Day One: Another world
One of the things that I love most about travel, is the fact that every trip is a new opportunity to grow, to become stronger, learn something new, or in the case of my Croatia trip, to conquer a deep fear. I had the blessing of visiting many places while studying abroad, but this remains one of my most memorable experiences. Having never heard of Croatia before, I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was that it looked gorgeous, and I was determined to visit, and I’m glad I did because it was a life-changing, magical place for me.
Looking for an affordable option, I ended up booking an organized trip, through Smart Trip, which provides trips for students abroad, at great prices. I paid €172, or $184, which included accommodation, round-trip transportation, breakfast, and the option to add-on activities for relatively low-prices.
It was early Friday morning by the time we arrived in Split, Croatia, after a grueling 16-hour bus trip. We stayed at the 101 Dalmatian Design Hostel, which was so cute, modern, and very clean; it felt more like a small hotel than a hostel. Being my first time staying in one, I was glad to be in a 4-bed dormitory with an en-suite shower. As you’ll read later in my Prague Travel Story (coming soon), I once stayed in a 12-bed, unisex dormitory, with the showers outside the room.
I was tired, but didn’t want to miss the free breakfast, or the opportunity to explore Croatia, so I showered and started the day. As a bit of an introvert, I sat alone at breakfast. Then this beautiful, coily-haired Dominican girl called me over and asked if I wanted to sit with her and another Colombian girl. I told them I was going hiking alone, to experience Split's beautiful views from the top. The Colombian girl, whom I will call Maria, asked if she could come with me, and I said yes just to be nice. Truthfully, I was developing a deep love for doing things on my own.
Maria and I went to Marjan Hill, a beach-side park with hiking trails, stunning views, and thankfully, very few tourists. After our hike, we walked around a residential area looking for a traditional Croatian meal. Then, we randomly ended up in the city center, walking through the nearly 2,000 year-old, Diocletian Palace. I hadn’t done any research on Croatia, so I was just going with the flow, which is a great way to travel. I felt like I was dropped off in another world and left to roam freely, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maria and I took a 40-minute walk from the city center to the hostel. She was such a nice girl, but I was over her by then, and I did not want to hear another word. I had reached my point of conversation overload, and all I wanted to do was be alone. Everyone went out to a bar that night, and feeling anti-social, I stayed in bed watching movies. As it turns out, I needed this energy recharge for the amazing day I was about to have.
Day Two: My Biggest Fear
I have always loved being in the water - pools, beaches, rivers, waterfalls - all of it. The problem was, I had a crippling fear of going in the deep end. I vividly remember winning a trip to a summer camp in Ohio when I was 13, and crying on the sidelines of the pool because I wanted to go in the deep end, but didn’t have the guts. I can still feel the sadness of waiting at beach shores, while my friends swam deep out into the ocean. I taught myself how to swim underwater and to stay afloat. However, my fear came from wondering what would happen if I attempted to try out my mediocre, self-taught skills in deep water. The moment I’d stop feeling anything beneath my feet, I’d panic, and retreat to the shallow end. From the moment I snorkeled in Hawaii, wearing a life-jacket that wouldn’t let me go beneath the surface, I decided someday I’d overcome this fear, and that day had come.
It was Saturday morning, and I was getting ready to go on a booze-cruise, an activity planned by Smart Trip. Booze was strangely not available on the “booze-cruise”, so you had to bring your own. I’m a picky drinker, and all I could find that I liked, and was practical, was a bottle of cheap scotch. That scotch was my best friend for the day; I drank the entire bottle by myself.
I felt free as a bird with that bottle handy, and the fearless-extrovert came out of me. I met so many amazing women that day, including two Dominican mamis. One of them was the girl I met at breakfast the day before, named Cassandra. The other was Jennifer, whom I didn’t talk to much in Croatia, but ended up spending the following weekend with in Amalfi. I’m still friends with both of them.
