Backpacking Eastern Europe
Are you planning on backpacking Eastern Europe? Yay, you made an awesome choice! Sure, Western Europe has the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Neuschwanstein Castle, and the Colosseum; they are all the big sites everyone automatically thinks of when they envision a European vacation.
But Eastern Europe still packs a gigantic punch! Don’t overlook the region even if you’re nervous about it.
Personally, I have always been fascinated with this region. Blame it on loving Bram Stoker’s Dracula so much. To be honest, I still need to travel through a decent part of Eastern Europe, and plan to do so in the near future. What I’ve already seen and done in Eastern Europe, however, has been nothing short of magical.
I highly recommend backpacking Eastern Europe even solo.
I know there are a lot of misconceptions about this part of the world. And movies, such as Hostel set in Bratislava, don’t help matters much.
This ultimate guide will breakdown what it’s like to backpack Eastern Europe. Time to get planning.
Where is Eastern Europe and What Countries Does it Include?
“Eastern Europe” is actually a pretty broad geographical phrase. A common definition, one created during the Cold War years, claims “Eastern Europe” comprises of “the countries that used to be part of the Eastern Bloc.”
Keep in mind a stigma is attached to the phrase “Eastern Europe.” You may even have locals insists XYZ country is part of Central Europe.
I guess what I’m trying to say is Eastern Europe is a fluid definition. And to always respect the locals and their feelings.
Often, people consider the following countries part of Eastern Europe:
- The Czech Republic/Czechia
- The Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia)
- The Balkans (Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia)
Again, your concept and definition of Eastern Europe may be different than another person’s.
Why Should I Go Backpacking in Eastern Europe?
Eastern Europe has it all. Delicious food, beautiful onion-domed churches, colorful markets, thought-provoking museums. The list goes on and on.
Firstly, the food in Eastern Europe is divine. I love the hearty Polish stews and Hungarian langos, and these meals will keep you full for hours. Let’s not forget the Czech beer either! Yum.
Secondly, if you love history, especially recent history, then Eastern Europe is for you. These countries have been through rough times, and depending where you’re based, the evidence is still very clear in daily life. Eastern Europe has a lot of high quality museums dedicated to its past.
You’ll also see that Eastern Europe is not as commercialized as other parts of the continent. You won’t see McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner, which is pretty cool. Traditions still run deep.
Believe it or not, Eastern Europe is still relatively affordable, too. Cities like Prague and Budapest are a bit pricey, but you can find deals in smaller cities and towns. If you’re traveling Europe on a budget, then Eastern Europe is a good option for you.
Finally I love the other travelers who I met backpacking in Eastern Europe. Most of them have already seen Europe’s biggest sites. Therefore they were more likely to be adventurous and spontaneous than other backpackers, creating some outstanding memories. You won’t be alone for long in Eastern Europe.
When Should I Backpack through Eastern Europe?
We all know about Europe’s high and low seasons, as well as the sharp weather differences in the winter versus summer months. But is it the same for Eastern Europe? For the most part, yes.
July and August promise the warmest weather and most hours of daylight, but summer’s delight also draws in the most crowds. Prices are higher for accommodation, too. At the same time, the vibrant atmosphere is worth the tourist hoards and costs.
Spring and autumn mean fewer tourists and lower accommodation prices, but the potential for wetter weather exists. Also, as a solo traveler, you might not meet as many people in hostels.
Be prepared for chilling winds and snow if you backpack Eastern Europe in winter. Snow boats are mandatory, not an option. The cities are beautifully decorated for the holiday seasons during late November and December. You might even run into a Christmas market or two!
Cost of Backpacking Eastern Europe
Honestly, it depends on what countries and cities you include in your itinerary. For example, Poland is way more affordable than the Czech Republic/Czechia. Select countries based on your budget and then work from there.
More importantly, you need to be aware that Eastern Europe is home to many different currencies. Here is the most recent breakdown:
- Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia, Slovenia all use the Euro.
- The Czech Republic/Czechia uses the Czech Koruna.
- Poland uses the Polish Złoty.
- Hungary uses the Hungarian Forint.
- Romania uses the Romanian Leu.
- Bulgaria uses the Bulgarian Lev.
