What to pack, what to pack, what to pack? As packing the right things can make or break a trip, I thought that I’d share the items that I used most often on my nearly three-month trip to the Balkans (September, October, November). Autumn is a perfect time to head to the Balkans, with fewer crowds and lovely weather, but you might be surprised by what you'll need. I share what I found specifically useful in different locations, and also an item that I wish I’d brought with me. This post contains affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission if you take advantage of the offer (thank you!).

What to pack for the Balkans in autumn?

What we pack (and what you pack it in) can make or break our trips. Packing the right items and editing down to the essentials, while not necessarily fun, ensures that we are comfortable on our journeys and have everything we need for our destinations. Knowing with to pack for the Balkans in autumn might be trickier than you would initially think.

I’ve posted about carry-on essentials before, but I thought that I would share the items that really shined on my Balkans trip. If you’re new here, I recently spent nearly three months in the Balkans, based in Montenegro and Croatia. I arrived on a hot, sunny day in Kotor, Montenegro and left just as the flurries started to fly in Zagreb, Croatia.

What to Pack for the Balkans in Autumn

In just three months, I had three seasons

In other words, I needed to pack for a wide-range of temperatures and conditions, and I needed to be able to cart around my stuff as a solo female traveler without needing (too much) help. I left a lot of stuff behind (a couple of things I regret—beach towels and dental floss were more expensive than I thought), and I packed a few things I didn’t wind up using (looking at you, stripped long-sleeved shirt).

Sadly, one of my best purchases, a Madewell dress that packed like a dream and layered perfectly, sold out. However, I’ve found most of my other rockstars (or something very close) and have included them below. I’ve included where I found them most useful to help as a guide. I’ve also provided a little overview of my trip, including what the weather was like in individual locations and the true standouts for each location. I hope this helps you decide what to pack for the Balkans when you go. 

My packing philosophy—Team Check the Bag

Before I begin, a couple of things to get out of the way. First, I’ve written about this before, but unless I’m moving around a ton, if I’m going on a long international trip I am Team Check the Bag. I believe this is an unpopular opinion among travelers, but I stand by it. Can I pack less if I want to? Sure, and I have done it plenty of times.

I don’t regret checking my bags at all this trip

Have I ever regretted checking a bag? Nope. Not even in Montenegro, where I had to walk forty minutes in blazing summer heat, jetlagged, with all of my stuff, after an asshat of a taxi driver insisted that I told him that I was staying at the hostel and then drove me way out of the way on purpose. I’m still bitter about the cab ride, but not my suitcase.

One of the most common refrains I hear from my Team Never Check a Bag friends is that baggage claim is horrid. I don’t like waiting at baggage claim, either, but I do like having what I need. Sure, bags get lost, but sometimes you have to gate check that thing that you’ve schlepped all over Hell’s half-airport, too. So, I check a medium-sized suitcase and enjoy my creature comforts. 

What to pack for the Balkans: a bit more about what I picked

Second, I am a Gen X, cis-gendered, straight white woman with a generous backside. While I am an avid walker, I am not a hiker. I took day trips to natural places but stayed in towns and cities.

What works for me might not work for you, but I would bet a coffee that something on this list will work for you. I don’t often see packing lists with some of the things I’m recommending here, so I thought that I’d share—sizes are generally inclusive for clothing. I’d love to hear about your packing rockstars, too. Let us know in the comments.

What to pack for the Balkans in autumn? Depends on where you’re going and when

What to pack for the Balkans in autumn depends in part about where you will be and when you will be there. The following provides a bit more context to my list.

Kotor, Montenegro

When I was there: September

Weather: September sees a lot of change in Montenegro, it’s hot and sunny . . . and then it pours. Mornings and evenings can get very cold. You can run into snow in the mountains.

You will actually need that sweater

When I unpacked my first day in Montenegro, I stared in disbelief at the sweater and jeans I’d packed. It was SO hot. I’d just gone swimming, and it seemed like summer would never end. I was staying in a rooming house and my Archies flip flops came in handy, not just for the shared loo, but also for swimming.

The next week I was in the mountains in Durmitor National Park with a sweater and jeans and wishing that I’d taken my jacket in my daypack. My Docs came in handy as makeshift hiking boots (note: I am not a hiker).

And the umbrella

And then . . . it rained. Scratch that. It poured like nothing I’d ever seen, and the wind was vicious. My wind-resistant umbrella that I’d given the side-eye to when packing it made it possible to get out of the house for a few hours without getting absolutely soaked.

Pack your toiletries

I’d planned on buying toiletries when I got to Montenegro, but this was a mistake. Food is cheap in Montenegro; shampoo costs a small fortune. And dental floss. Sheesh. I also wish that I’d packed a beach towel instead of waiting to buy one. They were way more expensive than they are in the States.

I may never travel without a light bathrobe again

However, I was so glad that I’d brought a light bathrobe. I avoided embarrassing interactions from the shared loo and found it lovely for just lounging around.