There was one person in particular that was a big part of my trip; I’ll never forget Shelby for being the adventurous soul that helped me overcome my huge fear of jumping in the ocean. I was telling the girls about my fear, and how I was determined to overcome it that day. It turns out, Shelby used to be a lifeguard and a swim instructor. As if that wasn’t enough reassurance, Shelby also brought a floating tube. There was no way I couldn’t try to kick that fear out of my life once and for all.
We stopped the boat, and the moment of truth had arrived. All the girls on the boat immediately started jumping off the top deck. Hearing their girly screams of excitement made me want to cry! All of those too-familiar, terrifying feelings were coming back to me. Thank God, by then I had already drank half the bottle of scotch. I looked over at energetic Shelby, who had her big green tube inflated, and ready to go. Nearly in tears, I told her I couldn’t jump from the top deck, and instead wanted to ease into the water from the bottom level.
Shelby went into the water first, and waited for me with the tube. After some resistance from the inner demon that told me I couldn’t do it, I said, “fuck it”, and jumped in. Shelby reached for me with the tube faster than I could open my eyes, and said, “Grab onto the tube!” When I realized I was floating on my own, I yelled, “NO! I’VE GOT IT! I’m floating, I’m in the water!!!”
Excited, I quickly got back on the boat, and ran up the stairs to the top deck, to take my first jump. That part wasn’t easy either, so I asked Shelby to stay in the water in case I die, and jumped off the ledge with some of the other girls. After that, I was able to jump in at least three more times, and even got a mini-swim lesson from Shelby.
There I was, in the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, in a place I had never even heard of, half-drunk, having the time of my life, and freeing myself from the prison that was my fear. After that, I felt unstoppable; I kept drinking my scotch of course - because it was the economical thing to do, and started twerking to celebrate.
By the time I got off the boat, I had finished the bottle and was so drunk, that I blacked out for the first time in my life. All I remember was making out with a model-looking Croatian man, that all the girls had been obsessing over. I remember leaving the boat with my Croatia squad, but the next thing I knew, it was nighttime and I was sitting at a fancy restaurant by the ocean. I had spent all of my Croatian Kuna at lunch, so the girls were feeding me from their own plates. I “woke up” with food in my mouth, a plate of seafood and pasta, and a soup in front of me. I was so grateful to be surrounded by these amazing souls, who radiated good vibes, and were so kind to me even though we had all just met.
After that, we called a cab and went back to the hostel. I showered, took four Advil, and knocked out - all by 10pm. Man, what an epic day.
Day Three: The Waterfall
Shockingly, I woke up the next day feeling refreshed, and hangover-free. It’s a good thing that bottle of scotch did not punish me with a pounding headache, because I had to have all my things packed, and back on the bus by 8am. We were going to Krka National Park that day, but since the ride back to Italy was so long, we wouldn’t be returning to the hostel.
The weather was perfect on that beautiful Sunday morning, and I couldn’t wait to swim in one of the Krka waterfalls. I wanted to see if I could swim in deep waters once again, this time without the liquid courage. With the squad surrounding me, and of course Shelby, I was able to face my fear once again. The rocks were really slippery so that definitely added to the challenge, but I had finally gotten over the fear to try, which was the most important thing.
We chilled at the waterfall for a few hours, then it was time to get changed and head back to Italy. We arrived in Florence around midnight, then I had to change busses to head back to Rome. I was home by 4am, and had class at 9am, but it was so worth it.
My trip to Croatia was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had. Ironically, I wasn’t excited about traveling with so many people, but the people I met truly made my trip as amazing as it was. Not only did I make friends that I still cherish today, I met an angel - who came in the form of a free-spirited girl from Michigan, named Shelby. She was sent into my life to help me overcome my huge fear of jumping in the ocean, and came equipped with the tools to do so.
I encourage you all to travel outside your comfort zone, do things you wouldn’t normally do, be open to interacting with new people, and most of all, face your fears - for you are more powerful than them.
Did you enjoy this post? Have a fear you'd like to conquer? Let's talk about it, comment below.