Best Tips to Prepare for a Balkan Road Trip
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Last Updated on July 27, 2021
The Balkans are a perfect region for a road trip as there are many opportunities. A Balkan road trip is a perfect thing to do year-round.
From the beautiful Albanian Riviera to the many historic castles in Romania and the interesting Yugoslavian history in Serbia, here are 7 incredibly important tips for your Balkan road trip from influencers who have done this before!
1. Check the visa requirements
Suggested by Karolina from the Lazy Travel Blog
One of the most important things you will need to prepare for a Balkan road trip would your visas. Within the 10 main countries that make up the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Greece, and Slovenia, visa requirements tend to vary. It is wise to check if you will need a visa and how long you can stay in a country beforehand. Otherwise, you might find yourself with some unexpected surprises while crossing borders.
EU, US, UAE, and UK passport holders can enter without a visa, allowing them to stay in the Balkans from 30 to 90 days, depending on the country they are visiting. Some Asian and South American countries also have the same arrangement with the Balkan States. EU residency holders, on the other hand, need a visa to visit the Balkan States and are given 15 days in some countries, like Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example.
To get a visa, one needs to submit a visa application, a valid passport (which has a validity of at least 90 days), a recent photograph and the fees for consular services at your local embassy. In some Balkan countries, like Croatia, you will need to register with local authorities within three days of your arrival. If you are staying at a hotel or hostel, this will be handled by your accommodation.
2. Stock Up on Snacks
Suggested by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
If you’re heading out on a long journey, be sure to stock up on some travel snacks before you leave. In fact, even if you don’t expect the journey to be very long, it’s always a good idea to have an emergency stash of food on hand, just in case. Nuts and dried fruit are very handy for traveling and are widely available in the Balkans. Fresh fruit is also a good option and can be purchased either at supermarkets or at more traditional local markets.
Of course, you could also try some more local foods, such as ajvar (a spread made from roasted bell peppers), which you could spread on crackers or sliced bread. Or head to a local bakery and pick up some burek. Delicious! For vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and anyone with a meat, egg or dairy allergy, a useful word to know when shopping for food in the Balkans is “posno”. This is especially relevant in countries like Serbia and Montenegro with a large Eastern Orthodox population.
The word “posno” means “fasting” and refers to the fasting tradition in the Orthodox Church, when believers refrain from eating meat, eggs and dairy products (though most in the Balkans still eat fish). While Lent is the most widely observed fasting period, some people also fast every Wednesday and Friday, so “posno” food is available throughout the year.
3. Research road signage beforehand
Suggested by Rachelle from Adventure is Never Far Away
Road tripping around the world can open your eyes to new adventures and expose you to places you didn’t know existed. If you’re planning a Balkan road trip, get ready to have your eyes assaulted with exquisite landscapes that will make you pinch yourself with amazement. But as anyone who has road tripped in another country than their own, there are always a few learning curves that might throw you for a loop, not unlike the roads that you will travel on.
One of the best travel tips for people who are planning a Balkan road trip is to research road signage before beginning the journey. If you’re used to driving in other countries outside of Europe, the road signs are going to look extremely different that what you are used to. There’s nothing worse than driving along the Romanian countryside, thinking that everything is right in the world…and then happen upon a road sign that you don’t understand. Even if you speak the local language, it won’t be of much help beyond pronouncing town names.
Most of the road signs that you’ll come into contact with in the Balkans aim for a universal understanding, There will be a road sign that will give you information about the start (and end) of a kind of traffic situation: speed limits, crossings, expressways, tunnels, priority roads, and built-up areas. One of the most important road signs to become familiar with prior to your Balkan road trip is the sign indicating when passing is allowed. Make sure you read up on what that looks like so you can be the safest driver possible!
4. Avoid toll roads
Suggested by Emily from Wander-Lush
One of the biggest advantages to pre-planning your road trip driving route is the ability to avoid toll roads. Most Balkan countries have at least a few highways, bridges or tunnels that you have to pay a small fee to use. If you’re on top of it, you can map out a route that bypasses them.
