Eastern Europe has become a popular, mysterious even, destination for the intrepid backpacker. While it’s undoubtedly impressive in its diversity, there are a number of universal lessons that every traveller will learn at some point during their time here.
As you embark upon a trip to this huge swathe of the continent, richly textured by history and nature, here are some life-enhancing lessons you might learn from backpacking Eastern Europe Dropdown content.
Don’t underestimate the size of the area you are about to tackle; while a four-week mega tour hitting the likes of Bratislava Dropdown content, Kyiv, Sofia Dropdown content and Tirana Dropdown content looks doable on paper, you’ll spend much of that time slumming it on buses and trains, or at the stations.
It’s quite simple really: take your time and choose your destinations carefully.
If you're travelling in summer, anything below 35ºC (95ºF) is considered cold, particularly the further south you go. So get those flip-flops out, slip on the shades and slap on the sun cream. But be warned, when it rains here, it rains hard.
Eastern Europeans know how to drink, and so will you by the time you return home. Sure, Czech pilsner Dropdown content is excellent and Polish wódka is delicious, but the universal tipple of choice is slivovica, a throat-curdling fruit brandy, be it pálinka from Hungary Dropdown content, rakija from Serbia Dropdown content, or tuica from Romania Dropdown content.
“Ali to je rupa!” (which roughly translates as “but it’s a hole!”). Whilst not as commonplace as they used to be, you may still chance upon the odd smelly hole in the ground in which you’re required to answer nature’s call. Keep some loo roll handy and get practicing those squats…
You can try using English, but attempting a little of the local lingo will go a very long way indeed, particularly somewhere like Hungary, which is a different kettle of linguistic fish altogether…“hol van a WC?!”
What, you mean they’re clean, efficient and on time? Er, no. Quite the opposite. Indeed, in some countries – Romania Dropdown content and Serbia Dropdown content immediately spring to mind – a purgatorial experience awaits. Still, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?
Interminable waits at border crossings and dealings with boorish customs officers in the dead of night are almost a thing of the past, but there may still be the odd occasion when you’ll be required to rummage through your luggage in search of non-existent paperwork.
Forget the euros (except for Slovakia Dropdown content), this is the region of the leu, the lek and the lev. Though somewhat confusingly – and unofficially – they do use euros in Montenegro Dropdown content and Kosovo.
Fact. Whilst other cities (notably Budapest Dropdown content and Bucharest Dropdown content) might disagree, the undisputed party capital of Eastern Europe is Belgrade Dropdown content. From independent bars and hipster clubs to dedicated rakia bars and splavovi (riverboat clubs), a thumping good time is guaranteed. And please, do dress up.
It’s not all beetroot broth and dumplings, you know. Whether gobbling gulyás in Budapest Dropdown content or chomping on ćevapčići in Sarajevo Dropdown content, the cuisine may come as a something of a welcome surprise.
For the record, Budapest currently rates four Michelin-starred restaurants, the most of any city hereabouts – not that most backpackers will be able to afford it.
Aside from the fact that you’ll only have time to cover a fraction of this chunk of Europe, there are many compelling reasons to return.
A deeply complex history, wildly contrasting landscapes, and the wonderfully warm and welcoming nature of just about everyone you encounter means that you’ll be aching to get back. One visit simply isn’t enough.
Explore more of Eastern Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget Dropdown content. Compare flights Dropdown content, find tours Dropdown content, book hostels Dropdown content and hotels Dropdown content for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance Dropdown content before you go.
Top image © Miroslava Durcatova/Shutterstock