Balkan Road Trip Planning Guide
If you’re planning a road trip in the Balkans this is the guide for you. This article has everything you need to know about planning your Balkans itinerary for an epic road trip. Including answers to all your Balkans road trip questions like how long do you need and how much does it cost to travel in the Balkans.
This post answers questions about the logistics of a road trip in the Balkans. If you want some ideas for places to stop along the way, have a read of these:
Best places to see in: Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo
Best places to see in: Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria
We didn't get to Croatia but if you're looking for a road trip itinerary you can check out this great post we found with all the info you need about Croatia.
Planning a Route Through the Balkans
We spent three months on a road trip and our route through the Balkans looked like this….
As you can see, we had to do a bit of zig-zagging to get to everywhere we wanted to go but luckily driving distances are short so we could cover a lot in three months. Your route through the Balkans will obviously depend on where you start and finish and how much time you have. My advice is to put dots in the places you really want to see and then join the dots in the most logical way.
You might have to make some sacrifices, we didn't get to the north of Serbia or to Greece, but there's always next time!
Why a road trip instead of public transport in the Balkans?
Driving is the perfect way to see the Balkans for several reasons:
You can stop wherever you like. There are so many amazing views and things to see in the Balkans you’ll spend more time on the side of the road with your camera than actually driving!
You can get to anywhere. Well almost anywhere as some of the roads in the Balkans aren’t actually made for driving. Find out more about driving in the Balkans in this handy post. It covers everything you need to know about insurance, petrol costs, road tolls etc.
You make your own schedule. No waiting for a bus that’s late or only leaves once a day.
Petrol prices are cheap in many Balkan countries.
Public transport in the Balkans has a reputation for being pretty terrible. Although we never used it so we can’t compare!
You don’t have to drive far. We drove an average of about 100-150km on driving days. Sometimes this took a few hours sometimes less. You never know what you’re going to get with Balkan roads!
There are, of course, also some downsides to taking a car or van through the Balkans. Make sure you consider all of the costs that might be involved e.g car hire, insurance, petrol. Public transport or hitchhiking are definitely cheaper options.
Driving in the Balkans can be dangerous and scary. We never had any major problems but there is a much more relaxed attitude to road rules and some of the roads are really only reasonable for a 4x4. But with a good attitude and nerves of steel it's well worth it.
Car Hire in the Balkans
We drove with our own van from Germany so have no experience with car hire in the Balkans although it seems to be very common practice in this area. Prices range and start at around €10 per day depending on the country you hire it in.
It’s important to check your plans with the car hire company as there are varying insurance policies that cover various countries. Most car hire companies in the Balkans will include a green card insurance which covers most countries except Kosovo. But be sure to check so you don’t get stung with huge insurance fees at the border!
We hear good reports from Sixt Car Rental for being able to visit most Balkan countries. Also, Enterprise Car Rental will apparently sell a green card for an aditional fee allowing you to visit all countries except Kosovo.
Albania seems to be the most difficult as most car hire companies won’t allow you to bring a car there. So consider renting a car only in Albania, taking public transport across a border and picking up your next rental car in the next country to do the rest.
How long do you need for a Balkan road trip?
We could have spent years! If you want to stop in places for more than one day and see several places in each country I recommend planning at least a week per country. We spent less in some places e.g Serbia as we wanted to spend longer in others e.g Albania where we spent four weeks.
If you have less time choose a couple of countries you want to go to most and do them well. It’s not worth spending the whole time driving. Like really not, driving in the Balkans is something you don’t want to do more than strictly necessary.
How much does a road trip in the Balkans cost?
Short answer: it depends.
Here are some basic costs to help you plan your Balkan road trip, obviously it varies between countries, but this will give you a guide.
Campground: €10-20/night (2 people and a vehicle)
Private room: €15-30
Meal in a local restaurant: €3-€10
Fresh fruit and vegetables are very cheap and living off burek is a viable option for hardcore budget travellers. At just 60c per piece, we had this almost daily!
In 3 months we spent an average of €270 per week including all food, accommodation and fuel costs. We mixed wild camping with Airbnbs and campgrounds. We ate at restaurants every second day and cooked meals in the van. We drank coffee or beer almost daily but avoided most tourist attractions with large costs.
