A while back, I decided that I wanted to visit every country in Europe by the time I hit 40, and as I turn 30 in May, I should probably step by game up having only visited 31% so far. I already had a short trip to Iceland booked for March 2018, and as 2017 was filled with flights around Europe, and my fear of flying not getting any better, I decided that a road trip would be a decent idea.
In southern Europe, there are a cluster of countries all within a short drive of each other; former Yugoslavia, now split into a few different countries and both EasyJet and RyanAir provide cheap flights to some of them. My idea was to fly to one, rent a car, then drive in a big circle around the rest of them, over a period of 10 days, spending 1 or 2 days in each country, not necessarily staying in the capitals, mainly because Belgrade is so far north compared to the rest of the countries.
I just decided one day to actually spend some time and find the cheapest flight to one of these countries, which turned out to be from Manchester airport to Tivat airport in Montenegro, the country right in the middle of the ones that I wanted to visit.
After booking the flight, I spent hours just looking at Google maps, checking out the distances between places that looked alright, then using Google Street View (where possible), to check out the cities or towns, as I made the mistake of just going to Eindhoven without any research, and it was so boring that I spent most of the trip watching Netflix.
- Tivat, Montenegro
- Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Nova Varoš, Serbia
- Sofia, Bulgaria
- Skopje, FYR Macedonia
- Prishtina, Kosovo
- Shkodër, Albania.
I had decided to stay the first night in Montenegro, driving a few hours west to Dubrovnik in Croatia the next day. Following Croatia, I will be driving north to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Staying in Sarajevo for one night, I’ll be driving easy to Serbia, and as mentioned above, Belgrade is a mission away, so I decided to stop off at a sort of mountain town in the middle of nowhere it seems, but it actually looks like a really chilled place with some stuff to do.
I then encountered a problem which changed my whole route, as the car hire company will not allow me to drive into Kosovo at all, so instead of going back on myself, I decided to change the destination from Kosovo to Bulgaria which is a few extra hours east of Nova Varosš where I’m staying in Serbia. The fact that the drive is around 7 hours without stopping meant I needed to stay more than 1 night in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, as I’ll be quite tired and I’ll get there pretty late I reckon and maybe won’t want to do anything apart from eat and chill – but we’ll see.
When I leave Sofia, I head south-west to Skopje, the capital of FYR Macedonia, and as I’m writing this, there is some sort of protest happening between Greece and Macedonia, due to the name. The Greeks don’t like that Macedonians use the word Macedonia, as that’s apparently a region of Greece, and after speaking to a Greek girl I know who seems to be interested in politics, they refer to Macedonians as Skopia or something similar to do with the capital.
Anyway, there seems to be so much to do in Macedonia, and this is the place that I wanted to visit the most. Within a short walk, there are loads of museums and POIs, but also, I’ll be leaving my car at the hotel and getting the train to Kosovo, as I’m not going to miss the opportunity to visit a country when I’m literally doing a big circle around it in one trip. The train is about 2 hours each way, so I’ll go in the morning, and come back in the evening, making a full day of it, but not staying. I’m staying in Skopje for 3 nights, so I’ve got well enough time to do whatever I want whilst there.
After leaving Skopje, I head to Shkodër in Albania; now Albania was always going to be a quick fly-by visit as I don’t really fancy it, but as it’s only a 2 hour drive from the hotel to the airport in Montenegro, so I’ll be getting up at a reasonable time with enough time to have breakfast, take the car back and chill at the airport. This is a change to staying in Montengro again at the end, which seemed like a good idea until I realised the flight doesn’t leave until about 3pm, and I only like to get to the airport within the hour a flight is leaving. It is absolutely pointless to get there 3 hours early as some parents still believe – it just isn’t true, so stop it, and chill out.
Booking Hotels and Car Hire
I’ve booked all of the hotels through Booking.com, so I can change my route at any point before the end of April as they offer free cancellation on most hotels, within a timeframe. I’ve got all of the hotels booked for under £22 per night each, some of them are as low as £13. I’ve actually booked all 3 nights in Macedonia for £38 in total which is awesome. They are all private rooms, with parking. Some have breakfast included, some have en-suite bathrooms, some have shared bathrooms. I’ve stayed in hostels, I’ve stayed in private rooms with en-suites, I’ve booked apartments, and I’ve stayed in hotels with shared bathrooms, and they’re all the same apart from hostels (dorms) really. I’m going to experience the places and the food, rather than the hotel, so I’m trying to keep costs down as much as possible.
I’ve booked an automatic car, around the size of a Fiesta, but you know what it’s like – I’ll get there to an Aygo, but whatever, as long as it’s auto and I can play music, I’ll be fine. The boot will be loaded with food, drink and I’ll keep a petrol canister in there just in case I don’t drive past a station, probably only needed in Serbia to be fair.
