How to: Hitchhike the Balkans - Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Part I)
So some of you may already know but I have a partner and, for the purposes of protecting him from the NSA/CIA/Google/Aliens/etc, I will call him Mr. Human. At the very least I can assure you he is a human being. During June-July 2015 (more widely known as the glorious "European summer"), we did a little journey through the Balkans: Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We bought our plane tickets and didn't book any transport/accommodation in advanced. We wanted to be really open to whatever happened on this trip. I wanted this to be our first hitch-hiking, budget trip together. We always talk about doing big travels in the future, through South America or Africa or China, so I thought we could take this as a nice starting point.
In the lead up I tried to research hitchhiking in the Balkans, to half-know what to expect. Whilst I did find a little, I had to learn a lot as we went along. So this is just for anyone looking out there who wants to know tips from what we learnt. :)
Firstly, I want to start off with some basic tips for hitch-hiking in general This is because I was coming into it for the first time so I just want to set the scene, particularly aimed at first-time hitchhikers.
Tips for Beginner Hitchhikers
- Download Nokia HERE maps onto your phone, for the country you intend to hitchhike in. If you are an embracer of technology, then you will find this dead on useful. It's basically like a downloaded map of all the roads in the region where you can even type in your destination point and it will tell you how far the walk/drive is, how long it would take to get there, etc. Honestly, my number 1 tip. Here are the Android or Apple links if you want to check them out.
- DON'T expect to get a ride straight away. For some reason, doing this for the first time, I had this image that you'd stick your thumb up and a car would stop straight away. No, gurl. Some wave and drive by, some give a sheepish grin and drive by and a LOT don't even acknowledge you. And drive by. Say goodbye to your pride and hello
- Be prepared for some walking (sometimes uphill) in the hot sun. I repeat, uphill. HOT sun. Once again, as a first-timer I did not imagine this in my cruisey joyous hitchhiking imaginations. But now it makes sense, because of COURSE you can't just hitch a ride in the middle of a city, silly past me haha. You've usually gotta walk for at least 15-20 minutes to get out of town and to find a good spot where people can easily stop
- Next, a good spot they can stop. So so important. There's no point wasting time at a spot if its crap and no one can stop there. A good spot has three components:
- Somewhere a driver can see you from a WHILE away (i.e. not after a turn or bend) so that you give them enough time to take it in, consider it and to slow down.
- Plenty of space to pull over so that they are not blocking traffic.
- If possible, a stretch of road where they have to drive with a lower speed (around 60km/h or less). Otherwise, if not possible, just see component 1.
- Now that you've picked a spot and start baring your thumb, stick to it. A lot of times in the beginning we would get nothing for a while. And it was demoralising. We'd think, should we go further down the road and find somewhere else. Or should we go check the bus stop. Or should we do it there instead of at the gas station. You begin to doubt yourself and try to change something.Because HH can be soul-crushing at times and you want to give in a lot. I found myself having to say "just a little bit longer" many, many times so just be warned. A little bit longer.
- Each time you see a car, especially if its just one car trundling along, focus ALL your attention on them. Stick up your thumb nice and strong and, if possible, make eye contact with that driver and really use your eyeballs to zap the message across that you would really like a lift. Sometimes I chant things like "Stop stop stop stop stop" because drivers can't hear you anyways and who knows, maybe the witchcraft works.
- Signs help, but only for particular cases. For example, if you're going to a smaller town that's on the way to a bigger town (for example, we had to go to Prapratno, which is on the way to the much more well known Dubrovnik). Locals or people who know the route will pass by and try to offer you a hitch further along the way.
- Accept hitch opportunities (provided you feel safe from them) even if they only get 10 or 20 minutes down the road. It's an opportunity to rest from the sun, get to know someone, they might drop you off at a better hitchhiking spot that they know of, and it gets you a little bit closer to your destination.
- Bring some special thank you gift, if you can. We brought stroopwaffels from Amsterdam.
Now I'll go into some detail of our little journey through the Balkans, sharing with you what we ended up doing and details of the hitchhiking trips along the way. :)
Tips specific to the Balkans region
- Set aside waaaaaay more time than you think, for the hitchhiking journey. Please just do. This applies SPECIFICALLY for our experiences in Croatia and Montenegro. Reasons include:
- Long waiting times
- Long/Uphill distances to walk to find good spots
- Difficulty finding good spots in certain areas
- Accompanying drivers on their errands (e.g. we accompanied people as they went to the groceries, stopped to pick up something they needed to deliver, water their garden one of their properties in the mountain, etc.)
- Crossing borders
- Waiting times: Around 20 - 30 minutes on average, for Croatia and Montenegro
- Of course there are exceptions. One time we were lucky and only waited 10 minutes. Another time we waited 1.5 hours and no cars stopped at all.
- Forget the above even exists for Bosnia and Herzegovina!! Waiting times ranged from 2 - 10 minutes. We were astounded by people's kindness in Bosnia and not at all prepared for it. It seems like so many people just genuinely wanted to help us when they saw us in need or waiting in the hot sun.
- The standard of English is poor in Bosnia, best in Croatia. This is just a heads up, if you'd like to brush up on your Yugoslavian or hand gestures. It's an important point because a few of our hitches in Bosnia and Herzegovina the drivers actually knew NO english. So the majority of those car rides there was no actual talking, only the occasional hand gesture. This didn't make the people any less lovely though. I remember one old couple we rented a room from in Mostar, they could see I was sniffing the delicious air when I first entered and later gave me a piece of homemade meatball.
- Prepare sandwiches and snacks, especially for longer hitchhikes. It so useful to have go-to food, helping to save money and time. We ate those bad boy sandwich every day, better believe it. We also bought oat-y biscuits for the journeys too because we tended to want snacks in between, especially if we were going for hours at a time.
- Be prepared for lots of mountainous roads, especially along the coast of Croatia and Montenegro. This can make it tricky to find good spots as well as dangerous when walking along the side of the roads. Also just a massive pain to walk along. Work on your walking, people! Train those thighs!!
- I do not recommend hitchhiking into the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. If you are heading into Kotor, I recommend a bus in because there is only a small 2-lane road going along the entire bay area with buildings and water on either side (aka. not the most ideal for hitchhiking). I also cannot speak fully for hitchhiking in Montenegro in general. But our experience for the 2 hours we did spend on the road there was not good. No one even stopped to offer a short lift or ask a question, over the course of waiting 1.5 hours. So exercise your own judgement for this one.
Now, if you'd like even more specifics about the journey we took for our Balkans expedition and more details about each hitchhike ride, look no further. Actually, look further. You can check it out here at Part II.
Overall, we both had a really really wonderful time in the Balkans, especially with all the people we hitched with and stayed with. Honestly, they made both of us real happy and were all kind of really interesting. :)
Also keep in mind that this was our experience so perhaps we had either good or bad luck in some of the cases. If you have a different opinion, questions or even just more tips to add, feel free to share it in the comments. :)
Hope this helps someone out there!