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.
Hitchhiking from Sarajevo to Belgrade was definitely one of the longest and best remembered days I have ever had on the road.
Hitchhiking at least 10 different cars with fishermen, farmers, business men and all sorts of interesting characters from Bosnia and Serbia.
I even got set-up on a date with one Serbian man’s daughter in one car.
The road was rough for most of the journey with low traffic but it was possible to hitchhike anywhere (at least until the Serbia border anyway).
I hopped from village to village in Bosnia catching lifts in Mk2 VW Golfs and VW Camper Vans which make up 90% of the rural traffic there.
The rides in Serbia were longer and much faster. In either country no-one spoke English except for one Bosnian, sign language and a map had to just about suffice.
I left Sarajevo in the early morning walking along the road to Donja Ljubogosta which goes through a tunnel just outside the city which is dangerous enough to walk but can be done (I did it). The traffic might be less then impressed.
A man in a bus pulled over after the first tunnel to politely shout something at me, when he realized I was foreigner he was a sound ambassador for his new country and offered me a lift. The place where he collected me being marked in red below.Overall Rating : OK, no space for a car to pull in
Waiting Time : Had been walking maybe 15 mins
After getting dropped off near a petrol station at Donja Ljubogosta I strolled up the road 100 meters to the fork in the road. There was a few locals here already hitchhiking and I noticed some Serbia flags hanging from houses from here on, this part of Bosnia is home to mainly Orthodox, Serbian speaking folk who consider themselves Serbian.
I joined the queue of locals hitchhiking on the road over the bridge (at the green mark on the map) looking all natural and not like a bag-packer at all I hope. A sign isn’t needed just wait until your turn to be picked up.
Overall Rating : Great, mostly local traffic. You could try a sign for “Beograd” (Belgrade in Serbian) but its better to take any lifts you get and just to keep moving.
Waiting Time : 10 mins
A man in a van delivering bread to a bakery (mind blowing stuff) brought me a few miles to Sumbolovac. Here I just walked to the edge of the village and stood with my thumb out again where there was space for a car to pull in.
It only took maybe 10 minutes before I was on the road again. If you get impatient just walk along the roads with your thumb out whenever you hear the rumble of some banged up car coming around the bend and hope its a “comrade”.
This pattern repeated itself maybe ten times until the Serbia border. I won’t go into detail on each place I caught a lift because I don’t remember each village and it really dosen’t matter. You can thumb anywhere and walk anywhere.
Some traffic will go maybe two or three villages and most will be going only a few miles, just keep taking lifts. Don’t be bothered if the car has no seat-belts (I gave up checking) or if the driver is chain smoking (most were). Definitely act normal if the driver is drinking beer, I got offered beer in two cars by drinking drivers. Dogs were common too on the passenger seats.
The one guy who spoke English had a very long chat with me and took me to his favourite fishing location. He had run to Italy as a teenager (now probably a hundred) and took a boat to Australia where he worked for many years. He truly had an inspirational life, and gave me his number in case I ran into trouble on the road.
Beside me in the van though was a live goat which he had just bought and planned on killing because he recently got good news. I shit you not.
He began to rant about the divide up of Yugoslavia after the wars and got quite emotional. I sat and listened as he recalled the good old days when there was no border between him and his friends. Not the first or last man I’v meet on my journeys to praise the days under Tito’s Communist Dictatorship. I didn’t meet a single Bosnian who praised the current state of affairs once.
On the road from Sarajevo to Belgrade not only is there some beautiful nature but you will meet all sorts of interesting “Soviet” characters like him, some of whom have barely left their little villages in their entire life.
Some places appeared quite lawless too and one old man asked for money when he collected me, I refused though saying I had none and he understood enough. Offering a cigerette in these situations usually will suffice. Carry a packet even if you don’t smoke because everySerbian smokes.
To walk across the border you need to first walk over a bridge (a river runs along the border). I encountered no problems from the guards and wasn’t searched. I immediately stuck out my thumb again after the border and quickly got picked up.
This time by a man with one arm and one leg, my jaw dropped when he hopped out of the old merc to open my door. He managed to speed along the road maneuvering with only half a body! He didn’t speak English but I assume he unfortunately stepped on a landmine. He clearly wasn’t letting it hold him back in life though, what a mad bastard he was on the road! Drove like a rally driver I swear.
I got dropped off at a petrol station where my driver hopped out of the car to yell at the attendant in Serbian to find me a lift to Belgrade. Possibly scared of the one legged Schumaker he quickly found me a lift with a guy who was heading to Novi-Sad.
The “not so chatty because I’m always on my phone guy” dropped me at the toll booth on the E70 motorway to Belgrade. An excellent and popular location to hitchhike to Belgrade that wasn’t a completely random spot on the side of the road.
Overall Rating : Great for Belgrade, just stand on the other side of the booth and a driver will collect you after they pay.
Waiting Time : 15 mins
The old man who collected me had no English but quite luckily his daughter did. He rang her up and gave me the phone. What a Gentleman if I might say, I had a date set up for the next day in the city. If you have ever been to Serbia you will know that 99.9% of the girls are extremely hot, so the odds were staked in my favor to land a humdinger of a lady, God I love Eastern European genetics.
All in all it took a full day to make this journey and it was without a doubt my most exciting day on the road that Summer. It was my first experience of the more Soviet parts of Europe too, where lifts are simple to get but no-one speaks any English. Offering a cigerette is all the communication that is needed however to become lifelong comrades.
The Balkan countries truly are scattered with beautiful nature, women and friendly people throughout the countryside.
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.