How about a road trip? Tips for unforgettable journeys

Özge Şengelen

ISTANBUL: Do you ever stop to think about how you will get to your destination? Train, ferry, car, plane … are you overwhelmed by the options? Well, have you ever tried a road trip? Here are some tips from my experiences to plan an itinerary that might make the task easier

When I woke up to a rainy morning yesterday, I remembered car journeys accompanied by drizzle – and how much I missed those trips. I prefer road trips to traveling by plane because we write our own stories on every kilometer we pass.

The Greek border, Türkiye’s door to Europe, is like a door to the world for us.

Crossing borders, on the contrary, gives us a sense of being borderless and reminds us that we are perhaps a complete Earthling, without feeling that we belong to a single place. Of course, one cannot help but think: “I wish there were no borders.”

For now, the longest road trip my husband and I have ever done is from Istanbul to Croatia’s Dubrovnik. If there were no closures in the first year of the pandemic, we were thinking of making a trip from Istanbul to Portugal. Of course, such a long route requires even more planning. Our travel plan needs to answer many questions such as which countries we will pass through, where we want to go, where we will stay, and where we should be at what time. We prefer to do such tours ourselves rather than with a tour company and guide. Because it is important that we decide how much time we will spend and where we will spend it.

Last year, we set off from Istanbul on a long road trip. We planned this trip between Istanbul and Dubrovnik step by step in advance. It was all known beforehand which cities we would visit, and what time we would set off for the next stop. We use our time efficiently. There were moments we fell behind schedule, but still, a detailed plan helps us be comfortable on the road. For example, on our first road trip, we got a flat tire in the first four hours of the journey. We were still at a mechanic’s when we were planning to be in Thessaloniki at 7 a.m. However, even all these setbacks cannot prevent the pleasure of being on the road. All of it contributes to great experiences.

By the way, I would like to provide a little information for those who will pass through the Balkan countries by land.

If you are on a road trip through the Balkans, be prepared to enter more than one country, or even enter and leave the same country twice, for very short distances and on the “same road.”

While we had planned our route from Montenegro to Croatia on Google Maps, we reached Croatia on the same road, passing through Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina at intervals of five minutes each. The short distance I mentioned is only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).

On the 10-kilometer road, we passed through Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and reached Croatia.

A similar situation exists between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. From Mostar, you enter and leave Croatia from time to time to reach Neum, the only city in Bosnia-Herzegovina with a coastline. On the way back and forth between the two coastal cities of Croatia, Split and Dubrovnik, you pass through Neum, the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Planes vs. road trips

Now it’s time for the important question.

So which one do you like? Flying or road trips?

If your answer is a road trip, or if you have never done a road trip and want to experience one, now I will tell you what you need to pay attention to before traveling based on our experiences.

Plan your route

Grab a piece of paper, a pen and a map.

First, you need to determine your route. Determine your starting point and final destination. By looking at the map, determine all the destinations you want to see until your destination. You can use the directions feature of Google Maps for this. Thus, you can make time planning easier by seeing the distance between the places you will visit.

For example, for the Istanbul to Portugal trip, we had determined 18 stops on the way to and back from Portugal. We would set off from Istanbul at 7 a.m. We determined our first stop as Thessaloniki. Since the distance between Istanbul and Thessaloniki is about seven hours, we would be in Thessaloniki at around 3 p.m. What to do in Thessaloniki? Where to sightsee? What time do we get out of here? What time will we be at the next stop? We determined everything to the hour until we arrived in Portugal. At this point, I would like to give a hint. It makes sense to leave some stops on the way to the destination and some on the way back. Because you need breaks on the way back.

A very important point emerges here.

Your safety during travel should always come first. It is very important to determine the times of these stops and breaks in order not to drive drowsy and tired. For example, we did not plan to stay in Thessaloniki, which was normally our first stop on the trip, where our tire went flat, but because we got there late due to the mishap and we were sleepy, we stayed there for a moment and rested. Of course, at this point, the clocks in the whole itinerary had slipped. The night we stayed in Thessaloniki, we sat down and reconsidered and rearranged our plan. Not letting the flow decide these things and practicing time management really relaxes you and allows you to see more places.