- Ukraine uses the Ukrainian Hryvnia.
Stay up to date with current exchange rates. You want to know exactly how much you’re paying in your home country’s money. Avoid money exchanges unless your hostel recommends one. You have a much stronger rate at the ATMS.
What To Bring When Backpacking in Eastern Europe
These are a few of the items I’d recommend bringing when you backpack Eastern Europe. If you want even more information, then swing over to my packing list for backpacking Europe.
1. An Excellent Guidebook
Tourism is relatively new to Eastern Europe compared to its Western neighbors. These countries have changed rapidly since the days of the Cold War. Pack a high-quality guidebook for your trip to ensure you don’t make any rookie mistakes.
2. A Money Belt and Passport Holder
Eastern Europe is safe. However, it’s always a good idea to take care of your money and passport, particularly in crowded areas where pickpockets might lurk. Having a good money belt will bring you peace of mind on your trip.
3. SteriPen Water Purifier
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in big cities like Budapest. However if you venture to the deep countryside, especially to places outside the European Union, you need to be more careful about drinking water. A SteriPen Water Purifier will keep you safe for times you don’t have immediate access to bottled water.
4. A Travel First Aid Kit
I always encourage preparedness for the worst case scenario. In Eastern Europe, you don’t want to miss out on the smaller towns and countryside. However, you might not have ready access to a pharmacy when you need one. So pack an all-purpose first aid kit to take care of you on your travels through Eastern Europe.
5. Comfortable Walking and Hiking Shoes
Bring something smaller and a bit more elegant like Merrell’s mesh ballet flat when visiting cities such as Prague and Budapest. If you’re headed into nature, then don’t forget to switch to waterproof hiking boots and multi-performance hiking socks to prevent blisters. No one wants to deal with them.
6. A Travel Size Umbrella
Sadly, you might have some rain in Eastern Europe even in the hot summer months. It happens. So better safe than sorry. Take a travel umbrella to stay dry on those wet sightseeing days. Or you can hide in a cafe, haha.
7. Your Super Trusty e-reader
Remember those long train and bus rides I mentioned earlier? You’re gonna want something to do. My Kindle Paperwhite is my favorite e-reader of all time. I love how the light adjusts depending on your surroundings. It’s very easy to pack too. Bring a protective cover so you don’t damage your Kindle while you are in transit.
8. A Secure Daypack or a TSA-approved Lock
You want to take extra care of your daypack when you’re out and about exploring. For peace of mind, you might consider Pacsafe bags for your visit to Eastern Europe. Pacsafe makes both crossbody purses and full blown backpacks depending on your personal needs. If you already have your bags, then just buy the individual TSA-approved locks. Regardless of your personal feelings on TSA, be sure the lock fits their guidelines to avoid problems at the airport. Not worth the aggravation.
9. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is the most important thing to bring when backpacking Eastern Europe. I use Allianz Travel Insurance for my trips and never had a problem. Believe me. Paying $70 for insurance is much better than forking over $25,000 for an emergency rescue and hospital visit. Your bank account will thank you.
How to Travel Eastern Europe
As a backpacker, you want to use public transportation most of the time. I don’t know about you, but I can’t be bothered to rent a car when I go to Europe. I’m a nervous driver, and spending a boatload of cash on car insurance doesn’t appeal to me very much.
1. On The Public Bus
Eastern Europe has wonderful buses. For example, I used Lux Express all throughout the Baltics. They even have international routes to Russia and Poland. Buses are air conditioned and comfortable with bathrooms on board. At the end of the day, buses might be the best way to navigate Eastern Europe.
2. On The Public Trains
Trains aren’t as extensive, regular, or fast as the trains in Western European countries such as Germany and France. But major cities, like Budapest, Krakow, and Prague, have big stations and frequent trains. Plan and book your tickets ahead.
3. With A Guided Tour
If you feel really nervous about visiting Eastern Europe, then there’s no problem with booking yourself on a guided tour. My favorite tour company, G Adventures, has many trips to this part of Europe. G Adventures uses small groups and public transportation so you don’t feel like you’re being herded around everywhere.
Is Traveling to Eastern Europe Safe?
