Budapest->Istanbul in 3 weeks: Planning

Before we took extended time off work to travel in 2018, one of our most interesting trips with kids was a 3-week trip from Budapest to Istanbul in the summer of 2015. We ended up seeing parts of Italy, Croatia, and Greece, and more along the way.

How did we plan the trip, especially one so round about?

  • About a year before, I was browsing in a bookstore and I saw the Lonely Planet Southeastern Europe travel guide. On the cover was a beautiful picture of the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia – it piqued my interest and I got a copy of it. Here’s our own picture of that town:seuf125
  • The week between Christmas and New Years, I started looking at Google Flights (for hours probably), trying to see interesting city pairs exploring the Southeastern region of Europe for the following summer. I ended up finding and booking a great deal on an open-jaw flight that started in Budapest and ended in Istanbul; the whole thing had an Orient Express mystique to it.
  • We didn’t immediately know how know we’d connect the cities, but we spent some time staring at the map, reading guidebooks from the library, and researching which cities are connected by low-cost flights. We ended up planning this aspect in the following month or so.Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 8.49.40 PM
  • We wanted to see Croatia/Bosnia/Montenegro – e.g. Dubrovnik and Mostar were on our list but we were a little reluctant to commit the entire trip to that area. We decided that adding a week in Italy would be nice to balance out the trip, since we hadn’t been there in a decade (pre-kids) and knew they kids would enjoy it. We also decided we wanted to see a Greek island, and it was in the right vicinity.
  • Originally, I had romantic notions of overland travel through the Balkans. What I learned from research is that the train routes were underdeveloped in the former Yugoslavia. Roads and bus routes were a bit tricky too. Even ferry routes. We ended up relying a bit more on low-cost (largely sub-$100) point-to-point flights than we initially expected.
  • During brainstorming, we had to eliminate some options – it would have been easy to spend much more time in the region. For instance, we considered countries like Slovenia or Albania, but transit options didn’t work so well. We had to trim down cities to stay in Croatia. And in Greece, our original idea of seeing multiple islands had to be trimmed down.
  • In the end, the itinerary made most sense for us was:
    • Starting off in Budapest for a few days.
    • Flight to Rome. We then spent about a week in Italy – Rome/Florence/Venice, taking trains.
    • Flight from Venice to Split (Croatia). We rented a car, which we used to explore the area – Mostar (Bosnia), Montenegro, and to Dubrovnik (Croatia).
    • Flight from Dubrovnik to Santorini, Greece.
    • Flight to Athens for a day, to see the historic sites.
    • Flight to Istanbul, for the rest of the trip.

Overall, it was a great trip! The pace was somewhat quick in parts – but an extended trip like this was great for seeing many new places and experiencing the unfamiliar.

As we expected, our grade-school-age boys really liked Italy, particularly Venice, where it was easy for them to safety navigate the zig-zagging canals, without the motorbikes of Rome. The Italian food there was easy for all of us to enjoy. But they enjoyed the other places as well – e.g. the beauty of Santorini and Croatia, the ancient marvels of Athens, the exotic sites and smells of Istanbul. We’ll write up what we saw along the way! First up: Budapest.

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