The Logistics of Planning a Campervan Trip To the Balkans

The countdown timer on my phone tells me we’re into the twenties now, less than thirty days until our upcoming trip to Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina!

I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about all the things I needed to get done before we could set foot on the plane, but now, with less than a month to go, most of the major stumbling blocks have been overcome and it’s just the little things that still need doing.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Applied for and received back a new UK passport for Gareth
  • Started an application for a UK passport for Aidan (we’ll continue with this when we return)
  • Applied for and received a new SA passport for Gareth
  • Applied for and received an SA passport for Aidan
  • Booked the campervan and paid the deposit
  • Bought and confirmed the plane tickets
  • Applied for and received a Schengen visa for me
  • Applied for and received a Schengen visa for Aidan
  • Renewed and received back my SA driver’s license
  • Planned the route
  • Bought bags (because our hard shell suitcases will be too big for the available space in the campervan)
  • Buy locks for our bags, since they’re not built in
  • Get swimming booties for everyone (for the pebbly beaches)
  • Buy some new holiday clothes
  • Let Aidan’s school know that he will be missing a few weeks
  • Bought a new memory card for my phone (so I can take LOTS of photos)

Looking at this list it doesn’t seem as much effort as it actually was. I spent days just getting all the documentation ready for all the various applications, going back and forth to the police station to get copies certified, dropping off stuff, picking up stuff. I can see why some people prefer to let a travel agent handle all of this for them.

The Schengen visa for Aidan was a particular hassle. In South Africa, most embassies prefer people to have their applications processed via a processing centre. This centre has a list of documents and haves and have nots that they check off before they accept your application and send it off to the actual embassy, who then issues the visa. All of this, of course, costs admin fees – fees to apply, fees to book an interview slot, handling fees, and then reapplication fees if you did something wrong and need to start the process again.

In Aidan’s case, our 3-year old son, the processing centre wanted, amongst a whole host of other things, an unabridged marriage certificate. Now, I can see why they’d want a birth certificate with both parents’ names on it, but a marriage certificate? In any event, we have a marriage certificate, and it displays all the details that are on an unabridged certificate, except for the word “unabridged”. The processing centre flatly refused to accept it. When I argued about it, they asked if I could come back the next day with a new certificate. I asked the lady if she had ever been to South African Home Affairs, because I know people who are still waiting, six months later, for their unabridged certificates. She then said I could just apply for one and show her the receipt. I wanted to know how in the world is a receipt for an application more valid than the actual certificate that I had, but she just shook her head and refused to help me. The next day, I phoned to speak to a manager and was placed on hold for 20 minutes, waiting in vain for anyone to answer.

So I went directly to the German Embassy (who does visa applications on behalf of Slovenia in South Africa). I sent them a mail with my marriage certificate attached and asked if they could help us. The lady responded within 5 minutes, telling me that the processing centre does not have the right to turn down any applications and that I should come directly to her and she would sort it out. We went to the German Embassy and was promptly and efficiently served, and within a week had our visa.  And if I ever decide to emigrate, it will probably be to Germany.

Another hiccup happened a few days ago. I was minding my own business Friday night, lying on the couch Pinteresting (as one does) when an OTP message popped up on my phone. For those who don’t know, an OTP (One Time Pin) is sent by the bank when you try to purchase something online with your credit card. This message was for an amount in Euros from a reference that said BUDGETAIRIT. I was definitely not busy buying anything in Euros at that time, so I immediately phoned my bank and they had to cancel my credit card pending a fraud investigation. I googled the reference and it looks like someone had bought plane tickets from an Italian website. Definitely not me.

So I am currently without a credit card, having cancelled my second card a few years ago, having no need for it. And then the thought struck me that had this happened to me in Zagreb or Sarajevo or somewhere else that is not South Africa, we would be royally screwed, since I only take a small amount of cash with me and prefer to draw from my credit card as needed when we’re gallivanting around overseas. So now, while I’m waiting for the first card to be replaced, I have also applied for a second card that I can use as a backup, in case something unplanned happens.

And here are the things I still need to do:

  • Plan and book (where necessary) camping sites (we prefer not to be constrained, but there are public holidays in the countries where we’re going and we might need to ensure a camping spot at popular places)
  • Buy entrance tickets for Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • Get a new international driver’s license
  • Buy some Euros and Kuna in cash
  • Get green card insurance so that we can cross into Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina (apparently you can get this at the border crossing – let’s hope, because I can for the life of me not find someone who can provide this for me online)
  • Check that we still have working converter plugs (only way to test that will be when we get there, I think)
  • Download Google Translate language packs (and learn a few key phrases!)
  • Let the bank know that I will be using my credit cards overseas
  • Plan and pack a toddler entertainment pack for the plane trip

And that’s it! We are almost ready to go! It’s been way too long since our last trip and our expectations are very high for this one. I’m sure it’s going to be AMAZING!

Can you think of anything I’ve forgotten to add to TODO my list? Do you have any tips for planning a big holiday that you want to share in the comments?

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