Sometimes you meet people and you get that feeling that this is just the start of a big adventure together that will span years. This summer, almost 18 months after we first met in Thailand, I was reunited with my favourite squad - The Pioneers - in Bulgaria. We were thousands of miles away from where we first broke all the rules, had all the fun and forged a lifelong friendship but nothing had changed. Amazingly with very little planning, a reunion came together and before we knew it, we were sitting in a bar in Sofia, Bulgaria, together ahead of a week-long road-trip around this amazing country. You know those friendships where you don't even need to speak for months on end, but when you finally see each other everything just slots back into place? Well that's these guys, to the max. We all have such different lives that take us to opposite ends of the globe, but when we saw each other again it could have been just another day in Thailand. In true pioneer-style, we decided to go a little off the grid, all being true travelling souls we weren't made to stay in a resort, we wanted to explore a new country together. It was actually my second time in Bulgaria, but eight years on I was looking forward to seeing how it had changed.So what was our plan? We decided to spend one night in Sofia to give us time to catch up before picking up our hire car the next morning and starting the drive towards Plovdiv, stopping off at a few sights along the way including the Seven Rila Lakes, we then spent a few days exploring Plovdiv before finishing our trip with a night out in Sunny Beach. Considering we only had five nights together, we crammed a heck of a lot in and saw a lot more than I managed to see eight years ago. Plus we got to have an amazing road trip experience along the way which has given me enough laughs to last a lifetime! Very unlike my first trip to the country, this one gave me an amazing opportunity to really see the beauty of Bulgaria set against it's communist past, it was an interesting contrast and I'm so glad I had the chance to experience Bulgaria in this way.
So why should you road trip Bulgaria?
- It's cheap! If you're looking for somewhere to explore on a low budget, Bulgaria is the one for you, its cheap to fly to, it's cheap to hire a car (especially if there's five of you - it was just £30 a day for us), food is cheap and it's cheap for accommodation. I barely spent anything during our five-day trip and still had an amazing time.
- The roads are amazing - seriously, compared to the UK, the quality of the roads is fantastic and it's pretty easy to navigate your way around. Most of the time the roads are empty so you're free to enjoy driving through the countryside.
- The cities aren't very busy so actually if you stayed in one place for a week you might find yourself a bit bored, it's a great opportunity to see a few cities and the Black Sea.
- Who doesn't love a road trip with their buddies? Old school tunes, too many snacks, laughing until your stomach aches...
- Something always goes wrong - we managed to get the car clamped within the first hour of having it - it was hilarious and made for a great story!
- There's such a range of places to stay in - we used AirBnB which was fantastic for Plovdiv and Sunny Beach - we ended up with a lovely apartment in a resort with two pools for our last day and it was still cheap as chips.
- Plovdiv shouldn't be missed and you have to road trip to get there from the airport - it's a beautiful centre of culture, architecture and the food was great.
- The countryside is amazing - endless rolling hills and fields of green with the stark contrast of old abandoned communist buildings - it's a sight worth seeing and one I haven't seen anywhere else.
- Seven Rila Lakes - these glacial lakes are one of the biggest attractions on the Balkan Peninsula and one not to be missed. It's a beautiful place but sadly when we went it was so foggy we could barely see the chair lift taking us up the mountain let alone the lakes. Still an incredible experience and one you need to road trip for.
- The people in Bulgaria are very guarded to begin with, but talking to them really shows you that once you make the first move they are filled with warmth and hospitality. Travelling around gives you the opportunity to meet Bulgarians from across the country and to really understand the culture.
- Random experiences - if we hadn't road tripped to Plovdiv and decided to go to a club called "Pasha" one night, we wouldn't have had the chance to watch rapper Ice Cream perform live - it was seriously one of the most hilarious nights out ever.
- Trying out Bulgarian culture, as you can see from the pictures, we decided to go full Bulgarian and dress up for a photoshoot! It was so much fun and gave us a chance to get into full character - I was a Bulgarian bride with a full headdress that probably weighed more than me.
- Gelato - you wouldn't think it but Bulgaria is big into ice cream and we're talking really good ice cream - head to Plovdiv and try ALL of the flavours. I was pretty obsessed with the mango, and couldn't resist the Nutella!
- The road trip experience - there's very few people in this world that I could spend 24/7 with but this gang is definitely one of the groups of people I can. You get such a different experience when you're all in the same car, in the same beds, and living every second together. It takes a level of being comfortable together that you only get with travellers.
- Sunny Beach - it's still as disgusting as it was when I went there eight years ago, a total resort party town, but you simply have to do it for one night when you're in Bulgaria. If only for the laughs and the stories you'll have to tell after. I can't repeat most of what happened there but we definitely had an entertaining time.
Still don't know if Bulgaria is for you? Well neither did I, but I've visited twice now and and had the most amazing trips. It's not the first place that comes to mind when you plan a trip to Europe, but that's part of it's charm - the fact that is isn't as touristy as places like Amsterdam and Barcelona. Here you can still get a taste of European charm untainted by Starbucks and McDonald's on every corner, you can still get lost in the winding streets, cultural sights and incredible countryside. I can't recommend it enough for a budget road trip.
Have you been to Bulgaria - how was your trip? Which country has been your favourite to road trip?