All About Our 2013 Balkan and Baltic Bucket List Tour

The central downtown square in Nis, Serbia.  We visit it on Day 8.
The central downtown square in Nis, Serbia. We visit it on day 8.

May we introduce you to some countries, regions, cities and towns that you may not have previously considered visiting, but which we strongly recommend you should see.

Our June 2013 Travel Insider Balkan and Baltic Bucket List tour is a great way to work through some of your ‘bucket list’ countries, cities and towns, and also some that probably aren’t yet on your bucket list – but which should be.

We use the term ‘bucket list’ positively – to mean great places you should see, but probably never will unless something makes it easy and positive for you to do so.  That’s where we come in – with this tour, making it easy and positive for you to achieve these hopes and dreams.

Maybe also you are trying to qualify for membership in the Traveler’s Century Club – this tour’s concentrated exposure to many different countries in a very efficient time frame (and good value, monetarily speaking, too) will get you well towards entry (or, if already a member, to the next level).

Who This Tour is For (and Not For)

Self evidently and deliberately, this tour covers a lot of ground in a short time.  We try to vary the pace a bit, and include a few two night stops in places, but so as to get the most experiences in the least amount of time, it is necessarily more of an overview type tour than a detailed tour concentrating on only one or two places.

Some people will hate this.  Others will love it.

Some people will be delighted at a chance to briefly but still significantly get an exposure to many countries in a part of the world they might not otherwise get to travel to, with a minimum of ‘time cost’ associated.  Some people will view this as a ‘research trip’, and based on what they see on this trip, they’ll then know where to return in the future for more detailed stays.  And some people will see it as a great way to add 17 more countries and the sights associated with them to their overall store of life experiences.

We hope you might find one of these categories describes yourself.  But if you want to take it easy, and have a minimum of hotel changes and a maximum of extended stays and detailed immersions, this might not be the ideal tour for you (but you could also compromise and take one or two of the three sections plus more leisure time at either end).

The Carpathian mountains frame Transylvania on two sides.  We travel alongside the Carpathians, and through Transylvania, on days 10 u0026amp; 11.
The evocative Carpathian mountains frame Transylvania on two sides and hint at the mysteries contained within this region. We travel alongside the Carpathians, and through Transylvania, on days 10 u0026amp; 11.

A Quick Note About Where We Go

We do a sort of horseshoe-shaped tour down through the Balkans to the Black Sea, then ascend up and over to the Baltic Sea and further north all the way to Helsinki (see the map below).

The tour includes time in 17 different countries, and runs 20 days in full.  This takes you through much of the unknown and unexplored Europe.  We never go anywhere ordinary and common such as France, Germany, Italy, etc – anyone can go there, any time.  As a Travel Insider, you’re getting the special tour of unspoiled and even almost hidden Europe, of places few of your friends have ever been to.

But just because these places have yet to become ‘A List’ attractions like Paris and Rome, doesn’t mean they’re not wondrous and special – for example, included in our tour are 11 different World Heritage sites – sometimes single designated places, sometimes entire towns and cities.

Our prediction is that as the tourism ‘infrastructure’ develops in these regions – more flights and airports, more hotels, more tour operators, and so on – and as the places become better known, many of the places we visit will take their rightful place on the European ‘A List’.  We’ve visited some of these places before, and in our own experience (and that shared with us by other Travel Insiders), they have all greatly exceeded expectations, and many have been real treasures.

Seeing these places before they become fully tourist oriented is all the more reason to go now.  Visit places before they become focused (fixated!) on tourism, before they become festooned with souvenir shops or generic expensive international fashion stores.  Visit them before they get crowded with a crush of tourists every summer season, and instead enjoy them now, while they still faithfully show their uniqueness and their charm.

Shorter Tour Options Also Available

If you can’t spare the full 20 days, we offer shorter options, with the tour being split into three unequal thirds (Ljubljana to Belgrade, Belgrade to Kyiv, Kyiv to Helsinki).  Choose one, two or all three sections, depending on the time you have available and the places you most want to add to your life’s list of experiences encountered and enjoyed.

