A Guide to Bosnia by Motorhome
With a three month autumn tour of Croatia pre-Schengen 2023, we had our sights on Bosnia and Herzegovina at some point during our trip. This was, in part because it was so close it would have been mad not to. We also wanted to prolong our Croatian stay and thereby our Schengen Shuffle allowance by dipping into a country not in the gang. A double whammy opportunity. So sat in Omiš after a wonderful family week we decided, now was the time.
In this brief guide, we want to share what we experienced both in the lead up to crossing the border, our entry experience and some of our flavours from what was a ‘mini tour’ of this much unknown country. Our hope is that it will give you the inspiration to dip your intrepid toes into BiH waters and put fear and uncertainty behind you.
The Lead Up
We waved goodbye to mum and Bob who were heading back to Dubrovnik via Herzegovina’s Mostar region, and we began deliberating our next steps. Mostar is one of BiH’s hottest tourist destinations and has been on my bucket list for ages. Yet my sights had been so focused on arriving in Omiš in time for Bob’s Birthday celebrations, that I hadn’t even looked beyond this point. So thanks to their trip, we were inspired to put our BiH intentions into action. With Omiš just 2 hours from Mostar the plan was hatched.
With the help of Google, a few phones calls and at bit of route-mapping, within 24hrs we were good to go. The blogs I read about BiH excited me, so we knew this mini tour was so much more than Mostar. I love travel’s variety; some days simply feel normal when you work, clean the van, shop and all those other mundane tasks. There are others when you do something special with family and friends who share your travel experiences with you. And then there are times when you do something that stretches you out of your comfort zone inducing what I call my ‘excityscared’ emotions; that fusion of anticipation, excitement and nervousness. Such a tumultuous mixture of feelings that are like a kaleidoscope of butterflies doing an olympic workout. Bosnia and Herzegovina represented that for me.
I’ll be honest, I know so little about Bosnia and Herzegovina that I had concerns about its safety; after all we wanted to do more than just Mostar. Like so many, the media plays a huge role in shaping our perceptions. After the war in the early 90’s, Sarajevo’s destruction, the devastation across this country and its neighbours, those memories stay with you. Yet travel always my educator and guide, continually shows me the truth behind a country’s culture and history, not what the media choose to show you. It didn’t take long for me to move beyond my fears and look to the awaiting adventure just a mere 33 miles away.
Our Top 10 Planning Checklist for Bosnia & Herzegovina
Once Bosnia and Herzegovina was on the agenda, I initiated a checklist of essentials that ensured we had the necessaries to be safe and have a memorable trip. We wanted to share this with you as you consider whether Bosnia could be on your road-trip list.
1. Covid entry requirements
It looks like we are through the worst of the pandemic with most countries having now lifted their entry requirements. Although after such an intensive period, it leaves you hyper-sensitive about travel. So I did a quick check to investigate if there were any restrictions or vaccination proof requirements. At the time of writing all restrictions are now lifted.
When you plan your trip, just check in with this website or your country’s own Government website to assess the latest information about Covid or any other topical issues that might affect your trip to the country.
2. Vehicle Insurance
There was some debate on our Motoroamers’ Chat Room about whether our UK insurance would cover Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are with Comfort and I had a sneaky suspicion they didn’t cover the country and I struggled to find any information to give me peace of mind. So I started researching buying insurance at the border. There was nothing definitive about where we could buy it and how much it would cost.
So I put a quick call into Comfort where they confirmed that we were in fact covered and that we have breakdown cover there too. Happy days. That was one big tick off my list. They just recommended that we print our on-line documentation so that we had everything to hand if scrutinised by Border Control. The campsite helped us with this, so that was a breeze.
Check your insurance policy for country exclusions and if in any doubt speak to your insurers to get up to date information. If you don’t already, ensure you have a printed copy of your documentation and Green Card just in case. My research suggested that many of the main tourist borders will specifically ask for your paperwork. And the official line is that online copies that you may have downloaded to save paper, is NOT sufficient.
If your insurers don’t cover Bosnia, then you will need to get third party cover at the border. Bear in mind that not all borders are tourist crossings so may have nothing other than a Control Booth. We crossed at Aržano and it is not classed as a main Border so no insurance purchase looked to be available here.
This interactive map might be helpful to find the borders around Bosnia.
3. Travel Insurance – Health Cover
Of course travel insurance is an important companion and whilst we have our GHIC that offers basic cover that for many countries may well be sufficient, for others, you may want some extra protection. With our exit from Europe, some countries might have travel insurance as an entry requirement. Although this hasn’t been the case for us in the last two years, other countries might have a different policy. So we secured health cover through True Traveller, who we used for our trip to Morocco in 2020. This can be done on line or over the phone in an instant.
If you are already travelling and have not purchased a UK-based policy, then you can use companies like True Traveller, Big Cat or World Nomads who will give you cover whilst away from your home country, subject meeting certain criteria. True Traveller covered us for 7 days for £66. For additional information, here is the UK Government’s website that shows what is covered under the reciprocal health agreement.
