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How My Trip to Croatia Changed My Life

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

I’m not someone who believes everything happens for a reason. I do believe in intuition. I believe that when we’re able to quiet all the noise and listen to the Knowing, it leads us right where we need to be.

That’s the only explanation I can offer for how I ended up in Croatia and for the way it all unfolded.

In January of 2018, I was living with a family in Bressanone, Italy who I’d met through a website called Workaway. During the school week I’d pick the kids up from school, take them to their after school activities a couple days a week, but mostly I’d just take them home and be with them until their parents got home. For that small amount of work, I lived with them and they fed me. That’s the whole point of Workaway - live/work exchange.

As the time drew nearer for me to plan the next leg of my adventure, I initially decided I wanted to head somewhere warm. I was tired of being in a constant state of icicle. And, while the town I was living in looked like a literal snow globe and was the most picturesque of places, I was ready for something warmer, and maybe a little tropical.

Bressanone, Italy

I ended up finding an affordably priced co-living/working place on the Canary Islands. It seemed perfect, so I booked the trip - train tickets, airline tickets, deposit on my room, the whole shebang. At first, I felt really good about it, but as the next several days passed, something wasn’t quite sitting right.

For a reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, going to the Canary Islands didn’t feel totally aligned. I had plans to head to Spain eventually, but that wasn’t quite it either. I felt like I was missing something.

I stared at a map on my computer screen, chin resting on the palm of my hand, elbow resting on my knee, wondering what my next move was supposed to be. Then it dawned on me.


It had been on my list of must-go places, but it wasn’t exactly a huge step in the direction in terms of warmth, considering it was only a short leap across the Adriatic from Italy, but for some reason, it was calling to me.

I logged into my Workaway account and started searching for placements in Croatia. I wasn’t feeling especially picky about what area I ended up in, but I was pressed to find many options in general. Croatia is one of the most stunning places on earth, but it was still winter and no one really had much to offer until the warmer months arrived, except one woman.

Her name was H. She was my age, had a 4-year-old son named O and was in medical school. She had loads of reviews from other travelers who had stayed with her and everyone raved about the experience. She clearly led a very busy life and needed someone to help with grocery shopping, meal prepping and cooking. I can definitely do that! I thought to myself, so I sent her a message and hoped to hear back.

I didn’t know how the Workaway placement would unfold, but I knew Croatia was the place, so I went ahead and got as much of my money back as possible from my Canary Islands trip and started figuring out how I was going to get to Croatia.

I didn’t hear back from H for a few days. The first response I got sounded promising, but non-committal. Ultimately I decided I’d find an AirBnB in the area for the first 2 weeks of my stay. If things worked out, I’d move into H’s place after those 2 weeks. If they didn’t, I’d move on to another city or country.

I ended up taking a 21-hour bus ride from Bressanone, Italy to Split, Croatia. I hadn’t heard from H in almost a week, but around hour 18 of my journey, she responded and gave me the go-ahead to come stay with her after my AirBnB was over. I was relieved and excited.

After spending 7 weeks with 2 rambunctious kids in Italy, I was ready for a couple weeks of solitude to focus on my work and rest up. I found a perfect little flat with a spectacular view. Unfortunately it was on the top floor of a 5 story walk-up and in case you forgot, my hips were already shot.

The view from my balcony in Split, Croatia

I lucked out big time by having a host who not only picked me up at the bus station, but also carried my heavy suitcase up all those flights of stairs and eventually came back over and drove me to the grocery store. People truly are kind.

When my AirBnB host picked me up from the bus depot, he told me Croatia was like Italy, only poor, then laughed. I’m not sure how much truth there is behind that, but I’ll tell you what I know from my experience there - Croatia is stunning. 1 of my favorite pizzas of all time is there and I miss it all the time, the healthcare is insanely accessible, and I would tell anyone asking not to hesitate to spend time visiting.

For the sake of being candid, my 2 weeks in that most perfect flat were rough. I was incredibly lonely and struggling with depression. It doesn’t matter how beautiful of a place you’re in when you’re physically and emotionally crumbling. Moving in with H and O couldn’t have come soon enough.

It was a perfectly sunny day when I walked from my flat to H’s. I remember clear blue skies, golden sun and being very warm as I lugged all my crap the 8 or so blocks to get there. H welcomed me with a friendly smile. O wasn’t home from his friend's house yet, but when he got there, H introduced us and when I said, “Hey, dude!” he got this big bashful smile on his face and he said, “She called me dude!” and laughed. “Mate” he was used to. “Dude” he thought was hilarious. We became fast friends.

