Planning a trip to the Balkans? One of the cheapest destinations in Europe is adventurous, distinctive and safe – a perfect getaway for the budget-conscious backpacker.
I travelled around the Balkans for four months on a backpacker budget. This meant mostly staying in hostels and only occasionally in apartments or B&B’s, cooking most of my meals and avoiding shopping. In addition, I got around by hitchhiking, so the cost of transportation has not been added to what I spent.
Summer is the peak season for all Balkan countries, so I spent more than I would have during shoulder or off-season. Note that I also travelled (mostly) alone so I ended up paying more for groceries and apartment rentals.
While I was travelling, I kept notes on everything I bought. So ta-dah! Here’s a breakdown of what I spent in each country.
Currency: Croatian kuna (HRK); 1 e ~ 7 HRK
Croatia is without the doubt the most expensive country in the Balkans, even reaching more popular tourist destinations like Italy or Spain in price. Hostels are some of the most expensive I’ve seen In Europe, averaging 25-30 euros a night, and even grocery shopping is not exactly cheap.
Mass tourism has a big effect on prices in Croatia. While many Balkan countries are still off the tourist radar, Croatia has become a favourite for regular vacationers who are used to paying a little more for a hotel and a meal out (versus a backpacker working on a minimal daily budget). Travelling off-season, prices can be drastically different: for example, entrance to the Krka national park costs 200 kunas in June, and 30 kunas in December.
I spent seven weeks in Croatia. On average, I spent 37 euros a day. However, your budget should be adjusted according to what you’re planning to do in Croatia:
Croatia has some great hiking trails for the budget-conscious outdoor enthusiast. Since wild camping is illegal, you’ll have to stay in mountain huts along the route; most of them are free while some cost approximately 10 euros (70–85 HRK) per night. I took two rest days, in Senj and in Karlobag, where I paid 30 e per night for an apartment rental.
On Via Dinarica, there are very few options to dine in restaurants, so I bought groceries in cities and carried all my food with me. On average, I spent 30 euros for five days of food supplies.
Most of the trails are free to hike but some national parks had entry fees. The Velebit costs 4 e (30 HRK) to enter, and the Paklenica costs 8 e (60 HRK).
Altogether, I spent 16 days hiking (including 2 rest days) and spent 20 e per day.
Most holidaymakers in Croatia pass by in Split and Dubrovnik, making those two both the most crowded and most expensive cities. I found the less visited cities in the north slightly more affordable than the bigger cities in the south, and Zagreb, being very local, is not expensive for a capital city.
In total, I visited 16 different cities, and spent approximately 43 e per day.
The Croatian islands are expensive (worth it, though!). Your biggest expenses are likely to be accommodation and transportation, as ferries between islands can be expensive and there really aren’t alternatives. (Unless you’re a passionate swimmer.)
Renting scooters is a popular past time on the islands since riding around gives you the freedom to explore the islands beyond their harbours and crowded old towns. Unfortunately, rentals aren’t cheap, starting from 30–35 e (200–250 HRK) per day. I split the cost with a travel buddy.
I spent about a week island-hopping and spent approximately 63 euros per day.
1 scoop of ice cream: 10 HRK
A pint at a bar: 24 HRK
A can of beer in the shop: 10 HRK
Pizza: 35 HRK
A meal out for one with a beer: 60 HRK
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Currency: Bosnian mark (BAM), 1 e ~ 2 BAM
After Croatia, Bosnia felt delightfully cheap. Even without the comparison, Bosnia is definitely an affordable destination. Groceries and eating out are very cheap, and finding a decent hostel for 10 euros a night is very easy (with a good breakfast included!).
On average, I spent 18 euros per day in Bosnia.
Continuing Via Dinarica in Bosnia proved a little different to hiking in Croatia. For accommodation, I alternated between camping, mountain huts (which were free) and guest houses, since my route ran through a lot of small villages. Most of the guest houses were about 10 euros per night (20 marks) with breakfast included.
I also continued to cook for myself but also ate at the guest houses whenever I could. On average, I paid 10–20 marks for huge plates of food. In addition, I paid about 20 euros for 5–7 days worth of food supplies.
