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Europe Tips and Tricks

10 Tips on How to Prepare a Trip (to the Balkans)

Usually I like to leave my plans open, but in the past I had some not so good experiences. But it is with those experiences that we learn how to avoid the same mistakes to happen again. For this trip, the plan wasn’t for just one country, but for a whole area. A trip of 10 days crossing the Balkans.

1 – Preparing the trip

When? With whom? Where to? How? These are the questions that most people ask, and not always there’s a need for an answer. Each person has their own travel style, the important thing is to know which ones to ask.

In my case, the first question I asked was “When?”, and that made the difference in how I prepared for my trip. Perks of traveling during high season? More transportation options, more travelers, more information. Disadvantages? The same! More travelers, means crowded transports, as well as more fully booked places. You should prepare your trip!

2 – Planning the trip

It’s time to start asking other questions, if there is space for improvisation or not, if not then you must know what’s really important. Since I like to improvise, the first thing I did was booking the flights. To Zagreb and return from Athens. This was almost impulsive, it is quite a long distance passing through several countries with not so much margin for delays…, and considering that I had to detail my plan. After all, the goal was to cross the Balkans!

Booking.com

3 – Deciding where to go

Once my flights where booked, I only had to find out how I would get from point A to point B. I had some flexibility, and countless possible routes! So it was time for me to define my route.

Syros, Greece
Syros, Greece

4 – Tourism vs Traveling

No, those are not synonyms. Not even when we go on holidays. Traveling from Zagreb to Athens is a long distance, and a lot to see in between. There were two options, run, run and run and arrive in Athens. Or define a list of priorities, like I did in Japan.

5 – Set base points

Considering one can’t see everything, then the best way is to try to enjoy whatever I can. I set a list of 5 cities / towns where to stay, and leave it open what I would see around. It is way less tiresome than to carry a backpack the whole time. There is always something interesting to see in a distance of 1 or two hours from where we are based.

After setting the base points, then I can start making bookings if needed. For my trip to Japan, since I was there during low season, I booked everything the day before while I was adjusting my plans. For the Balkans isn’t that simple, therefore I decided to book everything before flying.

6 – Research

Yes, this is only the sixth point, but once again, this will all depend on each person’s style. Since I booked impulsively, I had much more to decide before starting with researching what to see. Of course I had to research a bit before about what I would like to see, but I already had a few places in my mind that I really wanted to visit (and Dubrovnik wasn’t on the list for this trip…).

10 Tips on How to Prepare a Trip (to the Balkans)
10 Tips on How to Prepare a Trip (to the Balkans)

What I consider the most important thing is on how to go from one city to the next. And try to understand if there is the need to make any adjustments into the route, which ended up happening. I also found one that there some highly touristic routes, and in some less popular countries, these routes are an excellent way to go from one city to the next. I contacted travel companies, bloggers and I used apps to create this route.

7 – Bookings

And after all the preparing and planning, it is time to make bookings! But does it really worth it? The trip was during high season, and a zone that is becoming really popular, bringing even more tourists. I decided to go on a “tourism trip”, so I could relax and not having to get too worried about the transportation schedules. I booked (almost) everything, transportation and accommodation. Less worries.

8 – Organize the documentation

This part I consider really important, which I ended up doing for last. It is extremely important to have all the documents organized. Bookings, addresses, contacts, a copy of the passport, etc. It is important to have all of this in duplicate, a digital copy in the mail (or any other online place that we can access easily), and another in paper format to carry with us during the trip. Sometimes bad things happen, and these documents are really important to have in case you face some bad luck.

Do not travel without Travel Insurance!

I highly recommend World Nomads, travel insurance oriented to travelers. Well detailed before the unexpected happens!

9 – Call the bank!

I learnt about this by chance, but some of my friends learnt this the hard way. Banking security can work against the user himself. You should always call your bank if you are traveling to certain countries. The bank might consider transactions in certain countries as suspicious, so they should know you will be traveling in those countries, so that won’t block your card. And if possible, try to have more than one card, of different banks. And keep them in different places. Pickpocketing happens often, and you won’t be caught in a situation without money nor access to your own bank account.

I also recommend using Revolut, this will save you money in transactions and also avoid your card to get blocked. Besides, there are a few security levels that can be easily controlled from your smart phone.

10 – Enjoy the trip

I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance, it is money well spent even if you never have to use it. Holidays are meant to relax and not to worry about misadventures. It doesn’t only happens to other people…

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By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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