Need help with itinerary and suggestions for June 2016 Eastern Europe two-week budget trip

General posts about Eastern Europe and NOT directly related to Francis Tapon's upcoming book, "The Hidden Europe."
staciblunt
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Need help with itinerary and suggestions for June 2016 Eastern Europe two-week budget trip

Postby staciblunt » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:40 pm

I am planning a two-week trip for early June, 2016 to hit the top highlights of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia (not Dubrovnik), Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. I realize that's a lot of countries in a short time, but that's all the time I have right now. We will be flying from Spain and then return to the USA, and I would like suggestions on where to start and end the trip.

Can anybody suggest a highlights itinerary for these specific countries and the best way to travel on a budget (train vs. bus vs. rental car), and what are the least expensive accommodations for a family in this area (airbnb vs. hostels vs. independent hotels) for these destinations? Is this a safe and easy enough area for a mom and two teens to travel?

I realize that it's an unusually large number of countries to visit in a short time, but it would be a fast-paced exploratory trip to this area for me to hopefully come back later and visit the areas that are of most interest. I have traveled throughout Europe since 1985--but have not visited this region yet. The total area mentioned above appears to be about the size of 3-4 medium sized US states, which I generally could cover in a two week trip--or is that just not doable for this area due to the hassles of crossing borders or any other specific reasons?

I am mainly focused on visiting the capitals (or whichever town or city is most culturally interesting) plus any major heritage sites--1 or 2 per country. I am comfortable driving with the assistance of a GPS, but if it's too difficult (with the language barriers) or expensive (high parking or gas costs?), we can also take the bus. I don't know yet if taking the train is doable or advisable--I have just begun to research the area.

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FrancisTapon
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Re: Need help with itinerary and suggestions for June 2016 Eastern Europe two-week budget trip

Postby FrancisTapon » Tue Jan 12, 2016 7:07 am

I would rent a car for 3 reasons:

1) There seem to be 3 of you on this journey. So there are some economies of scale. Public transport is best for solo or couples.
2) You're on a tight schedule. You won't have the time to wait 5 hours for the next train/bus.
3) You'll have more (and cheaper) options for accommodation.

The downside is that you will have to cross borders with the car, which is a hassle outside the EU.
But it's not painful like it is crossing borders in Africa.
I drove from Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Serbia and the non-EU border crossings always took less than one hour. They're used to it, unlike Africa.

ITINERARY

I'd start in Slovenia because it's the most civilized and hassle free country in Eastern Europe. Getting a car there with proper insurance will be easy, although more expensive than the USA.

From Slovenia's capital go to:

    - Koper, Slovenia
    - Piran, Slovenia
    - Plivice Lakes, Croatia (or not, if time is an issue)
    - Zadar, Croatia
    - Trogir, Croatia
    - Split, Croatia
    - Mostar, Bosnia (and then maybe Sarajevo, if you have time)
    - Kotor, Montenegro
    - Budvar, Montenegro
    - Butrint
    - Tirana, Albania
    - Skopje, Macedonia
    - Sofia, Bulgaria (EU)
    - Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
    - Bucharest, Romania
    - Brasov, Romania via the Transylvanian Alps
    - Timisoara, Romania
    - Novi Sad, Serbia
    - Belgrade, Serbia
    - Zagreb, Croatia
    - Ljubljana, Slovenia

If you want to avoid the Croatian coast because you've already done it, then just go through Bosnia instead and then enter Montenegro.


For accommodation, just remember that "zimmer" means "room" in German. You'll see that in the Balkans. That will allow for spontaneity. I would discourage you from making a bunch of bookings ahead of time since you have a car and can stay in cheaper places that are not on the main public transportation lines. But perhaps you would like the structure and predictability of having a set reservation - that will save you time chasing around the best deal.

I would use a combination of hostels and Airbnb. Consider Wimdu.com, which is the European version of Airbnb.

Finally, I (unsurprisingly) recommend reading my book, The Hidden Europe, because it will not only tell you where to go at the end of each chapter, but, more importantly, it will give you context, history, and even a few words of each language. Just read about the countries that you visit, if you don't have time to read the whole 750-page book.
- Francis Tapon
http://FrancisTapon.com

staciblunt
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Re: Need help with itinerary and suggestions for June 2016 Eastern Europe two-week budget trip

Postby staciblunt » Tue Jan 12, 2016 12:25 pm

Thank you so much Francis--I am in the process of reading your book--just got past the intro, so I will continue reading it. Is it best to reserve a rental car now if I want automatic? Any good tips for a good company (or use a national brand from the USA), and also if I should purchase insurance or not (or will I be covered by my credit card)? ...and how otherwise to avoid being ripped off. Easy enough to drive in these countries?

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Re: Need help with itinerary and suggestions for June 2016 Eastern Europe two-week budget trip

Postby FrancisTapon » Wed Jan 13, 2016 10:10 am

Staci,

Since you're a mom of at least 2, I suggest skipping to the chapter on Slovenia and then read from then on.
It's a big book and it's best to read the relevant chapters for your trip to the Balkans.

Yes, reserve your car now, but make sure you can cancel without penalty - and find out the last date that's possible.

I don't recommend any company, but use sites like Hipmunk.com or Kayak.com to find a car.

Call your credit card company to verify what it can cover.

Yes, it's super easy to drive in these countries. The roads rarely have potholes, they drive on the right-hand side, and the signage is excellent.

Let me know when you get back!


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