your guide to Europe off the beaten path

Hitchhiking Is Not Dead (It Just Took a Break)

This is a guest post by Jamie Bowlby-Whiting who is the creator of Great Big Scary World where he shares his adventures through stories, photos, and videos. He has published…

This is a guest post by Jamie Bowlby-Whiting who is the creator of Great Big Scary World where he shares his adventures through stories, photos, and videos. He has published a book, The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, which is a true story of fear and hitchhiking, covering the six months that he spent on the road in Europe. You can follow him via Facebook or Twitter.
Back in the sixties, it is rumoured that hitchhiking was the thing to do. In fact, if I am to listen to the stories of people a generation above me, I start to believe that everybody used to hitchhike. So why the sudden apparent change? According to this same generation, it is because the world has become a dangerous place and there are now bad people who want to do bad things to others.
Yet can the people of the world have possibly changed so much?
Back in 2007, I signed up to a charity hitchhiking event. Myself and a girl that I didn’t know too well, would hitchhike 1,600 miles from the UK to Morocco, raising money for charity by getting people to sponsor is. In our charity hitch t-shirts, we along with a few hundred other nineteen and twenty year olds, made it to Morocco and felt amazement at the fact that we had travelled so far without money.
Fast forward nearly six years and I had all but forgotten about hitchhiking until I missed a bus in Japan and was faced with the prospect of paying a £200 train fare to catch up with my friends who had gone on ahead. Rather than paying this outrageous sum, I walked to the road and put my thumb out. There my hitchhiking dreams were rekindled and I made a promise to myself that I would one day hit the road without plans and without an end date. Nearly a year later, that is exactly what I did.

hitchhiking eastern europe

What I found, was a world that I thought had disappeared. For the first few weeks, I saw no other hitchhikers and everyone I met thought I was mad. But then I started to meet other hitchhikers on the road and heard more stories from people who had also tried hitchhiking. As one thing led to another, I soon found myself at a hitchhiking festival in Lithuania along with over one hundred other hitchhikers from around the world, many of whom were living long term, nomadic lifestyles with very small amounts of money.
I was hooked. It was like scratching away at the surface of some huge, impenetrable barrier, only to find something so very sweet and delicious beneath the surface. My hitchhiking journey continued for half a year across twenty-four countries, during which time I spent many nights guerilla camping or staying in the homes of strangers. I spent hardly any money each day and soon realised that with a little bit of work, this life was sustainable – so many other people had been doing it for so much longer than I.
hitchhiking in the back of a van

Hitchhiking in the back of a van

Hitchhiking isn’t quite as visible as it used to be, but I blame the bad news stories and the rules of society for this. However, take the time to look around and trust in people, and you might just find something a little bit more wonderful than you expected. I certainly did. I now use hitchhiking as a normal method of transport, simply to save myself money. Even when I have a plane to catch, I know that by sticking out my thumb and trusting in strangers, I can get where I’m going for free, without having to further contribute to the negative environmental impact that would ensue if I was to drive my own car (not that I own a car anymore).
Hitchhiking isn’t dead, it just slipped out of view. There are new movements in fresh thinkers of today who are returning to the world of hitchhiking and for the next many years, I expect it to continue. Sites such as HitchWiki are a perfect example of this.
All you have to do is have a little trust in the world.
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A journey to Albania – The Land of Bunkers, Mercedes Cars and Undiscovered Nature

A journey to Albania- With only 178,000 overnight stays in 2013, Albania is one of the least visited and least known countries in Europe. It’s really rare to hear anything…

A journey to Albania- With only 178,000 overnight stays in 2013, Albania is one of the least visited and least known countries in Europe. It’s really rare to hear anything about it on TV and the country is usually surrounded by mystery and prejudices.  It used to be isolated for very long periods of time which made it unique in comparison to many other European countries. However, Albania is waking up and it’s trying to attract more tourists with its interesting and specific tourist offer.

As I was always really curious about alternative destinations (just like my friend Luke from United Kingdom) we decided to give a chance to Albania. We bought bus tickets in Belgrade and took off to Prishtina where we arrived seven hours later.  A bus station in Prishtina is at the end of the Bill Clinton Boulevard where buses leave often to Tirana.

We decided to go  through Prishtina thanks to the new and modern highway which makes the journey faster than going through Macedonia. This highway looks seriously great and on the way to Tirana we passed through a six kilometer tunnel. The northern part of Albania was a real surprise as the nature here is beautiful.

traveling to Tirana

the northern Albanian landscape

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At some point a bus stopped for a toilet break, and although squat toilets are no more the norm you will find them in many places outside of Tirana. There’s no running water so you have to use a bucket full of water to flush 🙂  You’ll find them in many cafes and restaurants by the roads. Bring wet wipes so you can clean hands as many places don’t even have a soap.