- Tivat airport to the hotel – 15 mins
- Tivat to Dubrovnik – 2h
- Dubrovnik to Sarajevo – 4h15
- Sarajevo to Nova Varoš – 3h30
- Nova Varoš to Sofia – 7h
- Sofia to Skopje – 3h30
- Skopje to Kosovo (train) – 2h
- Skopje to Shkodër – 4h30
- Shkodeër to Tivat airport – 2h30
Languages and Currency
Most of these countries speak a different language, and have different currencies, so I’ve had to do a bit of research. I like to speak the language of the place that I’m going, but learning so many languages in a short space of time just isn’t going to happen. I speak English, obviously, and I’m fluent in French and can get by in Spanish and understand quite a bit of Portuguese. Other similar languages like Italian I can figure out what’s going on whilst reading, but listening, I have no idea. The problem I’ll have down in southern Europe is that they don’t write in the same script as us, however, at least the road signs are in Latin as well as Cyrillic. For anybody who doesn’t know what Cyrillic is, think of Russian letters.
- Serbian – Cyrillic
- Bosnian – Cyrillic
- Bulgarian – Cyrillic
- Macedonian – Cyrillic
- Croatian – Latin
- Albanian – Latin
Only Montenegro and Kosovo use the Euro, the rest have their own currency, so right now, I’m not too sure what I’m going to do. Dubrovnik, Sarajevo and Skopje are big cities, so I’ll surely be able to change Euros to their local currency – I’ve had a look on Google Maps for places to exchange, and there are quite a few in the centres, but I’m not sure what I can do in Serbia as I don’t even drive through a town, never mind a city, and I really doubt that I’ll be able to find an exchange in the place I’m going, but we’ll see.
- Albanian Lek
- Bosnian Convertible Marka
- Bulgarian Lev
- Croatian Koruna
- Macedonian Denar
- Serbian Dinar
I’ve emailed most of the hotels, and they will accept Euros, which is great for me, as that’ll be my base currency. I’ve been speaking to currency exchange companies on Twitter about my options, and the best options seems to be to load a Mastercard with Euros, then use that to pay if I don’t have cash, with a 5.75% fee per spend.
Safety and Travel Advice
I thought I should do some research about safety in these countries before going. I’m not an anxious person, and I generally feel safe. In fact, the only place I’ve not felt safe is in northern Paris – I’m fine walking around the rough parts of Liverpool and Manchester, but Paris was something else.
Most people will be aware that there was a war in Bosnia not so long ago, and there’s still a huge problem between Kosovo and Serbia. If you read the government advice website for each of the countries that I’m visiting, you may decide not to go, as there’s a high risk of terrorist attacks in most of them, and there are often unexploded landmines left from previous wars. Although, if you compare the travel advice on these countries, compared to what’s written about France, then you would change your mind and realise that every country is under threat at the minute, with these southern European countries being pretty much off the radar for todays terrorism.
I’m not worried about terrorists, I’m not worried about landmines, and I’m not worried about being mugged or anything. I will make sure that I always have spare fuel, food, money, water and some other safety gear in the hire care whilst I’m there, and as long as I’ve got some sort of map, I’ll be absolutely fine.
I’ve said to a friend, I can see something or some things happening to me on this trip that would make an amazing story, if I survive. Let’s see…
Be sure to check out my post-trip post to see how I got on, and to see whether it’s something that you’d like to do. I’ll be taking a GoPro camera, using my phone to take pictures and videos and depending on the 3G/4G availability over there, I may be going live on my social media accounts/adding to the stories on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Recently, companies like o2, EE and Vodafone let you use your data abroad, but only in certain countries – most of the countries that I’m going to aren’t included, so I’ll come back with a hefty bill I reckon. So I decided that getting a SatNav to take with me would be the cheaper option – I can then keep my phone on airplane mode whilst driving and away from Wifi, unless I want to post something online or to go live. I know I’m going to have a big bill at the end, but I will keep an eye on the data I’m using and in which countries. I’ll have the costs written down in the pack I’ll be taking with me for reference.
I’m slowly looking online for ideas on what to do and for POIs on my route/in the cities that I visit, but I don’t usually do this, I tend to just wander, but as I’m going for so long, I want to make sure I see what I should see, rather than missing out on something great as I probably won’t visit most of these countries again.
Return flights with EasyJet – £71
10 nights via Booking.com – £166
Travel insurance – £8
Car hire – £234
SatNav – £27
Total – £498
I’ll be doing a post-trip blog post, with videos and pictures, and it’ll be pretty long, so I may actually do a summary first, then individual posts on each country, or, group a few together – I’ll see how much I have to write about.
If anybody has been to any of these countries and has any suggestions, let me know in the comments below.