Lady in the Balkans

Most people thought I was crazy to travel to the Balkans by myself. I was lectured on safety, on health, on everything imaginable. But I had been curious about the region for years, not least because the only thing I really knew about it related to the conflicts in the 1990’s. There was surely more to the Balkans than that, and I couldn’t wait to discover it.

Visiting 11 cities in 8 countries in 15 days was quite an adventure. The trip was a quick one, but I learned a lot about the region and gained some valuable insights into travel in the Balkans.

Church in Sarajevo Bosnia

First, I learned that bus schedules change more frequently than Lady Gaga’s outrageous costumes. Several of my hotels had bus schedules that were presumably up to date, but upon calling the station to confirm, I learned that the schedule had changed that morning and the bus I was planning to take was no longer an option. From those experiences I learned the lesson to always call in advance and confirm all times and prices.

Mostar buildings in Bosnia in the Balkans

When I boarded the buses, I learned a few more lessons. First, starting in Sarajevo, I learned that in all places except for Ohrid, people completely disregarded the seat assignments printed on their tickets.

Classic Balkans architecture in Dubrovnik Croatia

Second, I discovered that for the most part, everything I had read about buses in the Balkans not having air conditioning was false. Every bus I took had A/C except for the one from Skopje to Pristina and the one from Skopje to Sofia. It was great to have the cool air going while the temperatures outside were so hot.

Kotor Montenegro cityscape

Once I got off the buses, I learned the difficult lesson that street signs in the Balkans are often few and far between. I spent an entire hour lost in Mostar because not a single street—from major avenues to minor roads—was signed. My map was worthless in the face of such an absence.

Budva Montenegro island

And speaking of maps, I had issues there as well. I had assumed that every hotel and tourist information office in the Balkans would have city maps, as is the case in most other places I have traveled. Not so in the Balkans, though. From Budva to Ohrid, the tourist offices were devoid of all maps whatsoever, and my hotels in Skopje and Tirana were clean out of city maps as well. My hotels in Sofia and Belgrade, however, had some high quality maps.

Woman walking in Tirana Albania

I had a few maps in my guidebook, but they were generally tiny and not very detailed. Even if they had been, it might not have mattered. Half the streets had changed names between the time the guidebook was published and the present day, rendering the already unhelpful maps even more useless.

Table and chairs in Ohrid Macedonia in the Balkans

Thankfully people on the street and in hotels and restaurants were very helpful in giving me directions, and most of the cities were small enough that I never got lost for long. In places like Dubrovnik, Kotor, and Budva, getting lost in the maze of streets in the walled cities was half the fun anyway.

Sculpture of a woman in Skopje Macedonia

Above all, I learned that any concerns about safety in the Balkans were overblown. Not only did I feel completely safe as a solo female traveler, but also I felt like most of the places I visited were far safer than London.

Market in Pristina Kosovo in the Balkans

I felt this particularly strongly one night in Skopje when I walked past a city park at night. Despite the fact that it wasn’t lit, there was a mother walking around with her young son, and several elderly couples sitting on benches.

National Theater in Sofia Bulgaria

I wouldn’t dare walk through most city parks in London after dark, let alone stop for a rest. And yet very few visitors to London worry about safety, and very many visitors balk at the Balkans for the same reason.

Belgrade fortress walls in Serbia

Overall my trip to the Balkans was a great one. Despite there being a few informational gaps, I managed to make my way around the region safely and without a hitch. The people I met along the way—both locals and other travelers—were friendly and helpful. The landscapes were beautiful. The cities were rich with history and culture.

Table in Belgrade Serbia in the Balkans

Above all, the fact that most places I visited weren’t on the tourist trail made the trip all that much more of an adventure. I’m sure it won’t take long for the low-cost airlines, massive cruise ships, and big tour buses to arrive, though, so if you want to travel in the Balkans before everyone else does, I recommend planning your trip now!

15 Comments on Lady in the Balkans

  1. Pam
    October 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm (3 years ago)

    GREAT VIDEO! That was fantastic to watch! I especially liked being able to hear all the sounds like the music in Skopje.

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      October 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Pam! It was really fun to stumble upon that festival in Skopje!

      Reply
  2. Danijel
    October 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm (3 years ago)

    Croatia <3

    Reply
  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    October 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm (3 years ago)

    Usually safety concerns are totally blown out of proportion! If I listened to everyone that warned me, I would have probably visited like 3 countries by now haha. I loved following you along on this adventure.

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      October 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Andi! I agree about safety concerns being overblown!

      Reply
  4. Nikki
    October 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm (3 years ago)

    I love your post! My fiance and I did an Eastern European road trip to the same countries you visited this summer. I couldn’t believe how many street names were changed everywhere we went, just like you…especially Tirana!

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      October 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Nikki! I’m glad you liked the post, and that you could relate to the street name changes!

      Reply
  5. Kreshnik
    October 19, 2011 at 9:13 pm (3 years ago)

    It was really fun reading about your adventures! I accidentally stumbled accross your twitter account while searching for #Skopje. I am from Skopje and I have to say, from my experience, you cannot really grasp the immense culture over here if you don’t visit more cities and meet some people, especially in Albania. And by the way, the concerns about safety seem exaggerated to me. :)

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      October 19, 2011 at 9:35 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m glad you liked it, Kreshnik! I would love to spend more time traveling in the region!

      Reply
  6. Chayying
    October 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm (3 years ago)

    I am googling for advice on bus from Tirana to Orhid and came across your post. I’m also a single (Asian) girl travelling by herself in the Balkans and am loving it too!! Your photos are great by the way. I’m looking forward to Orhid already! :))

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      October 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm (3 years ago)

      That’s great, Chayying! You’re going to love Ohrid!

      Reply
  7. kat
    March 19, 2012 at 11:55 am (3 years ago)

    So glad I came across your blogs! going to the Balkans with a friend this summer and was in need of some great ideas like yours! everyone says we’re mad to go(as being 19, places such as magaloof are more appropriate apparently) but you’ve given me lots of inspiration.

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      March 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks Kat! I’m glad you found it helpful, and I hope you and your friend have a great trip!

      Reply
  8. Lisa Xia
    February 15, 2013 at 3:28 am (2 years ago)

    I’m traveling to the Balkans (solo woman) on Monday and am debating renting a car vs. taking a bus. Might you provide some advice on how easy it is? I’m short on time, but would like to do 3 countries in about 5/6 days, starting in Belgrade.

    Reply
    • A Lady in London
      February 15, 2013 at 11:02 am (2 years ago)

      Hi Lisa! I found it really easy to take the bus. You might want to check schedules since it’s winter and some services won’t be running every day.

      Reply

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