Our ordeals

We wanted to go from North Macedonia to Montenegro on a trip we took without planning ahead. We set off from Bitola, Macedonia, at around 6 o’clock in the evening. We wrote our destination on our navigation device. While we were enjoying our music on full blast, we suddenly saw that the roads were very deserted and curved between the mountains.

The weather was starting to turn. There were mountains on one side of the road. One side was an abyss. I stuck my head out of the car window, startled to see a river directly below. The road was so deserted that if our car fell off a cliff or broke down at that moment, there would be no one to come to our aid. There were no settlements on our way, and we were driving through mountains and rivers.

Owls, foxes and pigs came our way, and the signs indicated that other animals could make sudden appearances as well. As we proceeded with fearful eyes, we realized that our navigation device was not working. We were going wherever the road took us, but we went on that deserted road for hours in the dark. I remember praying for a city center to come our way. Finally, houses and lights appeared and we came to a city we did not know, in a country we did not know.

It was 3 a.m. We ran into the police on the way and learned that we were in Burrel, Albania. Later, a passing mother and her son wanted to help us. We said we wanted to stay overnight. We couldn’t continue on a road like this at night. They said they could get in our car and take us to a safe hostel. We were worried at first if we could trust them, but they seemed like reliable people and we were in a very difficult situation so we had to take them.

They took us to a hostel. It was a family hostel, which seemed promising, but it was not the cleanest place. We were unsure how to thank the mother and son. So, we thanked them many times by giving them our favorite cookies from the trunk that we had bought from Kavala to take to Istanbul. We parked our car in the garden of the hostel and went to the room. We waited for the day to lighten and rested a bit. We set off as soon as the weather cleared. It was easier to overcome these difficult roads of Albania in daylight. By the way, our navigation still didn’t work up to a certain point. Fortunately, the owners of the hostel gave us directions.

The moral of this story is: Taking some routes at night can be dangerous. Also note that your navigation device may not always work everywhere. Always have a printed map in your car in case the internet or GPS is not working.

Budgetary plans

Prepare a budget plan after determining your departure, arrival point, and stops. Collect the cost of gasoline, accommodation fees, park, museum, site entrance fees, food and beverage, and souvenir fees along the way. Since you have set your arrival and departure times, you can also set your accommodation before you go. Thus, your accommodation costs are determined in advance.

It is a good idea to take some extra money with you in case you encounter an unexpected situation.

In addition, you can take your loved ones who can share the expenses of this trip and the beautiful moments you will experience. Thus, the costs are divided into two. This may relieve you financially, as well as relieve you in case something happens to you as you will be going through unfamiliar paths together.

Safety is paramount

Being sleepy and tired while driving can put you and those around you at risk. Considering that driving is more tiring, especially at night, you can usually plan accommodation for night hours while planning your route. Sometimes we may not want to spend the day on the road, but our safety is paramount.

If more than one person can drive in the vehicle, using it alternately can also relax you.

Food is essential

You should also pay attention to your diet so that long journeys do not adversely affect your health. In order to grab a bite in the car, in addition to the snacks you carry, definitely take seasonal fruits along. Remember to drink plenty of water.

If you take a lunch break, plan it in advance. There may be famous restaurants or local dishes on your way. By researching them in advance, you can take your meal breaks accordingly.

Never without music

I can’t imagine car trips without music. You can create a music list to accompany you while you go along with the wonderful landscapes. Chatting with the people in the car when you are sleepy may not wake you up, but you may want to listen to some quiet music that will move you or give you peace on a road with a wonderful view.

Despite all these, of course, car travel has some disadvantages. Being on the road for a long time, being in a closed area, and preparing such a detailed plan may be intimidating.

Don’t let the whole schedule and plans stop you from enjoying the moment. Being flexible in some moments doesn’t cost you anything. At the same time, there is no such thing as a setback that will always happen. I think being on the road can offer you many surprises.

“Arriving” or “departing” aside from all, the taste of “being” on the road is completely different.

I had read somewhere that Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Muslim scholar and explorer, said: “The journey first leaves you speechless and then turns you into a good storyteller.”

Being on the road takes you on a great story and then you become the story’s narrator. Your moments that turn into good memories turn into stories that you will tell for years and you become the protagonist of this story.

Then I should say, have a nice trip everyone, one full of nice surprises and great stories.

Courtesy: Dailysabah