WOOHOOO! We just booked our tickets, all confirmed!!!
How it all started… We were standing around, talking to our coworkers about our planned Balkan adventures -and of course doing the job that we are being paid to do. And that boys and girls is how it all started…. the beginning of our worries, dilemma, stress…
Being the slightly oblivious me, I had not realized that there was war in Serbia. In my own defense, I am neither a news reporter nor am I someone that listens to 680 News religiously. So there WAS war a decade ago. So what? Apparently it does matter, even if there is no travel advisory warning on Serbia. It matters. It matters because there are still land mines in the Northeastern border of Kosovo. It matters because people there are poor, they are desperate for money and will do anything to get it. It matters because the road infrastructure is not there, and the law enforcement is corrupt. Even more so, it matters because we are 2 Asian girls traveling to these countries alone. Who knew travelling could be so racists and sexist at the same time. To further add to the already extremely morbid outlook on our Balkan trip, there’s the movie Taken. I spoke to 3 friends all on separate occasions and they all asked me to go watch the movie Taken. So the conclusion from our friends, coworkers and family is… we won’t make it back alive.
So being scared shitless already, we started our due diligence process.
Due Diligence Process as follows:
1. Expert Opinion
We spoke with experts who are either extremely savvy backpackers, or people who have been to those regions. In our search we received 3 unbiased opinions, 2 of which are in forms of an email, and one in a telephone conversation. (Please reference Exhibit A, B, & C)
2. Reputable Online Documents i.e. Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet
We learned that driving through Eastern Europe is not commonly done even by the savviest travelers. There are many postings on forums asking about train travels and flights. There are comments and questions about driving, but these were asked by Europeans who knows the language.
Yes. An analysis forms a huge part of the due diligence. All the information in this world would not help us with the decision we had to make without proper analysis. The fact of it is that we are 2 asian girls. Not particularly tall, nor athletic. Don’t know any self defense even if our lives depended on it. Being both accountants of course we used a systematic approach and resorted to the good old risk analysis.
Scenario A: Car breaks down, and we are stranded in the rural area. No reception.
- Likelihood: Possible
- Impact: Medium
- Risk: Medium
- Solution: We can leave the car and walk to the next town or look for help.
Scenario B: Car breaks down and we are stranded, and these people want to rob us.
- Likelihood: Possible
- Impact: Medium
- Risk: Medium
- Solution: Give them the money, the car, passport and we can walk to the next town.
Scenario C: Car breaks down, we are stranded, and these people want to rob us then rape us. Then sell us to the sex trade.
- Likelihood: Possible
- Impact: High
- Risk: High
- Solution: None
Without a proper solution to Scenario C, we were stuck. We are not prepared to take on high risks.
Conclusion: Reconsider driving.
Exhibit A: Email from S’ friend’s Macedonian friend
I haven’t been to Bulgaria since the 1990s so I can’t really comment on Sofia. But I do know Croatia quite well and it’s quite safe – no more or less than any other place in Europe. Split and Dubrovnik are probably the most tourist friendly places they are going. In terms of Serbia, it’s tricky for me to comment because I speak the language and my perspective is a bit different. By the way, do you mean cacak? Neither city in Serbia is very large so overall less tourist-friendly to the non-native speaker. Bosnia is actually overall safer than Serbia, and more tolerant especially in terms of an Asian traveler. But overall, I would say that even people in Serbia are polite. I have not heard of xenophobia as I have in certain parts of Russia. My mom was in Macedonia a few months ago and even commented on the increasing number of foreign travelers she saw. In terms of bribing guards, I’ve crossed all those borders, even the Kosovo border. I have had no issues with a Canadian passport in recent years. As for driving, not even my parents drive when we go back. I guess if they have driven in Eastern Europe before, they may be used to it but the conditions are not always ideal and the drivers can be pretty reckless. Anyway, I’m glad to hear that your friends are travelling to the Balkans it really is a very interesting and beautiful part of Europe, and cheap too let me know if there’s anything else.
Exhibit B: Email from R’s Macedonian friend
I wouldn’t recommend it b/c: 1) I don’t think I saw a single Asian in Macedonia 2) There are some very impoverished people. When I went there was this kid who asked me for some money. His age maybe 5-6 years old. As i pull out my wallet my wife told me to put it back as there is a gang of teenagers behind these kids. When the kids see someone has money, let’s just say it isn’t the nicest scenario.
The above is based on my travel to Macedonia; I can’t say the rest of Europe is the same.
Exhibit C: Telephone conversation with S’ Korean friend who has a part time job to support his full time backpacking.
Summary: Countries look okay, but do know someone who did a drive through Eastern Europe and had a car breakdown in the rural area and was robbed. Would not consider the drive by himself unless he was with a local as language is a big barrier. Would not recommend 2 girls going.
We decided driving was not the way to go. Here is another rough draft of our plans.
Toned it down, but still would like to see all the places.
We are very ambitious people.
So I think I should explain why Version 1.0 was a no go. First of all, as I have referenced in my earlier posts, doing a one way pick up and drop off will not work in Eastern Europe. Actually, let me rephrase it. It is possible but you have to foot 1.5k Euros for someone to go pick up the car in Istanbul.
NTS: Business opportunity here. Facility inter-eastern Europe country car pick up and drop off.
R. and I don’t have that kind of money yet, so we continued our search for better transportation method within Europe.
I was telling S. today, everyday, I wake up excited for the trip. Then, I turn worried about reality of the Balkans, then we ran the numbers on flights, then I hear about possibility of the downside. What if you get robbed, raped, stranded, then sold off to traffickers. in previously war-torn countries? How safe is it to visit those countries?
Now that I lay it out there like that, it sounds bad. But it’s not so bad. These worries don’t go away if I were going to Western Europe either. You just exercise good judgment, common sense, and have some survival skills.
Whatever happens, happens. Really, we are stuck on worst case scenario. Big part of the reason Eastern Europe is on the map is to see it, before it turns into another London, Rome, or Paris.
Analyze the downside, remember the upside. Problem solved: Eastern Europe + Turkey it is.
So, I’ve been tasked with looking up the cost of car rental. Luckily, I’m a little more unyielding when it comes to travelling and going to places I want. I still think the road trip is doable. I picked up the phone and gave Auto Europe a call.
Pick up: Split, Croatia – December 21
Drop off: Istanbul, Turkey – December 27
Vehicle Type: Cheapest one you have (2 quotes requested, one for automatic and one for manual)
So after behind placed on hold more than 20 mins, I learned that in Eastern Europe it is hard to do one way drop offs for car rental. So we can’t do Istanbul, nor Sofia. We have a problem….