Another thing you will notice when traveling around the country is that 80% of the cars are Mercedes-Benz. It really is an interesting phenomenon and Albania has the highest percentage of Mercedes per capita. I’ll point you to an interesting article made by the New York Times “In Poor Albania, Mercedes Rules Road“.

You will also notice the large numbers of bunkers that are spread throughout the country. Leaving Warsaw Pact, Albania constructed 700,000 bunkers as a form of defense against the enemy. You’ll spot the bunkers on the mountains, at the beaches, in the cities and well, almost everywhere. Most of them were built in the period from 1950 to 1985. They are extremely hard to destroy or move, so the only thing locals could do was decorate them in different colours.

Bunker in Tirana

Bunker in Tirana

We arrived to Tirana at the evening and immediately headed to our hostel. We stayed in Tirana Backpacker Hostel which has a great green garden. Hostel can accommodate 54 people but it was full when we arrived so we stayed in their newly built private cabins (28 EUR). You can search for accommodation in Tirana via HotelsCombined or Booking.

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Garden of the hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Entrance to the garden

The evening ended with me trying to explore the gastronomic side of Tirana. Once in Albania you should try byrek which comes in many forms and can be filled with meat, spinach, cheese etc. Turkish kebab and meat balls are also very popular and you will find them everywhere.

Next morning we took off to discover the city and got familiar with Tirana’s crazy and noisy side- its traffic. You should be careful when walking at the night because some streets are full of holes and some are even missing manhole covers.

Tirana streets

Missing manhole cover

Tirana city center

Tirana International Hotel and Mercedes Benz of course 🙂

Tirana Opera

The National Opera

Tirana architecture

Architecture in Tirana is a mix of Italian, Ottoman and Communist styles.

Piramida Tirana

Pyramid of Tirana

One of the most famous landmarks in Tirana is its pyramid. It was a museum of Enver Hoxha in the past, while today it’s being used as a broadcasting center. It’s very popular among the locals (especially kids) who actually climb all the way to the top of the pyramid.

Pyramid of Tirana

Pyramid was also a venue of a disco club called The Mummy.

Pyramid of Tirana 2

Love Freedom.

Tirana park

Tirana neighborhood

Tirana neighborhood

After Tirana, our next destination was Shkodra which is the fourth largest city in the country. As Tirana doesn’t have a bus station you need to look for a place where furgons (mini buses) stop. This is of course a challenge, so I recommend getting a taxi to take you to the right departure point. The schedule is not always accurate, because the drivers sometimes wait until furgon gets full. In Albania everyone travels with furgon which can accommodate 9 to 12 passengers. It’s the quickest and the cheapest way to travel around the country. The one we got into was full and the ride was a total adventure. For instance, we got stopped by the police and afterwards a driver stopped a furgon so he could go buy a watermelon.

Once we got to Shkodra we tried to communicate with the driver and explain him that we’d like him to take us to the border with Montenegro which turned out to be a sign language conversation. Nobody in the furgon could speak English and the only thing we got was “Parlare Italiano“?. This is no surprise as in 1991 about 20,000 Albanians went to Brindisi from Vlore as refugees, but eventually they were given an opportunity to stay in Italy.

Shkodra is an interesting place. The surrounding area is beautiful as Prokletije mountains can be seen in the back and the largest lake in the Balkans is located here. Walk along the main pedestrian street  and definitely don’t miss seing Rozafa fortress. It’s one of the most beautiful landmarks in Albania and the views from the top are beautiful.

Unless you don’t plan a road trip I suggest going to Albania by plane. AirSerbia is starting flights to Tirana from September 23rd which will connect this city with other European cities through its hub in Belgrade.

Although there are many prejudices surrounding Albania, number one problem is safety on the roads. New York Times included Albania in their “Top 52 places to go in 2014”, and although the country needs investors in order to improve its touristic offer and infrastructure, it’s definitely a place to go if you are lover of alternative tourism and if you wanna visit this place before it gets exploited by mass tourism. Next time I’d definetely like to explore the Ionian coast.

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Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review

Picking the right backpack is important because you will be using it in the years to come, although it can be very time-consuming AND confusing if you don’t know what…

Picking the right backpack is important because you will be using it in the years to come, although it can be very time-consuming AND confusing if you don’t know what to look for. There are many choices in the market (backpacks, suitcases, bags with wheels etc.), but if you prefer the ease of movement you will probably opt for a backpack.

