Eastern Europe is a place I”ve backpacked in a good few times since I have started. When I have said I’ve been to a few countries in Eastern Europe, I get some mixed reactions. There’s a lot of things people say about this part of the world which are either exaggerated or simply not true.
When I say Eastern Europe, I mean Central European countries like Poland and Slovakia. Moreover I have also backpacked a good number of countries in the Balkans such as Bosnia and Serbia. There’s so much that people say about these countries and because of that, they’re deeply misunderstood.
1. All of Eastern Europe is Poor
Eastern Europe conjures up images of people living destitute and in shocking conditions. It’s also well-known that a lot of economies in Eastern Europe are very small and still emerging since the 90s. While salaries tend to be much lower than in Western countries, most people aren’t too destitute. In fact from my experience in Poland and the Czech Republic, these places actually felt much richer than back home in Glasgow.
Moreover, the FT reported that the average Slovenian household would be better off than the average British household. Having been to Slovenia myself, I can very much believe this.
2. These Countries are Dangerous
Thanks to fear mongering mass media and films like Taken which portray Albanians as criminals. People seem scared to go backpacking in Eastern Europe because they think that the Russian mafia are going to mug them. This is all nonsense and I can I say that I felt completely safe walking around cities like Belgrade at night. A Belgrade resident is much more likely to invite into their home and share some rakija than want to rob you.
I actually think that cities in the West are much more dangerous and probably have higher crime rates. I felt less safe in Rome or London than in Belgrade or Skopje. That’s because especially in Rome, you can’t go 5 minutes without someone trying to harass 5 euros out of you. There are barely any scammers in much of Eastern Europe I have backpacked through. One thing you do have to be careful of though, is to avoid establishments that might be owned by organised criminals. These places will rob you blind and the police seem to ignore it.
3. People are Unfriendly in Eastern Europe
This misconception comes from the fact that Russians don’t tend to smile at strangers. This is simply a misunderstanding of their culture. When I’ve met Russian people they have been incredibly friendly. Moreover, most people don’t realise that especially in the Balkans people are very hospitable. When I was in the Balkans, people were incredibly welcoming and curious about where I am from.
4. Cities in Eastern Europe are Ugly
This one could not be further from the truth. Yes, “commieblocks” do exist, but take a look at the UK. Cities like Birmingham, London and Stirling are much uglier than anything I’ve seen in Eastern Europe. There are many cities like Ljubljana, Budapest and Novi Sad which look absolutely amazing and can’t recommend enough.
5. All of Eastern Europe is Cheap
People falsely have the impression that places like Prague are incredibly cheap and are great for budget backpacking. While it’s true that Serbia, Bosnia, Poland and North Macedonia are all very affordable. Prague is definitely not the cheap city it was 30 years ago. Prague is really trying to be the next Paris, so there are a lot of expensive restaurants and hotels there.
Moreover, Croatia is absolutely not a budget destination. Especially Dubrovnik which is ridiculously overpriced. If you want to walk on the Walls of Dubrovnik, it costs more than 20 quid!
6. All Eastern Europeans are Slavic
People seem to think that Everyone from Eastern Europe is Slavic, but this is another big misconception. Even Russia isn’t completely Slavic as it is a melting pot. Moreover Albanians, Hungarians and Romanians are not Slavic and their cultures are slightly distinct.
7. They’re All Racists
This misconception comes from the news which only shows a small handful of people who are very much the minority. Moreover, the fact that the Yugoslav Wars were started because of difference in ethnicities doesn’t help this case. From my experience backpacking in Eastern Europe, people don’t seem to care who you are if you are just a tourist wanting to enjoy their culture.
I’d say that Eastern European countries are no more racist than the UK. It tends to be people from home who say that Eastern European people are racist without any evidence. In my opinion they are in no place to denounce a whole group of countries in such a way.
8. Adidas Tracksuits are the National Dress
Before travelling to Eastern Europe, even I thought this was true. Especially considering how much of a meme it is. However, when I backpacked around Eastern European cities like Krakow, Zagreb and Ljubljana. I saw people who were very well-dressed instead. I think that if you walk around the streets of Glasgow or Stirling, you would see more people in tracksuits than in Eastern Europe.
9. People are Uneducated in Eastern Europe
I think this one comes from the stereotypes of Polish immigrants who came to the UK to be plumbers. Which is very insulting because plumbing is an honourable line of work. Moreover, not all Eastern Europeans are plumbers or cleaners in Glasgow. Some of the greatest scientists, writers and musicians have been Eastern European. Marie Curie, Leo Tolstoy and Dua Lipa to name a few.
10. Binge Drinking is Common
This misconception probably comes from the idea that they are all obsessed with drinking vodka and can easily finish a bottle in one gulp. The truth is that once again, drinking culture in these countries is no different from what it is in the UK. Moreover, I have a friend from North Macedonia who told me that he doesn’t drink too much and prefers to play football with his friends. This is the case for a lot of these people and there’s a reason Croatia are so good at football.
11. Most of These Countries are not Worth Visiting
Another misconception which I can only say is complete nonsense is that these countries are boring. This is all wrong and in my opinion, going to the same part of France or New York every year is boring. Some of my favourite places have been the beautiful Lake Ohrid and of course Belgrade.
12. All of these Countries were in the Soviet Union
When people think of Eastern Europe, they think of the USSR. I’ve heard a lot of people call things in these countries “Soviet.” The reality is that the USSR comprised of only a few countries in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union had a lot of influence on countries like Poland and Hungary, but they were their own countries.
Moreover, when TIto was in charge of Yugoslavia, he distanced himself from Stalin. Yugoslavia became a neutral country in the Cold War and maintained relations with both sides.