If you’re traveling to the Balkans you’re in a fantastic time. The Balkans are one of our favorite regions we’ve been in Europe. However, before you travel the Balkan region there are some Balkan travel tips you should know.
When it comes to Balkan travel tips we should clarify what we mean by “Balkans”. Where exactly is the Balkan Region? And what are the Balkan countries?
The easy answer would be the geographical definition of the Balkans, which is the region encompassing the Balkan mountains. This can include Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Turkey, Croatia, and Albania.
However, the Balkan Region is viewed much more as a cultural region. Therefore, we have dropped Greece and Turkey when identifying the region and added the former Yugoslav country of Slovenia.
15 Balkans Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
Travel to the Balkans, Then Have a Drink
My first Balkan travel tip is to get accustomed to Rakija. If you spend any amount of time in the Balkans it is just about impossible to not come across Rakia or Rakija at some point. This home-brewed spirit is a fruit brandy. Almost everyone in the Balkans has a friend or family member who brews the stuff, or they brew it themselves.
Rakija is the standard in welcoming someone into your home, starting a night out, making new friends, or for some starting the day. You’ll come to find that Rakija, and alcohol for that matter, are widely consumed in the Balkans — as in they drink it a lot.
Educate Yourself on Tito!
You’re bound to come across this name more than a few times during your travel. You’ll find his name spray-painted on walls, his busts sitting in town squares, and the name, Tito, from the lips of the locals. If I could give you one Balkan travel tip it’s to read up on Tito.
Tito was the founder of Yugoslavia and due to his Switzerland approach leading the Non-Aligned Movement during The Cold War many of the Balkan states prospered from deals with both the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. Although Yugoslavia crumbled and broke out into civil war in the ’90s for a number of reasons, many still remember the days of Tito fondly.
Most of the Balkan Countries are Outside the Schengen
All non-Europeans will have the Schengen Visa to contend with while traveling Europe. We only have 90 days for every 180 to visit all of the European countries within the Schengen zone, until it’s time to get outta Europe. We know the pain here. However, asides from Slovenia all of the Balkans are currently outside of the Schengen. Meaning you can still hang out in Europe even though most of the EU wants nothing to do with you.
This is a big plus if you travel to the Balkans, for long term travelers, and for digital nomads. Simply spend 90 days, or more in the Balkans and…abracadabra, you’re good to go back into the Schengen again. Or you could just travel solely in the Balkans instead of wasting a bunch of money going to all the same places everyone else goes to, like Amsterdam or Vienna (both are terrific European cities just to be clear, just the traveling the Balkans are more unique).
Balkan Travel at the Speed of a…Bus
Train travel in the Balkans is limited and slow. If you hope to get around you better learn to love buses. The buses are pretty easy to navigate; show up at the bus station, almost every town has one, and ask for where you’re looking to head. If it’s on the map there is likely a bus route that will get you there. We also found Balkan travel easy to hitchhike as a means of transportation, most people we came across were happy to pick up a stranger. Who needs a rental car to travel the Balkans?
Here are some great links for planning out Balkan bus travel:
The Balkan People are Joe Camel’s BFF
If there is one facet to not appreciate about the Balkans it is their love for smoking. Call me Judgy-Mcjudgeface, but smoking just isn’t cool anymore. Just to give you an idea, measuring cigarette consumption per capita, the Balkans occupied six of the top ten spots in the world in 2009, and if you throw Greece back into the mix it’s seven.
Serbia takes home the prize in some studies, Bosnia & Herzegovina in others, and Montenegro also ranks highly. There have been movements from a number of Balkan countries to reduce consumption and laws have begun to be put into place despite pushback from many citizens and business owners.
What is Ćevapi & Börek?
After spending some time in the Balkans you will definitely find out! Ćevapi and Börek are the national dishes of the region. Börek is a flaky pastry filled with potatoes, meats, cheeses, and other varying ingredients – we usually had these for breakfast. Ćevapi or ćevapčići is minced meat, that looks and essentially is a skinless sausage. Cevapi is pretty much everywhere but wasn’t even our personal favorites.
Besides Ćevapi and Börek, each country specializes in its own thing such as kajmak in Serbia, seafood in Croatia, and shopska salad in Bulgaria. Our personal favorite is fresh kajmak, which we found in the green markets of Belgrade. There is a ton of great food and drink here at incredibly affordable prices, so don’t be afraid to try any and everything.
Is Traveling the Balkans Safe?