Cabin Max Metz backpack is designed as a carry-on bag, allowing you to maximize your hand luggage allowance which means it’s a great choice for low-cost airlines such as WizzAir, RyanAir, Monarch, Germanwings, Norwegian and others. Of course it can be used for other means of transportation too. It’s especially handy if you travel by train.

As it’s really difficult to find a backpack that isn’t too expensive and that looks nice because most of the backpacks available online are dedicated to hikers, Cabin Max Metz is great for urban travelers.

Cabin Max Specifications;

  • weights 0.66 kg

  • measures 55 x 40 x 20 cm

  • sells in 14 colors

  • 3 year guarantee

  • 44 litre capacity

  • price: 31 EUR

  • Amazon user rating: 5/5


Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review

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I like the fact that the main section of the backpack opens like a suitcase. That’s good because once you open the bag you will be able to find your things easily. Unfortunately there are no straps or dividers inside the main compartment as you can see, so you will have to be creative while packing to maximize the use of the bag. Also note that if the bag is not fully packed your stuff inside will be mixed.

If you wonder what can be packed inside, that’s week’s worth of stuff! I found this bag to be even bigger than expected (or maybe I just prefer packing really light)! I’ve managed to pack: 3 pairs of jeans, 4 tshirts, sweater, pair of shoes, pair of pijamas, underwear and socks, toiletries, laptop and there was still some free space left. The bag doesn’t have a separate laptop pocket.

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There are two external pockets with great organizational ability. In these compartments you can put your passport, flight tickets, gadgets, keys etc. The bottom compartment is ideal for iPad for example.

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You could try to put your  laptop here but I don’t recommend it as it would make the bag look bulky from the outside.

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This is what the bag looks like when it’s full.

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Backpack straps are good and the bag is comfortable to carry although I think it’s not the best choice for some long-term backpacking or hiking. If you need a bag that you will have to carry for a few hours at a time you might want to get something else, but if you’ll be using it for short periods of time then you’ll be fine.


  • affordable price

  • lightweight and roomy

  • nice design

  • great organizational ability of the external pockets

  • saves you time and money at the airport


  • no laptop compartment

  • no dividers in the main compartment


I really like this bag. It’s fantastic value for money. I think it’s perfect for city-hopping in Europe and traveling by low-cost airlines and train. It’s nicely designed and budget friendly. It would be great if there were dividers in the main compartment and a laptop section but for this price you won’t be able to find a better carry-on bag. Some great but way more expensive alternatives are North Face Surge II backpack (82 EUR) and Minaal Backpack (219 EUR).

The Cabin Max Metz backpack is available on Amazon or you can buy it directly from the Cabin Max website. There are more than 20 different bags available on their official website.

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Škocjan Caves – A Must See in Slovenia

Slovenia is a country that is known for its karst terrain and which has more than 7,000 caves. Although Postojna cave is the biggest and the most popular one, these…

Slovenia is a country that is known for its karst terrain and which has more than 7,000 caves. Although Postojna cave is the biggest and the most popular one, these caves are less touristy and therefore more pleasant to visit.

Škocjan Caves consist of seven caves in total and they are part of UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites since 1986.

These caves were inhabited since prehistoric times, while the first explorations of the area commenced in the 19th century. The underground canyon in the caves is the largest of its kind in the world.

The only way to visit the caves is through tours which are led by professional guides of the park and which last an hour and a half. The constant temperature inside is 12 degrees so bring a light jacket or sweater. Photos are not allowed because the ecosystem could be disturbed.

You will see many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, but the most impressive part of the tour was walking down the stairs and reaching the bridge which is located above the Reka river, some 45 meters above. This of course gives you the feeling, as if you were in Indiana Jones movies.

Škocjan caves

The bridge above Reka river (Photo: Flickr/sitomon under CC)

While this may seem scary, the trails are safe and not too physically challenging as you’ll have to walk around 1.5 km. But be sure to wear comfortable shoes because surface can be slippery.

Exiting the cave, you will be able to see the view of the underground canyon of the Reka River, where you can take photos.

Skocjan caves 2

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At the end of the tour, the elevator takes you back to the top, but if you have time I suggest you to visit surrounding villages Škocjan and Betanja, which are part of Škocjan Educational Trail. This should also last about an hour and a half but the nature is really beautiful so it’s worth it. The Škocjan Caves are home to an incredible amount of flora and fauna: 250 varieties of plants and 15 different types of bats.

Skocjan Caves Betanja

If you have the time I suggest staying here overnight and exploring the amazing nature of this area.

Prices for tours are as follows;

Adults                 16.00 €
Senior citizens      12.00 €
Students             12.00 €
Children               7.50 €

 To learn more about this place visit the official website of the park.

