How to be a bad tourist in Croatia

Tourists partying in Split, Croatia

The relationship between tourists and locals can be both cherished and strained in any city. In places where tourism is the main industry, like Croatia, tourists are desperately needed to support the local ecosystem and national economy.

However, at times, the interests of tourists and locals can be at odds.

Croatia is lucky to get many wonderful tourists, some of whom love it so much they want to stay forever. I was once one of them.

Unfortunately, not all tourists are wonderful.

Some tourists come to blow off steam and party till they can’t see straight, while locals just want to enjoy their coffee in peace without the scent of sunbaked vomit and urine. Clearly these objectives are misaligned.

Like many countries, Croatia has its share of bad tourists, but last summer was extra – and there are already signs that the summer of 2022 will be similar. Not only are people escaping their daily lives, they are also making up for time lost during the pandemic and wholly disregarding restrictions and the social contract.

It’s like the Ultra Music Week that JUST. WON’T. END.

It’s unlikely that Croatia’s dependency on tourism will change anytime soon. Turning away tourists is not the answer. However, that shouldn’t mean tourists have free license to tear this country apart with their debauchery.

We aren’t asking much. It is possible to have the life-changing and restorative experience you seek while in Croatia without disrespecting the country, its people and the other tourists that are just trying to enjoy a tranquil holiday.

If you want to be a good tourist in Croatia, please don’t do these things. After all, you can still have a great time on the playground without shitting in the sandbox.

#1 Throw trash wherever you feel like it

Just finished your cigarette? Throw it in the sea. Done with your burek? Crumble up the wrapper and put it in a bush. Drained the last few drops of your to-go mojito? By all means, leave it on the 2,000-year-old wall.

But perhaps that’s exactly what the founder Diocletian intended. Emperors are known for leaving glasses wherever they wish. After all, they do it in all the movies.

Nowadays, it’s Croatia’s purpose is to serve the world’s tourists, hand and foot, so it must be someone’s job to clean up their mess, right?

While there are people who clean certain areas, it doesn’t happen daily and they are not your servants. They can’t always get to your litter before that lovely sea breeze flings it into the sea. Any trash you throw on the ground contaminates our home.

There are plenty of trash cans. Find one and dispose of your trash like a proper adult. Alternatively, put it in your bag until you can find one.

Litter in Croatia
Drinks left on a wall outside Diocletian’s Palace, 3 meters from a trash can

#2 Vomit in public

We understand wanting to have a once-in-a-lifetime blast because you’ve been quarantining with your boyfriend who you were planning to break up with in March 2020 because he wants kids and you absolutely do not, but then the lockdown happened and then he lost his job and you didn’t want to be the jerk that put someone on the street during covid so instead you were trapped in a little studio with his OCD, yipping chihuahua, and I-want-to-be-a-daddy eyes for months and now that you’ve been let out of your cage, you decided to go apeshit and drink 10 Long Island iced teas because it just felt like the thing you needed to do to recover from a shit couple of years.

We’ve all been there.

But then you regurgitate the Long Island iced teas and the Ston oysters you had at dinner all over the bar, the streets, public transportation and Ubers.

It’s gross. Just because your body needs to expel something when you’re in public, doesn’t mean you should. Lock it down until you get to a toilet, preferably in your accommodation.

There are always emergencies, but in most cases, it’s not.

Just because someone works in a bar does not mean they should be required to clean up your bad decisions. They are just trying to get through their shift without incident.

#3 Pee anywhere except in a toilet

The toilet was invented in 1596. Now, some 400+ years later, we should all be on board with how to use one.

Diocletian’s Palace is not your toilet. Plitvice isn’t your toilet. The floor of a bar is not your toilet. A planter in someone’s private yard is not your toilet.

Only toilets are toilets. If your body is telling you it’s time to evacuate, go find one. There are public toilets throughout the country and many caffe bars or restaurants will let you use theirs if you ask nicely, are fully clothed and able to function in a way that won’t make them regret letting you in.

Croatians are very welcoming by nature. If you’re kind and thoughtful, they’ll let you join the family.

#4 Wear beach attire in public

When it’s blistering hot during summer, it can be very enjoyable to live in your bathing suit so you can pop in and out of the water all day to stay cool.

However, when you’re not at the beach, put clothes on. Just because you’re visiting a beach town in Croatia doesn’t mean it is okay to wear bathing suits everywhere you go.

Woman in a Lidl supermarket in Croatia
Woman in a Lidl supermarket in Croatia

Island Hvar will issue fines of 500 Euros (for men) and 600 Euros (for women) for doing so. We’ll save the glaring discrepancy in fines based on gender for a different day.

