After my stellar day of hiking through the Plitvice Lakes National Park my goal was to survive an evening camping in the outdoors. Even though I travel with a 40-liter backpack (for reference a school backpack is ~20 liters), I still carry small camping hammock and a compact sleeping that I bought in Budapest. My family, friends, and even other travelers think it's absurd I waste so much precious space for these two items, but it makes for a good insurance policy. Since I don't pan ahead much, it's only inevitable that I get stranded outside at some point on this trip. The tent already paid off during my hitchhiking trip when I was stranded overnight at a truck stop, but I want to see if my gear works for its intended purpose. Now that my plans to visit Greece with Angela have fallen through, I am free to spend as much time as I want in Croatia. My plan is to go island hopping off the coast by hitchhiking and camping, but before I can start I first need to make sure everything is in working order.

The song for my night outdoors:

"In and Out" by Mark Knight

Welcome home... This is my patch of grass for the night.

During my research on the Plitvice Lakes I found a campsite called Korana with decent reviews, a few bungalows on the property, and free transportation to/from the park. This was the best place to test out my equipment because if something went horribly wrong I could just upgrade to one of the bungalows. In my usual I’ll-figure-it-out-when-I-get-there fashion, I went out to explore the park and simply hoped for the best. I didn’t know where the campsite was, where the bus picked up, didn’t have a reservation, and never set up my tent before. Based on the two videos I watched, the tent seemed relatively straightforward to assemble and I’m reasonably sure with my college education I can figure it out. 

I’ve already slept in airports, train stations, bus stations, cars, phone booths, park benches, and a truck stop… how bad could it be? 

At least this time I’m slightly prepared.

When I arrived to check in, the receptionist indicated I was free to camp wherever I found a patch of grass and off I went. After scouting the park and wandering through seemingly endless tracts of land for the better part of an hour I eventually found a forested area with a small clearing in the center. It was the perfect spot with nobody for 500 feet in every direction to bother me. Delighted by this fortunate turn of events, I went to it and began unpacking my bag.

I'm continually amazed by how much fits in this one backpack. In addition to my clothes, toiletries, and electronics I’ve managed to pack in an entire tent and a sleeping bag!

This humble backpack contains all of my worldly possessions for my trip. And so you know, this includes a tent and a sleeping bag!

Even though I've never fully constructed my tent before, the whole thing went up in less than 15 minutes! I’ve never had such easy time setting up a tent in my life! Looking at it I was fearful the thing would break the moment I sat down in it, but I'll be damned - the thing works! There I was floating above the ground in my very own hammock tent!

After grabbing a light dinner I put on my warmest clothes, crawled into my sleeping bag, and I settled in for the night. I didn’t want to be out wandering around after the sun went down, so I was in my hammock promptly at 7:00pm right before the sun completely disappeared behind the mountains. I quickly realized there was nothing to do. I attempted to read, but that proved difficult once the sun set and after watching a two hour movie on my laptop I still sat there wondering what to do - it wasn't even 9:30pm yet! Even if I woke up at 7am the following morning, I’d still get nine and a half hours of sleep, but with nobody to talk and nothing to do, I packed away everything and tried to sleep.

I was surprisingly warm and comfortable – perhaps even a little hot – in my tent, but I was repeatedly jarred out of sleep by every single thing that made even the slightest noise all night. Periodically I woke up suddenly with my heart racing and my body tense because either there was a slight breeze or a small leaf fell off a tree and landed on the tarp above my head. In the end, I decided to sleep with my glasses on so that at least I could see my assailant coming, but that only served to cause more fear because now I could clearly see the shadows of the trees moving in the distance.

You can leave your stop-being-a-chicken-shit comments below…

Surprisingly I actually got a decent night’s sleep once I moved past my irrational fears and even though began raining in middle of the night, the tarp I set up worked wonderfully. I’m so happy I decide to buy trash bags to put my backpack in, best money I’ve spent in a while. The following morning I woke up naturally at 6:30am (that's a first for me) and, with the exemption of my toes that were completely numb, I was still surprisingly warm. All things considered it was the best sleep I've ever gotten in a tent before, my back was a bit stiff, but it was nothing compared to the pain I've endured from sleeping directly on the ground.

Home sweet home. Surprisingly, it's remarkably comfortable.

The rain continued through the night and when I awoke the weather outside was terribly dreary. My original plans called for me to return to the Plitvice Lakes, but considering the weather, I wasn’t in much of a rush. The thick blanket of clouds engulfed the entire sky and completely obscured the sun – they weren't going anywhere fast. Even if I did go back to the park to hike it would be cold, wet, uncomfortable, and I probably wouldn’t get a single decent picture. Plus, I would have to come back here at the end of the day and set up my tent again - except this time in the rain. 

I think I’ll pass.

I packed up my things and crammed everything back into my trusty backpack. It was a surprisingly difficult game of Tetris, but in the end I figured out a new configuration that miraculously gave me space for more stuff! How the hell is this possible? I made my way to the drive-through reception desk to check out and catch a bus to Zadar. Based on the line of camper vans, it appeared I was the only person in the entire park that was camping with an actual tent. Nevertheless, there was only reception desk and one line, so I patiently waited and the resulting scene was so comical even I couldn’t help but laugh.

Campervan, Campervan, Campervan, Tello, Campervan….

Overall my first camping experience was a smashing success all things considered. Even though the campsite ended up costing more than many of the hostels I stayed out so far (I know, it surprised me too), but it was worth it to test out my equipment. While not perfect, it's reassuring to know that even in the worst-case scenario I always have the option to comfortably sleep outside. I’ve done it once so I can do it again!

I'm basically a traveling turtle!

Onwards to Zadar!