Prepper’s Travel Diary: It’s a Different Lifestyle in the Balkans

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

One of the first things I noticed here is that the people of the Balkans are in a lot better shape than in the United States.

It isn’t a news flash that in the US, many people are obese or overweight. Here are the brutal statistics:

An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women are obese or overweight. These are also major challenges for America’s children – nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from19% in 1980. (source)

So it’s not just “some” people. It’s the majority. And I’m not picking on anyone. I could stand to lose a few pounds myself. However, over here, it’s rare to see people who are significantly overweight. And it definitely isn’t because of a fancy low-carb diet.

Here are some of the lifestyle differences that I’ve noticed that may have something to do with the fact that few people here are significantly overweight.

People are much more active here.

When I say “active” I don’t mean they spend time at the gym pumping iron or jogging at the local track. I mean that it’s simply part of their regular days.

It isn’t that they don’t have cars – they do. But fuel is outrageously expensive, roughly $9US a gallon. So if it’s within a reasonable distance, Balkan people walk.  And their idea of “reasonable distance” is not the same as ours here. “Oh, it’s just around the corner” means we will walk about 20 minutes to get to the corner and then another 20 once we’ve turned the corner.

I wish I had my Fitbit because I’m certain I’ve walked at least 5 miles per day and some days, probably more. And it isn’t exactly flat here, either – most of the Balkans are quite mountainous.


Here in the US, businesses are driven by ever-increasing convenience. We have drive-thru restaurants and delivery pizza. If we live in cities, we can use Instacart to have our groceries or a forgotten ingredient at our door within the hour. Amazon brings us whatever we might need. Many stores have an app where you can order what you want, drive your car, park in a space, and message them that you’ve arrived. And don’t forget DoorDash and GrubHub – you don’t even need to leave your house to have a fine meal served to you.

None of these exist on any large scale here in the Balkans. I did see a Burger King in passing while in Croatia but am not sure if there was a drive-thru. If you want to get food here, you must park your car, walk in, order the food, and wait while they prepare it fresh. The bakeries here are considered “fast food” because they’re immediately ready. But instead of burgers and fries, you have a huge variety of bread, pretzels, and pastries stuffed with meat or cheese. Dessert doesn’t seem to be as big a deal here.

As well, parking is rarely convenient to your destination. When we went to the grocery store, we parked in an underground parking lot, traipsed through a mall to the far end, then got our food. After shopping, we then carried our food back through the mall and down two levels to our parking space. Here in the US, of course, we park at the store and complain if our parking space is at the end of the row. Then we push our cart full of food to the car, unload it, and place the cart in a nearby cart corral.

Because the Old Town areas of historic cities were built as far back as the 15th century, parking spaces were not a consideration, nor were roads wide enough for cars. If you want to visit these areas – and trust me, you really do want to visit them – you will park somewhere a few blocks away and then you will walk.  These areas are pedestrian only and must be explored on foot. My Airbnb is an easy walk to the Old Town, where I can buy food, baked goods, and trinkets and just generally absorb the atmosphere.


And the stairs. Oh my gosh, the stairs.  I have yet to see an elevator (although I haven’t been in a big high rise or anything.)

But it’s nothing unusual to live in a 4th-floor walk-up here. AirBnBs don’t even mention what floor most apartments are on and you may find yourself faced with lugging your suitcases up 5 lengthy flights of stairs. Maybe they aren’t that lengthy but when you are climbing them, you think,” holy cow, are stair flights at home this long?”

Meanwhile (if you’re like me) you try to muffle your wheezing as you struggle for air by the 4th set of stairs while your local friend carries on a casual conversation. Hey, I could pretend to be super-fit like I should be but I want to be honest in the telling of these tales.

All of this is nothing to the locals. They walk as often as possible, they dance up those stairs carrying 90 pounds of groceries, and they MOVE a lot.  This isn’t a hospitable place for people who have extreme mobility problems or need wheelchairs.

Nobody is on a special diet here.

In most parts of the US, you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who is gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, keto, lactose-intolerant, or vegan. (Please forgive me if I missed your favorite thing to omit.)

It doesn’t seem like anyone is on a special diet here. The menus don’t have little heart-friendly or vegetarian symbols on them. It seems far less stressful, frankly. Food is not a minefield of things to avoid.

Maybe it’s because “Big Food” isn’t as much of a thing in the Balkans. Sure, you can still go to the convenience store and get candy or cookies but there are not the big fast food chains (you can find a rare McDonalds in a big enough city) and frozen dinners.

Every meal has bread (delicious, wonderful bread), and meat of some sort, and often potatoes. They might bring a small dish of shredded lettuce with slices of tomato and cucumber too. A great deal of the food is fried or grilled. Everything I’ve had has been tasty and filling.

