19 days, 2500km, 6 countries, beautiful landscapes, diverse cities, various cultures, kind people, cevapcici and lifelong lasting memories. This is how I would sum up our hitchhiking trip to the Balkans.
In the beginning of July my host brother from the US joined me to explore the former Yugoslavian countries. The main motives to choose this route were the curiosity about Balkan culture, beautiful national parks in Croatia, beaches and many diverse cities particularly in Bosnia and Serbia. We used all kinds of transportation such as buses, boats, bikes but mainly we used cars. We hitchhiked around 2000km with 36 different drivers and 1 bus with tourists from Vietnam (one of my favorite rides 😉 ). We also used different forms of accommodation, we slept on campsites, Airbnb, private rooms and we also couchsurfed.
We ate mostly street food, cooked own meals and sometimes we went to a budget bistro to try some local cuisine. The truth is, it wasn’t the most comfortable style of traveling, but our aim was to make the trip as authentic as possible, connect with locals and experience the countries from a different angle while maintaining on low budget. I believe that we have achieved this goal.
We started our journey, equipped with two card boards, at a gas station south of Vienna on an early Saturday morning. We haven’t hitchhiked before so it was a little awkward to stick up the thumb and expect someone to stop, this feeling went away quite quickly since we got our first ride after 20 min, that took us all the way to a gas station 30 min before Klagenfurt (a city in the south of Austria). This is where we experienced the first cons of hitchhiking. This spot turned out to be the worst spot on our whole trip, we approached almost every driver and asked them politely if he/she happens to go our direction (we only had to make it to Klagenfurt, about 20km ride). No chance, most of cars were either full or went to another direction. One biker even pulled over and invited us for a drink (cold water), which felt great. After 4 long hours of waiting, we finally managed to get a ride to Klagenfurt, from where the journey to Bled (our first stop) was more than pleasant.
First stop in Slovenia was at the lake Bled, visited by many tourists in summer, but absolutely beautiful place to explore since it’s the part of the Triglav National Park (one of my favorite places in Slovenia).
It rained upon arrival and we struggled to find a place to crush, the camp was 3km across the lake, wild camping is illegal in Slovenia and all hostels were fully booked due to the season start. In the end we managed to find a local who rented out private rooms (in case you need the contact, let me know).
We stayed in Bled for two days and explored the area around it as well as Vintgar Gorje, which is a breathtaking canyon 20 min bus ride from the city.
Next planned stop in Slovenia happened to be the Skocjan caves, we planned to hh from Bled to Ljubljana –> Skocjan caves –> Koper –> Rovinj in one day. We got a quick ride from a Spanish tour guide working in Bled to Ljubljana where we got stuck again on a very bad stop (gas station again). We waited desperately to get a ride towards the coast, but we had no luck. After some time a young lady approached us and told us about a Slovenian car sharing website www.prevoz.org. I managed to get a ride directly to Skocjan caves within an hour for 5€ each, which turned out to be a great deal since the caves were around 8km from the highway and we really didn’t want to walk with 14kg backpacks in 35° C that far.
Visiting the Skocjan caves in Slovenia was absolutely worth the experience, I have visited many caves before but nothing could beat this. Skocjan caves are known for the largest underground canyon in Europe. We took the small tour which took for about an hour and a half and we didn’t regret it. In case you visit Slovenia, there is also one further cave called « Postojna cave ». According to the locals, there are more tourists and you have to pay higher entrance fees to visit the Postojna cave.
After our expedition into the underground we took a free bus to the closest small village Divaca, which was about 2km from the highway. There were approximately two buses a day that leave towards our direction but we decided to hh and it paid off, after 1h waiting we got two rides all the way to the exit road towards Croatia in Koper. Sometime later and another two rides brought close to the exit of the highway towards Rovinj. The driver let us out on the highway to avoid further toll fees. Hitchhiking on highways in Croatia is not allowed so I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. The fastest way was to cross a fence and climb up a steep hill to get to the side road towards Rovinj, so we did it and it was everything but pleasant.
Sweaty, scratched, tired we made it to the road and looked for a spot to catch a ride. The temperature was high, the air humid and we had only 16km more to go.
After some time a young lady picked us up and gave us a ride for about 6km. Our last ride that day was an older man from Austria who traveled all around Africa with his camper. Back in the days he hh himself so he knew how it is standing next to the road while waiting for a ride. He was one of my favorite drivers. He took us to a camp he knew close to the city and we finally arrived in Rovinj. As a reward we had our first beer (well if you consider Radler a beer 🙂 ).
Rovinj is a small, cozy, romantic city in Istria dominated by the church of top of the old center. There is also a fresh market close to the harbour where you can buy some fresh local products. When you look for some swimming or snorkeling equipment, there is a cheap local store on the way to the church, hidden in the small streets behind the market (half of the price compared to the shops in the pedestrian zone). Right behind the church there are few rocks from where you can jump and swim in the sea. There are not that many people here and the water is great.
