Reports from the Field

Road-Tripping Across The Balkans

Road tripping the Balkans

Blazing sun, a small village and its empty streets. Entering a local shop, it seems like there is really nothing we can cook with, so we decide to continue the seaside. The dusty road leads us to an untouched, dreamy place: a sandy beach, sea in the shades of turquoise, a small beach pub with a few locals and a cow peacefully standing next to it. The only thing ruining the idyll is some trash around but well, that’s Albania! We’re hopping out of the van and in that moment the small piece of land is becoming our improvised living room…

People often tell me that going for such a road trip is their life dream. Actually, it was easier than anyone would imagine and it had some real advantages compared to classic travelling. Having the freedom of „home is where you park it“ is amazing: you don’t need to hurry and the accommodation question is solved, too. But don’t worry, you’ll have some different things to take care of, such as a suspicious border controller who just decided that you are trying to carry some drugs through the border in that uberhippie-looking old car and he needs to check every single corner of it…

empty road

The Balkans are just different and cannot be compared to any other part of Europe. Starting in Slovakia, we crossed the rainy (and later misty) Croatia and Bosna and Herzegovina, enjoyed the rocky beaches of Montenegro, saw the essence of what makes Albania so unique and unreachable, spotted Macedonia’s tobacco fields and the changing history: the suspicious atmosphere of Kosovo where all seemed to be really, really fragile. And then, Serbia welcomed us with rain, forgotten monuments and the first days of Autumn…

The plans
We only had two weeks, so planning was crucial: I spent evenings googling places worth a visit and marking the map of our way. We created a list of the fuel prices and visa information for each country. Having a fully working GPS is a great help, too, but since we didn’t have that luck, we relied only on the map and the many helpful locals we’ve met. Just one more advice if you are planning to visit the Balkans in a similar way: as it’s obligatory in some of the countries, don’t forget to register at the place of your stay. This document might be checked on the border control or if the police stops you on the road.

Road Trip Van

The goal
The first goal of our trip was monument hunting: these huge sculptures commemorating battles can be found across some of the Balkan countries, so we chose the most breathtaking ones, some of them on the top of hills, some hidden in sleepy villages. But not only that: seeking witnesses of the past, we have seen slices of the not so distant history: Tito’s statue, square and city lead us to a bombed Olympic luge and bobsled track in Sarajevo. When we entered the hall of the Museum of Yugoslavian history, which is still the same as in November 1943, the sense of occasion was almost suffocating.


The experience
Leaving the daily routines behind was the awakening of the senses. To wake up by the side of the road, to open the map and start a journey just day by day, with no idea what will happen or where will we end up made us curious about what will we learn. There is no doubt that two weeks are not enough to get to know cultures, but meeting people on our way showed us both the good or bad. Using my beloved Couchsurfing was in this case quite difficult (or better to say, impossible to manage): you really cannot know when will you reach your destination, so all was only about our luck. Two of my favourite memories: sitting in the port of Herceg Novi in Montenegro, we were unexpectedly invited to join a small boat trip seeking the sunshine (thank you, Ana and Marek!) and an unknown Albanian man invited us to sleep at his place – we slowed down just because of a herd of cows crossing the road! The worst thing that happened to us was towing away of our van in the streets of Skopje and the problems with paying the fine for that but beside that, the hospitality and helpfulness amazed me!

Roadside kiosk

Driving 5000 kilometers in two weeks was a challenge sometimes not easy, but definitely something to learn from. And so we did: we relied on strangers, we were scared sometimes, saw cities and tasted them, saved a turtle walking across the road, lost home and found it again, smelled rain or got lost and asked for the way thousand times. Places are made of thousands of stories. Some of them are now ours, but there is still so much to see…

Guest Post by Dia Takacsova

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Dia Takacsova
Posted on: 27 Jul 2016