English (Most Younger People in Belgrade and Novi Sad)
Difficulty : Great for Hitchhiking.
Money : Dinar (Very Cheap Country)
Hitch-hiking in Serbia is relatively easy and fun, be a little cautious however if you are Arab, Turkish, Albanian, Black or Gay. The country is a bit more Soviet the the other Balkan countries but the chances of any trouble is slim.
The Cyrillic alphabet is used on road signs.
The two main bag-packer destinations being the capital city of Belgrade (great night-life) and Novi Sad (home of the Exit Festival).
Hitch-hiking at night isn’t recommended though because outside the cities there is very little street light and a high possibility of drunk drivers.
The roads are of a much higher standard then neighbours like Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria. Hitch-hiking on motorways is possible but using the toll stations is recommended.
Serbians are extremely proud to be Serbian and of their history. They generally don’t like Albanians and a debate about Kosovo will quickly become heated. This applies to all Serbians, if you meet the border police with a Kosovo stamp then be prepared to do some explaining or get refused entry.
Everyone smokes here, indoors and outdoors and Rakia is the drink of choice for many locals with a beer. Belgrade has some cool boat clubs with cheap shots along the Danube river too which are definitely worth checking out in the summer months. Serbian girls are among the most beautiful in the world too and very friendly.
Languages : Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian (all similar)
English (A lot of Younger People in Mostar and Sarajevo)
Difficulty : Great for hitchhiking.
Money : BAM, Very Cheap for alcohol and cigarettes. Hostels for around 5 euro per night.
Hitchhiking in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a great and often the fastest mode of transport. The locals are friendly and the lack of motorways makes hitchhiking possible just about everywhere.
The most popular destinations for bag-packers are Sarajevo and Mostar.
Sarajevo the capital is a very historic city. This is where Franz Ferdinand was shot, sparking World War 1. The Muslim call to prayer echoes through the cobbled streets with old buildings which are riddled with bullet holes.
Mostar is a smaller town yet no less charming in its own right, its pride and joy is a curved bridge which locals can be seen jumping off.
Bosnia really offers a lot when it comes to eating out or clubbing on a budget too.
The recent Yugoslav Wars have left the population understandably scarred and split however into Catholic Croatians, Muslim Bosnians and Orthodox Serbians. It’s a topic best not approached seen as you can never be sure who you are speaking to, given how recent it is your likely to be talking to some who lost a close friend or relative.
Some people may like to educate you though on their pasts so just listen respectfully. You will not meet a single local who will speak positively of the current government.
Most of the towns and villages have very large graveyards, bullet-holes in buildings and certain areas of the countryside still have mines. In Mostar the sniper’s building is definitely worth a visit, it has an eerie atmosphere of despair from the battle in Mostar.
Don’t let the history deter you from visiting however, Bosnia is still one of my favourite destinations and there is little to no chance of encountering trouble on the road. The people here have seen enough trouble and are trying to move on with there lives peacefully, and are very open to tourists in my opinion.
I hitchhiked with many locals who spoke no English on my way from Sarajevo to Belgrade and had a great time.
Inter-railers have been travelling through Central European cities like Prague and Budapest for donkeys years thinking they have been visiting Eastern Europe. There is a difference though, even if they were all once part of the USSR some are more “Soviet” than others.
So if you want cheap alcohol, smokes, beautiful girls, some wild nature and to witness a more traditional style of life while hitchhiking then follow these 11 simple rules.
1) Smoke : An important part of everyday life from the age of 14. Even if you are completely against smoking be sure to carry a pack when hitchhiking. The offer of a smoke to someone is a good method for making friends and finding lifts. It’s also a nice gesture when getting into a strangers car. Smoking by the petrol stations and hitchhiking spots somehow makes you look more approachable too.
Beggars are always delighted to take a smoke too and considering a packet will cost less than 2 euro then that’s 20 beggers not bothering you anymore.