And if 17 countries isn’t enough, we offer suggestions for self-guided pre and post tour options that can add three more countries to the pre-tour option and three more countries to the post-tour option.  Wow – you’re now looking at 23 countries if you do it all!  And even more if you extend your travels still further……  🙂

So come join The Travel Insider’s 2013 Balkan and Baltic Bucket List Tour, and enjoy a kaleidoscope of different countries, cultures, sights, sounds, tastes and tours with a small group of like-minded Travel Insiders.

Click the links for more information on :

The tour includes two different overnight train journeys, plenty of deluxe coaching, and even a ferry journey too.  Here is a summary map approximately showing the itinerary from the start of the tour in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and traveling all the way to Helsinki in Finland.

A summary map of the complete tour.


17 thoughts on “All About Our 2013 Balkan and Baltic Bucket List Tour”

  1. David, I like the tour route, since it is different.

    I like the duration, since air travel ia such a large part of the cost for any European trip: lots of tour for the “fixed” air cost. BUT, we are totally booked up for 2013. Totally: actually running a deficit on available days for vacation, because of a few extra accumulated from 2012.

    Don’t know if that might not be a bigger question you need to ask: “How far in advance do you plan your vacations?” If you knew that answer you might be able to get larger response rates. Wife still works so if you are wanting only retirees to travel, that is a different story. Assume you are looking to build a base of tours and travelers: how about you do it in 2013, and tentatively plan it again for 2015 if it flies in 2013. People who want or need to plan far ahead could use longer lead times.


    1. Good point about amount of lead time, and I agree. I have been booked for several months on a summer cruise in the Med with a group of friends. As appealing as this trip is, my time and budget are fully committed for 2013. As Marty suggests, offering it in 2015 or even 2014 might make it more viable for members to seriously consider in planning for those years.

  2. Looks great! Have done many of the places you are going. Really interested in Ukraine to Latvia. I’ll keep an eye on it for 2013 travel. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I agree – very reasonably priced. And it goes to the only European country I have not visited – Belarus. However, 36 people in a bus is too many, in my opinion. It takes too long to embark and disembark. I prefer much smaller groups and small hotels, and generally avoid bus tours of more than 20-25 people. It would be good for the two types of travelers that David mentions.

    1. Hi, Fran

      Thanks for your comments, which are well noted, and I appreciate the chance to comment on the thoughts which I’m sure many people have.

      I think many of us like small groups, although there can be a downside to a small group too – in a small group, if you find yourself sharing the tour with an obnoxious person, it is harder to avoid them, but in a larger group, they become less a force to be reckoned with (not that I’m saying any Travel Insider would ever be considered loud/obnoxious, of course!).

      The exact ideal size of a group is impossibly difficult to determine, and there is the associated cost issue too, as is clear from our pricing which varies enormously with the number of people coming. Perhaps an intimate group of 12 is better than a larger group of 36, but the cost penalty associated with that is massive. As in so much in life, one gets what one pays for!

      I should also note that I doubt we’ll grow to 36. I don’t know for sure – we’ll have to wait and see, but it was sensitivity to your anticipated comments which caused me to limit the size to 36 anyway, rather than getting a 56 seater coach and filling all 56 seats! I’ve had larger and smaller tours in the past; with a good group of people (such as Travel Insiders usually are) a number in the 20s to 30s seems to work very well.

      The time to get on and off a coach is not really a factor for this type of touring. Yes, on a typical city tour, where everyone is traipsing on and off the bus every ten minutes, that is indeed a huge issue. But we’ll often be on the coach for two hours at a time, meaning we only have a few on/off’s each day. Plus, if the numbers warrant it, I’ll get a coach with two doors, which clearly halves the time it takes for the loading/unloading. Furthermore, on a city tour, not only does everyone of course get off the bus at the same time, but they tend to all get back on the bus at the same time, too. With longer stops, generally people stroll back to the coach in ones and twos over some time prior to its departure, so there’s rarely any delay in getting back on board.

      We will stay at hotels of a mix of different sizes and types along the way, and generally in smaller more characterful ones rather than huge big generic internationally franchised ones.