Road tolls are usually pretty small, but they do add up – especially if you’re driving through multiple countries. Avoiding tolls will save you cash in the long run. It’s also a great excuse to stick to the back roads and take some of the more scenic driving routes. Any road that acts as an alternative to a toll road is probably going to be a lot quieter, too.
In Montenegro, for example, the country’s one and only toll road is a tunnel connecting Lake Skadar to the coast. The alternative route, circuitous as it is, is actually far more beautiful. Driving down the old highway, following a line of old Yugoslavia-era cars and catching that first glimpse of the Adriatic is one of my favourite memories from my 7-day road trip around Montenegro. Had I taken the shortcut, I never would have had that experience.
Be mindful that taking an alternative road will often require more time, so factor the extra distance and travel time into your itinerary.
5. Don’t underestimate the time
Suggested by Coni form Experiencing the Globe
It’s quite easy to underestimate the time it’ll take you to get from point A to point B when road tripping the Balkans. When you see that there’s only a few hundred kilometers between you and your destination usually you’d count only a few hours. But think again in this part of the world.
You’ll most likely encounter crappy roads –one lane and without asphalt is more common than you’d expect; mountain roads that are gorgeous but slow –like the one connecting Belgrade and Sarajevo; and seasonal traffic jams –especially in the coast (my personal record is 2 and a half hours from Split to Omiš in Croatia, with a distance of only 25 km). Another fact to take into account are photo stops. Even if photography is not your thing, you won’t be able to resist it. The Balkans are one of the most picturesque regions in Europe, so you’ll want to immortalize your visit. Last but not least, take into account border crossings. Remember that for every country you visit you’ll need to go through passport and customs control. This can be very fast (like it usually is between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina), or it can take ages (as it has been the case for me entering Bulgaria).
All in all, consider that 2-3 hours can easily turn into a whole day experience. My advice is to relax and enjoy it –it’s part of the Balkan experience!
6. Download offline maps
Suggested By Ashlea from Dashing Around the World
Make sure you download the full country maps (and nearby countries you may venture to) to your phone before your trip. You don’t want to be without a map and have to rely on roaming fees, or even worse, be lost in a foreign country and not have internet to get the map you need.
We completed a two week road trip in Croatia, and took a slight detour into Bosnia and Herzegovina where our Croatian sim cards didn’t work. Luckily we had downloaded the maps for surrounding countries so we could navigate the confusing one way streets of Mostar old town.
You should try and have two map options for your Balkan road trip (in case there is an issue with one), and you’ll find some options are better than others in different places. Along with the rest of the population, we love Google Maps! It’s truly impressive how much information is in that app, and the driving directions are great, but make sure to download the whole region and not just load the specific route before driving off.
We also recommend maps.me for a great offline maps alternative. This is what we used in Mostar due to not downloading the offline version in Google Maps and it worked perfectly.
7. Check the weather & be flexible during winter
Suggested by Inma from A World to Travel
The fact that many of the Balkan countries are located in southern Europe and others are bathed in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea can lead to deception. In the winter season, it can get very cold, almost as much as in the countries of northern Europe especially in mountainous areas inland.
So, if you travel out of season, it is vital that you monitor the weather forecasts. Especially if your route is road trip based and your experience driving in adverse conditions (such as ice on the road) is minimal.
In addition, staying flexible and having B plans and open options is always a great idea. Taking into account that in the low season hotels are almost never fully booked, you can wait to know what the weather will be like and if it will be appropriate to travel to that area before committing to a fixed itinerary.
On our last trip through the Balkans, we planned to tour some of the most renowned inland villages of Albania. Of course, seeing that the forecast for Girokaster was -7 ° C and knowing the state in which some roads are in the region, we decided to change our route last minute to areas where it was not so cold, towards the coast. A key move to keep enjoying our trip. Safe travels!
Other articles you will love:
- 20 Valuable Balkan Tips You Need to Know!
- The Most Delicious Balkan Food You Must Try
- Balkan Countries: A Guide to Travelling the Balkans
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