Split, Croatia

When I was there: October

Weather: Good lord, it was nice. It was in the 70s and sunny almost every day. Apparently, the month broke records for heat and lack of rain. It got a little cool in the evenings as the month wore on.

The land of endless summer

I wore my summer clothes all October, which was unheard of for this New England gal. My cardigan wrap came with me in my tote all month and came in handy for when it got a bit chilly (haha) on the Riva after the sun went down.

I lived in my Allbirds flats, which kept me steady enough on Old Split’s Roman stone streets. My Dr Marten boots saved my butt in Mostar’s Stari Most, as well as when scrambling up Klis Fortress.

My raincoat/windbreaker came in handy for the speedboat tour

My raincoat/windbreaker came in handy when I did a speedboat island-hopping tour, as it can get cold out on the water early in the mornings and as the sun goes down.

You can get any toiletries you need in Split

Split had better options for picking up toiletries and other essentials, as it is Croatia’s second-largest city, but if you’re shopping for essentials near/in Old Town, expect to pay more.

Park Ribnjak

Zagreb, Croatia

When I was there: November

Weather: Varied. It started out crisp in the mornings, but warm during the day, but it got cold fast. It rained several days, and it flurried the day I left. Toward the end of the month, it hovered just above freezing.

My Docs are made for walking

Zagreb was where my Docs shined. I don’t think I took them off. Zagreb has charming cobblestones in its Old Town, and I tromped on them and kicked autumn leaves with confidence in my boots. They were even fashionable—I saw Docs everywhere. Sadly, the excellent zipper model I found has been discontinued, and the updated version does not appear to be as useful. I’ll keep an eye out to see if another one pops up.

I’m so glad I had my heavy sweater

I was also so glad that I’d packed a heavier sweater/jacket to layer over my cashmere turtleneck, as sometimes, it got cold enough that my raincoat that doubles as a fall jacket wasn’t up to the task. I lived in my US jeans, along with my fall dress and skirt.

All the conveniences of the city

Zagreb has everything you need if you forgot something, with DM stores (think CVS) practically on every corner, along with clothing stores and other shops.

What to pack for the Balkans in autumn: My dr martens on Mostar's Stari Most saved me from falling
My Docs saved my butt on Mostar's Stari Most

What to pack for the Balkans in autumn

Here are my packing rockstars for nearly three months in the Balkans in autumn. Most of these are affiliate links, but I have also included some additional suggestions of items that I think are well worth the purchase.

Personal Care

Trust me. When You spritz yourself after a long flight and instantly feel revived, you are going to thank yourself for making what seemed like a ridiculous purchase. It is indeed just water, and, like water, it is a miracle. I use the full size at home as well.

Trust me. When You spritz yourself after a long flight and instantly feel revived, you are going to thank yourself for making what seemed like a ridiculous purchase. It is indeed just water, and, like water, it is a miracle. I use the full size at home as well.

I’ve used this for lightweight coverage forever. The mini size isn’t just perfect for travel—because it lasts so long, it’s really all you need.

This is my go-to mascara, and I only ever buy it in the travel size. It will last you just about as long as a mascara should last.

Not only is ironing a pain when you’re traveling, but you won’t find an iron in some countries. Enter wrinkle release spray. I bought this for a trip ages ago and was so impressed that I even use it at home. This comes in a two-pack so you’ll always be ready to travel. TIP: Store this in a baggie to prevent any spilling if the cap falls off.

If you suffer from allergies, you will be glad that you stashed these in your luggage if you come across a dusty pillow. May you never need them.

Protect your skin from the sun and give it a subtle glow with this fantastic sunscreen that does double duty and provides a little moisture as well. I use it every day.

Clothing

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This was a revelation. I picked up a travel bathrobe for my trip to the Balkans, because I was staying in a rooming house the first leg and wanted to avoid awkwardness. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but it became my favorite item that I brought on my trip. Having a robe made me feel much more at home everywhere I went, and it was so lightweight that it didn’t take up room in my luggage. This one is close to the one that I bought.

Not going to lie. There’s nothing glamorous about compression socks, but you’ll feel a lot better for having worn them on a long flight. These do the job, and you just might find yourself wearing them for long walks, too, because they feel amazing.They come in tons of different (if sometimes unfortunate) color/pattern choices.

Lightweight, versatile tee that’s perfect for layering or wearing on its own.

Lightweight and packs like a dream, this wrap will keep you warm after the sun goes down and will keep you cozy on a long flight. Toss it in your bag for when the sun goes down. This is like one that I have.

Additional clothing suggestions

Autumn dress

Why pack it: You would be surprised how cold it can get in Zagreb. I like this one from Saint & Sofia.

Where I used it: Zagreb

If you’re in the Balkans in November, be sure to have something warm to wear. You might even want tights.