Croatia is a place where men wear banana hammocks and women wear bikinis all their lives until they die. If this lot thinks you’re not wearing enough clothes in public, you probably aren’t.

Here are some words of wisdom from Split tour guide Gytha Galić:

“Don’t be a shirtless moron.”

#5 Ride your bike in the old cities

The narrow streets of old cities are not your bike lane. They are for pedestrians only. Having to navigate around you and your bike trying to navigate around other people inspires some of the purest white hot rage of which we are capable.

Croatia is a cycling paradise, with plenty of open roads to explore. But when you’re in the crowded heart of an ancient town, hop off the bike and walk it, molim te.

#6 You don’t tip

Tipping is a thing in Croatia. It may not be on the same scale as where you come from, but tipping is still customary and very much appreciated.

Most Croatians in tourism are working 7 days a week without a day off, many in cataclysmic heat. Appreciation is deserved.

And Croatia isn’t cheap. A dinner with wine for one person in Split at a decent place will set you back at least 35 Euro ($42). While that’s insane given the cost of living, it is the case nonetheless.

You should always tip on any kind of service – coffee, sit-down dining, excursions, boat trips and tours. Guides and skippers should be tipped the most, especially if you had a great time.

If you don’t know how to tip in Croatia, here is a detailed guide that will lay it all out for you.

#7 Have sex in public

We get it. You’re on vacation, and that means vacation sex, which is way better than lockdown sex. Croatia is magical and you’re vibrating with excitement and just can’t help yourself.

By all means have all the sex your parts can handle, but please, do it in your hotel or your Airbnb or your hostel. Do not do it on the beach, or the balcony of your hotel, or in a club, or in the bathroom at an ice cream shop (based on a true story).

This isn’t Sodom and Gomorahh. Just because you’re on holiday from your regular life, doesn’t mean you’re on holiday from the rules of human decency. Let us make the decision about which balls we see.

#8 Don’t wear sunscreen

Every year, super pasty tourists flood to Croatia and completely forget the sunscreen. They go to the beach for one day, and spend the rest of their holiday so inflamed, they cannot sit or sleep or function comfortably.

Croatia’s sun is STRONG. It should not be underestimated. I know you want a tan, but sunbathing without sunscreen won’t get it done. It will get you an apocalyptic sunburn on the back of your knees.

It’s painful for you to experience, it’s painful for us to see it. Nobody wins here.

You might wonder why we care what you do with your own body. Well, if you’re in excruciating pain, there is a higher probability of you overdoing it on inebriation, not tipping because you’re too distracted with sun stroke or just being a jerk to service people. It’s the domino effect.

#9 Play loud music

You don’t have excellent taste in music. You don’t look cool because you know all the lyrics to a rap song. Nobody cares about the deep cuts on your Spotify playlist.

Music is subjective. Respect the people around you and keep it to yourself.

If you want to play music when nobody else is around, go for it. But don’t play it on beaches, or group excursions, or boat trips with people you don’t know, or past midnight. That’s what headphones are for.

You guys may be on vacation, but most of those who live here are not.

#10 Steal glasses and mugs from bars

When you leave a bar with glasses and never return, you are stealing from that bar. Even if you leave the glasses on some bench or wall nearby, you are still stealing from that bar.

THEFT = BAD

Stealing from bars that have been doing their best to survive the pandemic makes you a special kind of asshole.

If you want a drink on the go that badly, ask for a plastic cup. They have them for this purpose. Then put it in a trash can when done.

#11 Kill local wildlife

There are many animals that you should not be touching, but that tourists touch anyways in the name a good souvenir or Instagram post.

Here are just a few protected species that you can be fined for messing with:
• Sea urchins
• Noble pen shell (the one with the really cool giant shell)
• Date mussels
• Dolphins
• Tortoises

Here is a list of protected species you might encounter in Croatia that you should leave alone.

Even if a sea creature isn’t listed as protected, you still must have a license to capture it. Here is everything you need to know about getting a fishing license in Croatia. It includes which fishes you can catch and the limits for each.

#12 Lack spatial self-awareness

While you’re exploring our narrow stone streets and seeking the best spot to have coffee on the pjaca, locals are working and running errands.

Our daily routines are made quite a bit harder when we get stuck behind someone who is completely unaware of what is happening around them. And if it’s a giant cruise ship tour group? Forget about it. I might as well just lie down in the street, catch a nap and wait it out.

There is only so much that can be done here, but if you practice a few courtesies, you can enjoy your sightseeing without our heads exploding.

  • If you wish to take a photo, step to the side of the street first. There are people behind you and stopping abruptly causes a human traffic jam.
  • If you’re on a walking tour, please keep to the right when moving, and keep to the sides when standing.