Another lifestyle trait of note

All the things I’ve written about so far are healthy qualities – but it’s not all old-fashioned good health in the Balkans.

The folks here smoke. A LOT.

You probably remember the days of restaurants with smoking and non-smoking sections here in the US. If you are around my age, you may also remember the bars where everyone could smoke. And also the morning after going to a bar where you reeked of other people’s cigarette smoke.

Here, most of the people I have met are smokers. HEAVY smokers. Obviously is only a handful of people, but still, it’s very common. Many restaurants have outdoor patios which smokers use, but in most establishments, you can also smoke indoors.

Currently, I’m a charming “pension” (motel) on a city square. Last night, I ended up closing my windows because the smoke from outside where people were congregating was so overwhelming. I popped on the air conditioner instead and slept like a baby.

Compare this to our lifestyle in the United States

Really, humans were built to move – but we don’t do it, at least not as we should. Maybe if we adopted more of these strategies we’d be living longer, healthier lives.

Instead of driving from our homes to the elevator that takes us to our cubicles to our stores to wait for our things to be brought to our cars, perhaps we should consider moving more. I know that a take a walk or two every day with the dogs at home, but it’s still not the same as using your feet as your primary method of transportation. My measly 1-2 miles per day at home was okay, but this is better.

Thanks to “Balkan Boot Camp” I plan to continue doing this when I get home. I’ll walk where I can, park further away from where I’m going, and get in more steps naturally.

And if you are lucky enough to visit the region, trust me, you’ll need the extra exercise to burn off the amazingly delicious bread they serve so generously.

Other articles in this series:

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company.  She lives in the mountains of Virginia with her family. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • Awesome! OMG are we a nation of convenience or what?! Love your frank and honest post telling it like it is. We as a people are mostly sedentary when compared to folks like those you are among.
    Wow! I am overwhelmed by the simplicity of the whole thing! I am gonna start walking more and ignoring more of those so-called conveniences 🙂

  • I shared this link with my celiac afflicted wife. She a UK national who had no digestive issues whatsoever until she moved to the US and began eating glyphosate-processed bread.

    She kicked her SSRIs by removing carbohydrates from her diet – no more depression and mood swings.

    Here’s her thoughts:

    Interesting. Yes I would agree that walking is great – remember how much we walked in the UK. Mind you one thing that PISSED me off is stating that being gluten free or carb free is ‘fashion’ – gluten free means happy tummy and avoiding hospitals. Carb free means stable mood and no need for anti depressants….

    • I wonder if the celiac issues would go away when not eating tainted food, or if the damage is permanent? I truly hope the former is true rather than the latter.

  • It seems to me that Americans used to walk a lot more, too, in the by and by. I think part of the problem is that more people are living in suburban areas that are miles away from shopping and other necessities. You have to drive to the store in this case. But adding a bit of a walk by parking at the far end of the lot is one way to get some exercise.
    Another thing about Europeans in general that I’ve noticed is that they will get groceries for supper every day, or every other day, so they’re eating fresher food and they don’t have a lot of left overs or convenience foods in the house for snacking. Nor do they seem to snack period.
    One of the problems is that in a lot of urban areas in the US there is literally nowhere to buy fresh meats and produce unless you go to an exurban supermarket. If we’re serious about getting healthier as a country, we need to address this by encouraging farmer’s markets and smaller privately owned green grocers and butchers.

  • Thankyou Daisy for this eye opening reminder. I’m going to make some similar lifestyle changes. My Roomie uses a walker since her 2 knee replacement surgeries, we have a handicap parking permit, and 3 old poodles don’t need much walking. We over eat, buying takeaway or overpre processed hot-table meals ($12 each for veal parmigiana over linguine) & case after case of diet pop. $70 orders of Chinese food delivered and we shud be rotating our prep food supplies. Lots of places to trim our cost of living, eat healthier, lose weight (I am 261 lb & my cardiologist mentioned that 165-185 would be a good weight for me at 5’z10″ & age 71).

  • My husband spent nearly a year working in Lithuania a few years ago. He first started out in an old hotel with no elevator. Then moved to a house where he was on the second floor. He said most people walk or ride bicycles. The life style there is much different than ours. Lithuania was once part of Russia. Most people who own homes have gardens and even plant in their front yards. The Lithuanians call sugar “white death.”

    Despite the healthier than ours lifestyle, alcoholism is a problem there as is smoking.

  • Thank you Daisy,

    Really enjoying your Travel Diary; learning so many interesting facts that I would hardly even think of had you not shared them in your diary. Like Dawn has shared in her comment below, I love your frankness, honesty and telling it like it is. Such qualities are all too rare these days – like a breath of fresh air.

    Once again, thank you and I look forward to your next post.

