Before You Leave...

One of the best aspects of travelling is to do things on a whim ; to forget about sticking to a rigid timetable, and let spontaneity get the better of you. It’s often how some lesser known gems are found, and a highly recommended way to travel. Of course, elements of planning are necessary for the trip to run smoothly, and it is much better to lay the groundwork before you leave – giving you more freedom and less pressure when you hit the road. The last thing you want to do is spend the first few days or weeks arriving in cities with nowhere to stay, no internet connection and a back breaking bag!

PACKING

Most visitors head to South East Europe in the spring to autumn months, taking advantage of the good climate the region has to offer. Through the summer. Shorts and t shirts will often suffice, obviously a jumper and trousers are a good idea in case any unusual weather occurs. Travelling in the winter months, definitely requires winter clothing.

Overpacking WILL make your trip harder – you can buy cheap clothes in any country in SEE. It’s better to pack light and buy as you need! Another incentive to travel light is that you get charged extra for non hand luggage on buses in some countries. While the costs are low (generally about a Euro), hand luggage does not incur a charge. This site shows you how to travel light and make the most of your trip. Obviously, a good rucksack or travel bag is the main factor, and for price and range. Amazon takes some beating.

If you are travelling off season or planning a spot of camping, then make sure you get a well reviewed, water-proof and sun-proof tent! We find that Coleman or Vango tents never let us down.

KEEPING IN TOUCH

If you want to make phone calls home while your away, its good to have a solution in place before you leave. Many of the Balkan states are not included in the Euro add ons sold by the large mobile companies. For a sim that is guaranteed to work in all of the countries and has some good rates too, check out Go Sim. If your relying on the internet only to communicate. Most hostels and hotels have good wifi to make Skype calls. For smartphones, we strongly recommend downloading whatsapp as a free messaging tool.

 

ACCOMMODATION

Pre-booking the first few nights of your trip minimises stress and lets you get a feel of the place. For hotels, booking.com often lets you cancel up to 24 hours before you arrive. Hostelbookers has good prices and doesn’t charge you a booking fee.

TRANSPORT

If your already in Europe and want to head to SEE by bus, good fares can be had by booking in advance at Eurolines. For those already in the countries that border the Balkans ( Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Turkey and Hungary). Our travel planner will show you the cheapest way to get to the region. If your planning to arrive by plane, Skyscanner is popular and has some good deals. If train is your choice of transport and your from the UK, visit seat61 for some accurate rail advice.

 

NAVIGATION

One issue that may arise is understanding the Cyrillic language signage in Serbia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. There is often no English translation on the signs, which can make navigating and using transport a little harder. If you arrive late at night, make sure you have a good idea of where your accommodation is – a map (paper or phone) is a good plan. Luckily, google is your friend too. Smartphone users can download the free Google Translate app, which allows you to take a photo of any confusing street signs and highlight the text you need translating by swiping you finger over it. Google will then translate it to the language of your choice. The only potential drawback is that you need to have an internet connection for this to work ( see the keeping in touch section).

TOYS

A smartphone can make life easier, purely because of the ability to downloads and use apps. That said, its not a necessity, quite a few hostels and hotels have a computer for guests to use… for bookings and emails etc.  Tablets and laptops, again make booking your next accommodation easier. Getting a nice quality but cheaper laptop is a good idea for bloggers and typers. Former premium laptops such as Lenovo Thinkpads are tough, durable and fit in a backpack… and if they get stolen, its not the end of the world. Setting off backpacking with a multitude of expensive toys is not a good idea. A good HD waterproof video recorder is the QUMOX SJ4000, it gets good reviews, with similar specs to higher priced rivals.

 

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Sure, you could chance it and everything could work out fine – but we recommend insurance as mandatory, especially for longer trips. Not having access to medical care in an emergency is simply not worth it. It’s a good idea to shop around – Moneysupermarket is one of the better comparison sites… but make sure you know what is and is not included in each quote.  If you want a reliable policy with an established company, have a look at Columbus Direct. They have an excellent Globetrotter policy for longer term backpackers

For residents of the European Union, its possible to get a free EHIC card. This entitles you to free or reduced cost medical care in other EU countries. Not all the countries in SEE are in the EU but a good portion are, so applying for this card is a no brainer.

TRAVEL MONEY

XE is an easy to use , free online currency converter. Don’t leave changing money until you arrive in a country – it will cost you more. There are plenty of companies offering decent rates. Travelex is one of the better ones.

 

BOOKS

While the internet is great for information, sometimes nothing beats a crumpled up guide book. Here’s a link to the best Balkan buys, for those internet-less moments.