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.

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.

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

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.

Bring that shower gel

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. 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.

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.

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. 

Allergy care

Pillow covers

Why pack it: There’s nothing worse than a dusty pillow at an Airbnb to ruin your trip.

Where I used it: I didn’t wind up needing my pillow covers, but I would pack them again in a heartbeat

If you have allergies, you know. Pillow covers can save you from allergy attacks and sleepless nights. I never needed to use them, but I would totally pack pillow covers again. They are so easy to pack and can save your trip.

Get it here

Your allergy meds of choice

Don’t assume that you can get the same allergy medicine when you’re overseas. Chances are, you can’t. In the middle of the night, when you’re coughing and sneezing, you’re going to be so glad that you have the right medicine. Fill prescriptions, pack the OTC stuff.

Get it where you get your allergy medicine

Clothing and shoes

Allbirds Tree Breezers

Why pack it: Feels like a sneaker, looks like a shoe. Lightweight, pack easily. Washable. Comes in a boatload of colors.

Where I used it: Kotor, Split

When you’re traveling, you have to be kind to your feet. These aren’t exactly the most stylish shoes, but they are versatile and super comfortable. You can walk all day in them and head out for dinner.

Get it here

Archies Flip Flops

Why pack it: Super comfortable, useful

Where I used it: Everywhere

Flip flops come in handy when you’re traveling, and these are super comfy. While swim shoes are likely to be more useful for actual beach wear in Croatia, these worked perfectly for me in Montenegro. I also wore them for cooking, as slippers don’t offer enough support, and these pack up easier than my regualr cooking shoes. They are also very useful for shared restrooms.

Get it here

Dr Marten’s Pascal Zipper Lace-Up Boots

Why pack it: Versatile, cool, zipper lets you get through airport security in a flash

Where I used it: Zagreb, Day Trips

From light hikes to city streets, these Docs can take a beating and look good doing it. I would have tripped on my butt on the Stari Most in Mostar without these.

Get it here

Cardigan Wrap

Why pack it: Lightweight cardigan keeps you just warm enough, and looks good doing it. Packs super easy and keeps its shape.

Where I used it: Everywhere

This isn’t the exact cardigan wrap I have, but it’s close enough. I’ve had one of these for years, and I use it all year long. When early mornings get a chill in the air, this will let you have your coffee on the terrace in comfort. It’s perfect for evenings after the sun goes down, or just as a layer in the winter. Keep it in your personal item for the plane, and you’ll avoid getting chilled.

Get it here

Cashmere turtleneck sweater

Why pack it: Packs easily, classic, goes with everything, warm without being hot

Where I used it: Kotor, Zagreb, day trips

A black cashmere turtleneck sweater has anchored my autumn and winter wardrobe for as long as I can remember. Even if you aren’t into embracing your inner beat chick, a cashmere turtleneck is a wise addition to your packing list. They pack like a dream and provide timeless warmth without being too hot.  If you go with a slightly looser fit, you can also layer under them.

Get it here

Lightweight bathrobe

Why pack it: Packs easily, especially useful when staying in a shared space

Where I used it: Everywhere

I got this robe primarily for my stay at a rooming house in Montenegro, but it wound up being one of my absolute favorite items. It helped me to feel at home throughout my trip. 10/10 will definitely pack this on all but my shortest trips.

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 multple wearings, wash nicely, and look good.

Get it here

Electronics

Anker battery

Why pack it: Powerhouse of a battery can charge your phone several times. Indespensible on travel days; highly useful at other times. Long-lasting.

Where I used it: Everywhere

There’s nothing worse than running out of charge when you really need it. This powerhouse of a charger will not let you down. These things are expensive, and they are a bit on the heavy side, but they can charge up your phone from dead to full multiple times on one charge.  They’re durable (I bought my most recent one at least two years ago) and reliable. You’ll thank yourself when you pull this out of your personal item on a flight where your seatback power doesn’t work.

Get it here

Pixel Phone with Google Fi (for trips less than 90 days out of the US)

[SCREENSHOTS OF WELCOME TO …]

Why pack it: In my view, the best camera phone out there. If you are traveling outside the US for less than 90 days, Google Fi is an affordable data plan that just works.

Where I used it: Everywhere

If you are planning to travel outside the US for less than 90 days, get Google Fi. It worked everywhere I was, and it worked seamlessly without having to futz with local sims or paying through the nose. Plus, the Unlimited Plan comes with a number of helpful goodies. I’m on my second Pixel phone (6 Pro), and the camera is outstanding. NOTE: If you are planning on being outside of the US for more than 90 days (OR returning to the US for a short period before leaving again), you will need another solution.

Get it here

Face & Body

Avene Water Spray

Why pack it: Refreshes instantly.

Where I used it: Kotor, Split

This is expensive, but when you need it, you’re going to be so happy you have it. Just a little spritz of water on your face when you’re hot or exhausted, and you’ll feel instantly better. It’s just water, but it’s miracle water. You’re going to need this for the plane.