4. Internet and International Roaming Charges
Whilst this wasn’t formally on my list – it should have been and I could have saved myself £50. Whilst I knew our Spanish Lobster card wouldn’t cover Bosnia, I foolishly thought we could use our 02 travel package. Wrong! Travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina will initiate International Roaming Charges. It isn’t until you have no internet that you realise how much you rely on it. I couldn’t check Park4Night, use my Google Maps for navigation, get Google Translate or download my Bosnian maps on Maps.me. (Another school-girl error). So it is worth getting this sorted the minute you arrive.
Have no fear, if Bosnia and Herzegovina is not included in your allowance, then immediately search out a garage, convenience store, newsstand, post office or a cafe and ask for a Pre-paid SIM card. We bought a 20GB card for 7 days that we popped into our MIFI. It cost 20 BAM – £9. Given we work on-line, use a lot of data for our blogging and Myles’ investments, we simply bought a second card for 15GB for 10 days, so we could feel at ease about the internet situation.
Check with your phone supplier to see if Bosnia and Herzegovina is covered. If not you will get a text from them saying that you will be charged for minutes of calls, text and data. Ours was £7.20 per MG up to 50MG capped at £51.50. I continued to use my internet to check where we could buy a SIM and in just 30 mins I had reached my cap! SO BEWARE.
5. Navigational Maps
As with our recommendations for Morocco, we suggest checking your membership with Park4Night is up to date to use their off-line option. This will save important data. If you have maps.me remember to download Bosnia and Herzegovina maps whilst you have ‘free and cheap’ internet. I didn’t and needed to wait until we had our SIM card to download my maps, which of course also used a chunk of my allowance up! Lesson learnt.
6. Overnight Parking Options
I did a lot of research on where we could stay and wild camping rules. I couldn’t find anything definitive from the Bosnia and Herzegovina Government although it seems that there are no laws prohibiting going off-grid. Of course, the normal rules must apply. Be respectful, be tidy and be discreet. No one should ever know we had been there.
There are two big issues going off-grid in BiH; the first is the risk of land-mines from the war. So never go anywhere where the land hasn’t been tended to or that doesn’t have asphalt roads to them. There are signs warning of mines, so always take heed, however beautiful the location may be. The second challenge is that many reviews we read suggested that guys would turn up in the evening asking for payment on a seemingly free spot. They may not always be official parking attendants, so be mindful of this during the high season.
There are not many sites on SearchforSites, whilst Park4Night is prolific with all camping options. Just read the reviews carefully and make sure that someone has stayed at your desired spot recently without issue. However, if you are going to a spot that has no reviews at all, then just google camping on Google Maps and see what comes up. We found some wonderful campsites this way in both Poland, Bulgaria and Romania that weren’t on any portals. You’ll always find somewhere. If you are really desperate, I would also visit hotels, restaurants or monasteries and see if they are willing for you to stay on their land overnight in return for a donation or a meal. ACSI also have some campsites on their books – check out their link although bear in mind that a campsite’s own rates are likely to be cheaper than the ACSI rate.
7. Preparation for the Border Crossing
Whichever crossing you choose to take, be ready with your paperwork in case you’re asked for it. Arm yourself with your V5, passports, travel insurance documentation and motor insurance paperwork. We were only asked for our passports. Main tourist borders do check paperwork more thoroughly so being prepared will reduce stress and time.
At our crossing we first encountered the Croatian Border. Thinking this was the Bosnian side, I asked to be stamped which he didn’t do automatically. Then half a mile further on was the Bosnian Control and again all he wanted was passports; and he did stamp. So we now have ourselves a bit more time for our stay in Croatia, given we are only allowed 90 days under their Visa rules. Once they join Schengen in Jan 2023, then a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina will help you Schengen Shuffle prolong your travel time. Just make sure you are stamped to record you leaving and re-entering Croatia.
8. Language Barriers
Before entering any new country, I always have a handful of basic phrases under my belt. I think it is so important to at least try. So many don’t and with Google Translate it is very easy. Even if your pronunciation isn’t great, it will be appreciated. Bosnia is almost identical to Croatian, so here are some go-phrases to have up your sleeve.
- Hello (literally Good Day) – Dobar dan (pronounced dobradan)
- Do you speak English – Govoriš (š is a sh) li engleski
- Can I – Mogu li
– buy – Kupiti
– have – Dobiti
– stay – Ostati
– pay – Platiti
- Night – Noć
- Here – Ovdje
- Please – Molim
- Thanks – Hvala (Puno ti hvala is thank you very much)
- Bye – Dovidenja (pronounced Dovigenya)
- Please – molim
9. Money and Currency
With the deftness of a flying Swift I found my answer to Bosnian currency; it is called BAM or Bosnian Mark or KM. My research told me though that they will take Euros – although after searching the depths of my purse unveiled €10 plus €9 in coins, which they are not fans of. Otherwise all I had was Croatian Kuna. And many establishments especially campsites don’t take credit card. So we checked with the Money Exchange to see if we could buy BAM or Euros – the answers to which were a firm negative. So we decided that if we had to, we would resort to using my Tescos Credit Card – not ideal because of the exchange rate, although needs might must right?
