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Here are packing tips from a traveler who spent two summer months roaming from town to town in the Balkans out of a backpack. Read on what to pack for the Western Balkan Peninsula!
What to Pack for the Western Balkans
Written By: Lola Méndez
If you’re looking for a summer destination that has yet to be completely altered by mainstream tourism, you’ll love exploring the Western Balkan Peninsula.
Last summer, I needed to get out of the Schengen Zone as my visa days were running out. It so happens that this region is located outside of the 90-day Schengen Zone. It was mid-July and I was craving surf, sand, and sun. My budget was extremely limited, so I couldn’t afford to fly anywhere.
Without a plan, I boarded an 18-hour bus ride from Florence, Italy to Zagreb, Croatia. I had been to Split, Croatia a few months before and had fallen in love with the lush countryside, waterfalls, pristine beaches, and incredible cuisine.
On this new adventure, I’d spend two months discovering and adventuring the magical Balkan region.
You may be wondering which countries make up the Western Balkans. Balkan means “a chain of wooded mountains” in Turkish, which makes perfect sense due to the landscape and that the area was once a part of the Ottoman Empire. The Western Balkans consist of the European countries of ex-Yugoslavia (excluding Slovenia) and Albania.
Yugoslavia dissolved in the 1990s, but these countries are now very safe. You’ll find so much life, love, color, and joy here. You’ll also come across former war zones, destroyed buildings covered in bullet holes, and remnants of bomb shells.
You’ll have the opportunity to learn by hearing stories of the wars and survival from locals. You’ll also be told all about the local wine, cultural heritage, dance, and folklore. You’ll eat cheese on everything and have some of the best garden-fresh fruits and vegetables of your life!
The Balkan peninsula is between the Adriatic, Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Sea. With all these beaches, you already know that you need to pack an array of swimwear, sunglasses, and sunblock!
Read on for more advice and what to pack for a month-long adventure hopping from one beach town to the next in Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania. And if you’re heading inland to explore the mountains, culture, and UNESCO World Heritage sites of Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, we’ve got tips for those countries, too.
Packing Essentials for Backpacking the Balkans
You’ll be crossing country borders often, so it’s crucial that you have a valid passport with at least 6 months left before the expiration date. You’ll need plenty of pages as you’ll be receiving entry and exit stamps from each country you visit. Luckily, most Balkan countries offer 90-day tourist visas.
If you fall in love with a place and want to stay longer, you have the option to extend your stay for a few weeks. With this visa scheme you could essentially stay in the Balkan peninsula for nearly two years!
If you plan to see Serbia and Kosovo, make sure you visit Serbia first–they don’t recognize Kosovo as a country and you’ll have trouble entering Serbia with a Kosovo stamp. Also, you cannot enter Serbia from Kosovo, so plan your itinerary accordingly.
Read these tips on how to keep your passport safe while traveling!
When you’re moving from bus station to hostel and back, it’s important that you have baggage that’s easy to carry. I switched over from a small roller suitcase to a backpack a few years ago when I started traveling every weekend while living in Europe.
Now that I travel full-time, I cannot imagine going back to pulling luggage around! In the Balkans, I found that many of my hostels were located uphill from main roads; I can’t imagine doing those treks with a suitcase!
Try to select a backpack that has sturdy support in the straps and back as well as a hip belt for a more comfortable fit and less strain on your body.
I love this bright bag from the ethical retailer, Patagonia. The backpack is made of 100% recycled polyester and has a water-repellent finish. It even has a padded sleeve to protect your laptop.
Find out why Osprey makes the best travel backpacks!
International Debit Card
While the Balkan countries are eager to join the EU, Croatia is currently the only official member. Each country uses its own currency–not the Euro. Likewise, as you cross borders, you’ll have to change your currency. I find it best to withdraw small amounts for daily expenses so I don’t waste money on exchange fees.
Of course, ATM fees can get costly so I strongly recommend getting an international debit card that reimburses ATM fees such as the travelers’ favorite, Charles Schwab.
Another option, of course, is to bring as much cash as you expect to spend and then exchange it for local money when you arrive in each new country.
Where’s the best place to exchange foreign currency? Read these tips!
While the Balkans are becoming more modern, much of the population is still quite conservative, especially in smaller towns away from popular beaches. To avoid stares or feeling inappropriately dressed, pack a lightweight maxi dress. It’s the most versatile summer item in your wardrobe.
You can throw on a tee and tie it in the middle to transform your dress into a skirt or layer on accessories to make it more glamorous for evening. This striped style from ethical retailer Everlane is a personal favorite.
We’ve got a roundup of beautiful summer maxi dresses!
It’s likely that you’ll spend a lot of time on buses and trains moving from one destination to the next. You’ll want to pack a comfortable pair of pants for long journeys that can double as exercise gear for hikes.
My go-to leggings are from Gap Body, as seen above. They stay tight and snug for ages and are totally opaque. I love the little pocket in the waist that can fit your accommodation key and some cash while you’re out hiking the beautiful terrain.
These are the best leggings for women who travel as voted by our readers!