In 13 days of hiking (including 1 rest day), I spent 15 euros per day.
I only visited Sarajevo and Mostar, the most popular places to visit in BiH. Both were extremely affordable, and I could have eaten out every night if I hadn’t been craving salads – Bosnian food is very hearty and meat-heavy, so if you’re looking for healthier options, cooking for yourself is often the best idea. A plate of cevapici costs about 3–4 euros (8 marks), and cake 1–2 e (2-4 marks).
In Sarajevo and Mostar, I spent 25 euros per day.
1 scoop of ice cream: 1 BAM
A pint at a bar: 2 BAM
A day tour: 60 BAM
A tram ticket: 1,6 BAM
A meal out for one with a beer: 12 BAM
Currency: Euro (Despite not being a part of the EU)
As Montenegro continues to gain popularity among charter tourists, it becomes increasingly more expensive for backpackers. It is still Croatia’s more affordable cousin, especially winning over thirsty backpackers with its 2 litre beer bottles sold for 2 euros.
I spent 8 days hiking in Montenegro and 8 days exploring its cities, and spent approximately 24 euros per day.
Many hikers in Montenegro opt to explore the Durmitor national park and choose the town of Zabljak as their base. There is one backpacker’s hostel in Zabljak, Hiker’s Den, that costs 15 euros per night. You can also rent whole cottages which naturally are more expensive.
Other than that, wild camping is allowed in Montenegro, so I spent most nights camping out. At Zabojsko lake, you can stay in cute little huts for 10 euros per night with breakfast included.
In total, I spent about 17 euros per day hiking.
The capital, Podgorica, is very affordable – mostly because there isn’t a lot to do. The coastal cities Budva and Kotor can easily swallow up some money if you like to party, but hostels are cheap, going at about 10 e per night.
In total, I spent 35 euros per day in the cities.
1 scoop of ice cream: 1 euro
A pint at a bar: 2 euros
Intercity bus: 7 euros
A cheesecake: 3,5 e
A meal out for one with a beer: 10 euro
Currency: Albanian lek (although euros are also accepted in some places), 1 e ~ 120 lek
Albania is every backpacker’s dream destination: it surprises you at every turn with its white-sand beaches, imposing mountains, old towns and delicious food – and best of all, it is dirt cheap for a traveller.
Hostels often come with the breakfast included and cost about 10 euros per night. I mostly ate out. In Albania, I also had to pay entrance fees to a few attractions, which added to the end budget.
In total, I spent about 27 e per day in Albania.
Surprisingly, Albania proved to be the most expensive country for a hiker. I was following the Peaks of the Balkans route – an intended extension for the Via Dinarica white trail – and while it would be possible to camp, it is recommendable to stay at guest houses instead. Hikers provide an important income to local communities who move to cities for the winter and earn very little during those colder months.
Guest houses varied in price the cheapest being 1,800 lek (15 e) with a bed in a dormitory and 3,000 lek (25 e) for a private room with a bathroom. (You shouldn’t pay more than that – avoid guest houses that charge you more.) However, the price includes a delicious home cooked dinner, a big breakfast, and often also a packed lunch. This also brought down the cost of supplies I needed to buy since I only needed to buy the minimum amount of snacks.
In total, I spent 28 euros per day hiking.
Staying in cities in Albania is cheap; what may hike up the cost are day trips and entrances since there are many interesting sites to visit. For example, In Tirana I paid 700 lek (6 e) for the communist spy museum and 300 lek (student price, 2,5 e) for the communist bunkers.
Eating out is cheap, though, and unlike many Balkan destinations, it is also easy to find delicious vegetarian food.
In total, I spent 27 euros per day.
I spent a relaxing week on the Albanian coast soaking up the last of the summer’s sun. As at many beach destinations, you pay to rent a chair and an umbrella on the beach, but you can always just bring your own towel and enjoy the Ionian Sea for free.
I also rented a scooter one day to explore the surroundings of Saranda, which cost me 2,500 lek (21 e) for 24 hours.
