The Value of Patience and Good Judgment

Xiaochen Su

© Copyright 2018 by Xiaochen Su

Photo of a road sign in Montenegro.

Being on the road, travelers often come across situations where their own decision-making can very much change the direction of their entire travels. And when the wrong decision is taken, the cost can be unbelievably high in monetary terms, not to mention damages to self-confidence. But it is those wrong decisions that tend to be, ultimately, the most memorable ones. The wrong decisions, by the pure "virtue" of their being incredibly bad decisions, lead to the greatest adventures. In the end, with much more spending than expected, travelers have to realize where is that fine line between "adventure at all costs" and "sound financing while on the road."

A personal example can be a great illustration of how expensive an unplanned, off-the-beaten-path adventure in a foreign country can quickly become. The date was December 30, and as a poor graduate student on winter break, I was backpacking through Eastern Europe, getting around the countries of the region via local buses and trains. The plan for the next leg was to travel from Pristina, Kosovo to Dubrovnik, Croatia overnight to save on lodging. That evening at the Pristina bus terminal, I was told by locals and bus station staff that, while there is not a direct bus to Dubrovnik, a through bus from Podgorica, Montenegro can cross the border to the Croatian side. Believing the words of the locals, I found myself on the bus to Montenegro. When the bus arrived in Podgorica at 2 am local time, to my dismay, I realized that the daily bus between Podgorica and Dubrovnik only runs once every two days during winter times, and with New Year’s holidays coming up, it meant that I had to idly stay in Montenegro until the 2nd of January if I wait for the bus to start up again.

For this backpacker, time was of the essence in saving money. In Podgorica, a city with little budget options, hotel costs can easily go up to 50 Euros a night. Two nights of hotels and bus ticket, plus food, would easily add up to 130 Euros even without adding in the time cost. So, I decided to get in a taxi to Dubrovnik instead, in what later, with a little bit of classic deception by the taxi driver, proved to be one of the worst one-time conscious decisions I made during the entire backpacking trip in Eastern Europe. If it were not for the sheer beauty of Dubrovnik awaiting me at the end of all this, the pain from this one would have stuck for quite a while.

So, back in Podgorica at 2:30 am, I negotiate with a local driver for the taxi fare through to Dubrovnik down to about 110 Euros, gets in the taxi for what is said by the taxi driver to be a 5-hour drive, and takes off into the twisty, pitch-dark mountain roads of Montenegro. 3 hours later, the taxi driver wakes up me up, telling me in broken English, "it is finished" (i.e. "we are here"). Rubbing my eyes, I look through the car window to find the road blocked by the brightly-lit Montenegrin border checkpoint on the way to Croatia.

The half-sleepy, half-puzzled traveler tries to question the driver why he stops at the border, getting the response that the driver cannot go over the border. He, with English vocabulary words and many gestures, tells me not to worry, just cross over the Montenegrin border on foot, walk "maybe 90m" to the Croatian border checkpoint, and then grab a taxi from there. He adds that there are plenty of taxis on the other side and the taxi ride from the Croatian border to Dubrovnik should be very cheap because it is only a 10-minute drive.

Annoyed by the taxi driver only mentioning this now rather than before the whole journey started, I still had no choice but to get out at that point. The driver bid his friendly goodbye with a warm handshake, leaving the traveler to handle the border himself. The exit from Montenegro was without incident, but as I began trekking from the Montenegrin checkpoint to the Croatian one, I quickly realized that the walk is nowhere near "90m." In that single pitch-dark twisty mountain road between the two checkpoints, the traveler ended up walking more than half an hour.

Then the traveler came up to the Croatian border, with time now at around 6 am. The surprised Croatian border official, after hearing that I walked from the Montenegrin side after getting off a taxi, looks at me like I am crazy, stamps my passport, and with a cynical grin, tells me that it is too early to call any taxi right now, and that I can keep walking the 44km to Dubrovnik. Then he, with no other offers for help, simply waved me off into Croatian territory, with another twisty pitch-dark mountain road ahead.

The story ends with the traveler unsuccessfully hitchhiking along the road for more than three hours, eventually walking far away enough from the border to hit up a nearby post office with a phone to call in a taxi from Dubrovnik. At 9 am in the morning and another 40 Euros later, the weary traveler finally gets to the final destination. For all the time I gained, I lost too much in energy, money, and courage to try a similar thing ever again.

The shell-shocked conclusion to the whole heart-thumping episode is that sometimes, the trade off between saving time and saving money is not a straightforward one. Instead of rushing through from Kosovo to Montenegro to Croatia in a bid to get to the fabled walled city of Dubrovnik as fast as possible, I would have had a much better time going slowly, step by step, through the rural beauty of Montenegro, taking in the now-famous Kotor coastal regions of the country. Had I done more research into the best and most convenient routes through this part of the world, I would have been left with a better impression of the local landscape, people, not to mention much more money in the wallet.

Xiaochen is a Chinese-American hailing from San Diego, CA.  He previously lived in London, UK, where, as a Master's student, he backpacked throughout the European continent during school vacations.  

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