All girls and guys smoke too in the bars and nights-clubs, and in some countries like Serbia they smoke inside too. So don’t expect to socialise with locals in a bar without getting smoke in your face. In other words, don’t complain about smoking in Soviet Countries.
2) Enjoy local Vodka / Wine : So you get into a Bulgarian car after 20 minutes of hitch-hiking and he offers you a shot of his home-grown 40% alcohol Rakia. It’s insulting to say no, so just drink it and smile. Even if you make a horrible face from the taste he will be delighted to have shared his own alcohol with you. Offer a smoke in return and you have a comrade for life.
This happens a lot more often then you would think because the alcohol is cheap and most farmers make their own. Whether it be Rakia (Bulgaria, Serbia), Wine (Moldova, Georgia), Vodka (Ukraine, Belarus) or Palinka (Romania, Hungary).
3) Have a Phrasebook : Countries like Georgia have had to fight off invaders from large empires for many centuries and still managed to hold onto their native tounge. Its a good idea to learn maybe hello and cheers in the local lingo as a sign of respect. The Eastern countries are very proud of their language’s and history so don’t expect the people to have an interest in speaking English. A translation of the Cyrillic alphabet will be helpful too.
4) Hate your Neighbour Country…. and Turkey…. and Gypsys : If you are in any of these countries you should speak poorly of the immediate neighbours. Bulgarians don’t like Romanians, Serbs don’t like Bosnians etc. Just pick any country that borders you and curse them!
The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) savaged the Balkans and Georgia hundreds of years ago leaving a sour taste in their mouths and they aren’t prepared to forgive. Don’t praise Istanbul as your favourite city.
Russia on the other hand is half in half. Some people despise Russia and the language while some people are happy to learn Russian. Much of the older generations remember communist times fondly (seriously). None more so then in countries where Russian is still spoken by a large population. Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia and Belarus are examples, some people hate Putin and others admire him. It’s hard to know who’s who so its best really to avoid Russia chat.
Germany gets off scot free by the way, Hitler’s third Reich also raped Eastern Europe but an ill attitude towards ze Germans is very rare. In fact many people learn German rather than English or Russian as children in school.
Gypsys are very despised by the people who aren’t themselves Gypsys and some people will claim that they came from “Fucking Turkey” originally. Especially in Romania, it’s easy to tell a Gypsy from the rest too, they always have much darker skin.
5) : Don’t stand out : Subcultures and fashions such as goths, rockers, hippies etc. do not exist in Soviet Europe and girls often wear jeans to night clubs. Dress plainly, brush out them dreadlocks and throw out that Che Guvera t-shirt. Try not to smile too much either when first making conversation. I’m not saying people are overly serious but a bit more reserved, just don’t come on too strong with high fives or fist pumps.
6) Enjoy Cabbage Soup : The national food of Ukraine, stews and soups will make up your diet when travelling through Eastern Europe. Vegetarian’s needn’t worry.
7) Carry Some Cash and your Passport : Just incase it’s needed, euros will be accepted almost anywhere and exchange stalls/shops are never far away (often far more competitive than banks). Get some exchanged when you can though. I have had to exchange cash before on the street with random people because if your fifty has even the slightest tear on it that angry old bitch in the exchange stall won’t accept it.
Cash comes in handy for a quick bribe too (you never know).
The Passport is required in some countries to be with you at all times, spot checks can happen from the police.
8) Don’t Keep Falling in Love : Yes they are all hot, every young woman. Your going to have to get over it eventually.
9) Meet a Local : Couchsurfing is superb for meeting locals, just post a conversation topic in the main page of whatever city you are in. You now have a free tour guide because most young folk actually know their city’s history in Eastern Europe.
10) Be Tolerant : When out socialising just remember that some aspects of education and what’s accepted by society are certainly different here. Don’t claim that Communism was horrible or that the Allies could of won WW2 without Russia, it will lead to heated debates. Who’s to say your education is perfect?
