Simply put: I love driving. I love driving across Dalmatia/Croatia and I particularly enjoy the route Dubrovnik – Prague, usually alone with my two little daughters.
I remember driving to Dubrovnik when the A1 highway was still in construction (one had to zig-zag through Bosnia back then, in an old Skoda with no air-condition), I remember taking pretty much all of the exits in the years that followed, as the A1 slowly spread south, and I remember the glorious feeling when finally the highway made it all the way down to Ploce, which is laughable 50 miles from Dubrovnik. (The next glorious feeling will follow in about six years, when the Peljesac Bridge will open).
Having driven the Prague-Dubrovnik route more than fifty times made me come up with an assemblage of driving and road-travelling tips:
1. Can’t stress this one enough: if you are taking a longer trip across Croatia during the season, plan, prepare and overstock (particularly when going with kids). Check out weather forecast throughout your route, mainly for wind – some passages, such as the Sv.Rok tunnel do get closed down due to strong wind. Check traffic jam situation at borders and plan your trip so you can avoid waiting – if possible, go on a weekday or (if you feel comfortable) go at night. The HAK a.k.a Hrvatski Automoto Klub has a great app – see here http://www.hak.hr/en#traffic-flow-and-road-conditions with almost all information and updates you may need. Always keep extra water, snacks, tissues etc. on board – you never know when you’ll need them.
2. Documents. Make sure you don’t forget your green card and your passport. If driving somebody else’s car – like your parents’ or friends’, whose surname is different from yours, have an authorization from the owner, saying that you are allowed to drive their car (English version is fine). Oh: and in case you travel with your kids alone and your surname is different from theirs, then obligatory take their birth certificates! (yes, I once nearly got sent back at a boarder exactly for this reason, luckily the customs officer melted when I burst into tears, and concluded “let’s say you kinda look like her mother” and let me pass)
3. Kids. Don’t be afraid to take kids on longer road trips – there are lots of places to stop and have fun, plus, nowadays, there are dozens of options how to entertain your kids in the car. Always make sure you provide good shade (a cloth or a towel over the window is the best and the cheapest). Have snacks, CDs, games, surprise toys and tablets at hand. Car-seat table, travel potty, Lego travel sets, etc. highly advisable, too. Motivation is crucial, so plan your trip so your destinations offer something wonderful for the kids to look forward to (a nice playground, kids’ museum, entertainment park, aquarium, or – well – just the sea with all it has to offer). Dozens of original and excellent tips are at What’s Up Moms YouTube channel (ignore that those mothers of three look like supermodels).
4. Sleepover, stopovers, eating stops. Be flexible, that is, research more options along your route, so you can stop where and when it suits you(i.e. you don’t want to wake the kids up for food once they finally fell asleep and you can listen to YOUR music for half hour). Long trips (over 1000 km) are just way more pleasant with a sleep over. Also, eating your lunch and dinner at a gas station restaurant is ok, but it will be nicer, cheaper and generally more relaxing at a local restaurant just two miles away from the highway.
5. Police in the Balkans is generally much nicer than you might have heard. Over all those years, I got stopped dozens of times by the Croatian police, but also by the Montenegrin, Bosnian, Albanian, Serbian and Kosovar, and most of the police officers were human (you mustn’t be rude, though, and if you are aware of speeding, it is better if you admit your fault right away). Driving through Slovenia is a whole different chapter, though – don’t dare to dispute with local police and particularly ever don’t dare to get on the highway without the insanely expensive vignette (you will always be stopped and you will always end up paying hundreds of Euros in fine right away).
6. Toll. In Croatia, there are no vignettes, but toll-gates. In the season, the main exits (Zagreb, Split, Zadar) often get congested, so if you plan multiple trips, it is a good idea to get the special ENC electronic device which will save you tens of minutes in waiting, as you will be able to use the “ENC Only” track. More information – see here: http://hac.hr/en/toll-rates/etc/electronic-toll-collection-etc
7. Gas stations. Nice, clean and equipped. When travelling with kids, look for the yellow Tifon gas stations (great outdoor and indoor playground, eating facilities for babies, microwave, etc.).
8. Emergencies. The standard 112. Road help in English: 987. A 24/7 HAK emergency line is 041 415 800.
Blanka Pavlovic a.k.a. the Adriatic Bride is a Czech writer. She studied law (Prague) and creative writing (Oxford). As a lawyer, she specialized in international human rights law, first working for the European Court of Human Rights, then for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. She wrote five books, among them Total Balkans, The Handbook of the Adriatic Bride or The Return of the Adriatic Bride. She now lives with her family between Dubrovnik and Donji Brgat. More information and English translations of her work are available through www.blankacechova.com