Every summer, thousands of motorhome and campervan owners set off on a continental adventure. There is no denying the beauty that Western Europe has to offer; from the beaches of the French Riviera, to the bustling street culture of Barcelona, to the stunning scenery surrounding the Swiss Alps. This year, if you fancy going a little further afield, we have put together a guide to visiting an underexplored and underappreciated area of Europe: The Balkans.
Before we start discussing locations, this week we have a few tips and pointers to make sure your journey goes as smoothly as possible, and that you are prepared for any potential pitfalls.
- Drive carefully and give people plenty of room for manoeuvres, and plenty of notice if you are planning to turn or park. Expect anything and everything from your fellow drivers, including running red lights, not stopping on zebra crossings, over taking on the wrong side of the road to name but a few, just stay calm and obey the rules of the road
- Once you’re off the motorway, you will notice the quality of the road deteriorate; there are potholes a plenty, and the farther off piste you go the more dramatic the road conditions. Check all your tyre treads before you set off, pump them up properly and keep an eye on tyre pressure throughout, and it is wise to carry a spare tyre. The last thing you want is a puncture in remote Bulgaria with no spare and no signal on your phone.
- Take a paper map of the region with you. As amazing as GPS is, if you lose signal then you are in trouble, and the farther off the beaten track you venture the poorer the GPS signal will be. Roads in this region are also notoriously badly signposted. Even if the map is only as a backup, it could end up saving you hours of driving lost along endless country roads.
- In Western European cities, most of the main landmarks or points of interest are world renowned and well signposted. In the Balkans there are so many amazing places to visit, from impressive historical buildings to stunning landscapes and everything between. It is worth taking a guidebook for each of your destinations so that you make the most of what is on offer.
- Always carry your passport, vehicle registration, driving license and insurance documents. Unfortunately, there is still widespread corruption amongst traffic policeman in this region, and as a foreign vehicle you are a prime target for tickets and fines. If it is justified (i.e. you really were speeding) it is better off to pay the fine on the stop, but if you believe they have stopped you for an unjust reason, do not be afraid, just be polite and insist on your rights and more often than not they will just let you go.
- Road rules vary from country to country; for example, in Serbia you can get fined for not having your fog lights on and in Bulgaria you must always drive with your headlights on during winter time.
- Speak to your insurance company to make sure your policy offers sufficient cover and that it is still valid throughout the Balkan region. In Kosovo you are required to buy separate car insurance at the border at a cost of €50, because as yet no international insurance company will cover accidents on roads in this area. Comfort Insurance is able to offer cover for Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia and Serbia but not the other Balkan counties so we would recommend our customers plan their route accordingly.
- Get your Camping Card International (CCI) as this will provide you with third part insurance whilst staying on a campsite, and sometimes will even get you a small discount. It costs around £5 and it is valid for one year. Usefully, it contains your place of birth and passport number, so can be used to check into the campsite and retained by the owners until you leave. This is a much safer bet than handing over your passport, particularly because in some sites they are not stored in secure surroundings.
- Bring plenty of music. Unless you have a particular fondness for Serbian radio or Greek pop music, may we suggest you fill up your iPod or dig out your CD collection, because as we all know music can make such a difference on a journey.
- It is a good idea to have a list of the relevant emergency contact numbers for the country you are visiting, such as police, ambulance, mechanics and the British embassy. If possible also get the numbers for some vehicle recovery services just in case.
Now you are ready to hit the Balkan highways with confidence! Next week on our Adventure blog we will have a guide to some of the best places the Balkans has to offer, from top cuisine to astonishing landscapes.