It was about a week into my time with them when H and I found ourselves sitting at the kitchen table one night sipping glasses of rosé and getting to know each other. That’s when my Granny Hip came up in conversation. She started asking more questions about it so I started opening up and telling her. I could see her interest peaking as the conversation went on.

“We have to figure this out,” she said adamantly.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, or believe in her ability to figure it out, I was just afraid to have any hope. But also, what did I have to lose? She was in medical school and had a whole class to bounce ideas off of. So, she got some advice from her instructor, and the next week we went and I had a bunch of blood work done. Then, she had her neighbor help us schedule an appointment with an orthopedic doctor in town.

Even though I was on a tight budget, it turned out I needn’t worry about not having insurance. Healthcare for citizens in Croatia is free. For non-citizens, it’s not… But alas, coming from the United States Healthcare system, I was in for a real treat when I got my bill. More on that later.

The first day I went to see the orthopedic surgeon he examined my left hip and ordered some x-rays, which I went to another facility in town to have done the same day. One week later I went back to see the doctor so he could read the x-rays and tell me my fate.

When I walked back into his office the next week and handed him the disk, I sat nervously opposite him as he popped it into his cd-rom, moved his glasses from his forehead to his nose and leaned in toward the screen. His brow creased as he examined my films.

“Well Veronica, I don’t have good news.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”

“You have no choice but to have this hip replaced. The damage is too severe for any other treatment. I don’t know how you’re still walking on it.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, while at the same time knowing I’d absolutely heard him correctly. He said it could’ve been caused by hip dysplasia, but he couldn’t say for sure. Then he went on to explain that I should have a ceramic replacement as it would give me the best shot at longevity.

“When are you going home?” He asked.

“Well, I still have plans for at least the next 6 weeks…” I trailed off as I noticed a sternness set into his face.

“You should get home as soon as possible.”

He wrote me a prescription for superhero strength ibuprofen, which I never filled, and told me to get this taken care of ASAP.

When all was said and done, I paid a little over $100 US dollars to see the doctor and get those x-rays. That’s it. Wild, huh?

I left his office in a bit of a daze. As I walked back to H’s flat I started trying to process the information I’d just received. I needed a hip replacement. I needed a hip replacement? Really? Was he sure? Was this real? My screaming hip joint said it was real, but my mind wouldn’t quite let me believe it.

I walked down to the water where I’d been spending a lot of time and sat along the boardwalk while I called my mom to tell her what I’d just learned.

Along the Adriatic in Split, Croatia

I don’t remember a lot about our conversation, other than us both being dumbstruck. I remember the wind blowing harder than I wanted it to be. I remember watching a seagull waddle along the sidewalk in front of me. I remember watching the sun rays bounce off the choppy Adriatic. I remember wondering how I’d arrived here and what in the world was going to happen next.

I can’t say the doctor in Croatia diagnosed me. He didn’t. He just got the chance to x-ray me once the damage was so severe no one could possibly miss it. I credit H for getting me to go see him. If she hadn’t, I honestly don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to go. I had zero faith in the US healthcare system. But Croatia? I thought well, why not?

There was still a part of me that worried I’d get home, go to the doctor and find out the ortho in Croatia was wrong. I knew it was highly unlikely, but I was so disillusioned with our healthcare system in the US that I thought it entirely possible they’d be like, “Nah, you’re young and healthy! It’ll correct itself!”

Of course that isn’t what happened. As we know, I went on to find out I needed not one but both my hips replaced and as we know, I still don’t have answers as to why they deteriorated to begin with. What I do know is that had it not been for my intuition, for H, for her neighbor and for that orthopedic doctor, my journey would’ve unfolded in a very different way.

I often wonder if the entire reason I went on that overseas adventure was to find myself in Croatia. I never could have planned it. Finding H, who was so busy, mind you, that I took over answering (the many) inquiries for her next Workaway placement while I was staying with her. H, who I didn’t even know for sure I’d be staying with until I was 3 hours away from the city. H, who I never could’ve planned would also be in medical school.

Sometimes it feels like the stars all seem to align in perfect timing just for us. That’s what Croatia will always feel like for me.

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