  4. This type of tour we avoid like the plague. My wife and I like to spend more time in each destination to get the local “flavor.” Daily packing and unpacking is a PIA-pain in the ass. For areas that need less time-we inter-space one day stops between longer (usually2-3) stops-and keep the short stops to a minimum. It is just our travel preference.

    1. Hi, Mike

      I don’t disagree with you that – in general – one definitely prefers to avoid checking in and out of hotels all the time. But this isn’t ‘this type of tour’ – this is a tour primarily designed to cover a lot of ground, and the choice was either multiple night stops and long ‘out and back’ coaching each day, or less coaching and almost no doubling back, but more hotel changes. I think, in this case, it is the lesser of two evils.

      I think – I hope – the tour will appeal either to two types of traveler. The first is people who are keen to see as much of the world, in overview form, as possible; in particular people who are time constrained. The second is people who see this tour as a chance to actively research a region prior to deciding on where to return back to in the future and spend more concentrated time in.

      There are several two night stays sandwiched in with the single night stays on this itinerary of course, plus the ability to stay longer at the start and end of the tour too, and if a person gets into hotel-change-overload, there is always the ability to just do one or two of the sections rather than all three.

      Your point of course is valid; some people will jump at the chance to see more of Europe, and in less time, than is normally possible. Others will indeed recoil in horror!

      Thanks for your feedback.

  5. David :

    I’ve read through your notes with growing delight, and some very fond memories, too. I have visited quite a few of the countries in your first section, so I’m torn between returning to – as you so accurately say – some amazing places, and places which are all the more amazing due to having been overlooked and staying off the main tourist routes so long. Or maybe I’ll chose sections 2 and 3 instead, with countries I’m not so familiar with.

    Some of the most unlikely countries do truly have some of the greatest travel experiences. Maybe that’s just because we don’t have unrealistic expectations to start with?

    Thank you for making this available for us all.

  6. Stephanie Pendleton

    Sorry but I am not a fan of the “If its Tuesday, this must be Belgium” type of coach tour. I prefer smaller groups of 10-15. I like a lesser impact upon each local site knowing we haven’t swooped in like a flock of crows. And I like to spend a couple of days in each locale to see it in its entirety, as in these days of seniority, I may never get back.

    1. Hi, Stephanie

      I’d like to reply to your comment about ‘swooping in like a flock of crows’. Do you really think that a town of 10,000 or a city of 2 million will be overwhelmed by some small number of Travel Insiders probably numbering in the mid twenties?

      I think you’re confusing the effect of having two or three mega cruise ships, disgorging between them as many as 10,000 passengers into a tiny town, and our single Travel Insider coach pulling up into the town’s main square and having 25 or 30 people alight!

      As for the ‘If its Tuesday, this must be Belgium’ type tour, our tour is very different to that. The western European tours (which actually don’t go to that many countries, generally) tend to go to a mix of much more homogenous places, hence the confusion of where one is. We’re going to massively different countries. Some are Muslim, some are Christian (Roman Catholic), some are Christian (Orthodox). Some are newly created, others have come and gone over the years. Sure, you can tour the Benelux countries and not notice much difference, but I suspect you’ll vividly see the difference between Kosovo and Kyiv, between Dubrovnik and Odessa, and so on. We’re not doing the same thing repeatedly, we’re doing very different things, all sequenced together.

      I (sometimes) like 10 – 15 person groups too, and I (again sometimes) like spending two days days in some places also. But those tours are way too costly in both time and money for many people; you’re fortunate not to have such constraints!

    2. Stephanie :

      I have to call you out on this. As far as I can tell, there’s no such thing as a small group, 10 – 15 person tour of the Balkans like David has created for an only slightly larger sized group.

      I have been on small group tours. I hate them. First of all, you’re not in a comfortable big bus, with huge windows and high up above the other traffic. You’re in a small little van, with tiny windows and no views at all. The van is noisy and bouncy, squashed and uncomfortable, and of course with no bathroom. I’d rather share a larger comfortable full size bus with plenty of room to spread out than be crammed into a van like a dozen sardines in a can.

      Secondly, David is promising us a driver, separate guides for different parts of the tour, and himself as tour leader. The small tour I was on had one person as both driver, guide and everything else too. One generalist for 10 – 15, or three specialists for 20 – 36? I know which I’d prefer.

