road trip ideas for couples

As this post publishes, Drew and I have been road tripping around Europe for nearly four weeks.

Four weeks ago today we did the final walk through of our London flat, and turned in the keys. Four weeks ago today I took my last run around our dear London neighborhood, chopped my hair the shortest it’s been in years, and took one final inventory of our road trip belongings. Four weeks ago today, I emptied my work bag, that trusty but completely beaten up torture device that has been keeping me looking cute on commutes for the last five years, and donated it.

That night we hauled our stuff – two large carry on bags, a duffle bag and a backpack – to a small inn near London’s City Airport. We charged our devices, called our parents with our local mobile plans and ate terrible veggie nachos in the downstairs pub. Very early the next morning, the 3rd of September, we walked to the airport and jumped on a flight to Nice. I say that so breezily, but you can imagine us, 5:30am, trudging the fifteen minutes down the road to the terminal, sweating profusely, and cursing whoever had the idea to walk.

It was hot, we were tired, but damnit, it was the best morning of the year.

road trip ideas for couples

This European road trip, this sabbatical from corporate life, this departure from London, have been months in the making, and now, here we are. I keep reminding myself that THIS.IS.IT. Don’t blink, don’t be in a bad mood, don’t waste a minute. This is the dream that has been on simmer for the better part of a year and is one of the best road trip ideas for couples I’ve ever had. If I do say so myself.

On my weekly Skype family calls, during which all of my siblings and parents gab about our lives, they are hot and heavy with the questions. How are we doing? Where are we again? What language is spoken there? When is our fight back to the States?

So for all of them, and anyone else who is interested in what the hell we are doing and how it’s going, this one is for you.

road trip ideas for couples

The Status of Us

First things first. Yes, we still like each other. No, we haven’t come close to killing each other. Somehow we still have things to talk about. Today we’ve had lengthy discussions about life on cruise ships, what we can make with the gluten-free bread we found at the grocery store, and how slippery the stone sidewalks would be if it rained.

We’re a comfortable team, as evidenced by our excellent doubles kayaking skills that we’ve discovered. We’re not quite so skilled on the canoe, but working on it. We easily share chores like cooking and laundry and we’ve chosen to keep most of our belongings in separate bags, minimizing any annoyances about where that shirt is or who put the dirty stuff with the clean.

Side note: the picture above, on the motorcycle, is literally the only one we have of both of us. Oops! We’ll do our best to get a few more soon.

road trip ideas for couples

Our Car, Vada

Drew has done most of the driving, mostly because I have a small level of discomfort with driving in foreign countries, where I’m worried about the car and having an accident in a place where it would be difficult to manage. I also have developed more trepidation around driving after 5 years of big city living, hurtling in the tiny metal death box just one mistake away from disaster. Yeah, I’m fun.

Our car, Vada, is a brand spanking new Peugeot 2008, lovely taupe and still smelling fresh and clean. Our GPS has been perfect, access to podcasts on our phones has been without issue, and we have no complaints. Which is good because we’ve driven nearly 3,000km (1,800 miles) so far. If you can believe it, we’ve only filled up the tank 4 times. Thank you cheap diesel fuel for keeping us on the road!

We’ve been sticking almost exclusively to side roads, avoiding arduous, dull days on the motorway. That also means avoiding almost all tolls, which on the Italian autostrada, can add up quickly, costing as much as €30 for a 3-4 hour drive! Our GPS allows us to find routes that avoid tolls completely.

We’ve cruised past the Italian countryside and vineyards, through the Dolomites, across the rolling hills of Slovenia, along the sparkling waters of coastal Croatia, and the rocky, jagged cliffs of Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina, passing through small villages and not much else.

Side note for anyone interested: we got this car through an amazing program that Peugeot has for long term rentals. They deliver a brand new car direct from a Peugeot factory, fully insured with zero deductible and unlimited mileage, for half the cost of a typical rental. It is fantastic and so far (knock on wood) we’ve been recommending it to everyone we meet.

Additional side note: Drew had no idea the car was nicknamed Vada until he read this, named after the main character in the 1991 film, “My Girl.”

road trip ideas for couples

road trip ideas for couples

road trip ideas for couples

Where We’ve Been, What We’re Doing

So far, we’ve made stops (2-4 nights each) in: Piedmont, Lake Como, Trento and Venice (Italy), Bela Krajina (Slovenia), Plitvice Lakes, Split and Dubrovnik (Croatia), Kotor (Montenegro) and I’m writing this from Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Today we drive to Sarajevo.

Even though both of us love the adventure of travel, we are both quick to fall into routines. On travel days, we drive late morning/early afternoon, arriving at our new location by 2pm or so. We unpack, find groceries and usually that’s it for the day. We have a grocery bag of staples that we’ve been accumulating, so we come prepared with some of our own groceries in each place (oil, spices, granola, rice, etc.). Here in Mostar we’ve picked up Nutella and gluten-free bread, which we’ll move with us to Sarajevo.