In total, I spent about 15 euros per day on the coast.
1 scoop of ice cream: 100 lek
A bottle of craft beer: 100 lek
A bus ticket: 20 lek
Shirt from a second-hand market: 200 lek
A meal out for one with a beer: 500 lek
Currency: Euro (Despite not being a member of the EU)
The newest country in Europe is also possibly the cheapest one to travel in the Balkans. The capital Pristina is modern and full of trendy coffee shops where locals gather to sip delicious coffee and catch up for hours, and Prizren is a small but charming old town, often compared to Mostar in Bosnia.
During one week in Kosovo, I spent 23 euros per day.
Similarly to Albania, hiking in Kosovo is slightly more expensive than in other Balkan countries because staying in guest houses raises daily costs. Guest houses are also a little bit more expensive than in Albania, running at about 25 euros a night – but again, they include breakfast, dinner, and a packed lunch. So, I spent 25 euros per day hiking.
Hostels with the breakfast included were cheap, clean and modern, costing less than 10 euros per night. Eating out is also affordable, although the cheaper options are often the same ones you’ve probably been having all over the Balkans already.
In total, I spent 21 euros per day in Pristina and Prizren.
An ice coffee: 3 euros
A burek: 1 euro
A pizza with beer: 6 euros
A scoop of ice cream: 50 cents
A stamp for international mail: 1 euro
Currency: Macedonian denars (MKD), 1 e ~ 60 MKD
I often got lucky in Macedonia. Since it was the start of off-season, my hostel at Lake Ohrid had discounted prices, and even the hotspots were devoid of people. Unfortunately, this also meant that it was starting to get too cold to hike. I also ended up taking busses on a few occasions. Even so, Macedonia remained one of the cheaper destinations I visited. As the fifth least visited country in Europe, it is still one of the lesser known Balkan countries.
Hostels usually came with breakfast included and cost 8–10 euros per night. Entrance to touristic sites was extremely cheap, often ranging from 50 cents to 2 euros, and the cable car in the capital Skopje is also the cheapest that I found at 100 MKD (1,70 e).
Transportation was also quite cheap, with a local bus ticket in Skopje costing 1 euro, and a taxi ride about 2 euros. The bus from Lake Ohrid to Skopje costs 7,5 e.
In total, I spent 22 euros per day in Macedonia.
Slice of cheesecake: 150 MKD
Bar of chocolate: 10 MKD
Bottle of beer from the store: 40 MKD
15-minute taxi ride: 120 MKD
Pizza: 280 MKD
All in all, the Balkan peninsula is one of the cheapest destinations in Europe for anyone who’s worried about blowing the budget. While it is still not as affordable as classic South East Asian getaways or some countries in South or Central America, good connections ensure cheaper flights especially for those living in Europe.
And while travel in Eastern Europe is definitely not hard on the wallet, your own actions can help you reduce the cost even further. The three main things I did this summer to cut down costs were these:
- Hitchhiking. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it due to increased risk compared to public transportation, I loved the experience and enjoyed meeting lots of new people that I would have never met as a regular backpacker.
- Travelling slowly. Not everyone has the luxury to take four months off to travel, I get that, and if you want to cover a lot of ground, sometimes jetsetting at a 1,000 kilometres an hour is your only option. However, by staying in one place for longer, you save on transportation costs and get a deeper insight into your location.
- Hiking. It is impossible to spend money on a mountain because there is nothing to buy on a mountain. Besides, it felt empowering and liberating to explore some of Europe’s lesser known hiking trails alone.
And one last note on travelling to countries considered cheap by Western standards.
What for us means low cost of travel, often means lower standards of living, lower salaries and higher rates of unemployment for locals. In a lot of Balkan countries, such as Montenegro and Croatia, salaries don’t necessarily match the higher prices that the surge in tourism has caused. When travelling, be mindful of your money: try to spend it locally, supporting small businesses and buying from multiple places instead of always shopping at the same store or restaurant. Many businesses rely on your money to survive – make sure your relative wealth counts.
Have you travelled to the Balkans or are you planning to?