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Looking for a great adventure and want some great tips for a Balkans Road trip?
Are you thinking of a road-trip through the Balkans but you’ve never been there? Or not sure how to prepare? In this post, I want to share some great tips for a Balkans Road Trip with you.
These twenty-one do’s & don’ts are mainly focused on traveling with a small group. So, let’s dive in!
We’ll start with the Do’s!
The Do’s for a Balkans Road Trip
1. Do enjoy the local food, and don’t pay attention to your diet
But really, indulge yourself in the local cuisine. There aren’t so many Balkan restaurants outside this region so enjoy a huge variety of great dishes.
Every country has its own specialties and this is one of the best things about a road trip through the Balkans. More on local food in an upcoming blog.
2. Do make sure to have some cash with you
This is especially handy when you’re in rural areas with a serious lack of ATM machines. Countries in the Balkans use a different currency.
You have the Bosnian Mark, the Serbian Dinar, the Albanian Lek, the North-Macedonian Denar, and the Croatian Kuna. Montenegro, Slovenia and Kosovo use the Euro as their currency.
It’s also handy to have cash with you when you are crossing borders. It solved some issues at the borders for us. But be careful with this; not every customer officer is the same.
3. Do take the unbeaten path
I can’t stress this enough. Yes, you can drive on the motorways as it will save you time and also a less rocky road. However, the Balkans has so much to offer regarding hidden gems, waterfalls, gorges, caves, national parks, rural quality restaurants and so on.
It would be a shame not to discover this region while taking some unexpected turns and following the unbeaten path.
4. Do play national music in the car
If you really want to experience the Balkan vibe, I suggest playing national music during the trip. You can either turn on the local radio or make use of your own personal list of music.
The Balkans are known for turbo-folk, folklore music, Balkan beats, and Yugoslavian rock bands, as well as contemporary funky music.
From Sasa Matic to Dino Merlin to Dua Lipa to Crvena Jabuka, it all depends on your personal taste, but there is a lot to choose from!
5. Do take your time because the Balkan region is huge!
You can drive through the region in a week, but I wouldn’t suggest this. The region is simply to big to do this. I would take at least three weeks so you can really enjoy everything that’s on offer. I also wouldn’t set harsh deadlines for yourself.
Just take on the Balkan mentality and take it easy. You’ll always come across pleasant surprises or discoveries. Plenty of beautiful places to take a rest.
6. Do engage with locals
This is probably the best tip I can give you for your road trip. From my own experience, the best stories and tips come from locals that you wont quickly find in books or online. Most of the people in the Balkans are proud of their country or customs and they love to inform you about it.
I found that they took the definition of hospitality to a next level. It’s unmatched to a lot of places that I have visited in the world.
7. Do visit historical museums or other cultural venues
To understand the Balkans, a region with all the different religions, customs, and ethnicities, I would strongly advise to plunge yourself into the local culture during your trip.
It’s a great way to get familiar with the region. You can do this by visiting national/historical museums, local fairs, memorials, exhibition halls, and so on. This could be worth checking out upfront.
8. Do make use of a tourguide
Sometimes it’s great to make use of a tour guide. Not only for yourself, but also to sponsor the local economy and to support the local expertise.
An excursion day is a great way to learn more about a certain topic or place and you can take a rest from driving yourself.
From my own experience I can say that it has always been worth the money. You also make some new friends along the way at the same time. We took a tour guide to visit the Bosnian Valley of Pyramids, for example.
9. Do explore the Balkan nightlife
This is also a nice way to get familiar with local customs. If you’re planning to visit a club, expect a sacred table system when you go out. This is for me typical Balkan-style. When you enter the club, you’re appointed to a certain table or you’re placed at a table with strangers.
I have to be honest, sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it isn’t. It all depends on the vibe of the evening and whether the other people at the table are showing some interest or a willingness to connect in some way.
In some clubs, the server will also order a beer for himself and will leave his beer on your table. He comes back to your table once in a while to take a sip and to have a chat. At the end of the evening, the bill is for you. We never saw it as an issue as it resulted in some great conversations.
10. Do buy a map
Just to be sure, you never know when the internet stops working during your road trip. It’s more of a just-in-case advice. I am sure you could survive without a map, but especially when you enter rural areas, the lack of road signs, the absence of English-speaking people can be a bit hard.
On the other hand, this is also the charm of the Balkans, to get lost and to create the best memories.
The Don’ts for a Balkans Road Trip
After the do’s there are also some don’s during your road-trip. Let’s dive in!
1. Don’t book anything upfront
It’s always good to have some sort of plan. You can book the first two nights in advance, but I strongly suggest trying to minimize upfront bookings. During our road-trip, we met a lot of guys on scooters advertising with available rooms or apartments.
