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Any advice for a trip to the Balkans?

Hello, I am currently considering a trip to the Balkan countries using a Balkan flexipass for this coming summer (a month in July). My boyfriend and I are both 20 and would like a quirky taste of Eastern Europe. However we are concerned about the safety of this potential trip.
We love to hike. Any advice regarding the countries, places to travel, trains/buses, prices, and language barriers would be awesome! Thanks, Annika

Posted by
1356 posts

All the countries have interesting sites - it will come down to your comfort level with traveling in countries where English will not be widely spoken. Safety should not be an issues - we have traveled through almost every country on the Balkan peninsula with the exception of Kosovo with our kids and never had any issues. One observations - the Balkan flexipass may not be of much value or use in these countries. Do some research - there are few train lines crossing these countries and most of these will be of little use to you. Places like Albania, Macedonia will be more challenging. Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia etc will be easier. Try Balkanology.com for some more tips.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you very much! When traveling in these countries did you book tickets for transportation online or wait until you were at the train station?
Would you recommend to book hostels/hotels ahead of time online or live more on the spur of the moment?

Posted by
1829 posts

Annika, Don't worry about safety. You will be safer than at home. We were in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary last month. If you find yourself in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria you should stay in the Elegance Hotel. They have an email address but we don't have it. The hotel is run by two sisters who are trying very, very hard to be successful. One sister is a gourmet chef and you will eat exceedingly well. Other places we visited were Bucharesti, an elegant old city which is beautiful, and Constanti on the Black Sea. If you see these places you will be somewhat off the well-travelled path and get a more realistic feel of the area than if you follow the tourist trail. Quirky, if you desire, especially Stara Zagora and Constanti.

Posted by
1356 posts

When ever I have traveled in any of the Balkan countries, I have never bought tickets other than a day or two before travel and that was only to avoid having language issues at the station. I would recommend buying really long distance trains a few days ahead or long bus rides (for example - Sarajevo to Belgrade - there was only one direct bus a day from the close in bus station and I booked those a day ahead using a local travel agent).

Posted by
31291 posts

Annika, It's difficult to provide much specific information without having a list of the countries you'll be visiting. I'd suggest doing some research on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Message Board. Given the fact that you "love to hike", IMHO it would be a good idea to avoid going too far "off the beaten track". Have a look at: This Website (No. 8 covers one area in the Balkans) This Website (scroll down to the part covering "Safety & Security") Be sure to check the other sections of the U.S. State Department website in the second link for all the countries you plan to visit. Happy travels!

Posted by
1829 posts

Ken, This is a serious question. Where is the "beaten track".

Posted by
31291 posts

Monte, I figured that "off the beaten track" was a fairly well known expression, however I can certainly elaborate. With reference to hiking in the Balkans, it would be a really good idea to take a few precautions: > Check with locals regarding safe or "questionable" areas for hiking. > Stay on well worn trails (ie: "the beaten track") and don't go off the paths into areas that aren't well travelled, especially those with grass or foliage (which can conceal some dreadful surprises - the PROM-1 is especially nasty!). > Even in urban areas, don't venture off the pavement to explore abandoned buildings. Hope that clarifies things.

Posted by
1829 posts

Thanks, We were just in eastern Bulgaria and Romania and I thught maybe we missed something. Northern Romania does get pretty woodsy, but it is really beautiful around Brasov.

Posted by
1829 posts

Annika, Here's another point to remember. Each of the Balkan countries have their own money. They don't use the Euro. If you are depending on ATMs you should have a debit card with a credit union checking account as well as another travel money card such as AAAs. We notified the credit union before we left exactly what countries we would be usisng the debit card in, AND we had them increase the amount we could withdraw at one time. This all worked well in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. In Czech Republic the credit union debit card would not work so we used the AAA Travel Money card, which did work. Also, try not to get more money than you need because using money changers is not efficient. If you are a philatelist you will have a blast.

Posted by
4637 posts

Monte, I go to Czech Republic every year and my credit union card always work at any ATM. I like to withdraw at Komercni banka because their fees are lowest.

Posted by
1829 posts

Ilja, Ours didn't work because someone at the credit union forgot to include Czech Republic when they transposed our handwritten list of countries into their computer system. We backtracked the error with them when we returned. It was a good thing we had a few hundred bucks in the old AAA account.

Posted by
31291 posts

I was recently in the Czech Republic, and my Credit Union ATM card worked without any problems at all. I did notify my Credit Union that I'd be travelling in Europe, however I can't recall if I provided them with a specific list of countries.

Posted by
2133 posts

Hiking in this area is one in which you should not jump into without some info. We were just in Croatia and Slovenia. There are areas there with houses that are clearly abandoned and bullet-pocked. While Serb attitudes toward Americans are a little improved, there are still persons who hate Americans - it is only 15 years since we were bombing Serb targets. Also off road areas have land mines. So, when hiking, ask locally about areas, and don't go off the path in the woods. In France, they are still digging up stuff from WWI. In Croatia-Serbia, it wasn't quite as intensive and protracted, but there are mines and ordinance in the woods. Some is marked, some is not.