We're planning a last minute trip July 31 through August 13 to visit my brother in Budapest and want to take 12 days to travel either north to Prague and other points north like Auschwitz/Salzburg/Cesky Krumlov or head south to Dubrovnik and other sites in southern Croatia. (Or would it be too much to attempt both). Can we find places to stay at this late date? Which direction is more insane at the height of the tourist season? We're kinda winging it. Also, let me know if you recommend plane, train, bus or automobile.
Coastal Croatia is more insane in August - traffic on the roads, ferries and rooms get booked up. I would plan for the northern route. Travel to/from Krakow and Auschwitz takes longer than you might think, with fewer direct transport options; there are several recent threads about this in the Poland section.
Are you flying into and out of Budapest? What's your departure city from the US? Are you allocating any of your days for Budapest or have you been there before and you're branching out?
On Thursdays Belavia flies from Budapest to Belgrade. Belgrade is an amazing city worth a night or two. Then from Belgrade Air Serbia has a non stop to Dubrovnik. Each flight is about $100. My favorite is further south in Montenegro but that's a bit more trouble to plan. Returning to Belgrade for another night (like I said I like Belgrade and Serbia as a whole) you can get a non stop Air Serbia flight to Prague for about $200.
Dubrovnik is always a tourist trap. A little further south is the Montenegro coast and the bay of Kotor. Much more enjoyable and reachable from the airport in Dubrovnik. Don't know your budget, but:
Budapest flight to Belgrade (one night) flight to Dubrovnik (one night) hired guide to Perast (one night) hired guide to Kotor and then on to Titograd (one night), flight to Belgrade (one night), flight to Prague (3 nights)
I spent several days in Kotor last year (used it as a base for some day-trips), and you really don't want to be there on a day when a mega-ship is in port. It's been over 20 years since I've been to Dubrovnik, so I can't compare the two. I'd definitely look at the cruise ship schedule before making the extra effort to get to Kotor, though.
I have to disagree about Titograd/Podgorica as a third stop in Montenegro. I'd only go there on a short trip if necessary for transportation reasons. I preferred Herceg Novi, Ulcinj, and Cetinje. Budva has a nice old town but felt very touristy, though not worse than Kotor on the day the monster cruise ship showed up.
You are right about Podgorica. It was the end of an amazing road trip along the bay, coast and over the mountains. Arrived late, slept well and took a $80 flight to Belgrade the next morning.
Kotor is like a mini Dubrovnik. Worth an hour or two if you have seen Dubrovnik. Perast, where we spent a few nights was pure magic and without the tourist crush. Beautiful town on the Bay of Kotor. Dubrovnik is a place that should be seen, especially at night. If you like Venice you will love Dubrovnik. Still, it's small, and full of tourists so my tolerance would be 2 nights max. The best parts of the trip for me were Dubrovnik, Perast and the road trip through the towns of Montenegro