    Be safe,

  • Growing up, the word used for tea was caj. One day I noticed it sounded like cay, the Turkish word for tea. Duh, then it struck me … oh, yea, the Ottoman Empire until WWII was a dominant force in the Balkans for centuries and more. Perhaps that factor contributed to the heavy smoking. Cay/chia also used to mean another type of smoking. In parts of the Balkans Spain is still considered part of Africa due to the Moors. Serbs may be considered Russian cousins. Point being, you’re in an area that has various overlapping historical influences from way before the Romans to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, when a whole civilization collapsed at the turn of the last century. The region is still changing. Yea, walking miles is no big deal. Have you tried walking up a mountain yet?

    Enjoy the people, food and the Adriatic.

  • I seem to be having a little trouble posting a comment, but Daisy, I want you to know I am enjoying your travel diary and looking forward to more of it.

  • Your travel diary is so much fun to read! I agree, Americans need to walk more. Our grandparents and most parents, were not heavy, overweight, and size 2X+. It’s because people walked so much more, carried their groceries home, and road bicycles to work. Out lives of convenience is killing us. Also, people ate differently a generation or so ago. Fast food didn’t exist. No one sat in a car, chowing on 48 oz. of Cheetos while driving to a relative’s. Portions were not super sized. I have always said, when the SHTF, all of this gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, keto, lactose-intolerant, or vegan will disappear. Food will be harder to obtain, and it will be served plain. Smoking and drinking alcohol are centuries old problems that need serious treatment. I wish people would stop smoking, and take alcohol to an occassional glass of wine.
    Keep writing about your trip! So interesting!

  • Its not all activity level. I’ve been a gym rat for 35 years and see people who are overweight come in on a regular basis and sweat on elliptical machines, tread mills, and stationary bikes and are just as overweight now as when they began, some years ago. Its diet! Seventy percent of our overall health and wellness can be attributed to diet alone. American eat junk, and they eat far too much of it. Almost nothing is fresh. Everything is processed and chock full of chemicals. Almost no one cooks from scratch any longer. Most of Europe, including the Balkans, just don’t eat like that. They don’t allow the chemicals in their foods as we do.

  • I’m glad you got to experience this. I was there even before the main force arrived as well as a few other places. Selco is an awesome individual who I’d love to meet face to face some day. It’s because of him and other good people there I know I didn’t waste my time.

  • Warning: Contains Ranting & Raving

    After reading the above posts about fat, gonna say …

    Garbage in, garbage out

    Meaning, the longer food stays in your intestines the more problems you’re gonna have from IBS to fat accumulation and more. Walking helps churn food in the intestines but that is only part of the digestive system process.

    So, …

    Unicorn Poops Ice Cream ~ Funny Commercial!

    About a century and a half people relieved themselves naturally until they started copying the well to do who thought the crapper was a good idea. The rich also thought white processed rice, drinking uranium and using it for cosmetics, and other bad habits were good idea. Oh, yea, GMO food.

    Get rid of your television which promotes bad food and makes you into a couch potatoe and … dare I say, your pooper shine (sic).

    Ever wonder what the hole in the concrete floor was in the Orient and parts of Europe and lower nj was?

    • Resist Oppression
      (… and constipation)
      Rise Up
      ( or squat down )
      And Smash the Tiolets!
      ( at least use them as plants pots on non-grass silvaculture frontyards )

      Scat Manifesto 2019*

      * not to be confused with Ragtime or Scott Joplin.

  • Years ago while on leave from the service, I visited some former roommates who hailed from Germany. While there, I took the train to Bavaria to have a look around. It’s pretty hilly there. As I was huffing and puffing my way around – and mind you, I was young, reasonably fit, and in generally fine shape, an elderly woman came bursting past me carrying to substantial shopping bags. Not a hint of a wheeze as she briefly apologized for brushing me as she passed. My response (I spoke a bit of German, thanks to some interesting college courses and my roommates good-natured additional tutoring when we chatted in our house) was polite, but sputtered as I struggled to breathe and speak while working my way up that hill. Her breezy, nonchalant, brisk stride past me was dismaying, my first hint that there are a lot of folks who are in better shape than I.
    Then I returned to college after service. Led a group on a hike through the mountains nearby. A German exchange student charged off as we were all laboring to climb and disappeared before we realized that he had removed himself from our group. After an extensive search, we found him snacking near a pond at the base of a waterfall, completely oblivious to our concern. He had thought that we were moving much too slowly, so he just went at his own much more rapid pace, without any appreciation that we might worry. We were all winded from our hike, while he was completely at ease. He followed our directives about group cohesiveness for the rest of the trip, but it was clear that we were nowhere near as fit as he was.
    Other cultures really do seem to do it better, though perhaps it’s because they aren’t as affluent. So the coming depression may improve our overall health even as it depletes our other resources.

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