I Spent 5 Months In This Trending Country And Here’s What Surprised Me The Most

I Spent 5 Months In This Trending Country And Here’s What Surprised Me The Most

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If you follow any travel blogs or read travel news, (and since you are here reading this, I will assume you do!) then you have undoubtedly read about Albania.

This small country located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe has been gaining more and more attention recently for travelers looking for something different, affordable, and beautiful.

colorful fishing boats saranda albania

Digital nomads also love it, and for good reason.

I spent five months at the start of 2021 living in Albania, and I am one of those people who won’t shut up about it.

Despite having been to many more countries since then, whenever people ask, “what country has been your favorite” or “what country left the greatest impression,” the answer is always Albania. 

Here Are Some Things That Surprised Me The Most About Albania: 

berat albania white houses
If you get to Berat, ask for Lili (you’re welcome)

Keep The Promise

The first thing that surprised me the most about Albania was the people.

The people you will find in this country are some of the nicest, most helpful, and most welcoming that I have ever encountered in all my years of traveling and living abroad.

You might have heard people refer to “Balkan Hospitality,” and this is absolutely a thing. Balkan people might seem a bit rough around the edges, but this is just a bit of a hard exterior that some of them have built up over the years.

I can’t tell you the number of times we have interacted with some gruff older men whom we were a bit intimidated to approach at first but ended up drinking rakia around a table with their family by the end of the conversation. 

In Albania, there is a term: BESA, which means to keep the promise.

This is more of a way of life here, and the people will go out of their way to help you and make you feel welcome, allowing them to be trustworthy and keeping the promise of peace. 

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gjirokasta albania buildings
The town of Gjirokaster cannot be missed

For example: One time we took a public bus to another city and upon reaching the destination, the driver realized we were unsure where to go. He didn’t speak any English and was shouting at us and demanding my phone, scary right?

Upon taking my phone he called our guesthouse and figured out where it was, and then proceeded to basically hold our hands and escort us there, making sure we were ok.

We were literally speechless at how out of his way he went to help us. This is the Balkan hospitality that I am talking about. Name another country where this would happen, I’ll wait. 

A Not-So-Secret Secret 

It’s funny because most people I speak to about Albania have never heard of it, and it seems the only ones who do know are other travelers and digital nomads.

While it used to be a bit of a secret, Albania has been growing in popularity for many reasons.

After going viral on TikTok recently, Albania is not such a top-secret destination anymore. Yet, when we arrived in Albania in January 2021, we were surprised to see so many other ex-pats living here already.

When doing our research, we assumed it was relatively unknown, but it ended up being the one country where we made so many friends quickly as there was a pretty well-established community of ex-pats and locals here. So, if Albania was a secret before social media, it wasn’t a very well-kept one.

Note: many of those we met were Americans, as we can stay a year visa-free

woman standing in Gjirokaster
 castle Albania
An Albanian couple helped us get in here when we showed up just at closing, so nice!

From Budget To Bougie

Albania is an affordable destination, this is absolutely true, and most travelers who come already know this.

I came to Albania knowing this and was still surprised at how little you can spend here and live comfortably.

My apartment in Saranda cost under $500 a month and had sea views and a pool, not to mention high-speed wifi and smart TVs. I have friends who pay under $300 a month for their apartment because they made some good local connections, so it can be done. 

You can get a beer for under a dollar at most places, and food (aside from imported items) is very cheap as well.

However, one thing to understand is that you can also splurge in Albania, and some accommodations and restaurants can run you Western prices and then some.

Pro-tip: become regulars at some of the beach bars in the early days of the opening season (springtime) and be treated to a free bowl of fresh mussels every time and everywhere you go!

korca beer and mussels on the beach albania
Enjoying free mussels on the beach in Saranda

In the end, it’s all about how you want to live, but do keep in mind that the Albanian Riviera gets costly as the summer season approaches, so make sure to understand any rental agreements beforehand.

Many people I know had their rent doubled in the summer, so this is something to work out before signing anything. 

Beach Please 

Ok, let’s talk about the beaches. Most people who come to Albania in the warmer months do so in search of the Albanian Riviera, and for good reason.

Albania has the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The rocky shores make for crystal-clear water, and the sunsets are incredible.

Saranda has some decent smaller beaches around it you can enjoy, and of course, Ksamil is becoming more and more well-known as being as beautiful as the Caribbean. 

@maldivosaur Best beaches in Albania part 1 #hot #holiday #beach #destination #travel #traveldestinations #albania ♬ Calm Down Andre Soueid – andresoueid

One thing to realize, though, is that while not nearly as crowded as other popular European destinations, many of Albania’s beaches are far from a secret come summer.

While stunning, I was so surprised that these places get crowded quickly, and prices start to creep up.

If you are really looking for a quiet place to escape, head north and seek out some smaller beach towns along the coast. Ask any local, and they will probably insist you join them and their family on a trip (seriously). 

bunkers in albania
Bunkers Bunkers Everywhere

Postcard Perfect Views 

I was, and continue to be surprised at just how beautiful Albania is. Everywhere you look, there will be a turquoise coast crashing below the cliffs, or mountains and gorges, rivers, and everything in between.

One thing that I could not believe was the crystal clear green-blue of the Vjosa river that runs from Greece across Albania and into the Adriatic Sea.

This river is so beautiful and important, in fact, that it has just become the first Wild River National Park in Europe. 

If you are lucky enough to call Albania home for a while, you will likely be surprised to see how easy most of the country is to explore via public busses and, of course, by renting a car. 

blue lakes and mountains in Albania

Yes Means No And No Means Yes 

While English is widely spoken in Albania, the official language is Albanian, referred to as Shqip. When speaking Shqip, one thing to pay attention to is how people indicate yes and no.

Yes is Po, and No is Jo. Not too difficult, right?

Now comes the tricky part, Albanians indicate yes with a shake of the head, meaning they are saying Po and shaking their head, which looks and sounds like No to a foreigner. 

@maptrekking how cute is this place?! #albania🇦🇱 #travelalbania #visitalbania #traveltiktok ♬ albania. – ssuzieed

When they mean no, they nod their head up and down and say Jo. Still with me?

If you think it’s a bit confusing to read, imagine living it. You would think it would get easier, and it did, but even after months, there were still many situations where this interaction caused some confusion.

Luckily, Albanians are understanding and patient with foreigners, so it’s all good. 

I hope my experience leads you to book that ticket, bus, or even the ferry from Corfu, Greece to explore Albania and all it has to offer.

Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you about the Rakia strength, though!

But seriously, if you are looking for an interesting and unique place to explore, with wonderful people and fascinating culture… the answer is always Albania. 

woman in field in albania with mountains
Thanks for all the memories Albania!

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