“I’ve been asked by Andrew Uncharted to write a post on something I’ve learnt while travelling. I think the best lesson has always been that you can never have preconceptions before seeing a new country with your own eyes.”
I decided to travel to Albania this year
I have no idea why. I’d been told by a friend that it was worth checking out. When questioned further as to what there was to do there, they didn’t come up with much. Someone gave the same vague response when I was told to go to Pai, in north Thailand, and I was so glad I took that advice. I figured it must be the same idea, amazing but hard to express.
Albania was the first part of a longer summer trip around Eastern Europe, which isn’t first on most people’s summer vacation lists, and especially not as a solo female. Forever blasé, I began telling people about my plans, and was shocked at some of the responses I got.
“Albania huh. Wasn’t it Albanians that kidnapped Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken?” Me, casually shrugging, and never bothering to do a Google. Even an Uber driver in London, who was Albanian was confused. “In the four years I’ve been driving in London, I’ve never met anyone who knows where Albania is, let alone has any desire to go there”. And his final words, “please just be careful”.
Beginning to think I’d made a big mistake, but throwing caution to the wind as always, I got the ferry from Greece to Albania. I arrived, and head down, tried to find my hostel. People kept asking if I wanted help, and I assumed they wanted me to pay them something for their services. And then I heard, “Kate from New Zealand?” as I walked along. Surely that’s not a coincidence.
The hostel owner, Tomi, had found tired me roaming the street trying to find his place. He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and put a plate of watermelon in front of me before I was allowed to do anything. His generosity and help was outstanding, and made my stay in Sarande so good, I decided to cancel my plans to travel to Macedonia, and instead carry on through Albania.
Friendly smiles and help appeared whenever I needed it. At first, I felt like people were a bit hostile. I later clicked that they were probably just wondering what on Earth I was doing in their country; it’s not exactly top on the list of travel destinations. Curiosity aside, they were always kind, and made sure I was looked after.
Albanian history is so interesting, and our walking tour guide in Tirana made sure we got a better grip on what had happened over ancient and more recent history. His honesty, and his openness to our questions, allowed everyone to understand better what happened in the country, and how they are trying to grow from it. He was humble, happy to laugh at their lack of knowledge of what was happening in the outside world, and offer up ideas of how to learn more.
I assumed Albania would be a diet based on a lot of heavy, stodgy food. Plenty of meat, and maybe potatoes or bread. I was so shocked to find they make incredible bread, mastered when they had so little to work with, and perfected since. And delicious dishes, reminiscent of Greece. Feta, lamb, aubergine, all baked and golden. Food is cheap, and the food in Albania has been some of the best food I’ve had traveling.
I met so many travellers in Albania who had decided to venture to this less-well travelled country. They also had no idea what to expect, and had gone on a whim, or a vague recommendation, and all were pleasantly surprised. So many of the ideas we hold before we arrive somewhere are proven wrong very quickly. There were so many Albanian traits I grew to love in the short time I was in the country.
The quote “to travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries” could not be more true for a country like Albania. It’s people, food, and culture, have so much to offer. It was a gentle reminder that there is so much good in the world, and that every journey has so much to teach me. There’s a whole world out there to explore, and it’s just waiting to surprise you.
If you’d love to find out more, or follow me along on my travels, you can find me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram as Backpackfullofdreams, or check out my site at abackpackfullofdreams.com!
A Backpack Full of Dreams
I’ve well and truly caught the travel bug, and have so much advice to share to make the magic come alive for you too. From weekend trips, to longer adventures, I’ve got it all covered. I’ve also been living overseas for the last three years, and have plenty of tips on how to get settled in a new city, especially London.