We can’t believe we even have to add this one to the list, but after a number of comments, messages, and concerned questions from friends we need to say, NO traveling the Balkans are not dangerous. Honestly, we feel safer traveling these parts of Europe than many of the “typical” destinations (looking at you Paris, Rome, and London) where crime and terrorist attacks ar known to happen.
One of the main reasons we spent almost four months traveling the Balkans was because of Tasha’s solo adventures in the region a few years back. She returned to the states raving about Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro so we knew we just had to go again. Yes, there was a war two decades ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous now.
Speaking of the war it is still very recent and travelers should remain sensitive to the fact that many people in the region have had family or friends that have been directly affected by the Yugoslav Wars in the ’90s. This is an important Balkan travel tip to always keep in mind.
However, don’t be afraid to mention your plans to travel through neighboring countries while in Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, etc. Despite what the internet told us we found little ill-will between all the different nationalities…besides that one time a crazy Serbian called me a Nazi.
Traveling the Balkans is Very Affordable!
While some friends were paying over €50 for a dorm bed in the major cities such as Vienna, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Venice, and Munich we got by in the Balkans for about €20-€30 for a nice private room. Typically staying in comfortable accommodation that was family run (one place was even seaside for €30)! Also, for digital nomads, the Balkans are a tremendous choice as prices are great, they have all the amenities you could need, and fast internet.
For example, we were able to pick up a two-bedroom Airbnb in Vracar, a hip neighborhood in Belgrade, for only €500 total for the entire month. Groceries cost us €30 a week, a Costa latte was €2, and we may or may not have had a 64 piece sushi platter for €25.
This affordability goes for most of the Balkans. However, we did find Croatia and Slovenia to cost a bit more to travel through, particularly in the summer months.
The Balkans Breed Giants
There must be something in the Balkan water because it is where giants live. I’m an average male at 5′ 11″, but while traveling the Balkans I felt short. We’d be walking down the street and the couple ahead of us, both male and female would tower over me, don’t even ask 5′ Tasha how she felt.
Patience is a Virtue When it Comes to Balkan Travel
We found that people in the Balkans are in no rush. Things seem to move on their own timeline and you’ll often find that person who was supposed to be bringing you your cevapi are sitting against the register staring off into space smoking a cigarette.
We never knew it could take someone an hour to drink a cappuccino until we sat in a cafe in Zagreb. Maybe we’re just a little too fast-paced coming from living in New York, but it did take some time getting used to Balkan time.
I Like You, Let’s Be Friends
We found most of the people in the Balkans seriously friendly. They may not always be chipper, but hospitable? Yes. We were invited into many homes, shown around, helped out, and just about everything in between.
Sometimes when we travel we have to put up a wall and become dubious of overly nice people (Morocco still haunts us). However in the Balkans, people are just nice to be nice, not because they expect something from you in return. It’s a common theme from the former Ottoman Empire, which includes Greece and Turkey.
Each Country Has its Own Currency
The Balkan countries are small and pretty much any trip to the Balkans will involve at least one or two different countries. When it comes to Balkan travel almost every one of the countries has its own currency.
Besides Slovenia, Montenegro, and Kosovo every single country operates with its own unique currency. Creating a serious headache for those who travel fast. It becomes very easy to lose track of what currency is worth. We suggest using the XE Currency app to make sure you don’t lose your marbles.
The Balkans are Home to the “World’s Worst Car”
Or at least that’s what some refer to the “Yugo” as. If you’re looking for a way to travel the Balkan region in style this is the way, at least the quintessential one. We personally find the car endearing, it’s cheap and serves its purpose
Just because it’s a metal box with a tiny engine doesn’t mean it has to be looked down on. It’s really hard to judge, though, I mean Americans had the Ford Pinto! Every car has a purpose! Equal car rights, please.
Don’t Forget a Camera and a Good Memory
The Balkan region is nothing short of stunning. There is so much variety to just the geographical terrain in the Balkans it’s hard to even describe them in short detail. Not to mention all of the Balkan’s history involved in each individual country.
We’ve spent more time in the Balkans than any other region of Europe and still feel that we’ve only just scratched the surface. My last Balkan travel tip is not to forget to pack a good travel camera for all the beauty.
Have you traveled through the Balkans? Any other Balkan travel tips to add to this list?
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get ultra low.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.
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1 thought on “15 Balkan Travel Tips to Know Before You Go”
Thank you ! This has been very helpful. I’m planning a trip to the Balkans this summer.