted like they used sea water to make it. Ick. This is where our “split a pizza” dinner started and we pretty much did that for the rest of our trip. Note to travelers – pretty much every place we went had their menus out front so you could check it out before committing. I liked ones that had lots of people dining since it meant it was probably decent.

Croatian coastline - cultivatedrambler.comFor some reason I didn’t realize that the Croatia coastline would be that rocky and mountainous. Towns were literally shoved on these steep cliffs right next to the ocean. That crazy coastline made for some fun driving too. I loved looking for a small line of cars on the side of the road, indicating that there was a little sunbathing beach below!Split, Croatia -


Zagreb travel highlights

St. Mark's Church, Zagreb - cultivatedrambler.comstayed: An air bnb at the end of a busy street. Not the best, but it had a bed and wifi. Good enough for this weary couple.

saw: Hotties strutting their stuff. I must say, I think Zagreb had the most attractive looking people. All of the women had beautiful, flowing dresses on and statement lipstick. This gal was jealous!

conquered: Leslie’s version of the Rick Steves walking tour. At this point, we’d spent a pretty penny on guided tours so I tore out this chapter in our book and took us on our own lil tour.

Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb - cultivatedrambler.comThe Museum of Broken Relationships. We hadn’t planned on seeing too many museums on this trip but I’d heard of this one through the grapevine. The museum houses artifacts from people’s past relationships with their partners, family members, etc. along with their stories. It was a nice change to the typical art museum.

Renting and driving a car! It felt SO good to finally be on our own schedule and not dependent on buses or trains. I think it cost us $300 for the car rental, which was over 5 days. And yes, there were toll roads but zero traffic anywhere. Note to travelers: we used Sixt, which was good overall. They did not give us the paperwork at the beginning that you sign saying there’s this or that sort of damage so that you don’t get charged for it. They tried to charge us for a dent, but we talked our way out of it. Make sure you get that paperwork!Plitvice Lakes, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comPlitvice Lake fish, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comPlitvice Lakes, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comPlitvice Lakes, Croatia - culitvatedrambler.comPlitvice Lakes. About a two hour drive south from Zagreb, these lakes are not to be missed! I’d say hiking around for the day was fairly easy. Most everything was flat and they had electric boats and a tram that took you to major drop points so you didn’t have to cover as much ground by foot. The worst part was hiking back up to the parking lot at the end of the day!

Croatian smoked sheep's cheese - cultivatedrambler.comCheese. Snacks were pretty much nonexistent on our trip and as we were leaving Zagreb, Adam joked about a drive-thru cheese shop. Little did we know that those DO exist (in the form of a roadside stand) and we picked up a delicious smoked sheep’s cheese wheel on the way to Plitvice.

other travel notes: Compared to the other places we visited in Croatia, Zagreb was the cheapest so take advantage of that. We had price shock in both Split and Dubrovnik. I think we paid less than $8 for dinner one night in Zagreb!

8Rent a car and take the scenic roads. It was super easy to drive in both Croatia and Bosnia and the Plitvice Lakes were well marked with brown park signs. Croatia also had these killer tunnels that went through entire mountains. The “hold your breath” game would not work well here.

Also, how many phones and cameras are lost at the lakes each year? Slippery boardwalks + electronics seem like a potential disaster to me!

5The cathedral was being renovated and I liked how they showed a run-down part of it next to a refurbished one. The detail is pretty spectacular!

The train from Slovenia to Croatia was only running until it reached the border so we had to depart the train in a random parking lot and were bused into Zagreb from there. The border crossing was a lot different than in previous days. Police were in full riot gear and had a car blockade. Just a little aggressive.

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