We were a bit hesitant at the beginning, but we had some great experiences accepting their offer. They usually have better prices and they really appreciate you as a guest.
You’ll come across these guys a lot at the sea-side in North-Macedonia, Montenegro, and Croatia during your road trip. A great way to engage with the locals.
2. Don’t take criticism personally
Yes, it’s something that will come up at one point during your trip. It’s almost impossible to avoid it. The Balkans can have some tough driving conditions.
I mean, the city centers are usually really hectic, the sea-side towns are packed with tourists, and the rural areas can be tricky to navigate through.
When you add a boiling hot sun in the summer, the tiredness of traveling and different personalities in your group, it can cause some tensions. Criticism of your style of driving is just something that you shouldn’t take personally.
3. Don’t expect everyone to speak English
It’s always good to know a couple of local words, especially when you go to the more rural areas in the Balkans. Be prepared to talk with your hands and feet.
You can make use of your phone, show images, or try to point in a certain direction. You won’t have much issues when you visit touristic places.
4. Don’t expect to easily find your booked apartment or flat number
This has been my personal issue for years. I have been to the Balkans a lot, but I sometimes still struggle to find the right apartment number of flat number.
It seems like an illogical maze of appointed numbers without a structured of well-thought system. But practice makes perfect, I guess! It’s also okay if you take some wrong turns while driving around, I’ve been there.
5. Don’t drive a crappy car
Yes, that’s exactly what we did.. We didn’t have our own car, but I was offered an old Mazda station wagon for a symbolic price.
The air conditioning was broken, the horn didn’t work, the keyhole in the car was under the steering wheel, and the radio didn’t work. Our car had a tough time in the Balkans with the rocky roads, hot weather, and a lot of kilometers driving per day.
When we arrived at the border in Kosovo while our passports were being checked, a huge amount of smoke came from under the hood.
Really, try to avoid these things because we had quite some issues with it. The upside is that there are tons of garages in the Balkans – especially in Kosovo – and a lot of friendly people who are more than willing to help.
6. Don’t always expect to get your correct driving license back at border control
This has also happened to us twice. Im not exactly sure why or how, but it happened. Before you leave the border control, check if you received the correct passports.
The first time we received Polish passports in Kosovo and the second time Croatian passports in North-Macedonia. You don’t want to find this out after a couple of hours on your road trip.
7. Don’t cut yourself out
This really has to do with traveling in a group. Be part of the journey and things you want to see. The Balkans have so much to offer and everyone simply loves other things. Make sure that you let the group know about your own personal wishlist.
8. Don’t be afraid of the region
I know that the coverage on the Balkans isn’t always so positive. Think of the turbulent history, tensions between ethnic groups and, for a lot of travelers, unknow rural areas.
I personally never had bad experiences, but it is important to use your common sense and to respect local religions or customs. When you do this, you’ll have an amazing time in the Balkans.
9. Don’t underestimate driving at night
If you’re a new driver, I strongly suggest to drive during day time. To be honest, the infrastructure isn’t always great. Rocky roads, poor road lighting, a lack of road signs, and the chance of losing your GPS-signal in rural areas can be hard to deal with if you lack experience.
10. Don’t take the border from Serbia to Kosovo
If you’re planning to visit Kosovo from Serbia, I strongly suggest using a different border to prevent long waiting hours and other issues. I would advise to go the North-Macedonia first and visit Kosovo from there.
11. Don’t take alcohol, or any form of drugs in your car
Now, this might sound obvious, but border patrol in the Balkans is pretty tough. We never had alcohol or drugs with us, but our car was heavily searched each time that we crossed a border. I had to park our car a lot of times in a special garage where they lifted our car and also checked the bottom side.
Then the dogs would come to sniff around. Especially when you drive around with a Western European license plate.
Also, if you use the car of someone else, make sure you check what’s inside. In Serbia, border patrol found five license plates hidden in our trunk under the spare wheel. We had no idea, but we had some serious explaining to do.
Car Rental in the Balkans
It could very well be that you don’t have your own car of that you’re flying directly to one of the main airports in the Balkans. But don’t worry, I can really recommend renting a car from Discover Cars!
You can click on the link below to find the car you desire and start enjoying your road-trip through the Balkans:
The Wrap Up: Tips for a Balkans Road Trip
The region is fantastic to explore by car. However, there are some things to take into consideration and to pay attention to. But if you keep the above tips and tricks in mind, you should be more than fine!
And if you’re traveling through Serbia and you love food, check out my post about the national dish of Serbia!
Your restless voyager,