What to Truly Expect When Traveling Albania
What we loved…
True acceptance of each other
It is so refreshing, especially in this day and age, to spend time in a place where everyone seems to truly accept each other, or at least minds their own business. I never expected that traveling Albania would be where I found a “let everyone live their own lives and practice their own religions without judgement” mentality, but I sure did! And no, it’s not because they lack diversity. Albanians are suni, bektashi, roman catholic, eastern orthodox, etc. They represent religions that often hate each other. But not in Albania. Perhaps it’s because until very recently they were oppressed by a crazy dictator. They were held down and told how to live their lives for so long, that that they will never dictate or try to force their beliefs on anyone else ever again. They are newly free, and free of judgement, and they plan to keep it that way.
I have never experienced such welcoming hospitality as I experienced when traveling Albania. Locals aren’t just excited that you’re traveling in their country, they want to take you in and let you experience Albanian culture. Just about every grandma and grandpa in Albania run a guesthouse. In other words, they have all opened up their own homes to the few lucky travelers that make their way to Albania. Out hosts never just rented us a room, they welcomed us into their home and let us into their culture. We were fed countless amazing home cooked meals and given even more glasses of home brewed wine and rakija (aka brandy). We even had an Instagram follower insist on taking us around and teaching us about Albania. Why? Because he’s proud to be Albanian and wants people to see all that his beautiful country has to offer.
I’ll be honest, before I went there, I had no idea where Albania was. I might have guessed the middle east??? But really, it’s on the stunning Adriatic! I clearly knew nothing about it. When we started researching, we kept coming across amazing pictures of Albania, but very little information other than fellow travelers warning about how difficult it is to get around in Albania. So we did what we do best, head for the unknown. I’m not really sure what I expected, but I definitely did not expect to be “wowed” day in and day out by Albania. Yes, traveling Albania can be hard, unless you have your own wheels. Thanks to Renault Eurodrive, we had the open road to ourselves. From stunning mountainous landscape to beautiful beaches and unique historical landmarks to unmatched hospitality, delicious food, and strong brandy, Albania is a travelers dream!
What we didn’t love…
Hard to Get Around
As we mentioned above, Albania is not the easiest country in the world to get around. They simply don’t have a public transportation system in place or tourist infrastructure. That being said, it’s not impossible. Determined travelers do it. My personal suggestion would be to self drive Albania though. The roads are in decent shape, there’s no traffic outside of Tirana, and the countryside is beautiful.
If you are on a tour of the Balkans, most rental car companies do not allow you to take a car across the Albanian border. We had no problems taking our leased car from Montenegro to Albania and then on to Macedonia because the car is in our name. We did have to buy Albanian insurance, but that was super easy and cheap to do at the border crossing – so no worries there. So, if you’re depending on public transportation, you might find yourself in a bit of a nightmare, but road tripping Albania is awesome! Just remember Google Maps is new to Albania, so double check with locals and/or consult an old school map.
Albania has so much neat history and the accompanying historical landmarks to go with it. The problem is, they are a poor country, and yet to cash in on tourism bucks. Traveling Albania, you’ll realize many of the awesome landmarks are in a state of disarray. From crumbling castles to flooded ancient ruins, their points of interest are definitely in need of a face lift. This is sad because it makes it harder to enjoy these awesome sites. Plus, if they don’t do something about it now, their historical landmarks might go beyond repair.
Like I said before, Albania was under communist rule until the 90’s. Their country was left in disarray. Many Albanians had already fled to neighboring countries in search of jobs and opportunity. While the country is slowly picking themselves back up, there is still little opportunity. High unemployment rates, lack of government assistance, money with little value, etc is all pretty depressing to think about. To end this on a positive note, why don’t you spend your next vacation on the cheapest part of the Adriatic? This will help boost tourism and the economy!!!