On days when we’re staying put, we tend to do blog work and travel planning in the morning, leaving our apartment around 10am. We walk a lot, sign up for tours, and get lost as much as possible. We like to have lunch out somewhere, picking a place based on a little online research and doing our best to sample as many local dishes as possible. By late afternoon we’re usually back at home, reading, playing around online, and taking a break. We make dinner, turn on Spotify, and DJ the evening away. Sometimes in the evenings we’ll go back out for a walk, or a drink on a patio somewhere.

The lifestyle is much less glamorous than you would imagine, and more low-key. We’ve taken a surprising number of naps.

road trip ideas for couples
road trip ideas for couples

Where We’re Staying

We’ve stayed almost exclusively in AirBnB rentals, and have loved it. We have had great experiences, fantastic hosts, and all the comforts of home. It really makes a difference when we don’t have to eat out every meal, have rooms in which to spread out, and importantly, have easy access to laundry. Give me a comfortable bed, and a strong WiFi connection, and you have one happy gal.

Our only non-AirBnB stays were at the luxury glamping resort Big Berry, in Slovenia, and the Plitvice Hills Guest House, which was totally fabulous.

Side note: the cat pictured above, Mimi, has been hit by a car four times! She’s a feisty one, and became our best friend as soon as there was food around. I fed her plenty!

road trip ideas for couples

road trip ideas for couples

High/Low

We play the high/low game each night, so we’ve had a lot of reflection time about what we’ve experienced thus far, and our highlights and lowlights are the same.

So far, the best parts have been: the amazing boat rental on Lake Como, being out in nature in Slovenia, visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park and spending five full days in Kotor, Montenegro. Montenegro is stunning. I hope we capture its beauty when we get down to work showing you the goods next week on the blog. More to come for sure.

Along with the highs, we’ve also experienced a few lows. First was a parking ticket we got in Trento, Italy, when trying to find an open wine shop. We left the car alone for literally ten minutes. So annoying. Another low was taking a day trip in Montenegro to a little town called Budva, which was not our style, to put it mildly. A rock beach lined with endless lounge chairs, souvenir shops and pirate-themed restaurants. No thanks.

Finally, we weren’t as blown away by Venice and Dubrovnik as we hoped to be. They were both nice, of course, but so overrun with tourists that we struggled to find space to breathe. The tourist population exceeds full-time residents every day in both cities, so you can imagine what the crush of tour groups feels like on the ferries around Venice and on Dubrovnik’s famed drawbridge Old Town entrance.

Show Me The Money

Before we wrap up, I wanted to write a quick note about our budget. We are very detailed budgeters, and have been tracking our daily spending for years. When we moved to London we were worried about the high cost of living there so we got into the habit. For this trip we have a set daily budget, £129 per day. This includes all accommodation, food, entertainment, transportation, etc.

Depending who you are, this may seem very generous or barely sustainable. We thought it would be easy to meet this budget in the cheaper Balkan countries but difficult to manage in, say, Italy. So far, nearly one month in, we are on budget, but not under it (like I secretly suspected we would be). We have been keeping to an accommodation budget of around $60USD per night, and most of the rest of our funds are spent on groceries and restaurants.

I think that October will be a cheaper month, given where we will be traveling, but I also secretly want to splash out at some fancy hotel somewhere, effectively blowing the budget out of the water. We’ll see where we land on that.

road trip ideas for couples

What’s Next?

We’ll be in Sarajevo for five days before heading over to Belgrade, Serbia. After that, we haven’t actually booked anything, though we will be going south to Macedonia, hopefully will spend a day in Kosovo and then down to Greece. We do know that on October 20th, we will be on an overnight ferry from Greece to Italy, where we will spend another couple weeks.

It’s been fun planning this trip as we go. We began with a tentative itinerary, but have been modifying it along the way. For example, we weren’t planning on staying in Kotor at all, opting for a beach town down the coast. But after doing some research, we realized that Kotor is a great place and we changed our plans to be based there instead.

Onwards!

We plan to write one or two more of these updates from the Balkans over the next 4-6 weeks. Is there anything you want to know more about? Like what podcasts we’re listening to or what our favorite channels are on Spotify? Feel free to leave any questions below and we’ll cover it next time.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Your clicks help keep us on the road!

road trip ideas for couples

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  • September 30, 2016

    Leisurely, low-key travel is my favourite! I, too, am a nervous driver in new places and forced my sister into driving our entire Western Canada road trip last year. Car + HotelTonight + the weather network were our planning devices and we stayed as long as we liked wherever the hotel rates and weather were best. Slowly starting to make plans to spend a month in Europe in Fall 2018. 2 years of saving so we can make it to every city on our ever growing list.

    Spotify: acoustic autumn. The playlist changes every season; it’s perfect background music.

    • October 1, 2016

      that’s a good way to travel! Especially in Western Canada, where the weather can go south quickly! Thanks for the Spotify tip too…we’ll be loading that one up when we drive to Belgrade!

