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Driving trip through -- Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus....

I have a few weeks free time this summer (2019) and I love visiting places that others tend to fly-over.

So I'm looking to drive through a few countries and I'm hoping someone has done this and can share a bit of their experiences. I'm doing my research now but it would be helpful to hear others experiences and places for me to save time researching.

Countries visiting:
* Moldova
* Ukraine
* Belarus
* Lithuania

Driving how?
* My personal car
* Purchased / insured in Switzerland / licenses plated
* Car registered in Spouses name (spouse will NOT be on this trip)

* USA citizen/passport holder
* USA & Swiss Drivers license

Route: TBD

Hotel: Camping (no need for hotels)

When: June 2019

Main questions:
* Can I drive my own car into these countries
* Some countries will require additional car insurance, can I buy that at the border crossing - or do I need to purchase prior to departure?
* I think Belarus is the only place I need a Visa. I think I have to go to Bern for that - is that correct?
* Can I expect that Credit cards are accepted in these countries for stuff like: Toll roads, extra insurance for the car, grocery stores, gas stations....

Thanks for the help - I'm very excited to see these countries, I know there is sooooo much more

Posted by
21300 posts

Of those countries I've only been to Ukraine, and I used public transportation, including buses. When you get off the major highways between really large cities, you may run into roads in really bad repair. One of my bus drivers was constantly weaving back and forth to avoid potholes. I think that was on the trip fom Uzhgorod to Ivano-Frankivsk.

Tourist offices are extremely rare; I only found one in L'viv. My hotels mostly were able to give me a local map, but you're not going to be staying in hotels, so you should print out maps from Google Maps ahead of time.

When you get off the major tourist circuit, you are likely to be faced with a lot of Cyrillic signage. Even when transliterated, geographical names may show variations depending on whether they were prepared by a native speaker of English, French or German.

Smaller restaurants may not take credit cards, and street vendors of just-harvested produce certainly will not. I have no idea what policy you'll encounter at campgrounds.

It's not terribly easy to find an ATM that doesn't charge fees. Be sure the transaction is recorded in the local currency rather than in dollars. The same rule applies when you pay by credit card.

Drink bottled water. The local fizzy stuff is typically unpleasantly salty, but still water is widely available and cheap.

Expect public toilets to be of the hole-in-the-floor variety. Many of them have minders who keep them clean, if not necesssarily well-stocked with toilet paper. If there is a minder, there will be a modest fee.

Check the CDC website for recommended innoculations.

Posted by
75 posts

I dunno why have you posted this topic in the Beyond Europe section, but you may get more responses if you post it in the General Europe section where it belongs. I scan the whole forum, but many users may follow only a certain country forum or the General Europe, but not the Beyond Europe.

You may want to sign up for the lonelyplanet and the tripadvisor forums as well, because on these forums a local guy from Kyiv regularly answers questions about Ukraine and he's a goldmine of information and very helpful.

I think you could drive your own car(I guess it's American registered car in Switzerland?), buy a new one in Switzerland or use your spouse car(this may cause some hassle though if your spouse is not travellling with you), all could work fine, but the main question is what type of car. As it was already mentioned Ukrainian roads are horrendous(Moldovan roads not much better). You don't need a 4WD, but you want a sturdy car, with high clearance, good suspension and something that you don't mind much if it gets battered or even damaged a bit. Avoid driving at night(when you can't see the potholes in time or in/after rain when you can't see how deep the potholes are.

Just google Ukraine potholes and watch a few youtube videos and you'll understand what we're talking about.

These countries have few campsites like you are used to in Switzerland and the USA. You'll have to do wild camping most of the time.

"Can I drive my own car into these countries"

I knew a guy living in Hungary who used to drive regularly to Russia(via Ukraine and Belarus as well) with his USA registered car and his US passport without any problem, so it should be no problem if you find out what documents/insurance you need.

"I think Belarus is the only place I need a Visa. I think I have to go to Bern for that - is that correct?"

That's correct.

Last but not least check out this great blog of a guy who did lots of trips this way into these countries(and beyond):

Posted by
138 posts

Hey! I'm from Belarus! Drop me a PM if you need any help, for the time being, check our local website devoted to travel in Belarus in English - you might find this very helpful during your planning stage.

As for the credit card usage, I want to assure you that you will not have problems 98% of the time, including grocery stores, gas stations(they all have terminals for credit cards). I can not help you with Tolls and insurance( if I remember correctly there are some agents who sell insurance when you cross the border). Please refer to website, its the main provider for toll system in Belarus, however, I heard many complaints from the foreigners and this system (not always working correctly).

Posted by
737 posts

I can only comment on Moldova. I was there 9 years ago while my son was in the Peace Corps there and we used public transportation. He has been back several times for visits. I would urge great caution with your plans, as they are. The commenters above have given you some good advice. Take what Acraven said for Ukraine and bring it down a few notches. Infrastructure is bad--there has been no money for it since the break up with the Soviet Union. Sargan also has good advice, particularly the lack of campsites and the link to the blog Europeasiaoverland: Moldova.

When I mentioned to my son you are thinking of car camping, he thought that was a really bad idea. Staying in hotels would be much safer. Also, credit card use is not widespread outside of the capital. Read all the comments here.

That said, the Moldovan people were friendly and kind to us, especially since my son could speak Romanian and Russian with them, and knew their customs and how to deal with issues like not getting scammed.

Here are some of the things to see in Moldova, and they are very interesting, but I wouldn't go to Transnistria. Again, read the comments in the World Nomads article. The winery and cellars at Cricova are amazing. Check out the tab above. Orheiul Vechi was interesting. Chisinau, the capital is quite Stalinist. You might enjoy Moldova more if you took it out of this trip and did it when you could use public transportation and stay in hotels.

Posted by
75 posts

"When I mentioned to my son you are thinking of car camping, he thought that was a really bad idea. Staying in hotels would be much safer."

Camping is actually a popular activity for locals in all countries(I know Ukraine and Moldova better, but I can imagine the other 2 are quite similar in this regard), but it's true there are not many official campsites and locals pitch a tent at any convenient location(not on private land of course). I don't think that camping is a bad idea if you're prepared to rough it. That said hotels are much more convenient places to stay in large cities(You don't want to be too far from the action or drive back to your tent in the evening after a few drinks). I understand that you like camping, but to get the most out of your trip I'd do a mix of camping, hotels and last but not least homestays(whether you find these via airbnb or couchsurfing or just on the spot doesn't matter) which can really give you an insight into the local life.

The PMR(aka Transnistria) is a place that has to be seen. We always went by public transport, so I can't say whether there is any problem driving there, but in case you don't want to risk it just leave your car in Chisinau and take a daytrip.

Posted by
737 posts

Good ideas from Sargan. I don't mean to be alarmist, I would love to see more people be able to enjoy Moldova as tourists. It is a lovely area. However, as a poor nation, tourists are often the object of scams. As long as someone goes into it with their eyes open and understands the precautions they should exercise, go for it. But, I still cannot answer IMA's specific questions.
Good luck!

Posted by
138 posts

I want to defend my home country in terms of being not safe lol. I would assure you as a local, Belarus is one of the safest countries in terms of self-travel. Same related to Ukraine for sure, I've been there many times