“Where are you going travelling then?” “Wait you don’t know?”
“Well Me, Pippa and Esmeralda are all going around South East Asia together – it’s
going to be such a unique and spiritual experience yah”.
Although these words are entirely fictitious (yet I imagine a group of girls in Surrey have said this to each other unironically) it reflects the perceived notions of Gap Year Backpacking. There’s almost an expectation from your peers that if you don’t go to the jungles for a few months like American troops in Vietnam then your gap year is of less worth than those who do. But not this guy, I was dodging the Gap Year Draft.
I originally intended to go Interrailing around Southern France, Italy, Slovenia and then into Croatia. It seemed like a fool proof plan, but I quickly discovered that even with an Interrail pass in both France and Italy, costly reservation fees were mandatory for any train journey. The seat reservation fee for a second class seat Paris to Milan on one of France’s high speed TGV trains is a backpacking budget destroying 69 Euros! Taking this all on board (bdm tss) I realised that my Itenary was incompatible with an Interrail pass and my shoestring budget. All in all my travel plans had lasted about as long as a coach window near Conor McGregor and thus I found myself back to square one as quickly as I had begun.
However, after many hours spent probing Tripadvisor forums and sitting through a numbing amount of Travel Vlogs on YouTube, I managed to settle on the Balkans as my travel location for my gap year, allowing me to explore the remnants of former Yugoslavia. My Itenary at first was entirely based in Slovenia and Croatia, but then I eventually added on Bosnia and Montenegro. Excluding Dubrovnik in the south of Croatia (which has become a haven for Game of Thrones fans due to Kings Landing being filmed there) the Balkans for the most part are devoid of tourist traps. This means you can visit landmarks mostly stress free and strike shitty poses for the camera without seven other people doing the exact same in the background.
There is also an abundance of both ancient and modern history in the Balkans with a lot of the Adriatic Coast being under Roman and Italian control through the ages, which presents itself through the local architecture and culture. Yet only twenty-something years ago the Balkans was home to a bloody ethnic conflict emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia resulting in the first acts of ethnic cleansing since WW2; the people have mostly moved on since, yet many streets still bear the ugly scars of war.
On a less morbid note, the Balkan countries are also renowned for their sesh driven coastlines with the inhabitants speaking enough English for visitors to get by– it’s a bit like visiting Glasgow but with nice weather and less junkies. I almost forgot to mention the Balkans are home to some serious meat dishes for dirt cheap such as cevapi and burek (sausage kebab, and meat pastries) which only cost a couple of Euros at most, which was perfect my budget. What more can a history student and a non-vegan ask for?
The easy part in hindsight was actually planning my Itenary – the hard part would be convincing my parents that it was a totally safe trip. It didn’t help that when you mention the Balkans and especially Bosnia, the first thing that springs to mind for my parents generation is the media footage of Serbian Paramilitaries and bombed out streets, nor did it help that my parents had seen both Taken and Hostel. In my parents minds a young impressionable boy like me was bound to be lured and snatched off the street then passed around more times than a joint in Amsterdam at least within the first week of my arrival.
There’s truly nothing like telling your worrisome mother that I have to watch out for unexploded landmines abroad #justbackpackerthings – but rest easy readers, they’re ‘mostly’ cleared in the Touristy regions of the Balkans, and with luck I will finish this saga with all of my limbs.
Map of Croatian Mine Fields
The greatest route I found to follow was in fact creating my own one, rather than travelling with a company. I would wholly 110% advise this to those looking for an Itenary, and especially those travelling in Europe. A bit of research and initiative can end up halving your travel costs. The cheapest company was offering 14 days around the Balkans for £745 (Penguin Company) with no flights included.
Keep in mind I am backpacking for 28 days abroad and my total cost of flights, hostels and transport was just over £800, so if you add flights to the cheapest offer of £745 your trip sits at just under £1000 for 14 days only. Ignoring the fact would most likely lose less money buying Supreme at resale price, you have no chance to truly experience the multitudes of flavours in the region, you just dip your toe in the proverbial hot bath of culture and take no time to hop in and soak it all up.
After what took four months of meticulous planning, I was finally set. I began to save and prepare for a lifetime of memories that didn’t involve venturing into Asia, harassing the natives and petting a chained tiger drugged up harder than the tourists partying.
Thanks to all of those who have kept up with my Gap Year saga so far – I have another instalment about something I’ve chose not to mention coming out very soon.