#13 Pass out on the street

If you drank so much that you pass out where you stand (or fall), then you’ve probably overdone it.

I came across a twenty-something on West Coast Riva who was passed out, face down beside a trash can. While I’m certain he suffered some punishment after he woke up, nobody who lives here wants people passed out on streets, or beaches, or benches. If this was happening on your street, you probably wouldn’t be jazzed about it either.

Given that those who do this are usually passed out from drinking too much or getting Charlie Sheen-level high, it increases the chance that they’ll vomit or pee in public as well, completing the circle.

#14 Assume everyone speaks English

It is a myth that everyone in Croatia speaks English. And yet, some confidently make this claim, as if it’s a good reason not to learn Croatian.

If people are working in tourism, then most (but not all) speak some level of English. If they don’t work in tourism and don’t know any foreigners, there is much less chance they speak or understand English.

No matter whether you live here or are just passing through, you will run into Croatians who do not speak English. It’s not their native language.

Even those on short visits should at least learn how to say hi, bye, and thank you. It’s respectful to put forth a modicum of effort when you’re a guest in someone else’s country.

Learn these phrases:

  • Dobar dan – “Good day”. Of course there is a “Good morning” and “Good evening”, but “Dobar dan” is universal, especially now that it gets light at 4:30 and the sunsets after 21:00. This way you only have to learn one phrase.
  • Bok – Means both hi and goodbye, so you can’t go wrong. Two for the price of one.
  • Fala lijepa (or lipa, if traveling to Dalmatia where Split is). The “j” is pronounced like a “y” in English. It’s much easier to pronounce than “hvala” for most people.

Learning these 3 things will get you through 90% of situations. Most conversations in Croatia follow the same basic structure.

Croatians greet each other, say thank you for something, and say goodbye. Sometimes more, but not less. Mastering these 3 things will show respect to those who live and work here.

Croatians LOVE when non-Croatians try to speak their language, no matter how imperfect the attempt. It may even earn you a rakija.

When I lived in the Netherlands, it was really hard to practice Dutch because Dutch people speak superb almost American-style English. They can sniff out a foreigner a mile away and in reflex, begin speaking English. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking in Dutch. If they detect any non-native speaker characteristic, they will automatically switch. They seem to love speaking English. When they throw some Chandler Bing reference into the mix, the earth tilts on its axis.

Croatians, on the other hand, give you a chance. They let you do your best to speak their crazy hard language. It’s not an easy one. And Croatians know it.

Given this, they are so supportive and understanding and encouraging when you make an effort. They let you practice. They teach you new things. They engage with you until you say uncle. And then they make a compliment when they see you improve.

We have tons of practical Croatian language lessons. Check them all out here.

#15 Scream at night

The commonly understood quiet time in Croatia is midnight to 7 in the morning. We are so thrilled that you had a blast at the club, but please for the love of Pete do not scream about it on the way back to your Airbnb. It is awesome that you are on vacation, but those of us that live here are not.

We are doing our best to get some decent rest, so we can get up and go to work in the morning. Please be self-aware of your surroundings and do not yell, hoot or holler late at night in residential areas. It’s not cool, man.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, I hope my empathic love of Croatia was apparent amidst the frustration. It’s because of that devotion, I had to defend it.

Croatia is a unique, one-of-a-kind place with a mysterious magic that wraps around you like an anaconda and doesn’t let go.

The country and its residents (including myself) want tourists; they are what keeps this country going. However, if the ancient cities, crystal seas and national parks continue to be treated like toilets, they won’t last much longer.

I see and hear Croatians losing their patience. Some dream of giving up on tourism entirely and that’s pretty sad.

There are many angles to tourism, and there is more at play than bad foreigner behavior alone. But that’s a topic for another time.

Today, there’s hot puke wafting through the oven-baked air and every shop, caffe and restaurant is overflowing and reservationless and our favorite ice cream place has a line of 40 people. And Uber rides are 5x as much. Everything is 5x as much. And the sea is milky from too many humans. And Ožujsko two-liters are floating in the sea.

So this is the post that got written.

And finally…

Lastly, I’d now like to share some words from a Croatian tour guide in Split, whose family is routinely woken up in the middle of the night by drunken tourists during season.

“We welcome you to our homes, streets, squares, restaurants and beautiful places we all love and look after. We carefully prepare and serve you amazing food, drive you to day trips, spread knowledge about our ancestors, tradition, history and culture. We are in shops, bars, museums, restaurants and polite, respectful and kind to you. So please a minimum of respect to us locals, residents is very much needed in return.”

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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