Backpacking the Balkans in Off Season – What to expect

This blog post covers what to expect if you’re travelling to the Balkans in off-season!I’ll let you know what to be prepared for and how it differs from the high season, as well as giving some advice that will hopefully help you on your journey. 

BE PREPARED FOR BAD WEATHER

 Okay, so this probably goes without saying! It’s definitely worth checking the usual temperatures and rain levels in the specific regions you’re going though and checking your dates. I began my trip in late October and experienced mid-20s, warm and sunny weather in Mostar. A month later I was finishing my trip in Montenegro after a week of on and off heavy rain. So, offseason in the Balkans means warmer clothes and rain jackets, particularly if heading to the mountains. You’ll want to pack very differently for Bulgaria in Winter compared to Croatia so bear that in mind! 

PLAN YOUR ROUTES WISELY


Speaking of mountains, some of the routes could get flooded in more off the beaten track parts. When travelling in Montenegro by car, we decided against going to certain areas as the routes flooded. It was no biggie, we checked with accommodations or tourist information the morning of any long road distances and asked for advice on the best routes. We still had a great trip.Be flexible and enjoy wherever the road takes you!

In my 3 weeks by bus, I was actually unaffected by the rain. Travelling between key cities where the roads are good, you’re unlikely to experience any flooding. 

Ask your accommodation or the individual country’s tourism board if you’re worried about potential road closures caused by bad weather, particularly if travelling by car.

 

LESS TRAFFIC AND QUIETER ROADS

There are some advantages to driving during the Balkans off-season however.Firstly, it means speedier border controls and bus journeys, which is great. In fact, I barely encountered any notable traffic jams at all. 

It is also easier conditions for any road-trippers looking to take on the small mountain roads. Don’t fancy having to make way for a tour bus on a hairpin turn? Off-season might be for you!



QUIETER HOSTELS

A blessing or a curse?

I did like how much easier it was to sleep in such quiet hostels, that’s for sure. When I did meet other backpackers, they tended to be an older crowd than what I’ve found in other destinations which suited me.Though other times I was the only guest in the entire hostel. Cheap af private rooms are great and all but, well, it’s lonely.If you’re someone who enjoys a thriving social atmosphere when you travel, you might get a little bored by the mellow vibes. It’s also worth noting that in some areas, particularly coastal areas, many bars and restaurants do not open.


MOST ACTIVITIES WERE STILL OPEN

I went in November, but I also spoke to a couple who travelled the Balkans in January and had no big issues.
 
Again check in advance, but most city activities will still be open albeit at potentially reduced hours. The only closure I saw was the Mausoleum in Lovcen National Park – this attraction atop a winding mountain road was cloaked in mist and not accepting visitors.

Check opening hours in advance. Your hostel or the tourism board will be able to tell you more accurate information than online. You could even email them in advance of your trip for tips!

WINTER WONDERLAND

If you’re into skiing, This is the perfect time for you to visit! Ski season in the Balkans is much, much cheaper than other regions in Europe.  You definitely won’t catch anyone swimming in the vast lakes or Adriatic sea mind!Plan a Winter visit carefully if you’re expecting snow. Plan specific locations which are easily accessible, rather than spontaneous road-tripping – those winding mountain roads are already dicey even before they get icy.

Ah, and check if the country you’re visiting has festive activities such as Christmas markets, concerts or unique traditional events!



RESTAURANT CLOSURES (DIETARY REQUIREMENTS)



There’ll still be plenty of places to eat, so this one is more likely to affect anyone with a dietary requirement (Like meee).

Throughout the Balkans, I found it easy to find wholesome veggie food in capital cities. But elsewhere, the food was always the same: grilled vegetables (Often a less than nutritious portion) with pasta, rice or bread. I struggled to get the protein-heavy diet I’m used to and started to feel quite weak. Places well-known for veggie food were often closed outside of tourist season.

You’re better off heading to a supermarket in search of your required food and booking accommodation with a stovetop, at least for some of your meals, and particularly if you’re not spending much time in capital cities. Try health food stores for more variety.In the capital cities, such as Skopje in North Macedonia, vegetarian food was plentiful.

BUSES ARE STILL RUNNING

The buses between key cities all still appeared to be running, at least in November. I heard a few reports of some reduced service in Winter months but no closures. At the end of the day, locals use these buses more than backpackers to do and they still need to get about!


LESS CROWDS AT TOURIST SITES

This one is a definite plus. Was great having a chance to take everything in without swarms of crowds around, particularly in places that are traditionally super touristy.Even in mid-afternoon in Dubrovnik, which gets notoriously crowded, I could casually stroll the streets without too many people about. 

And with fewer crowds, means fewer scams and pushy salesmen too! Not a huge problem in the Balkans but it still happens, usually by means of overcharging or trying to incentivise you to pay for activities or goods you aren’t sure you want. Not a huge deal, but a small blessing that this doesn’t happen quite as much in offseason.I only had three hours of daylight Croatia (before a flight). Thankfully, fewer crowds meant I could nip around the old town with ease.  Could this be the biggest bonus of travelling the Balkans in the off-season?



LOWER PRICES

It’s hard to tell this when you’re there, as Balkans are already known for low prices and there’s nothing to compare it too! But many accommodations, rental car companies and activities see lower prices in the less competitive rainy season. Good news for us budget backpackers like myself.For a more thorough outlook of what it’s like to travel in the Balkans, please see my blog post here: https://cassiethehag.com/balkans-tips-car-public-transport/ This post includes practical tips alongside a comparison of the pros and cons of travelling the Balkans by both public transport and rental car.

 

Are you planning on heading to the Balkans in the off-season? I hope you have a great trip! Or if you already did, let me know which tips I missed in the comments below.20191209_172323_0000326322235165664936.png

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