When looking into trip ideas I like to fill in parts of the world that are missing from my travel map. In my opinion, I feel that I’m a pretty well- rounded traveler but there are still some big holes on my travel resume like mainland China, India & Antarctica, just to name a few.
With this trip Kim and I will get to experience and learn about an area that we’ve both wanted to visit for quite some time. Well be visiting the Balkans!
The Balkans are made up of around ten countries, many being a part of the former Yugoslavia.
We’ll be visiting four of these countries, although one is a disputed territory and only recognized by 95 UN member states.
Countries We’ll Be Visiting:
- Kosovo (disputed territory)
The Flights: Finding flights to this regions wasn’t a simple task. I was open to which countries we flew in/out of as long as Albania and Macedonia were included in our itinerary. I pulled up a map to get an idea of possible cities with airports nearby. To my surprise there was excellent award availability flying into Belgrade, Serbia and home from Tirana, Albania. However, it wasn’t as simple as hitting the purchase button to book.
I selected my flights but then got an itinerary not available message. I went ahead and called United. The rep saw availability for us and offered to book our flights and waive the phone service charge. This sounded great! The rep booked our tickets and gave me a confirmation #. We were then placed on hold so she could get the price to add Lucas as a lap baby. After holding for around 10 minutes, she said there was a problem- Lufthansa would not release the seats!
Feeling a bit defeated but not ready to give up, I played around with the dates. The rep had said nothing was available but I still searched. Again I found quite a bit of availability and went to book a new itinerary. To my surprise and joy, I was able to book the flight!
I had the rep still on the phone with me so I confirmed that my booking was valid. She let me know that we were already ticketed. So, we were literally in business and the trip was a go!
We will be flying in Business Class from:
- New York (JFK) to Belgrade, Serbia (BEG) with 2 connections
- Tirana, Albania (TIA) to New York (JFK) with 2 connections including an 8.5 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. (Some time to do a quick visit to another city!)
The cost of this itinerary for Kim and I is 200,000 United miles + $386 tax. We also got hit with a service fee of $75 each for booking an award within 21 days of travel.
Traveling with a lap baby isn’t free when it comes to international travel. It can actually be quite expensive if you choose to fly in a premium cabin. While we didn’t need to spend any more of our precious miles on Lucas, we did pay some hefty taxes. For Lucas to fly with us as a lap baby it costs $928.40 (about 10% of the cost of our ticket).
Lodging/ Hotels: We will be staying in a mixture of hostels, guesthouses and local hotels. Since they are not brand name hotels, there is no need for me to mention their names. The cost per night ranges from $40- $60 US (give or take).
Getting Around: There isn’t a lot of options for traveling through this part of the world. We’ll be taking buses around Serbia and then on to Macedonia. Once in Macedonia, we’ll backtrack to Kosovo for a day trip. After spending a few days in Macedonia we will be picked up by a private driver to cross the border into Albania and for the bulk of our visit to the country. Albania seems to be the toughest country to travel through in the Balkans. If Lucas wasn’t coming on the trip, Kim and I would’ve just taken buses around. From our research, it seems like the bus schedules throughout Albania can be pretty erratic. Add to that a 19 month old, very mobile baby and this sounds like a recipe for disaster. So we’ve decided to hire a private driver to get to see the country and not waste a good chunk of our time waiting around and sitting on buses.
We’ll that’s all for now. Make sure to keep checking back for posts about our trip around the Balkans!