Although have no fear – Bosnian establishments will take whatever you have, after all, they say, ‘This is Bosnia!’ So when we urgently needed a SIM card, they were happy to take our Kuna. I’m sure the rate wasn’t in our favour, although at least we could buy what we needed before getting to a cash point. Part of my planning was to check out the nearest ATM’s to our border crossing. Be aware though that there will be a lot of BANKOMAT cash points and they charge £5 for each withdrawal. Either go to a private bank where they will only charge you the standard rate of £3.95 or google ZiraatBank locations; they are the only bank in Bosnia that do not charge for withdrawals.
At the time of writing the currency exchange with sterling is 1BAM = 0.45p, so roughly halve the BAM price and you will know what you are paying. We also have XE.com as a back up exchange calculator, which can make life easier.
10. Inform family of your travel intentions
It might sound an odd item for the checklist. Yet if your plans are last minute, like us, then letting loved ones know your travel intentions will ease anxiety. If you suddenly go out of communication it can be stressful for everyone. So I dropped mum a message to say that if we weren’t in touch for a while, not to worry. Telling her where we were going in case of a lack of internet meant, she could be restful in the knowledge we hadn’t dropped off the face of the earth.
What is Bosnia like?
In Part 2 of this blog, we will tell you more about our mini road-trip around Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although for now, here is a little taster of what we experienced.
The road up from Omiš was stunningly beautiful and our entire 42 miles following the Cetina Gorge guided us on a rollercoaster ride through the mountains. It took us about 90 minutes to arrive at our overnight stop at a beach beside a lake. What a great start that was.
As with most country borders, the cultures and landscape don’t tend to change in a flash; they mostly morph subtly and graciously. So for a while, Bosnia and Herzegovina feels as if you are still in Croatia. And then the reality hits you as you see political propaganda painted on walls and the ever-present bullet holes. These are a stark reminder of what has past, in our life-time. That is a sobering moment. Silence echoed around our van as we began to reflect on all that we remember from the news reels back in the day. And then the landscape, for a moment soothes your soul as you wind around endless mountains, forests and plateau farmlands. Then the war memories are back, as in each village you see fresh graves from both the Muslims and Christians. The humbling moments are never far from mind. And this makes Bosnia such an endearing destination and rich in its culture. Whilst a tragic moment in their history, it was their reality. As a visitor experiencing how this might have been for them, feels really important.
Check out our gallery below.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is though a country that is rebuilding, with hearts and minds. We are greeted with intrigue as we drive through isolated mountain villages. We are not the sight most rural communities are used to seeing. And in truth we saw only a handful other vans ourselves whilst we were here. Soon enough more will arrive although for now, we are looked upon with a strange curiosity.
Camping here is easy and good quality. The local’s and campsite owners’ hospitality is second to none. We were treated to warmth, gifts and free drinks when we arrived at campsites. Like with Croatia, Auto Camps are popping up all over the place giving us a choice over where to stay. We paid between €10-15 per night all inclusive often with free WIFI too, although always very strong. Shower facilities were decent enough and whilst we could have gone more off-grid than we did, it felt important to put money into a community that needs our support.
The landscape is difficult to describe with a profound enough adjective. I had no idea that BiH was so utterly beautiful. It has a raw and untouched feel about it and for miles all you see are mountains, gorges, topaz blue rivers and forest. So often we had to pinch ourselves and say, ‘We’re in Bosnia’.
The roads are generally good. There is a lot of new infrastructure connecting communities and much of the funding comes from the EU. Some of the towns were quite industrial and scruffy with square, brick facia houses that look unfinished. Although what the new towns lack in character, the old medieval towns and landscape seriously make up for. As with many Balkan countries, aside of Croatia, there is an animal welfare issue. We saw stray dogs, some with ear-tags, roaming the roads often in pairs, yet they all looked well nourished. So someone is looking after them, although they are not in homes being loved. And sadly like Morocco, rubbish is a huge problem in Bosnia, which is such a shame.
One of the many things that impressed us was that almost around every corner was a petrol station and virtually every one sold LPG. So you never need to worry about filling up. At the time of writing their Dizel was priced 3.16KM – £1.42 and LPG was 1.56KM – 0.70p. And there are plentiful supermarkets around which are on a par with Croatia; so cheaper than western Europe for sure. Bingo is a huge chain of shop offering absolutely everything you can think of – other brands are of course available. Every town seems to have a market; we’re not sure if they’re daily although they sell all you need and of course you are putting money straight into the hands of the entrepreneurs.
Touring Bosnia and Herzegovina in our motorhome has been a beautiful surprise and a sublime experience that has anchored itself deep within me. It has certainly left us both wanting more. We can’t recommend Bosnia enough. It is safe. It is beautiful. And it is full of history that will shock and humble you. And with Croatia now joining Schengen, BiH is going to be a winner in the Schengen Shuffle race for our travel attention. Bosnia, we are coming!
Check out our gallery below.
Want to save this for later?
Other posts that might interest you…