10 tips for travelling sustainably in the Balkans
sustainable travel Lake Skadar

The Balkans can be a bit behind when it comes to sustainability. For instance, you’ll see single-use plastic bags being handed out willy-nilly in Serbia or Montenegro, and a lack of understanding around how human activities can impact wildlife (ATV tours in protected areas are still not illegal here).

Without coming across all preachy, it’s important we as visitors don’t contribute to the problem. By choosing to holiday with us, you’ve already made a positive impact by employing local people, creating meaningful cultural exchanges, and funding important environmental projects through our Book to Give Back scheme – amazing!

But there are a few things you can do during your trip to help even more. Here are 10 ways to be a responsible traveller in the Balkans.

1. Go flight-free

train travel

Planes chomp through the fuel – a return flight from London to Tirana releases nearly as much CO2 per passenger as travelling from London to Singapore by train.

Why not make the journey part of the holiday and hit the rails instead? There are some stunning train routes across Europe and you can reach Montenegro within two days from London. In fact, the train from Belgrade to Bar is one of National Geographic’s top 10 European rail trips.

Rome2Rio and The Man in Seat 61 are both great websites for help planning your route.

Alternatively, you could take a coach. FlixBus is one of the largest bus operators in Europe and it offers routes from the UK. This is the best option if you’re travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina as there have been no cross-border trains there since the 1990s war.

2. Pack light, lower emissions

The lighter the load, the less energy is consumed to carry it, says co-founder Emma. ‘[Packing light] lowers emissions for air travel and also means the travel company can use a smaller, lower emission vehicle while you’re in-destination,’ she told Euronews. “Plus there’s less stuff to lose along the way!” Many of our adventures involve moving around so keeping packing to a minimum makes things easier for you too.

You could pack a small bottle of travel wash to rinse clothes in the sink if need be rather than bringing loads of extra clothing for those “what if’s” and “maybes”. But we’re confident if you stick to the packing list we provide, you’ll have everything you need.

3. Learn some of the lingo

Just knowing how to say “hello,” “please” and “thank-you” goes a long way in earning respect from the locals who can see you’ve made an effort.

Each Balkan state has a slightly different dialect (a bit like British English vs American English), but the language is pretty much the same, especially in Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Here are some phrases to get you started:

  • Hello – Zdravo
  • Goodbye – Pozdrav
  • Please – Molim
  • Thanks – Hvala
  • I’m full up (you’ll thank us for this one) – Na jela/Na jeo (female/male).

Want to learn more? Duolingo doesn’t teach Croatian so try Mondly, Ling or Simply Learn Serbian instead. And you can always ask one of the team for help too, we love testing our translation skills!

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Although tap water is generally safe across the Balkans, we understand lots of guests prefer to drink bottled water. Instead, consider bringing water purification tablets or a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter such as the Water to Go, which kills up to 99.9% of all microbiological water contaminants. As an Undiscovered Balkans customer, you can enjoy 15% off by purchasing through this link.

Syphoning off toiletries into reusable bottles, using a bag for life when shopping, and recycling where possible are all simple ways to reduce the amount of plastic out there too. The waste disposal services in the region are substandard to say the least, so the less throwaway packaging we can use, the better.

5. Leave no Trace

You’re going to be walking, hiking and floating through some truly breathtaking wilderness during your holiday with us and we’re determined to keep them, well, wild. This means sticking to the marked hiking trails and holding on to any litter until we can find a bin. In fact, the only evidence of us being there should be the awesome photographs.

And instead of a noisy ATV tour (which you will never find on our itineraries), perhaps try out e-biking?

Dalmatian pelicans

6. Look, don’t touch

As beautiful and fascinating as the wild animals we may encounter are, we respect their boundaries at all times and observe from a safe distance. Getting too close – or worse, touching them – can be as harmful to you as it is them. Wild animals can carry a number of diseases and they can bite or scratch when they feel threatened. Even as much as touching a nest and leaving your scent on it could frighten a mother and cause her to abandon her babies.

Taking photos is absolutely encouraged – in fact, we’ll likely be joining you (just make sure your flash is off) and there are opportunities to pet and touch animals which are accustomed to human interaction during many of our trips.

7. Respect local culture

Travel is all about experiencing different cultures and we’re proud that our trips are so immersive in this sense.

Some customs may be obvious, such as the requirement to cover up inside mosques and monasteries, but you might not be aware that haggling in Montenegro is considered an insult, for example. We don’t expect you to know all of this before your adventure, that’s what we’re here for. We’ll always brief you on local culture and customs at the start of our time together and all we ask is that you follow our advice.

Our adventure leaders are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their homeland and they’re more than happy to answer any questions. But not everybody you meet is an open book, so it’s best to avoid more delicate subjects – like the 1990s conflict – unless you know they’re okay with it.

The same goes for taking photos. Always ask first, the worst they can do is say no. It seems obvious but we see so many tourists just snapping away without permission.

8. Support the local community

Eating, shopping and staying locally not only enriches your experience, it benefits the lives and the economy of the people you visit instead of a hotel owner thousands of miles away or a souvenir factory in China.

All of the accommodation, restaurants and activity providers we use are locally owned and operated and we can always point you towards the best places to buy genuine, handmade local products. For example, if you’re joining us at Lake Skadar, we’ll carve out time to visit the street sellers in Virpazar for local treasures.

Local market Albania

9. Use responsible tour operators

Relax, you’ve got this one covered by choosing us!

Sustainability is baked into our itineraries like the cheese in a hearty burek, from where we take you to where we put our money.

For example, we choose lesser-known destinations to avoid contributing to overtourism, we only partner with local businesses, our trips are a minimum of 7 days to promote slow travel, and we donate 1% of our turnover to conservation and community initiatives in the areas we operate in.

You can read more about our commitments to responsible travel here.

10. Spread the word

Finally, you can help us lead the sustainable travel revolution in the Balkans by shouting about your awesome adventure with us and sharing our story.

You can do this by dropping us a review online and recommending us to your friends and family.

We’re proud to be the first tour operator in the Balkans to have pledged ourselves 100% to responsible travel practices and we’re thrilled to have you along for the ride!


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