Greetings everyone! 😄 This year is really flying by and my contract as a teacher in the U.S. will soon be coming to an end! This means that I will once again be making a transition back to life abroad, ready to take on lots more ESL Ventures! To kick-start this journey, I’ll begin with a two-month backpacking trip through the Balkans! ✈️🎒
Because I always look for the cheapest flight possible, my first destination in Europe will be Barcelona, Spain, a city where I lived and studied back in 2017. Using flexible departure dates on SkyScanner, I found a direct flight for a little over 200 bucks! Score!
After a few days in Barcelona, revisiting my old stomping grounds and reconnecting with old friends, I’ll be taking a low-cost flight to Malta for only 25 Euros! 😲 🏝️
I’ll spend a week exploring the country of Malta before taking another low-cost flight to Venice, Italy for only 21 Euros! Again, to save a few bucks, I chose to fly into Venice, since it borders the Balkans, and it was much cheaper to fly into Italy and take a bus over to the Balkans than to fly into that region directly. As a bonus, I’ll be able to spend 24 hours exploring one of the most unique cities on Earth! 😍
After a day in Venice, I’ll be taking a bus to Slovenia, which is where my Balkan backpacking trip begins! 😄
The Balkans are a region made up of 12 countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.
Since I lived in Turkey back in 2015, and already visited Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, I’ll focus on the 8 remaining countries during my trip.
What to know about the Balkans?
The Balkan Peninsula is very mountainous and largely agricultural. Much of the Balkans also borders the sea, making for some stunning coastal views and a favorable Mediterranean climate. 🌞 🌴
Its location is also at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, making for many distinct linguistic, religious, and ethnic divides. In such a small area, you’ll find Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims. ☪️☦️✝️ As you can imagine, so many religious ideals in one compact area causes a lot of conflict. To add more fuel to this fire, the countries all have their own mother tongue, which includes a variety of Slavic and Romance languages, and many Balkan countries claim that their neighbor’s speech should not even be considered an official language! Yikes! These religious and linguistic differences have given the Balkans the nickname, “powder keg”, or a volatile situation just waiting to ignite. 💣🔫 One major example of this was after the Cold War when Yugoslavia became divided into seven different Balkan nations.
In fact, the word Balkanize actually means, “to divide into mutually unfriendly groups,” and this seemingly unsolvable dispute has left civilians across all Balkan nations feeling very hostile towards one another…and I might jokingly add…leaving Mr. Rodgers quite disappointed as well. 😂
That being said, have no fears about me traveling in Balkans. I’m not actually backpacking through a battlefield. 😂Currently, tensions are at a low and tourism is at an all-time high, especially with the popularity of Game of Thrones, a television series which was filmed in the region. 🎥
As well, Balkan families have strong family connections, with very protective elders. Apparently, grandmas across the Balkans make sure things don’t get too rowdy! 👵
Now, as an additional bonus of traveling in this incredibly diverse region is its eclectic cuisine. Due to its agricultural bounty and proximity to the sea, they are blessed with an incredibly tasty local cuisine. Some unique dishes include štruklji, a Slovenian dumpling filled with cheese or apple, Tave Kosi, an Albanian dish of roast lamb with rice, and Tavče gravče, a Macedonian baked bean dish cooked in traditional earthenware, as well as, more familiar dishes, like sarma, stuffed cabbage, and burek, a meat-filled pastry. Most of these dishes are also topped with staple condiments, like ajvar, a red pepper relish, and kaymajk, a tangy clotted cream spread. 👨🍳
They are also apparently very passionate about their cuisine. Cooking is not merely used to fuel oneself, but it is also an enjoyable pastime and a perfected skill.👌
They feel just as passionately about coffee in the region, and drinking a cup of java is more than just an action to check off the morning to-do list, it’s an experience to be savored and enjoyed. 🧡☕
Now that we’ve talked a bit about this diverse region, let’s get back to my itinerary. Here is a map of my route, along with a tentative plan of the places I’d like to visit:
- 2 nights in Ljubljana
- 2 nights in Bled
- 3 nights in Zagreb
- 1 night in Plitvice Lakes
- 2 nights in Zadar
- 3 nights in Split
- Bosnia and Herzegovnia
- 2 nights in Mostar
- 4 nights in Sarajevo
- 3 nights in Belgrade
- 3 nights in Uzice
- 3 nights in Kotor
- 2 nights in Ulcinj
- 6 nights split between Shkoder, Tirana, & Berat
- North Macedonia
- 6 nights split between Skopje, Bitola and Ohrid
- 5 nights nights split between Pristina and Prizren
Due to the high volume of tourists during these summer months, I made sure to secure advanced accommodation in Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Currently, these places seem to be hot spots and hostels were booking out even three few months in advance! That being said, the rest of my journey is very flexible, and based on my experience in each place and the advice I get from fellow backpackers, I may add additional destinations onto my list and possibly extend my stay. As well, after the Balkans, I have tentative plans to travel north to Ukraine and Moldova to explore those countries with friends, but that is also subject to change. As always, the journey is more important than the destination. And as always, I’ll be filling you in with all of my experiences and future plans every step of the way! Until then! Take care and thanks for following along! ❤️