Crossing borders in the Balkans
The conclusion that we came to after crossing borders in the Balkans and talking to other travellers was that Balkan border crossings are very variable. And I don't just mean between countries or locations, I mean the same border on two different days or even times.
It's possible you'll get a thorough vehicle and document check, stamped passports and some questions totaling up to an hour of your time. There are other times where you'll get a tick on a piece of paper and be through - a total of about 10 seconds. No stamps, no checks.
It's impossible to tell when or where you'll get each one but in general, we never spent more than half an hour crossing a border and only had the interior of the van checked once (leaving Albania). Most of the border staff we encountered were either friendly and easy-going or decidedly neutral to our existence. Make sure you have the green insurance card, car documents and passports ready.
Don't know what I'm on about with all the car stuff? Check out everything you need to know about driving in the Balkans.
When is the best time to travel in the Balkans?
We travelled the Balkans in July to October. Luckily, even peak season in the Balkans is very easy-going compared to Western Europe. But our favourite month by far was September. The weather was still warm enough to enjoy the beaches and camp. But there was hardly anyone else around and we often had the beach all to ourselves.
I imagine it’s a similar situation in late May-June. By October it was cooling down a bit and there was a lot more rain. Sogginess definitely makes van life a bit less awesome.
Do you need a visa for the Balkans?
It depends on your passport but mostly, no. Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Greece are all part of the European Union and can be entered with a Schengen Zone visa.
Citizens of the EU, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries can enter Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia visa-free for 90 days.
Where to stay in the Balkans?
If you’re travelling with a van or a tent you will be spoilt for choice. Camping in the Balkans is amazing and a great way to experience nature and save some money. We even wrote an article on our favourite campgrounds in the Balkans.
If wild camping is more your thing then you’re in luck. Wild camping is legal in many countries in the Balkans and mostly ignored in the others. Croatia is the only place we heard of people having problems. So take advantage of some of the amazing places to pull over and camp. But remember to be responsible and considerate of others and the environment! Wild camping on the Albanian coast was one of our favourite experiences of our trip so far!
When you need some indoor time or if you want to travel with a little more luxury then you’ll find plenty of good accommodation in the Balkans. Airbnb is used in many areas and you can often find a great deal (Get €35 off your first stay). There are hostels in the cities and booking.com will show you a good range of these as well as affordable guesthouses and hotels.
Other tips for planning a road trip in the Balkans
Look at a map! Have a good overview of the area in your head. You can cut out a lot of driving by planning your trip in advance and having a good idea of the route you’re going to take. We didn’t do this and you’ve seen our snakey route! We recommend getting old school with a proper paper map to draw your route. We used this one.
Make sure you are flexible. We almost always took longer than our GPS suggested.
Read into border crossings and paperwork requirements before you get to the border! Yea, we didn’t do this either- big regret! Check out the resource section below for more info.
Give yourself flexi-time in your schedule. We stayed days in places we planned to stop overnight and vice versa.
Get a sim-card in each country. Sounds like a lot of hassle but it’s actually really cheap and simple. Anywhere we were staying longer than a week we purchased a sim-card so we could get directions on the road. This website gives a great break-down of the costs and options.
So now you know everything you need to start planning your perfect road trip in the Balkans. Here are some other resources to help your planning! If you have any questions feel free to leave us a comment below.
Other Helpful Resources
Complete Guide to Driving in the Balkans - everything you need to know about car insurance, safety on the roads and an individual breakdown of road conditions and petrol prices in each country.
Top Spots in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo - Top three spots to visit (plus some bonus ones) in each country including recommended time in each.
Top Spots in Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria - Summary of the best places to visit in these countries with recommended amount of days.
Best Campgrounds in the Balkans - The most amazing places we stopped for hot showers, laundry facilities and social interaction!
Best Wild Camping Spots in Albania - 3 weeks of Albanian beaches to ourselves! These were our favourite places to free camp including co-ordinates, photos and descriptions of the area.
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia is a cute little city with an edgy vibe. A beautiful old town set on a river, castle on a hill and plenty of cafes and restaurants. Here's your complete city guide.
Tirana is the quirky and colourful capital of Albania and is definitely worth stopping in for a few days. Find out everything you need to know about Tirana.
Sofia, Bulgaria is a European city with an interesting blend of Russian and Balkan influences. There are lots of things to see and do in Sofia.