I Unexpectedly Fell In Love With This Country While Studying Abroad & You Will, Too

Take me back to study abroad. That was the semester that changed everything for me, and truly let me fall in love with the world. Before then, I wasn't very interested in spending hours on a bus to get to a waterfall. My comfort zone was well-defined, and my passport only had a few stamps. But, I lived in Florence, Italy for an entire semester, and my wanderlust has been in high gear ever since. When I got home, I kept telling my friends and family the reasons why I fell in love with Croatia. Out of all the weekend trips, that one stuck with me — and it will with you, too.

Eight girls in a hostel, fifteen hours on bus, and what felt like a thousand viewings of Friends With Benefits, was all worth it. We squeezed our backpacks under our seats, and prepared for the long trip ahead. (Let's be honest: Snuggling with a window isn't the most ideal, and takes some happy thoughts.) The plan was to stay for four days, and then get back home just in time for class. Falling in love with a country was the unexpected part.

From the waterfalls, to the pebble beaches tucked into the coast — this place was like a fairytale. It took a lot for me to get back on the bus and head in the opposite direction. If you take a trip to Croatia, you'll fall in love with it for these eight reasons, too.

You Can Swim In The Most Beautiful Waterfalls
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One of my favorite days from my Croatia trip took place in Krka National Park. We were on our way back to Florence (which is about 15 hours by bus), and made a stop at this gem in the middle of the country. It was fairly hot out, considering it was still summer in Europe. So, swimming in waterfalls already sounded like a dream.

After walking down a few trails along rivers and super green trees, we came up on this sight. In person, it's like something out of an animated Disney movie — a true utopia. You can take a dip and get fairly close to the falls. To this day, it would've been rad to stay just a little bit longer and explore.

There's White Marble Literally Everywhere
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A lot of Croatia's beauty comes in the form of white marble. It's literally everywhere — I can't stress that enough. You walk down the streets of cities like Split, and the walls are covered in this pure stone. Staircases, plant holders, and even the sidewalk tiles are bright white. It's like you're stepping on a cloud.

You'll fall in love with every alley, quaint corner, or path along the beach. The marble makes every nook of the city worth stopping for at least a few pictures. A piece of advice: Stick to sneakers for this trip. The stone is beautiful, but so slippery.

You Can Roam Around An Ancient Palace
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For all of you Game of Thrones fans out there: This place is for you. This country is full of filming spots for the show and ancient ruins that you can roam around. The locals have built around old palaces, and turned the different rooms and underground walkways into areas for markets and restaurants. It's tasteful, and truly a unique thing to experience.

During your trip, you'll want to take a walking tour around Diocletian's Palace, and grab something good at the shops that sit below. Hike up to the top of the tower, and watch the sun cast over the sea. Every country has its history, but Croatia's is rich and right in front of you at all times.

There's A Pebble Beach Tucked Into Every Corner
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Everything you knew about beaches is irrelevant once you get to Croatia. The sand is traded for pebbles that crash right into the waves, and the water is the perfect shade of teal. Even on a cloudy day, you could sit and enjoy the view for hours. There are green mountains in the background, and sailboats tend to float close to the shore. Sounds lovely, huh?

You sit amongst the locals on these pebble beaches, and think to yourself, "Is this place even real?" I've never been more content than in these moments, and a little exploring will help you find the best spots to lay out your towel and take a dip.

The Islands Off The Mainland Are A Dream
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What's better than this country? The islands that sit just off of the mainland. One day, me and my best friend took a boat cruise into the sea and it was life-changing. (That sounds dramatic, I know.)

We stopped at the island of Brač. At first glance, it wasn't much different from what we'd seen the past couple of days. But, the guide told us to wander around and then meet back at the boat in a few hours. This dreamy beach and all its serenity was only 15 minutes from the dock. There were only a some locals in the area, and you could see the snowy mountains in the distance back on the mainland, too. This was the exact moment that I fell in love — not just with Croatia, but traveling itself.

The People Were Super Friendly And Kind
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There wasn't a person in Croatia who wasn't super friendly and kind to me. Our walking tour guide was a woman from the area, and she was passionate about her country. Even the locals we met at the restaurants and bars were welcoming and excited about sharing their world.

I got this vibe from most of the people in Europe. They seemed to be focused on loving their life, and not so stressed about the little things. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by this perspective, and watch their faces light up when you'd ask a question. Any trip is instantly made better when you stray away from being a tourist, and get to know the people who created such an incredible culture.

The Food Spoke To My Soul
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Studying abroad in Florence meant that my food always had some serious competition. I mean, those pizzas and paninis were going to be hard to beat, but Croatia didn't disappoint.

Every plate or recipe was the perfect combination of Italian and Greek, which made sense considering where the country is geographically in relation to those countries. I tried a few Mediterranean-style sandwiches, and a fish that was still on the bone. Even if you're not a huge fan of seafood, I'd recommend trying a fresh bass or something with shrimp while in Split. They know exactly how to prepare it, and your tastes might change.

It's Truly A Gem Of Europe
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All in all, Croatia was a gem to experience during my time studying abroad. Going into that semester, I heard a lot about the country. So, it was always on the top of my list. What I didn't know is how beautiful it would be — from the orange rooftops on the houses, to the windmills that stretch along the hills. It was worth every second being crammed in a bus and sleeping in a hostel bunk.

Amongst all the trips you're likely going to take, please consider spending a weekend with the white marble and pebble beaches. Put down your phone, take in the views, and remember that this is the adventure of a lifetime. Trust me: You'll love it, and wish you could never leave, too.