It's crazy cheap
If you've followed our blog at all, you know that we enjoy ourselves a good deal. Well compared to anywhere in the world we've yet visited, renting a car in the Balkans is the steal of all deals. For comparison, we rented a car on the Big Island of Hawaii for 9 days at a cost of $430 In Zagreb, Croatia, we rented a similarly sized car for 7 weeks for $450! Bonus: if you have manual transmission skills, it'll be even cheaper! Now there will be a few other expenses, namely your $30 car pass to go between countries. Also note that the extra insurance offered doesn't cover tires or windshields, you too most likely issues. All that said, with public transportation less available than Western Europe, and with much of the natural beauty far from city centers, car rental is more than a viable option in the Balkans. It's the best choice.
No sign of a road sign
Please understand that Michelle and I are a little old school in that we don't yet have smart phones (okay, a lot old school). But if there is one thing that you want in the Balkans, it's GPS navigation guiding your way. We've been as planned out as possible with zoomed in google maps, specific highways listed and even mileage calculated (what's the kilometer equivalent to the word mileage?). We still got lost time and again because of the lacking or confusing signage on roads. Hint 1: it's much better to know the name of the town you're heading toward than the highway number that it is - there are often multiple names. Hint 1a: Know the name of your town in both English and the local language - even if that language uses the Cyrillic alphabet (Bulgaria). Hint 1b: Even if you've been following signs in English, your turn might suddenly not be. Hint 2: Street names are very hard to figure out as American style street signs are rare. Even to stay on the same road that you came in on can be very difficult.
Small town highways - and their police
Once in the Balkans, you've left all autobahn/interstate style roadways behind (along with their reduced drive times). All your roads will likely be two lane and pass through towns with their subsequent slow downs, delays, or sudden unmarked intersections (see above). Keep your eyes open for the reduced speeds which happen frequently because cops have speed traps set up everywhere! Thankfully, local motorists are very good at making you aware of them by flashing their headlights. The good news is that finding quaint local eateries is made all the easier by your small town jaunts.
Pass or be passed
Per the two lane highways mentioned above, things can get a little cramped with impatient drivers between cities (or even in cities). The opposite of relaxing driving, it is often pass or be passed as you make your way through the countryside. Lane lines are more like suggestions and the shoulder is fully utilized by all involved. With lots of hills and mountains in the region, there are plenty of trucks to wait on as well. We were about 6 inches from a head on collision with someone choosing a poor time to try and pass, so stay alert and take a break if you don't have the focus for attentive driving.
Capture the beauty
The Balkans are absolutely beautiful with ever changing landscapes, an array of wild flowers in spring and views fit for Instagram. There is just one problem: the roads are not set up to enjoy them. Not only are most of the roads cramped, there are no such things as 'scenic overlooks/turnouts'. To try and capture some of the wild flowers, we had to dart onto small tractor paths straight off the motorway - not the safest thing to do - and that's only if you can see them at an opportune time. Similarly, we have nearly no panoramic pics from the numerous mountain passes simply because there was no turnout at the summit. So take in as many mental snap shots as you can and share them with your friends the old school way, by telling them about it.