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"Just fly," my friends told me. "Or rent a car. The bus will take forever."

The Balkan bus system is a confounding web of coaches and stations. Unlike in the U.S., there’s no equivalent to Greyhound. Each vehicle in the Balkans seems to be owned by a separate company. Meanwhile, the roads are narrow and treacherous, snaking along steep mountains that drop into the sea.

But I loved leapfrogging through the former Yugoslavia by bus. The vistas are breathtaking, and the buses are crammed with travelers from all over the world – Montenegrins share seats with French and Australians.

After each harrowing five-hour trip, dodging mopeds and plummeting through tunnels, the bus would dump me in yet another strange medieval town. No parking, no reservations, no fuss. I could walk into the Old City with only a backpack and a tourist map, or hop the next bus to another coastal village. When I was tired, an army of cabbies offered hostel beds for 20 euro a night. Rarely have I ever felt so free.

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