      I also know which you’d prefer – you’ve said so – but I don’t think you are fairly comparing apples to apples. David’s tour is likely to be more comfortable and more comprehensive, and massively more affordable, than your non-existant small group tour. That’s why I’m choosing David’s tour.

  7. David,

    The tour sounds fantastic. If I were to go I would do the whole tour. I’ve done “a different place every night” tours in the past and with a good guide and stops along the way, it’s fine.

    These are all places I’ve thought about visiting and would most likely continue with the rest of Scandinavia.

    I’ll talk to my wife and see if she is supportive.



  8. David – first thanks for the “special communication” heads up for your supporters. Quite an interesting tour layout and concept – especially for those of us who long to give our “country count” a quick boost. Howver, having pasted the 60 year mark I not try to have at least 1/2 my hotel stays 2 nights, if for nothing more than to wash clothes :-)!

    If reasonably priced laundry facilities could be located by local guides fairly most days, packing light would be easy. When I visited Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro 6+ years ago, 4* hotel laundry rates for a set of underwear (undershirt, briefs, socks) uniformly cost $14. Except for husband’s jeans and a long-sleeve shirt I relented and helped him out qod. Doubt I’ll be up to such a fast-paced tour, but it surely is a temptation. Best of luck and safe travels.

    1. Hi, Sandy

      Thanks for your note. I do agree that being able to pack light would be a plus for this tour, and laundry services would be a bonus. I often rinse things out each night in the hotel, inbetween ‘proper’ laundry stops.

      As for the fast pace, which has been discussed a bit already, there’s another analogy/comparison to consider. If you’re on what is generally perceived to be a lazy, relaxing, easy going river cruise, you’re still hopping from town to town, and seldom/never spending more than half a day in any one port. But that is perceived as a leisurely approach to travel, whereas some people see this tour as ‘fast paced’. 🙂

  9. Hi David,
    We all go to restaurants; they have menus; each chooses what they like; some love squid, others beef, others no meat at all, it’s considered boorish to criticize others choices of food.

    Personally, I very much love unique and unusual travel ideas, from canoe camping all alone in wilderness to hobnobing with millions in Paris, but overwhelming preference for the different and uncommon. Your mileage may and probably will vary. I’ve traveled with a very few, with small groups, with mid-size groups, never with thousands on a cruise ship, but maybe someday; it just has to be different

    A daily itinerary is not a problem; you simply don’t unpack, live out of the carry-on. Easy in, easy out. Laundry; geesh. With modern fabrics, just not necessary; try UnderArmor, for example, for underwear and overwear, good for a couple of weeks without smells. If needed, wash at night; dries in a few hours. Now if you dribble at dinner or have dirt phobias, wash every night; easy and quick. Don’t be a fashionista when traveling, who cares. Mix and match. Layer. Travel Smith. Focus on the travel, leave home habits behind. Pack well and light and quick. Easy.

    Soapbox off.

    You remember, I asked you at the end of the Korea trip (those of you that missed it, really did miss it; great trip), I asked you what you could do as an encore, what’ s next. You scratched your head and said you would try.

    Good job! I think this will be another trip for the memory books, not perfect, kind of like life itself, but certainly different, unique, and unusual. I’ve never traveled in Eastern Europe, and I want to. But where to go, what to do, where to stay, how to organize it. Complicated. I see this trip as a survey, a scan of the possibilities, a chance to quickly see where I want to come back to. At 72, I’ve likely only a decade of travel left, so I have to prioritize. Sounds yukily corporate achiever, but realistically, I really do have a bucket list and it’s a long one.

    You may remember I organized a trip for architects to China for the World Expo in 2010 and for friends to Patagonia early this year, and a few other trips. I’ve written them all, plus others, to alert them to this trip, It would delight me to have some of our friends and family join us on to the Balkans and Baltic.


    PS: I don’t think you have to justify the choices or be defensive. The trip idea stands on it’s own; some will love it, some not, those opposed are unlikely to be persuaded. Their loss. More room for the rest of us.

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