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Underground Culture in Rog Factory Ljubljana

Soon after World War Two, Rog Factory Ljubljana was a place for manufacturing bicycles and typewriting machines until the early 90’s when the production was closed. Since then the abandoned…

Soon after World War Two, Rog Factory Ljubljana was a place for manufacturing bicycles and typewriting machines until the early 90’s when the production was closed. Since then the abandoned factory represents an alternative open space for users who developed cultural and artistic scene on site.

Rog Factory Ljubljana

The first thing you see when entering the territory of ROG is a panel labeled “Staying at your own risk on the ROG factory area“. After 15 years of falling apart in the center of Ljubljana this abandoned factory was occupied by alternative artists.

The city of Ljubljana plans to renovate this area on the basis of public-private partnership which would transform it into Contemporary Arts Centre with exhibition spaces, studios, artist in residence programmes, educational facilities but also with commercial spaces such as apartments, shops, restaurants, hotel and more. Of course, the main problem is that idea tends to be in favour of private commercial space which would make 80% of the total area.

ROG is a place where different people gather and where friendships are formed, mainly among people who work on joint projects. All that lead to creation of a new community which is known as “Rogovci“.

Besides these joint projects, they even formed their own media. Through its newsletter ROG notifies the local community with the activities that happen there and through their radio they allow young voices to be heard.

The main motto of the community is based on “temporarity”. “We do not plan things that can not be realized in less than three days” they say.

And while the future of ROG is now uncertain, this will still be a place where people of different professions gather and create in a space free of racism, hierarchy and discrimination.

Rog Factory in Ljubljana

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Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships

“The Museum of Broken Relationships encourages discussion and reflection not only on the fragility of human relationships but also on the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the stories being…

The Museum of Broken Relationships encourages discussion and reflection not only on the fragility of human relationships but also on the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the stories being told. The museum respects the audience’s capacity for understanding wider historical, social issues inherent to different cultures and identities and provides a catharsis for donors on a more personal level” the EMF’s (European Museum Forum) judging panel noted this when awarding it as Europe’s most innovative museum in 2011.

It all started as a traveling exhibition based on the idea of failed love relationships. Anyone can donate an object which represents their broken relationship along with a story and objects could be anything from a fluffy toy and music CD to something more extreme as an axe. You can also become a donor and send your exhibit. Donors come from all over the world, from neighboring Serbia to far Japan.

Stories are usually packed with humor, hatred and hurt. The exhibition was shown in cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Istanbul, Singapore, Belgrade, Berlin and Ljubljana.

Winter coat and love notes - Museum of Broken Relationships Zagreb

I was determined to marry her. After two months I called her. She told me that she was in love with another guy who lived near her home. No words came from my mouth, tears ran like a new river from my eyes, and I hung up. I never called her again. My heart was broken very badly, I cried a lot. I spent many sleepless nights. Still her memories are chasing me, still I am crying. She left me alone. Months passed. I moved to my national capital of Delhi. Still it hurts” says an Indian guy Prasanth who donated love notes and winter coat.

“Love is a violent recreational sport. Proceed at your own risk. Helmets, armor, and steel-toe boots are required by law.”

H.C. Paye

Tarantula Bob Dylan - Museum of Broken Relationships

You move on and the next exhibit says “Given to me by an American “boyfriend” when I was 17 and inscribed “for _____ who charmed the savage wolf”. I didn’t know that he would hound my parents for years and would eventually have a sex change and steal their name for his new persona.”

Goalkeeper gloves - Museum of Broken Relationships

Museum of Broken Relationships Zagreb

A pharmaceutical bowl - Museum of Broken Relationships

Axe in the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb

And here’s an “Ex-Axe” story or to be more detailed a story of two lesbians and an axe being promoted to a therapy instrument. After being left for another woman by her partner, this woman from Berlin decided to chop her ex’s furniture. “Two weeks after she left, she came back for the furniture. It was neatly arranged into small heaps and fragments of wood. She took the trash and left my apartment for good.

“Love is an invited deal for losing peace.”
― Seema Gupta

An mp3 and a key ring - Museum of Broken Relationships

A postcard - Museum of Broken Relationships Zagreb

Olive seeds - Museum of Broken Relationships

A Linksys router - Museum of Broken Relationships

A Linksys router with a message “We tried. Not compatible.”

Not every museum will give you an emotional, thoughtful and funny experience like this one and that’s the reason I totally recommend it if you are in Zagreb.

And there’s something we shouldn’t forget;

“There is always love, hope and life after a broken heart.”
― Jelord Klinn Cabresos

The best example for this are Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić who founded this museum after their own relationship broke up!

Which object from your past relationship would you leave in the museum?

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