While most of us are still anticipating our next trip, Brian Tan and Yuchun Ku, the founders of Zicasso, have set out to lead the way with a five-week trip to Europe. With Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal also open to American travelers, they have begun their European vacation with an exploration of the islands, beaches, and beautiful cities of Croatia, before moving to the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Zicasso’s Lead Travel Writer, Douglas Weissman, caught up with them for a quick conversation about how things are going and what tips they have for those considering their next vacation.
Douglas Weissman, Lead Travel Writer: What are your first impressions of Croatia?
Yuchun Ku, COO of Zicasso: After two weeks, we have been so charmed by Croatia that it has become one of our favorite destinations of all time! It’s so beautiful and pleasant here. Yet, it is an undiscovered gem for many Americans. While there is much to see and do, it’s also very relaxing and safe. We are now on one of the most popular islands in the Adriatic Sea, and our boat captain doesn’t lock his boat. He told us he doesn’t even know where his keys are.
Brian Tan, CEO of Zicasso: Amongst the countries in Europe, some of the uniqueness of Croatia has been this combination of having it all. Charming coastal towns, over 1,000 islands, lots of beaches, and significant historical sites. With the islands, you can sail from island to island more easily than many other destinations. There is history, beautiful hiking scenery and national parks, great Mediterranean food. In terms of friendly and hospitable people, it is one of the best places we have ever been. Everyone is ready to extend a hand and make the travel experience the best it can be.
DW: In many ways, Croatia is on par with countries like Italy or Greece but with its own perspective of food, history and culture. It’s also traditionally less crowded and offers ancient history, traditional cultures, food and wine, and more. What are you enjoying most?
YK: A typical Croatia itinerary allows you to build in activities for people with different interests. For example, if a family wanted to bike or kayak, those are here. If you want to go for history or wine, it is here. So much of our time feels focused on natural beauty---just walking around town brings such incredible joy, and I can see how every traveler would enjoy it.
DW: But why now? What makes traveling to Croatia better now than next year or years ago?
YK: We have been thinking about coming to Croatia for several years, but we were hesitant due to the crowds. Croatia was the first European country that opened to travelers with a negative Covid-19 test, and now to vaccinated Americans with clear entry requirements. When we got our vaccine in mid-April, we immediately started to plan this trip.
BT: Croatia has been really impressive. A small country with only four million people, there is so much going on. It’s been quite surprising, the quality of things to see and do as local life has largely returned to normal. The charming coastal towns offer great sea views with streets and shops that are fantastic to walk through. History is everywhere--I have been surprised to see so much ancient Roman history.
YK: The Diocletian’s Palace is the best-preserved Roman palace, and seeing it without a crowd was fantastic. Our travel specialists helped plan our itinerary, and so much of it is outdoors with so much of the experience just walking around the old cities or enjoying marinas. As things reopen, our travel specialist really helped us to manage how to travel between cities, what to do, or even how to make reservations for restaurants or museums with limited capacity.
BT: Before the pandemic, Plitvice National Park was so crowded. With changes from UNESCO and some Covid-era adjustments, it’s a very pleasant experience. It’s not a very big park, and we could do the whole bigger circle in about six hours. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see it without a crowd.
YK: We are seeing a lot of European travelers---it’s a quick trip from so many neighboring countries. We are currently in Hvar, and locals still consider it all very empty, though we are starting to see more travelers than when we began the trip two weeks ago. The time to come is now!
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DW: Croatia is a bit of a blank slate for travelers. With Italy, people have expectations. Croatia has the ancient ruins, great food and wine, but no “usually trodden path”--there is room for creativity in trip planning.
YK: Before starting to plan this trip, I only knew of Zagreb and Dubrovnik. It wasn’t until I started working on our plans with our travel specialist did I understand how much there was to see and do. The logistics are a little more complicated, so a travel specialist with local knowledge has made an enormous difference. In some countries, ferries and trains are very simple to figure out, but in Croatia, local knowledge has smoothed our experience.
BT: We did some truffle hunting last week, which we have done before in Italy. This time, we did the hunt with two dogs--they were so happy and friendly, tails constantly wagging. Our host truffle hunter team was a father-daughter combo, and the experience included a 4x4 drive into the mountains. Once we reached the spot, our guide unpacked a picnic table and she cooked us an incredible meal right there and then--it was amazing.
YK: It was clear that our guide, and her father, were really wanting to share their love for Croatia’s natural beauty and what their land has to offer, truffles in this case! Throughout our trip, everyone has eagerly shared the beauty of this country with us.
DW: It sounds like you are enjoying “Slow Travel.” Instead of hitting everything, you slow it down to more deeply appreciate each region. It might be a good time to extend visits in any stop to allow a slower pace and enjoy each element better.
BT: That is absolutely the case. With this trip, we extended our itinerary to allow us to move slower and enjoy each destination without hurry. We have had some amazing food and fantastic hospitality along the way. We went to a Michelin 1 star restaurant the other night, but it felt comparable to a 2 star, and it was a fraction of the cost of a similar meal in the Bay Area. The presentation was so thoughtful and refreshing, and we enjoyed the experience immensely. We enjoyed another wonderful dinner just two feet from the sea on a rocky outcropping and could not believe the incredible beauty of it all.
YK: The local lifestyle is very outdoor-oriented. Outdoor dining has been part of the culture, Covid or not. We have had a lot of unique experiences, all outdoors! We’ve been truffle hunting with truffle hunting dogs, without any prior sailing experience we sailed for a day around the beautiful islands with the friendly skipper, and walked around ancient Roman sites and medieval towns. We could bike around the countryside, take a cooking class in a local family's garden, or go oyster tasting right on the beach where they are harvested.
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DW: What are your suggestions for our travelers as they consider a 2021 trip?
BT: People can travel and feel very comfortable that things are looking and feeling much more normal. International tourism is returning, but the usual crowds are not (yet). So, it’s a great opportunity to book soon and travel with fewer crowds. The sooner you travel, the better, especially to popular destinations around Europe.
YK: Traveling now is a little more complex, but our travel specialists are ready to handle every logistic. Bookings from 2020 are impacting current and future travel plans, and postponed trips are also in motion.
BT: Flights are still limited, so if travelers wait too long to book, you might not be able to fly on the ideal route. Airlines are still working through some kinks, so you might experience delays and booking errors--we experienced this first hand--but your flight specialist can help you double-check everything. Your flight specialist can also help if one of your flights has an issue.
YK: If you can, get a nonstop flight. If you don’t have an option, pick the routing with the fewest connections, as you never know what the connecting countries might require. Because many airlines still offer no-fee changes, there is flexibility to change your plans. We don’t know when airlines will take this option away, so it is wise to leverage it now.
BT: We also recommend visiting just one country, maybe two. Europe offers a lot of fantastic multi-country routes, but for now, sticking with one or two will significantly ease logistics.
YK: Any stop in another country can add complications, as different requirements will add up and could impact your trip negatively. Keep your plans as simple as possible. Our travel specialists make an incredible difference with local knowledge and know-how, so lean on them to tell you what is possible and what is recommended.
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For more inspiration on how to discover the wonders of Croatia, you can visit Zicasso’s Croatia Travel Guide. If you would like to learn more about how to make a last-minute trip to Croatia happen, you can speak to a Croatia travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling 1-888-265-9707.