In the midst of my travels through Eastern Europe, I landed in Albania with admittedly little idea of what to expect. Even with some pre-trip research, I still felt rather unprepared. It’s probably because I didn’t know anyone who had been to Albania before, not a one. So I didn’t have anyone else’s stories or impressions to color my own. In fact, it was just this lack of notoriety that drew me to Albania. I wanted to discover for myself a place that hadn’t been flooding my Instagram feed just yet. Albania certainly did prove to be a place that I would be able to explore anew, but I encountered some confusion among locals during my visit. At the market, the granddaughter of the shop owner had to translate for us so I could buy some fruit, and when the transaction was settled she said she had one more question for me. She said her family wanted to know what an American was doing in Albania. I said that I was visiting for pleasure, just traveling through to see what it was like. Satisfied with my answer but still confused, they let me go. And it occurred to me how much Albania doesn’t see itself as a travel destination. Yet. But I loved my time there and I know that others will too. I thought to myself, “Is Albania going to be the next big travel destination?”
The Younger Generation is Eager
The younger Albanians that I met have a vision for the future of their country. In speaking with them I found that they would wax optimistically about the future of their country, about all it has to offer and how it is finally coming into its own. As the first generation to be raised after the communist Hoxha regime fell, they have a fresh perspective to offer, a different set of values than their parents. And it’s just this eager spirit within the younger generation that will help to set Albania on the path to a brighter future.
On Track to Join the EU
From cleaning up the political corruption to bolstering their economy, Albania is working diligently to qualify to join the European Union. They have certain areas that need improving and the Albanians I met seemed hopeful about Albania’s prospects regarding the EU. They see it as an opportunity to put themselves on the map and join the stronger forces in Europe. And it may just help tourists see it as a country worth visiting on their travels!
Natural Beauty to Build On
From Lakes Ohrid and Prespa, to the beaches at Ksamil and Dhermi, to the mountains at Theth and Prokletije, there is natural beauty galore in Albania. You may not have heard of these places before but it won’t be long before the secret is out and tourists and instagrammers flood to these destinations for the beautiful photo ops. And since Albania is right next to Greece, you can probably imagine that it is similarly gorgeous! These natural assets will prove a strong starting point for Albania’s tourism industry.
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Cultural Gems for Visitors
Albania has a unique and interesting history, which is evident in the attractions around the country. There is an entire museum underground, the BunkArt museum, which is housed in an old bunker. There are bunkers all around the country, all built during the communist regime to create an illusion that an attack was imminent so that the people would stick with their leader. And when the communist regime finally did fall, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Albania entered a new era. There is a piece of the Berlin wall that resides in Albania’s capital city of Tirana to commemorate the victims of the communist regime. These are just some of the unique cultural attractions in Albania, and many more to see when you visit! Check out my Tirana Bucket List for more ideas.
Want to know more? Learn about Albania’s history here.
Travel on the Cheap
One of the most attractive features of traveling in Eastern Europe is that your money will last you much longer. Since these countries are newer to tourism, the cost of traveling there hasn’t been driven up yet. Albania is no exception, and in fact it is probably the cheapest travel destination I’ve come across yet. When I was in Tirana, I would go out for dinner, have a three course meal and two glasses of wine, and the bill was $14. You just can’t beat that! The budget traveler will love to explore Albania! It’s even cheap to get there, check ticket prices from your local airport here.
Unfortunately it’s not uncommon to encounter criticism of the United States when you’re traveling around the world. And so it’s all the more exciting to find destinations that are Pro-American, of which Albania is one! There is a history of US support of Albania, during the move for Albanian independence in 1920 and during the Kosovo war. And relations continue to be strong, as George W. Bush was received by an overwhelming welcome on his visit, the first time a US President visited Albania. They now have statues and streets in his honor. If you’re looking for a Pro-American travel destination, Albania is for you!
Locals Aren’t Expecting Us
As I explained earlier with the family at the market, there isn’t much expectation of tourism in Albania. I think some people there just don’t think of their country as a travel destination. But then the younger generation who are leading the tour groups and interfacing with tourists, are eager to ensure that travelers enjoy their trip so that more travelers will want to visit. They may not be expecting us, but they are certainly warm and welcoming once we’re there!
Transportation is Lacking
The infrastructure for transportation is definitely not well developed in Albania. People mostly just use their cars and share rides with other folks. It can make it difficult to get around, but if you have cash on hand and can show your destination on a map then you’ll be able to get a cab driver to take you where you need to go. Otherwise, there are trains and coach buses that run between cities infrequently, and limited public transportation within cities. Find out more here.
Few Tourist Destination Cities
There aren’t many cities in Albania that have built up their tourism industry, so you may find it difficult to get the amenities you’re accustomed to in other Mediterranean countries. But it’s all part of the adventure when exploring a country with a burgeoning tourism industry. Give it a few years and you’ll start to see the tourist amenities build up, as the country begins to capitalize on their natural assets!
Safety and Security are Lacking
I certainly didn’t feel unsafe traveling alone in Albania, but I think that with an underdeveloped tourism industry, you don’t get the same sense of safety and security as in other destinations. As such, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Albania if you’re an inexperienced traveler, like if you’ve only been on a couple of international trips. For those folks, I think you’ll just enjoy yourself more if you go somewhere conventional. But for those who have traveled extensively and feel comfortable tackling off-the-beaten-path destinations, they would love Albania. There are also some package tours with a tour guide that are available if that would put your mind at ease, like with one of my favorite companies G Adventures.
Overall, Albania may not be the next big European travel destination, but it will get there soon. I loved visiting Albania and only wish I had more time there. I’m sure that by the next time I visit, the tourism industry will have evolved a bit, as more travelers realize that this gem is just sitting there waiting to be discovered. If you’re planning a trip to Eastern Europe, I would definitely recommend visiting Albania, it’s really such a unique and interesting destination!