Trying out fast travel in the Balkans

In 2013 when I travelled solo across Asia and Oceania I travelled extremely slow. I’d bought into the idea that slow travel was the only real way to travel. The only way to fully immerse yourself in another land and culture. I had a great time and visited many places off the beaten path. I saved a lot of money by travelling slow too because I wasn’t paying for planes, trains or busses every few days.

Looking back I kind of think I wasted a lot of time on that trip. Yes I was exhausted after years of fruitless studying and working but I visited just 10 countries in 10 months. I was so close to so many countries but for some reason I just didn’t go.

Exploring GOT sights in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Thinking back I could have easily caught a cheap flight to China and Korea from Thailand. Flew to Borneo to Malaysia to see the Orangutans and then maybe pop over to Indonesia to relax in Bali. I didn’t even go to Fiji when I was in bloody Australia! A place that I’d dream’t of and fantasised about when planning my big trip.

Even when I lived in Japan I decided to spend most of my time travelling within Japan, except for the disastrous two weeks that I spent in Thailand. I went to a grand total of Zero new countries in over 18 months.

 

Balkans Itinerary

Now that I live in Moscow and get an amazing 2 months off in summer, I decided to try fast travelling for a while. I’d initially decided to travel to 6 new countries in the Balkans but I managed to travel to 7!

Here is my whirlwind itinerary:

Croatia: 3 nights Dubrovnik, 2 nights Split.

Bosnia and Hercegovina: 2 nights Mostar, 2 nights Sarajevo.

Montenegro: 2 nights Budva, 3 nights Kotor, 1 night Ulcinj.

Albania: 2 nights Shkoder, 1 night Tirana.

Kosovo: 2 nights Prizren, 1 night Pristina.

Macedonia: 3 nights in Skopje.

Bulgaria: 2 nights in Sofia.

The gritty streets of Shkoder, Albania

My feelings about fast travel

Firstly I travelled extremely light. I had a carry on sized backpack weighing 8kg which made travelling from place to place easy. It’s a front opening backpack too which makes it easy to open and close fast. I wasn’t sending ages packing like I did when I went travelling with a 20kg backpack in 2013.

I tended to stay on the beaten track more because there’s more transport options. However I feel like 2 nights in most places was sufficient to see the town/city, eat some local food and relax. In most places I did a free walking tour if it was available because I didn’t have time to discover places for myself.

It’s impossible to take an ugly photo in Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Fast travel was quite lonely though. Because I had a limited time in each place I spent most of the time exploring on my own or going on group tours. I didn’t make the type of friendships that made travel in Southeast Asia so special.

I was so tired near the end of the trip. I paid for a night of luxury in a penthouse suite in a boutique hotel with sauna for one night. It was lovely to relax in privicy after spending so long in hostels. I did the same in Ulcinj too, just relaxing on my balcony and watching the handmaids tale.

Something that surprised me was how confused I felt. There are many similarities between the language and culture of the Balkan countries but many differences. I would get confused about where I was sometimes and what language they used. At times I would also forget what country I was in. I’ve never felt this way before and it was quite disorientating. As I said before I usually spend time discovering a countries culture and I just couldn’t do it on this trip.

One benefit to travelling so fast is the amount of things that I saw and experienced in such a short time. It was a great taster for the Balkans and gave me a hint of which countries I’d like to explore more of in the future (Bosnia and Montenegro).

Enjoying a super cheap feast with a travel friend at a restaurant in Prizren, Kosovo.

My thoughts on fast travel

Fast travel was extremely exciting. I realised how adaptable I was and was proud that I navigated so many cities and countries in such a short period of time. Although it was exhausting it was refreshing. In the future I think that 2 weeks of fast travel is enough for me, maybe 3 at a push. I lost a lot of my enthusiasm in Bulgaria and felt like I was just going through the motions rather than truly enjoying my time there.

At Matka canyon in Skopje, Macedonia
Guards in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Do you prefer fast or slow travel? Why? As always I’d love to hear your replies. Remember you can also follow my adventures on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pearlsandpassports

 

 

 

My epic summer travel plans

One of the highlights of working as a teacher isn’t playing with paint or toys everyday, It’s having an amazingly long summer holiday each year!

This summer I will have 2 whole months off. At first I planned an epic trip to China and North Korea but I changed my mind after Trump’s threats. I think it would be an extremely interesting place to visit but I value my life to highly to go there at the moment.

I’ve actually been extremely stressed trying to plan my summer holidays. I decided to go to India and Nepal but I found out August is the height of the rainy season. I also nearly booked an Annapurna trekking tour only to find out that the age limit was 29! I can’t believe I’m apparantly over the hill at 30. I’ll admit I cried a little when I found that out.

After much deliberation here are my summer travel plans.

July

2 nights Suzdal, Russia

I absolutely love living in Moscow, but I have a busy and fast paced life. I have booked 2 night in a Russian country house in Suzdal to have a social media detox and learn to relax again. I want to spend my days exploring the towns of Vladamir and Suzdal, sunbathing, reading and eating local food.

My house is right on the banks of the river in Suzdal

1 night in Brussels, Belgium

Th benefit of there being only 1 direct flight from Moscow to the UK is that you can easily see another city or country when travelling to and from Moscow. This time I’ve decided to spend a night in Brussels. I arrive in the evening so want to drink some Belgian beer and do a walking tour in the morning.

Did I mention that I love beer?

2 nights in the Lake District, England

I’m a very spiritual person. When I was in Thailand I lived with an ex monk in the Thai mountains and I spend 2 weeks at a meditation and yoga retreat in Cambodia. I miss it so will spend 2 nights at a meditation retreat in the beautiful Lake District, a place of immense natural beauty that I used to visit frequently when I was a rambler.

Sometimes I forget just how beautiful England is

6 nights Travelling around Ireland

One of my dreams has always been to travel with just my Mum. And it’s finally coming true. We will be renting a car and driving all over Ireland, staying at a different place each night. I’m excited to see the beautiful greenery, taste Guinness in Dublin and kiss the Blarney stone. Mum’s family are from Ireland so we might even meet family members in Sligo.

July and August

Backpacking around Eastern Europe and the Balkans

After a few days back home in England, I’ll be backing up my backpack and catching a 1 way fright to Croatia. Once there I will travel to various countries in the region overland, just like when I travelled in South East Asia. I’m excited for some spontaneity, even if I did have to plan half of my travels due to travelling in the high season.

I prefer to arrive in a country without researching it first. I like to have no pre-conceived ideas about the country and just experience it firsthand by myself. Does anyone else like to travel like that? I’m travelling solo as I do most times.

Here is my itinerary-

Croatia– 3 nights Dubrovnik and 2 nights Split

Bosnia and Herzegovina– 3 nights Mostar and 2 nights Sarajevo

Montenegro– 2 nights Budva and 3 nights Kotor

Albania– I’ve not planned it fully but I want to spend some time by the beach

Macedonia– Again, I’ve not planned it but I would like to go Kosovo for the day or night

Bulgaria– Not yet planned but I will probably fly out of here.

Croatia

As I said It’s not yet planned and I haven’t booked a flight back to the UK yet. I just want to relax and see where I end up going. At least I know what countries I’d like to visit! I just can’t wait to have weeks of freedom where I go where I like and do what I like.

What do you think of my itinerary? Do you have any tips for places to visit in Eastern Europe or the Balkans? What are your summer plans?