Every time I arrive in a bus station in Croatia I am greeted by a sea of middle-aged women carrying placards declaring “sobe” (that’s ‘room’ in English). If you are carrying a backpack then they will certainly find you, but you can’t miss them anyway.
The deal is that they show you photos and tell you a price (you can try haggling but probably won’t get too far in August unless you have the nerve to leave it till very late at night). If you agree a price, they telephone for their son/nephew/cousin to come and take you there.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that these women can earn some tax-free money out of their spare room and those of their friends, and I’d far rather our money went to them than to some multi-national hotel chain.
However the rooms, it has to be said, are of variable quality. It helps if you’re not too fussy (I’m not but certain things are important, such as having somewhere secure to leave my stuff and not being stuck 30 minutes out of town with no idea how to get back in).
It’s always hard to get an answer from them about how far away the room is. Strangely it is always ‘just ten minutes’, although never stated if that is ten minutes by foot, by bike, by car or by jet aircraft.
Very little English is spoken. Yes, I get that this is Croatia however sometimes there is a problem that you need to be able to explain to someone. On my first night I got hopelessly lost in Dubrovnik. Since the address I’d been taken to was completely different to the one I’d been told before, I had no way of knowing which street I was staying in. I spent around an hour wandering aimlessly up and down trying to see something that would jog my memory, but couldn’t find it.
In the end, I had to get a waiter to call the woman and she sent someone to rescue me and take me home (lesson learned: don’t get so caught up in looking at stuff that you forget to notice where you are going. Also, get them to tell you the address before they leave you there).
Even if you book what appears to be a hostel through Hostelworld (or your hostel booking website of choice) you will often find that the hostel doesn’t exist and instead a woman will meet you and take you to a room somewhere. Something to bear in mind if you want to make sure you stay in a particular area or are looking for a more social environment with other travellers to hang out with.