  • October 1, 2016

    I’m so jealous you’re starting your adventures in Eastern Europe- Slovenia is amazing and I’d love to see Montenegro, so I’ll keep my eyes open for your posts about it!
    Tamara Elliott recently posted…10 fun activities you have to try in Copenhagen, DenmarkMy Profile

    • October 2, 2016

      The one area of Europe we hadn’t really explored in the past 3 years living in London, so we decided to go big and just see it all in one trip!

  • October 1, 2016

    Haha.. I’m glad you guys haven’t killed each other, can be tricky when roadtripping for so long! I like the idea of playing high/low, I think it’s a wonderful way to keep perspective and enjoy your travels.
    Annie recently posted…Eating Alone and How to Enjoy it While TravelingMy Profile

  • October 1, 2016

    Now this is my kind of road trip! Your hitting a lot of the places on my wish list and I can’t wait to see what the Balkans have in store.
    Brianna Simmons recently posted…Primland Resort- A Luxury Retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of VirginiaMy Profile

  • October 2, 2016

    This is such a fun update! And I like the way you travel– that budget is something I’d stick to (and definitely hope to go under whenever possible), and I definitely like low-key. My ideal exploring day would be early morning start, roam around with a map and my camera, stop somewhere for lunch, take a little post-lunch nap, then head out around golden hour to take everything in and find somewhere for dinner. Then I’d probably come back and relax!

    Also that kitty is too cute! I feel like any AIrbnb that told me a cat was there would be the immediate winner haha.

    And side note: Yesss to that My Girl reference!

    • October 6, 2016

      I’m so happy that our schedule appeals to more people than just us. Some days we’re like, man we’re lazy, but then other days we just can’t be bothered to do too much!

  • October 2, 2016

    I really like the way you travel. Slow, taking in the sights and having local experiences. I love that you name your travel car. We did the same thing on a road trip we did through France. Pierre Peugeot served us well. Thanks for sharing the info on the Peugeot rental program we’ll check it out for our next road trip. Have fun on the rest of the trip!
    Sue Reddel recently posted…Tasty Virginia BeachMy Profile

    • October 6, 2016

      Pierre Peugeot – why didn’t we think of that! The rental program has been amazing so far, and we can’t believe what a steal it is!

  • October 2, 2016

    Traveling by car and listening to podcasts is a fun way to travel. What are your favorite podcasts? Like you guys, we love Airbnb..it is a great way to connect with the locals. Sounds like your adventure is off to a great start! Safe travels and looking forward to reading where your travel take you.
    Rosemary recently posted…How to Pack for Your Asian Culinary Travel AdventureMy Profile

    • October 6, 2016

      Our favorite podcasts are unfortunately not the same. We have a few overlapping ones that we are listening to – This American Life (of course!), Planet Money, Stuff You Should Know, The Podcast, Slate Culture Gabfest. It certainly kept our six hour drive the other day nice and entertaining!

  • October 2, 2016

    It sounds like you guys are having a fantastic time. It’s so fun to read about your adventures, even if they include a lot of naps! 🙂 You’re doing it right, obviously. We will be doing the same thing in just a few weeks ourselves, though in Spain. Looking forward to your next update.
    Laura Lynch recently posted…BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: We’re moving to London!My Profile

    • October 6, 2016

      We can’t wait to hear about all the naps you’ll be taking in Spain. We have had to give up our Michelin-star tendencies most of this trip, just to be reasonable about the spending, but haven’t missed it too much. Can’t wait to read about yours!

  • October 2, 2016

    This is the dream way of travelling especially when staying in Airbnbs. I’m a big fan of them. I’m loving reading about your adventures!

    • October 6, 2016

      We are huge AirBnB fans – seriously, what did we do before it existed? Oh right – boring hotels and too many restaurant meals! I’m writing this from an AMAZING apartment in Belgrade that I kinda want to move into permanently!

  • October 3, 2016

    Wow, this sounds like the perfect road trip! I like your itinerary so much! As road tripping is my favorite way of traveling through Europe, this is quite appealing to me 😀 As for blowing off your budget on a fancy hotel? Well, you’re going to be in Greece, off season. I think if you keep an eye on booking sites, you might actually find a great place without spending too much. Good luck and can’t wait for the updates!

    • October 6, 2016

      Great point – we’re starting to look into cheap Greek hotels actually (we’ll be there mid-october) and have found a few good deals. We’re on it!

  • October 5, 2016
    Carol Colborn

    We did a fast-paced 2-week visit of the Balkans last year. I love the way you guys travel!

    • October 5, 2016
      Julie

      Thanks Carol – 2 weeks in the Balkans must have been a whirlwind!

  • October 27, 2016

    What a fantastic way to travel – low-key and slow, I love it! I like your budget style – come in low and then blow it all on a fancy hotel (or in my case, maybe a spa day!)
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted…Visiting the Teotihuacan Pyramids in MexicoMy Profile

    • October 30, 2016

      our budget is certainly not an exact science…