Things to Know Before You Ride a Bus in the Balkans

Transport within the Balkans can be very challenging. There aren’t many options for budget flights between Balkan countries, and if you decide to travel within the region, going by bus is the best way to.

This region of the Europe is still in development, especially the transport and tourism sectors. There aren’t many options for budget flights between Balkan countries, and if you decide to travel within the region, going by bus is the best way to. While buses in the Balkans can be economical, sometimes they make your trips to be far from hassle-free, especially in countries where urban-structure is still old. However, as consequence of rising tourism most of the countries have started to organizing, recently. So, in order to get the best of the Balkans, if you decide to take a bus and travel between Balkan cities, we have some tips and things to help you through.

Find the route you need to take off, or the best one for you

There are some websites that can help you find out how to get around and ride a bus in the Balkans, but most of them aren’t complete and many things are missing out. This because Balkan bus companies either don’t have a website or their website don’t have great English content.

So, the best thing to do is to research online about the cities or places you want to visit, look specifically about your route by typing the names and attraction of the destination(s), write down the bus companies’ e-mail or phone number and don’t hesitate to call them and place your questions. Tell them where you want to go and also that you’re not a resident of the area (if so) as people in the Balkans are often very kind to help foreigners more than is expected. In addition, don’t forget also to ask locals for bus routes and timetables, bus stops, where to find tickets and other information. Because in some countries transport is a kind of unorganized properly, and locals know this better, do always ask them. They will certainly help you with joy – this is one of the best experiences that you will have when you meet Balkan people. 

Other thing that will help you, but it needs patience and a bit of language skills, is to read other people’s experiences about the same route; try to find forums about the destination you plan to go.

When it comes to take a bus to Albania or travel within the country, things get somehow harder. There is a lot of confusion sometimes and lack of information on the web flow. Asking locals is a must. Many bus companies have only phone number and an office somewhere in the city and Google maps don’t have much information about routes and trips. So, in this case the best you can do is getting the phone and call the company itself. For example: I use to travel within Albania and have done some trips in Southeast Europe. For both ways, inside and outside the country, I get in touch with Elite Travel Albania. The larger agency in the country, that has its own website Elite Mobility, and have always helped me to realize my trip perfectly. The company has its own buses and also collaborates with other private drivers and bus business operation within and without Albania. They will give you all the information you need, advice you about the route and will prepare everything needed for your tickets.

Bus and snacks

There are many places during the route where the bus will stop and you can buy snacks. Sometimes you’ll have time for full, sit-down meal. But sometimes you will go without a stop for long time, or have just 5 minutes stop, or the bus will stop after crossing the border to the other country. So, preparing you snack is very important. Many buses will allow you to have your own snack on board, but there might be some that don’t allow snacks on board so is best to ask the driver before you ride the bus.

Whenever you get on a Balkan bus, have snacks and drinks with you, since there’s always the potential that you’ll get delayed.

Clothes and what to take with you

Even though the Balkans are widely known for the Mediterranean clime, the temperature my change from country to country. The western part of the peninsula has the same clime, but the northeast of it changes a lot. So, in case your route crosses from side to side is better for you to check the weather forecast and be prepared by having some extra clothes with you according to the needs. 

I recommend to have a light jacket always with you. Because, there are moments when your bus may be late or delayed, and evenings are not always as kind as you may think. Also, there are buses of which temperatures may be uncomfortable. In some of them, in the summer, the air conditioning may barely work. While in the winter, the heater may be blasting at a level that means you’re boiling.

Depending to the season you are going to travel, you need to be able to dress up and down, and to keep yourself comfortable before, during and after your trip.

Things to look in advance – a must!

Depending on your destination, you need to think what might be necessary when you arrive there. If your route is within the same country perhaps you have thought about money and you don’t need to think more then just having some cash apart from bank cards. But if your route goes from one country to another, prepare yourself to have some cash with you that may be the currency used in the country you visit. Balkan countries do use their own currency and most of them do not accept other kinds.

Another important thing when it comes to money is that you’ll need always spare cash with you. Many shops, local shops, especially in countries where techno-structure isn’t that ahead to standard levels cash is always the way to buy anything. Keep some cash in your pocket!

Bus facilities and personal hygiene

All the companies are highly prepared when it comes to clean and safe bus environment. They follow H&S protocols and are well prepared to take care about their passengers. The only thing that may be missing in some buses, depending the country, is the toilet. So, always go to the bathroom before you leave. Many routes do have bathroom stops, but you may get to one that hasn’t.

At this issue, is best to keep with you some local currency coins as in some regions you need to pay to use the bathroom. While in other regions you don’t need to, because places where the bus will stop are usually Coffee & Restaurant which have free WC use for their clients.

For your personal hygiene, take with you a toilet paper and hand sanitizer as many buses and bus stations do not have these in custom.

Bus stations and timetable

I recommend to go to the station earlier. Balkan bus stations can be rambling places, or can be a parking lot at the hotel or in front of a local shop. Whatever the country, if you don’t have clear idea where to find the bus station ask locals for the route you need to take, arrive earlier at the station and check in with your bus company or the bartender who also lets people know when the bus comes.

While timetables in some countries are not that accurate, in other countries may be missing from the information board. Don’t expect timetable to be always accurate. Personally, I’ve ben on buses that left hours late, and I’ve been on buses that left the minute they supposed to. The arrival point can be the same when we talk about timetables. Is best to ask always about timetables when you call an agent to book your ticket, or go to the agency office and write down to a paper the times and hours of the route you may take.

Border crossing for those who travel from country to country

Across the Balkans, you will pass through a lot of borders. Each of them is unique in the way they operate and also in relationship between countries. Crossing from Greece to Albania, I’ve stayed on the bus while the driver took our passport at both borders. But, crossing from Serbia to Bulgaria, I had to get out and line up for passport check. Language is also an issue as in many borders they don’t speak much of English. Don’t worry, there will be always a kind man/woman that will get on to help you. As I said in the beginning, Balkan citizens are known to be very kind and helpful to all tourists or people who get to visit their lands.

Important to know – have your passport always with you. Some countries do not let you pass the borders only by showing your ID.

The last thing, be relaxed about safety. Balkans cities are very safe places to walk around. Things that will happen to your own country can normally happen here too. The only thing I can say that in most of the countries you don’t need a health insurance or international insurance to get a proper treatment, in case you find yourself in an emergency. However, travel insurance is of course the best to have before you travel to and within the Balkans.

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