5 Reasons to Backpack the Balkans
When you hear someone is backpacking “Europe,” what do you picture them doing in your mind? Kissing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Eating pizza in Naples? Funneling sangria with tapas on a beach in Spain?
Honestly, I did too— until I explored the other part of Europe. You know, the part where not many people really talk or really know much of anything about. Eastern Europe. The bunch of seemingly cramped and mysterious countries between Western Europe and the Middle East. That part of Europe, but specifically, I’m talking about the Balkan countries, or simply the Balkans.
First, what countries comprise the Balkans? Here’s a list of them: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, and the eastern part of Turkey.
When I first told people I would be backpacking Eastern Europe, I got a lot of perplexed looks, followed by knee-jerk questions, like, “Why are you going there?” “Is it safe there?” “Why don’t you just go to countries like France, Italy, Spain, or England?”
At first, I simply responded with, “Well, since I live in Prague currently, I’m already basically in Eastern Europe. It’s easier to get to those places from there.” While that reason is already a good enough one for me to have visited Eastern Europe, I quickly learned that there were more. A lot more.
While backpacking through the Balkans, I discovered the region has far more to offer its visitors than it lets on. So, without further ado, here are my five reasons for you to backpack through Eastern Europe and especially the Balkans:
1. It’s cheap!
Backpacking anywhere can really put a strain on your wallet. Accommodation, transportation, food, excursions, and so on. Those all certainly add up— and they add up quickly.
However, when backpacking Eastern Europe, it will not cost you nearly as much as say Western Europe, for example.
I mainly used AirBNB and Booking for my accommodations across the region and never paid more than $17 per night! In one month, I paid roughly $300 on accommodation. That’s cheaper than one month's rent in my place in Prague— and most places in the world!
Transportation is cheap as well, whether you take trains or buses. Long-haul trains and buses from country to country usually cost about the same. I never paid more than $30 USD each to travel anywhere from 5-13 hours! Not too shabby.
Food is ridiculously cheap in Eastern Europe! In most local places, I spent maximum $15 USD— and that was on a huge dinner and drinks. You could potentially pay around $6 if you just get one entree. Not bad at all!
Tours and other excursions are usually priced reasonably well, since the number of tourists in Eastern Europe is far less than the Western part. For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I went on a 10-hour tour with only 4 other people. I had the most informative, well-ran, and fun tour of my life— and it only cost 30 Euros (or $35 USD). And I cannot stress enough how worth it the tour was!
In general, everything is relatively cheap and better for your spending.
2. The natural beauty is stunning
Oh, yes. Every Balkan country has some seriously gorgeous scenery to ogle at. Croatia has incredible rocky beaches.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has lush mountains, turquoise rivers, and picturesque waterfalls.
Montenegro has towering mountains that you can drive to the top and see nothing else but mountain peaks as far as the eye can see.
I could go on and on about the natural beauty in The Balkans. The countries there are not short on captivating and lush natural beauty.
3. Historical lessons
I know, I know: history is boring. I’m a prime example of a history-hater. However, as I’ve traveled, I’ve learned to marvel and appreciate history in different countries from my own more so than before I traveled. In fact, I ingest as much global history as I can! While backpacking the Balkans, I learned a ton about the countries we visited.
Are you aware of the devastating war between many of the Balkan countries during the 90s? For almost a century previous to that war, there was a united country called “Yugoslavia,” which comprised of most of the countries in the Balkans today, specifically Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Slovenia.
These countries we know today wanted to gain their independence from Yugoslavia, which was met with gunfire and bombings almost daily. Certain countries were affected more or less so than others, though. Most still haven’t fully recovered. Some even preferred their lives in Yugoslavia than their now-independent country.
The history is long and tumultuous and I’m more than likely botching this short explanation of it. But, since exploring most of these countries, I’ve learned a lot about them— their wars, people, history, and more. And I’m glad I’m no longer completely ignorant to their past because it’s very worth knowing.
Although there is some ugly history in the Balkans, the countries are now safe to travel. Plus, there’s also some beautiful history to admire. For example, did you know that Bulgaria holds the oldest city in all of Europe? Yep! Plovdiv, Bulgaria began its history 8,000 years ago. In comparison, Athens only dates back to 6,000 years ago!
4. The Food & Drinks
Back to happier thoughts! And what makes people happier than food?! In the most of the Balkans, you will find similar food items. They were a unified country for almost a century, after all. In all of the countries, you’ll find tons of delectable meat dishes, like cevapi and pljeskavica. These two dishes actually originate in Serbia, but can be found in almost all the Balkan countries. Those two are my personal favorite, by the way! They’re both made of the same basic ingredients: beef, lamb, and/or pork, onions, garlic, and herbs. That’s it! Simple, yet divine.
The countries have tons of delectable pastries, such as my personal favorite, the Banitsa pastry in Bulgaria.
On top of divine cuisine, the countries altogether tend to give grand portions as well! Check out this meat and veggie plate for two my boyfriend and I were given in Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina!
Food is very important, but for many of the Balkans, drinks are just as Important! For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they have their own special Bosnian coffee. It’s similar to Turkish coffee, but brewed a little differently. But be careful: never compare the two to a Bosnian citizen! They take pride in their coffee, which most of them take 45 minutes to an hour out of their days to drink and enjoy.
5. Undiscovered Places
Like I mentioned before, people usually picture places like Spain, England, France, and Italy when the word "Europe" is uttered. So, naturally, not so many people tend to explore and travel to Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans.
Therefore, when you travel these countries, you'll notice a drastic decrease in the amount of other tourists there. That will drastically improve your experiences there, being that you won't have that many people in your face when visiting! And you'll have that many less people to share the experiences with.
You'll get the feeling you're exploring places almost nobody else has discovered before. Of course other people have gone there, but how many of them are your friends or family? How many people do you actually know who have been to these places?
More likely than not, zero. Or maybe one, if you're really popular and have the coolest of friends. Otherwise, you'll really get the feeling while traveling the Balkans that you're exploring a place no one else has really been to or seen.
It's a feeling we had while backpacking these countries-- and this reason alone was worth going there.
Backpacking the Balkans has been an unforgettable experience. I’ve learned, eaten, drank, and experienced so much during my trip and I loved it whole-heartedly, even the sometimes confusing and irritating issues that inevitably arise while backpacking.
I hope that you will get the chance to backpack through these countries or at least get the opportunity to visit even one of them! It’ll be worth it. Trust me.