From 2016-2019, five countries have seen a 10% increase annually in tourism. You probably can already guess where this is going. They were Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Romania, and Serbia.
The remainder of the Balkan countries—North Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia—have also seen consistent year over year growth.
While this year will see a decrease in worldwide tourism numbers, this doesn’t take away from the fact that people have fallen in love with the Balkans.
From their rich history and culture to beautiful locations and delicious food, there’s so much to see and do there. And traveling around the regions can cost 50-60% less than traditional European favorites like France, Italy, and Spain.
If you want to have an unforgettable and seamless Balkan vacation, here are seven essentials you need to know before you arrive.
1. Many Balkan Countries Aren’t in the Schengen Area
All non-EU citizens and residents traveling in Europe will have a Schengen Visa. This gives you 90 days to explore the region.
Aside from Slovenia, however, all of the other Balkan countries are outside the Schengen Area, which means you’ll need to see which countries require a visa, how long you can stay there, and the application process.
This is another to worry about. For many travelers, getting these visas is pretty easy. You just need to plan accordingly.
2. Enjoy Some Ćevapi and Börek
Each country has its own unique culture. But there are some regional dishes that transcend borders. The most popular are Börek—a flaky pastry filled with meats, cheeses, and potatoes—and Ćevapi, a type of skinless sausage.
Be on the lookout for these tasty regional foods, and don’t forget to try local dishes like tasty kajmak in Serbia.
3. Be Careful With Public WiFi
This tip isn’t exclusively limited to traveling in the Balkans. This is something you’ll want to pay attention to, whether you’re at a local cafe or exploring around the world. However, since many tourists rely on public WiFi while traveling in the Balkans, it’s especially important.
Public WiFi often has tons of security vulnerabilities, including potential malware. You also have no idea who might be monitoring your internet connection.
So, before you check your bank balance or do anything else, make sure to turn on a VPN (a virtual private network) to keep your browsing activity safe. When selecting a VPN, go for one with many server locations in the region.
4. Learn Who Tito Is
You may be old enough to remember the days of trouble in the Balkans. Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, war broke among the Balkan countries. While tensions have begun to subside and the Balkans have returned to a calm state, there are still main who remember the days of Yugoslavia and its founder, Tito, fondly.
You’ll see names everywhere, busts in town squares, and people talking about him often. Take a little time and read up on the interesting leader before heading here to give you so much needed context.
5. The Balkans Is Big
While you may want to see all the Balkan countries, don’t forget how big the region is. Remember that less is more. Rather than spending your entire trip on busses, trains, and in the car, divide your trip into manageable pieces and pick the spots you want to see. This will give you the time to savor the region. You can always come back again next year!
6. Buses and Cars Instead of Trains
Many people have a romantic notion of traveling Europe by train. While this is feasible in Western Europe, the Balkan rail infrastructure isn’t so good.
However, the bus networks are pretty solid, and most towns have an easy-to-navigate bus station. If you’re a little braver, the Balkans is also a fantastic place for hitchhiking. Most people enjoy picking up travelers and getting to share a little about their culture.
7. Save Some Money
Besides the culture, gorgeous attractions, and tasty food, you’ll love how affordable the Balkans are. Compared to paying €70 for a dorm bed in Amsterdam, you can find private rooms and affordable hotels from as cheap as €20-€30 a night.
Take advantage of Airbnb and online deals, and you’ll be able to save a few bucks to put towards staying longer in the Balkans!
Have an Incredible Balkan Adventure
There is just so much to love about the Balkans. The region is stunning. Follow these tips, and the most challenging thing about your trip will be having to leave.