Growing up in rural Colorado there was nothing I wanted more than to see the world. I traveled vicariously through the pages of National Geographic that my grandmother bought me. I filled notebooks with lists of places whose sights to I had to see.
While Albania never made the list, it would become the country that found it’s way deepest into my heart.
Following a summer trip to Myanmar, I decided to attend a training in central Florida where I learned how to live without the things most of us take for granted, like running water and electricity. One night while we were eating dinner by candle light, the discussion turned to the Kosovo Crisis and how an orphanage in Albania was looking for volunteers.
I couldn’t get Albania off my mind.
I was getting ready to turn 22 years old and had absolutely no idea what I was getting ready to step into, and I am glad. I didn’t need to know how much I would grow or the lessons I would learn, I only needed to follow my heart because I had a date with destiny. Many people ask me why Albania? This small country is where I found myself and the life that I wanted to purse.
The Tirana, Albania I flew into 18 years ago has changed tremendously.
This is not a country who is stuck in the past. Yes, they have been through incredibly difficult times, with heartless leaders, but they are moving forward. This is a place that is full of promise and optimism, and definitely one of the most underrated gems in the world.
10 reasons you’ll want to book your ticket to Albania this year!
1. For many countries there’s no need to apply for a visa before arriving. In fact, Americans who are interested in staying longer can take advantage of a one year visa upon entry. At the end of one year we can apply for residency or leave for 3 months to reset the clock. If you’re interested in being a traveling family, a digital nomad, or retiring here, forget about visa runs and enjoy this country 12 full months at a time!
2. Albania is one of the most tolerant countries in the world. There are Christians, Orthodox, and Muslims all living peacefully here. The truest religion here is their their ancient tradition of hospitality.
3. Albania's natural beauty is breathtaking. They have amazing mountains, stunning beaches, lakes, rivers... you name it, it's here. We enjoyed spending the summer in Ksamil and now we are in the capital city of Tirana. I have been just about everywhere and can tell you each spot has a beauty all its own.
4. The cost of living is LOW. Whether you are planning a couple week vacation or considering moving, you will get great value in Albania. A taxi ride will typically cost about $2-$4 USD, a great meal for two might be $15 USD, a nice 2 bedroom apartment in a great area of town might run you $400-$500 USD.
5. The food is oh so good! From meat and seafood lovers to vegans, the options are here. Restaurants are everywhere and you can even have dinner delivered right to your door from over 80 places in Tirana when you download the app, “Baboon”, on your smartphone. Fresh markets are on every corner and "organic" is the norm. If you want to meet some other travelers and expats, be sure to hit up the Steven Center.
6. It's safe! Crime is almost non-existent. Women can walk around alone, even at night, and not be worried. I regularly go out with my children alone and use the local taxi service without a single issue. It always surprises me how often this question comes up because I feel more safe in Albania than I do in the U.S.
7. Albanians are still getting used to the idea of tourists, but they love foreigners. They are thrilled when we visit or move to their country and go out of their way to help with anything you could possibly need. Transportation is often the most difficult thing to navigate, but Furgons (the word for mini-buses) are the best way to play tourist here.
8. Many locals speak English. In fact, most Albanians speak 4 or 5 languages including Greek, Italian, Spanish, and German. As you can imagine, it melts their hearts when you make an effort to learn a few words in Albanian. It’s not entirely clear how and from what the Albanian language evolved. It has no surviving relatives and even its ancestors are obscure. It is often thought to be descended from Illyrian, but there is not enough evidence to conclusively confirm that.
9. Internet is fast and widely available. If you work online like we do, this is incredibly important. Unless you are in remote rural areas, most hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops offer free wi-fi. If you’re looking to stay longer, internet can be set up within a day or two with 100mb costing approximately $30 USD a month.
10. It's perfectly situated to enjoy Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. If traveling from Greece there are flights, ferries, and buses in. One of the easiest ways to access southern Albania is by flying to Corfu, Greece and taking the ferry over from there. Regular flights from Rome, London, Frankfurt, and Istanbul in and out of Tirana are common.
If you’re looking to visit the next hot spot before it’s overpriced and flooded with tourists, get to Albania.
Monique Alvarez has been using her 10+ years experience of entrepreneurship and leadership to help women around the world become powerful business owners as an author and international business consultant for the past nine years. She is a digital nomad and is currently based in Tirana, Albania with her husband and two toddlers.