Ahhh, the million dollar question! Backpackers, especially women traveling alone, are naturally concerned about their safety.
Over all, I found Eastern Europe very safe. Taking normal precautions was more than enough to have a great time. Keep the following safety tips in mind.
- Don’t Drink Too Much. I noticed a lot of bad stories started off with “I was drunk…” Eastern Europe’s cheap alcohol makes it easy to overindulge. Try to avoid drinking like a fish.
- Be Careful with Dating Apps. Especially if you’re a man traveling solo. I know it’s tempting to go out with that pretty lady on Tinder, but people aren’t always who they seem. Meet in a public place of YOUR choosing.
- Don’t hail taxis off the street. Instead have your hostel or hotel arrange transportation for you. I was overcharged for a taxi in Prague, and am still mad about it. Don’t be me.
- Landmines. This tip is only relevant to the Balkans such as Bosnia. Landmines may still be in remote areas. If you’re hiking, please stick to designated trails to avoid injury.
- Keep a close eye on your valuables. Violent crime is rare, but pickpockets exist. Don’t make their job easier for them.
My Favorite Hostels in Eastern Europe
This list is a total work in progress, and I will continue to update it as I travel throughout Eastern Europe. If you have any suggestions, I encourage you to share them in the comments to help your fellow travelers!
1. EastSeven Hostel in Berlin
Okay, I know Berlin technically isn’t located in Eastern Europe. However, Berlin is a popular starting point for many Eastern Europe itineraries, and a lot of the history is similar to “proper” Eastern European countries. My favorite hostel was EastSeven Hostel located in Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg district. You’re close to Alexanderplatz, too. EastSeven has a lovely outdoor area and warm common room, making it simple to meet other solo travelers.
2. Krumlov House & Write Away Retreat in Cesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov is one of my favorite small towns in Europe. I highly recommend staying the night to avoid the crowds of day trippers. I stayed at Krumlov House & Write Away Retreat which was a lovely small hostel with accommodating hosts. Krumlov House has wonderful views of the Vltava River, and the hosts will help you book activities such as a rafting tour.
3. Jazz Hostel and Apartments in Bled
In romantic Lake Bled, I deeply enjoyed my stay at Jazz Hostel and Apartments, a place that has won many awards. At this hostel, you have very easy access to Lake Bled, because it’s in walking distance. Jazz Hostel also works with many local tour companies in the region, which makes booking tours very simple.
4. Jimmy Jumps House in Vilnius
Going to Lithuania’s capital city? Then Jimmy Jumps House is a great place to base yourself for your visit. Not only do they have waffles in the mornings, but this hostel has a wonderful atmosphere for meeting other travelers. I met friends who stuck with me throughout my entire visit of the Baltics!
5. The Naughty Squirrel in Riga
The Naughty Squirrel in Riga has been ranked one of the best medium hostels in the world. And it’s easy to see why! The staff really make this hostel a magical and fun place. You feel like you’re part of a family. They also arrange activities every day of the week so you’re never ever bored.
6. Sir Toby’s Hostel in Prague
Although this hostel is located outside Prague’s center, Sir Toby’s Hostel is a wonderful option for visiting Czechia’s capital city. You’re based in a real neighborhood with real people rather than in the middle of tourist hotspots. There is a lovely outdoor common area, as well as a bar serving a variety of Czech beers.
7. Wombat’s City Hostel in Budapest
Personally, I would suggest Wombat’s City Hostel for friends and groups over solo travelers due to its size. This chain, however, is highly ranked and reliable. Wombat’s is clean and centrally located, making it a solid choice for your stay in Budapest.
Other Useful Eastern Europe Blog Posts
Need more advice? Here are some of my other posts about destinations in Eastern Europe. Happy traveling.
- Beginners Guide to Lake Bled (in Slovenia)
- Beginners Guide to Vilnius Lithuania
- Budapest: An Ideal City for Solo Female Travelers
- Is Cesky Krumlov Worth Visiting?
- Travel the Baltics: Is it Safe for Solo Travelers?
I will continue to update this list as I travel to more amazing places in Eastern Europe.
What countries and cities have you visited in Eastern Europe? Did you have fun backpacking Eastern Europe? Where do you recommend travelers go?
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