Get it here

Pact summer dresses

Why pack it: Summer dresses have built-in bras that actually work; organic cotton and fair-trade clothing

Where I used it: Kotor, Split

The summer dress I brought with me isn’t listed at this moment, but I highly recommend their summer dresses. They have built-in shelf bras that actually work. The dresses are more casual than dressy, but with a necklace, you can get it to dinner.

Get it here

Scarf

Why pack it: Dresses up an outfit in five seconds. Takes up no room.

Where I used it: Everywhere

Pack a scarf, and your outfits will never get boring. I like one that doubles as a shoulder wrap.

Statement necklace

Why pack it: Easily adds a bit of flair to an outfit. Perfect for dinners.

Where I used it: Everywhere

I have this red necklace that I got at a craft fair a million years ago, and it never fails to get me compliments. I wear it on the plane to make me look a little more put together.

Universal Standard tee shirts

Why pack it: High quality, elevated tees that come in multiple colors and inclusive sizes

Where I used it: Everywhere

I lived in the Universal Standard tee I packed. They keep their shape and travel great. You can dress them up a little with a necklace or scarf, which is my idea of a perfect tee.

Get it here

Universal Standard denim

Why pack it: Well-made denim, in tons of styles and inclusive sizes

Where I used it: Everywhere

I wore my US jeans constantly. They are well-made, keep their shape through multiple wearings, wash nicely, and look good.

Get it here

Footwear

Cute Tevas will never be, but they have a certain retro appeal.  I swore that I’d never wear them  again, but late ast spring, I injured the back of my knee, and I needed something I could walk in. Enter the original Air Jesus (yes, that’s what we called them back in the day). Good lord, these are comfortable.

Tevas are perfect for walks on beaches and uneven ground. While they’re not a replacement for watershoes, they are good for a scramble on a rocky river bottom, should you feel so inclined. Tevas pack nicely, too, and you can wear them where you would otherwise wear flip-flops.

Feels like a sneaker, looks like a shoe. Lightweight, washable, and packs easily.

I’ve brought these Isotoner ballet slippers traveling for years and years, and I’ve been wearing them since I was a kid. They are super comfy, pack flat, and will make you feel much more at home when you’re traveling.

Let’s face it: Sometimes you need flip flops while you’re traveling. You may as well have good ones. Archies Flip Flops offer superior arch support. These are comfortable enough to wear all day (I wear them to cook in the summer), and they last. They also come in tons of fun colors! I have them in Coral.

My luggage for my 83-day trip to the Balkans
The backpack and tote are absolute rockstars

Luggage & Accessories

These cute and sturdy luggage tags will help you identify your luggage and provide info in the event that your bags are lost. Comes in lots of colors!

I can’t tell you how many people recommended Osprey backpacks to me, and now I’m recommending one to you. This backpack works as a carry-on and holds SO much!

It has so many intelligent features, including straps that stash away for stowing in the overhead bin, and the padded shoulder straps and chest strap make it comfortable to carry around. I used my backpack for my three-month trip in the Balkans, and I will now never travel without it. This is very close to a now-discontinued model I have.

NOTE that this includes a daypack, which needs to be removed in order to be used as a carry-on item.

If you aren’t using packing cubes yet, consider this your sign from the universe. These reasonably priced and durable cubes keep you organized and make packing a breeze (I don’t know what happens when you pack stuff in cubes to make it smaller, but this is magic I support. This set also comes with a little laundry bag that I find useful on long trips. This comes in different colors.

Looking for a sustainable alternative to the plastic baggie for your liquids when going through security? Use this one from Stasher. Note that it is not as flexible as a regular plastic bag, and it might not fit as much.

Use these to keep track of your belongings with these easy-to-use trackers. To track, you will need the Tile app, which has a modest subscription fee, and you can cancel when your trip is done.

Tip: Don’t just use them with checked luggage, but also stash one in your bag when you’re out and about for peace of mind.

This might not pack to nothing, and it’s heavier than you would expect for a “travel umbrella.” However, rain tends to come with wind, and those flimsy little things do not stand up to it. This one does. I use it at home, too.

Electronics

Coffee and a notebook in a café with a bright window. D16 is one of the great cafes to work from in Split
Leuchtturm notebook at D16 in Split, Croatia

Creativity

These are fantastic notebooks, with a solid cover to keep your travel notes safe and secure.

Additional creativity suggestion

ReMarkable Tablet

Why pack it: Replaces notebooks, with everything backed up online through thr app.

Where I used it: Everywhere

I have an original ReMarkable tablet, and I have used it almost every day for over three years. This isn’t an affiliate link; I am just a superfan. This tablet gives you the benefits of paper and focused time (I’ve blogged about this before) with the security and convenience of ofline backups.

Get it here

What to pack for the Balkans in autumn: YOUR essentials

Have you been to the Balkans in autumn? What did you pack? What don’t YOU leave home without on any trip? Let us know in the comments!

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