Also don’t complain about issues like the lack or rights for gays, racism or how Gypsys treat horses etc.
Yes it’s not fair but your not going to change the mindsets of millions of people while starting an argument at a bar. You might however get your head kicked in by Dimitri and Igor.
11) Don’t do Drugs : The educations system in some of these places has people convinced weed is about as harmful for you as heroin. Do not under any circumstances approach a border carrying weed (or any other recreational drug). If you do you could be facing jail time in some very shit conditions.
In countries like Bulgaria (where weed can grow wild), Ukraine and Belarus you can’t even find skins for rolled up cigarettes easily, and you definitely won’t find a bong for sale. Alcohol abuse and chain smoking is common if not encouraged, but drugs are seemingly the devil! Just don’t bring any.
Languages : Slovenian (Similar to other Baltic Languages)
English (Many People in Ljubljana, Especially Students)
Difficulty : Small Country that’s easy to Hitchhike, people are friendly.
Money : Euro, cheaper than Western Europe but nowhere near as cheap as other former Yugoslavian states like Serbia.
Hitchhiking in Slovenia isn’t difficult. Slovenia is a small EU country home to around 2 million people and a language of around 2.5 million native speakers.
Not many people can find it on a map if we are honest. The Slovenian people are very proud of their culture however and Ljubljana is a real charming and welcoming town.
It is often confused with Slovakia. The story goes that once the Slovenians and Slovakians were one people however they became divided and since then their languages have separated.
The first country to gain independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it can be considered the most modern of the former Yugoslavian nations due to its strong connections with Western Countries. Don’t expect to be collected when hitchhiking here in a gypsy kart or old Lada.
To get off on the right foot with Slovenians its advisable to compliment the beauty of Slovenia’s countryside and hills. Ask questions about France Preseren a Slovenian poet to get the conversation flowing. I found Slovenians very welcoming, they will invite you for a drink later or they might offer to share some weed.
Besides the picturesque city of Ljubljana with it’s decent night-life, Slovenia boasts a coastline, caves and mountain hiking for a backpacker to enjoy hitchhiking in Slovenia.
Languages : Croatian (Similar to rbBalkan Languages)
English (Most Younger People, Especially Students),
Italian (Widely Spoken)
Difficulty : Good country for hitchhiking, the coastal road has a lot of useful tourist traffic but Zagreb can be difficult to leave.
Money : Kuna, cheaper than Western Europe but nowhere near as cheap as other former Yugoslavian states like Serbia. Tourist towns like Dubrovnik are noticeably more expensive.
Hitchhiking in Croatia is a great way to get around a country which is home to a beautiful coastline, two world famous national parks, and many barely inhabited islands. In other words it offers something for the sun-bather, party animal, hiker and adventurer.
When hitchhiking to Dubrovnik it’s important to remember that you will enter and leave Bosnia and Herzegovina in doing so. The border is a bit strange as it cuts Dubrovnik off from the rest of Croatia. Be prepared as when I crossed this border hitchhiking from Split the car I was in got searched and we were delayed an hour or two.
Zagreb is a nice city with a very unique museum, “The Museum of Broken Relationships“. Most of the tourists in Croatia head for the coastal towns like Split, Dubrovnik and Zadar. The hostels in these towns are full of drunken tourists from Western Europe visiting for the beaches and cheap alcohol.
Usually these young tourists make up the majority of the summer coastal traffic with over-packed cars, however hitchhiking a ride is definitely possible. When travelling with locals it is best not to bring up the Yugoslav Wars. Most Croatians have lived through the war and it’s a touchy subject. If you just came from Serbia then don’t talk about it.
When travelling away from the coast I highly recommend Krka Park because you can swim in the waterfall at this park. The nature is quite stunning. When camping however be wary of land mines leftover from the war, they aren’t common. If you see a warning sign however do not go any further off the beaten track.