Rovinj is supposed to have good ice cream, we didn’t think it will melt down that quickly so we could not enjoy it for more than two minutes 🙁
The following day in the morning, we walked all the way to the other side of the city to catch a ride towards Pula. We planned to visit the colosseum and continue our journey to Premantura and the National Park Kamenjak. After the exhausting walk we managed to find a good spot and we arrived in Pula in no time. The visit of the colosseum does not take that long, in case you have a student card, you will get a discount 🙂
To get a ride to Premantura turned out to be more difficult as we expected, it took us quite a while to find a spot and catch a ride. When leaving the car, we forgot one of our daypacks in the trunk (there was so much staff that we have not thought about it), one minute after the driver departed, we noticed. We knew that he wanted to meet a friend in the bar in a city 6km away, so we decided to go look for it. It was exhausting, walking that distance without a backpack in 30+°C is not fun, with 14kg on our backs, it was even less fun. We somehow managed to get there but were not successful. I caught a ride back to Premantura where we pitched our tent. This event was quite a setback, fortunately we had all of the important documents with us but still quite pricy travel gear was gone. We tried to call to the police station and surrounding camps but were not successful in finding it. Nevertheless we needed to get the positive mood back to be able to continue our trip. Next day in the morning we biked to the National Park Kamenjak to jump from the cliffs and explore the surrounding caves. This was one of the highlight from our trip and I absolutely recommend it to everyone who plans to visit Croatia.
We knew that the following day is going to be hard, and indeed it was one of the hardest days during our travels in the Balkans. We only had to make 270km but much of that on roads that are not easy to hitchhike. The goal for the day was to make it to Plitivice Lakes. I assumed the route on Google Maps is going to be the best one (fastest/shortest). Unfortunately I was wrong, we got out at the highway exit and we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere (Vrbovsko to be exact). The place is so popular that cars are driving by in intervals of 15min. Perfect spot for hitchhiking. We must have been lucky, we waited for about 30min and a guy (second car that passed by) took us to the next biggest village (Ogulin), from there we jumped from one village to another village.
I had to remake our sign after each ride to be able to reach our destination somehow. We had to be very patient. In a small village called Josipdol we experienced the most “possibly uncomfortable/dangerous” situation. We just got out from our ride, I was going to ask policemen on the other side of the road for a good hh spot or possible transport towards our direction. In the meanwhile I left Kaleb to watch the bags. Before I could even cross the road, two men approached Kaleb while he was sitting on the ground and waiting for me. When I looked at him it seemed like they are going to rob him or even worse, so I run back to approach them. Thanks to my Slavic background I could somehow explain who we are and what’s our plan. They both were landmine workers who are cleaning the woods from active landmines in the area. After few moments they left and we could continue our trip.
Several hours later and 7 rides in total we made it to Saborsko, a small village 20km from our final stop. The traffic changed a little, the intervals of each car passing by increased to 30min. We literally hit the jackpot. We were already thinking where to crush for the night. The area is known for still active landmines from the Yugoslavian war therefore pitching a tent wasn’t probably the best idea. After some time, close to the dusk, an Estonian couple drove by, but they did not stop first, they returned for us later. It turned out that they are going to the camp we planned to stay. It was a big success for us to reach Plitivice by sunset and be able to take a shower and have some food. The lesson of the day: don’t only trust Google Maps when hitchhiking.
Plitvice lakes were great, there isn’t much to say, you need to experience it yourself. I would only suggest not go during the peak season because there are tons of tourist which transform the entire place into one big photoset. Sometimes it was very hard to pass them on the narrow sidewalks due to the popularity of selfie sticks. I don’t want to imagine what’s like now during the Pokemon madness.
We finished the tour around 2pm and tried to get a ride till 4pm, without any success. We didn’t want to lose another night here so we decided to take the last bus to Sibenik, which turned out to be a good choice since we were again passing villages where cars usually don’t drive.
Next morning we took a local bus to the Krka waterfalls, which I knew are more interactive since you can actually swim there. We tried to get there as early as possible to enjoy the water since around lunch it was already too overcrowded and I certainly would not like to swim there anymore.
Later that day we arrived in Split where we spent one night, checked out the beautiful but overcrowded city center and explored the area a little bit. In case you want to try some local and affordable food in Split, google “Buffet fife”, it’s a place close to the harbour. We went there, following the recommendation of our Airbnb host and it was quite a good deal.
Next and the final stop in Croatia led to Omis, a coastal city, south of Split, surrounded by huge rocks and a very nice flair. There is a ruin right above the city center, from where you will get an amazing view, especially during the sunset.
The following morning we woke up early to catch a ride along the coast of Makarska Riviera down to the border of Bosnia which we crossed by foot.
At this time we are half way through the trip. Croatia was great to us, it’s a beautiful country with many places to explore. Nevertheless there is something I did not like, the mass tourism has also reached Croatia, which led into the increase of prices but decrease of enjoyment. I would love to visit Croatia again, but probably not in the high summer season anymore.
I will write about our following adventures from Bosnia, Serbia and Hungary in the next post which I hope to publish after our next trip to the borders of Middle East. In case you have any valuable inputs you would like to add or any questions, feel free to post it in the comments bellow. Happy travels 🙂