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!

24 Comments on Lady in the Balkans

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

  2. 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!

  3. 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. 🙂

  4. 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! :))

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Hi i was looking for a plan trip to the balkans ,my husband and my 3 kids and me,i found your page .can you please advice,on a trip plan .we want to do it in next too it better to go by an agency ,is it ok will we see much,or better to go by our own ,like we prefere to,so we see more places and meet more people and see the real balkans.
    you are brave to go ahead i wish one day i can do that all over the world ,for now i am busy raising my kids 🙂 i will have to wait
    stillthis trip is big for me i want it to be perfect fun

  8. Hi I attended your workshop at The Guardian recently, which was very informative.
    I decided to check your blog out. I remember going to New York in the eighties and people warned me off!
    I spent a month there and it was the best time ever.
    Many years later I travelled to Albania a bit worried but kept an open mind. I stayed with a friend from Albania in Tirana. It was a bit short on culture and in a state of development. Sure it’s going to be in the EU eventually it will be just another European city with all the attractions. It’s fighting its way out of years of conflict/communisim. Interesting history.

  9. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog, thanks for sharing your experience! I’ll be travelling/backpacking in the Balkans with two friends for two weeks this summer and we’re having some difficulties finding a proper itinerary. Could you tell me which was yours? We’d definitely like to go to Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro… But we don’t want to spend all the trip in the bus/trains and underestimate what we can actually do in a two weeks long trip! Did you book anything in advance ? Also, do you remember approximately how much the two weeks costed you (except planes of course)? Thank you so much!

    • That’s exciting! My itinerary is the one I laid out in the blog posts. I booked most of the hotels in advance. Prices will have changed since I went, so make sure to do some research if you’re on a budget.

  10. Hi! I’m considering doing a 14-day tour of the Balkans in April and I was wondering how you got around to each city. Did you always use the bus system or did you fly occasionally to cut down on time? Also, how did you fly straight from London to Sarajevo?

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