Get it here

Benefit Benetint

Why pack it: Does double duty as a cheek and lipstain.

Where I used it: Everywhere

Benefit has consistent small sizes with their cosmetics, and Benetint is amazing, giving a natural look in seconds. I’ve traveled with Benetint for years and have never had an issue, as it closes tightly.

Get it here

Lucas PawPaw Ointment

Why pack it: Alleviates dry skin, can be used on minor scrapes. This stuff is a bit of a miracle.

Where I used it: Everywhere

This is an all-purpose miracle. I use PawPaw Ointment every day where my face needs a little extra moisture, and whenever I have a litlte dry skin that needs tending to. It also works as a balm for minor scrapes and burns. This stuff is a miracle, and a little goes a very long way. Make sure to have it handy on the plane, because it will help your dry skin.

Get it here

Supergoop Glowscreen

Why pack it: Lightweight sunscreen that lends a subtle glow

Where I used it: Everywhere

You have to wear sunscreen; this one does triple duty. Glowscreen protects against sun damage, hydrates, and gives a subtle glow.

Get it here

Laundry

Wrinkle Releaser

Why pack it: Look presentable without ironing

Where I used it: Everywhere

Many places, especially in Europe, do not have irons available. Use this to help make your clothes presentable. My dirty little secret is that I use it at home, too. I hate ironing. This is also a lifesaver when in transit to freshen your clothes.

Get it in the travel section of your drug store or Target, or get a more eco-friendly version here

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

Luggage/Bags/Etc.

Canvas tote (lightweight)

Why pack it: Serves as a shopping bag, general tote, perfect for day trips

Where I used it: Everywhere

I highly recommend bringing a lightweight canvas tote bag, especially if you are in the EU. Use it as a shopping bag, stash stuff in it for day trips, etc. My New Yorker tote came with me everywhere I went, and I was never sorry that I had it. Do pick one that isn’t too stiff and folds/stashes easily, as otherwise it could get in the way.

Madewell Zip-Top Transport Tote

Why pack it: Roomy, secure, stylish. Strap can be extended to a cross-body.

Where I used it: Everywhere

Madewell’s Transport Tote line has become a classic. I had a smaller version of this bag for the better part of a decade and jumped on the full-size when they added a zipper (in my view, bags used when traveling always need to be able to be closed). This thing holds a ton, fits under the airplane seat with room for your feet, and looks good. Yes, please.

Get it here

Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack

Why pack it: What can’t you fit in this thing? So many compartments, and so well organized. Perfect for most trips. Comfortable straps that you can stow away. Meets carry-on requirements for most airlines.

Where I used it: Everywhere

This backpack . . . Just get it. It’s perfect. So many people have extolled the wonders of this bag, and they are abosolutely correct. You won’t think it possible, but it fits in the overhead bin. This is the pack that you can go strictly carry-on with if that’s your thing. The compartments keep you organized and it holds so much.

Get it here

Packing cubes

Why pack it: Keeps you organized, especially for trips where you need more than one season of clothes (e.g., I arrived in hot summer weather and left in snow flurries). The laundry bag is helpful.

Where I used it: Everywhere

You can get really fancy packing cubes, but I got these a number of years ago, and they are still going. When you’re doing an overnight stopover, use a smaller one to organize what you’ll need for the trip to avoid rummaging through all of your stuff.

Get it here

Tile luggage tags

Why pack it: Keep track of your bags (or anything else) while you’re traveling.

Where I used it: Everywhere

I’m an Android gal (I do not apologize), and these work great if you don’t use Airtags. There’s a small monthly subscription fee to unlock all of the benefits, and you can cancel when your trip is over. I hope you never need them, but they are  so helpful if you do. While you’re on your trip, pop one in your purse for peace fo mind.

Get it here

Rain Gear

Repel Umbrella

Why pack it: Durable umbrella, can withstand windy storms.

Where I used it: Kotor, Zagreb

This doesn’t shrink into nothing, but it is a very good, packable umbrella. If you think you might be caught in heavy rain/wind, this is a good choice.

Get it here

Coffee and a notebook in a café with a bright window
Leuchtturm notebook at D16 in Split, Croatia

Writing Tools

Leuchtturm Pocket Notebooks

Why pack it: Perfect for jotting things down on-the-go

Where I used it: Everywhere

While the ReMarkable tablet is my writing tool of choice, when I’m out and about, I used these notebooks to capture notes and observations. Very smartly designed, with pockets, space for a table of contents, and excellent quality paper. The link is to a local Massachusetts business, managed by my sister (who gave me these notebooks for my trip).

Get it here

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: what I should have brought with me

Travel alarm clock

Why pack it: Phones are the bane of good sleep

Where I should have used it: Everywhere

So . . . the thing about having your phone by your bed holds true when you’re traveling, too. Don’t do it if sleep is something you value. I should have bought a travel alarm clock as soon as I realized what I’d undone, but . . . I didn’t. I think the small amount of space that a travel alarm would take in your pack is worth the sleep that you’ll save.

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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