Another key to comfort is a fantastic sports bra. You’ll wear this on long journeys and hikes. Bonus points if you pack a cute one like this C9 Champion item from Target that can double as a swimsuit top.
Find out how to rock the athleisure wear trend on your next trip!
A simple t-shirt will be worn multiple ways on your trip. Toss it over your sports bra on hikes or layer it with your dress to create a fun summer outfit.
I love the 3-pack from H&M’s sustainable Conscious collection from the men’s department. The round neck and long length are super flattering and versatile. These are super soft and cozy for sleeping, too.
A lightweight scarf has endless uses. It can be used as a beach towel, blanket, shawl, sarong, and so much more. You’ll use the scarf often in Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to cover your hair while exploring beautiful mosques.
You can get creative and find new ways to wrap your scarf around as a top to go with your leggings or over your maxi dress as a shawl. This striped version from The Little Market is adorable, and ethically made by craftswomen in Ethiopia.
Read these tips on how you can use a beach sarong wrap on your next trip!
The Balkans are home to some of the most crystal clear seas I’ve ever seen. Pack at least two swimsuits so you always have a dry one ready to go when the surf starts calling your name! It would be optimal to pack a bikini and a one-piece to make sure you feel comfortable in more conservative areas.
Don’t miss Nin in Croatia, which boasts the sandy Queens Beach (most of the other beaches are rocky) and therapeutic natural mud. For some beaches, you won’t even need a bikini!
The brave can bare it all in their birthday suits and soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia or my favorite, Ladies Beach in Ulcinj, Montenegro, which is believed to have fertility powers in the water! In Ulcinj there’s also a nudist Island, Ada Bojana. Albania has mostly wild beaches that require hiking to reach, but reward you with raw nature and minimal crowds.
Here are the best one-piece swimsuits of the season!
It’s summertime, so I sure hope your favorite pair of shades are protecting your eyes when you’re outdoors. This translucent pair from Covry are modern and playful.
They’ll easily match with any ensemble and look super cool in selfies. Bonus points as the lenses offer 100% UV protection!
Check out these fashionable summer accessories that will add style to your vacation wardrobe!
The most important footwear you could pack for this trip are a pair of rock beach shoes. You might be surprised to learn that Balkan beaches aren’t covered in sand, but rather stones of all shapes and sizes.
Flip-flops won’t stay on your feet as you try to maneuver across the coastline. The tiny stones can be quite painful to walk on.
I wish I’d brought a pair like these bright Speedo water shoes with me. They’re waterproof and lightweight so they can easily be worn in the ocean as when you go in for a swim. They might not look the cutest, but they are essential to enjoy the beach!
Find out which water shoes to wear for which activities!
If you only have room for one pair of shoes, try to find a pair of sneakers that are sturdy enough for hikes and long walks. Throughout the Balkan peninsula, you’ll have many opportunities to spend time in nature.
You’ll hike through forests to discover exclusive beaches in Albania, climb up to waterfalls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or hike mountains in Montenegro. The most popular trek is Theth, Valbona in Albania. In Dubrovnik, Croatia, you can climb the ancient city walls and in Kotor, Montenegro, you can take a steep walk up the fortress walls that line a mountain for a birdseye view of the village.
You’ll be happy you packed these! To avoid taking up room in your backpack, wear your sneakers on your transportation trip to the Balkans. Comfort is key and a white pair would simply get destroyed (unless you’ll only be spending time in the cities and not hiking). These adidas Terrex sneakers are durable and intended for outdoor use.
Check out our list of the top womens casual sneakers!
As a fashionista, you probably wouldn’t be caught wearing your beach shoes out at night. These foldable ballet flats are a backpacker’s dream as they hardly take up any space but are comfortable and chic. You never know when you might get whisked away to join into a traditional Serbian dance celebration and with these shoes you’ll be ready to boogie!
Yosi Samra has dozens of options of stylish flats but this sage pair are will make your t-shirt and maxi dress combo feel pretty and comfortable.
These are the cutest and most comfortable ballet flats for travel!
Some days, you may leave your accommodation and head to the beach, a waterfall, and a hike, so you’ll want a carry-all bag that can hold all your essentials. Keep cash, sunscreen, lip balm, a reusable water bottle, bandaids, sunglasses, and a photocopy of your passport in your bag.
This turquoise quilted fabric backpack from Vera Bradley is great because you can easily wear it on the front of your body when you’re traveling with your larger backpack on your back to stay balanced en route to your next adventure!
These are gorgeously designed cute backpacks for travel!
What are your tips on packing for the Balkan Peninsula? Share in the comments!
For more ideas on what to pack when traveling to Europe, please read below:
- The Only Backpacking Packing List for Europe You’ll Ever Need!
- 10-Step Packing Guide for Europe
- How to Choose the Best Walking Shoes for Europe
- The Top Europe Suitcase Recommendations
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Author Bio: Lola Méndez is a full-time traveler sharing her adventures on Miss Filatelista as she adds to her collection of passport stamps. She travels to develop her own worldview and has explored 45 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.