Road Trip in Albania – A Hidden Gem of an Adventure
Adventurous or Relaxing – Why Not Both?
If you can’t decide whether or not you’d like an active and adventurous travel experience or a mellow and relaxing one, you should definitely take a road trip in Albania! We road tripped for 8 days at the end of July, and the hot summer weather enabled us to hike and camp out at a few hidden beaches and relax by a poolside (and enjoy cocktails at a SUPER affordable psedo-luxury hotel). We even spent a few nights at a family owned guest house which was just a short way walking from a completely desolate pebble beach. Our road trip in Albania gave us everything we wanted in a travel experience – excitement, adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation – and we’re certain it will give you the same too!
Here is a small taste of what you’ll experience on your road trip in Albania!
The Logistics of it All
Planning a road trip in Albania is SUPER simple. It took us ~2 hours of planning time. In fact, we did it while we were still traveling and just after we had finished a 10-day backpacking trip on the Via Dinarica Trail in Montenegro. Since this is quite an off the beaten path travel experience, none of the accommodations were fully booked, thus we had no problem booking places on the fly. I cannot underscore how easy it is to plan a road trip in Albania.
What You’ll Need
No matter the season, when we travel we bring our raincoats. Even if we just use them as a windbreaker, they’re lightweight and super versatile, so we always have them with us. Julia uses this Marmot raincoat*, and I use this Marmot raincoat (it’s the same as Julia’s, just cut for men).
Reusable Water Bottles
Creating plastic waste with water bottles makes us both feel terribly guilty. So, when we travel we use Hydro Flask water bottles. They are rugged, reusable and best of all, insulated. On hot days we fill them with ice water, and on cold days we fill them with warm water.
When we’re in a country where we’re not able to safely drink tap water, we bring this super simple, super lightweight, super effective, and super affordable in-line water filter by Sawyer. It allows us to drink water from the tap or from a wild water source without having to worry about getting sick. It also saves us from having to waste money on bottled water.
Since we were relying on our phones for navigation, we also brought a power bank for our phone.
When we’re car camping, we basically bring sleeping bags, pads, and a tent. If we’re cooking, we’ll bring a small stove and some cooking utensils too. On our road trip in Albania, here is specifically what we brought.
- Tent (one per party)
- Sleeping bag (one per person): Julia’s, Seth’s
- Sleeping pad (one per person): Unisex option
- Inflatable Pillow (optional, one per person)
- Stove (one per party)
- Fuel bottle (one per party)
- Cooking Pot Set (one per party)
- Cooking utensils (one set per party)
- Water purifier (one per party)
- 3L Water storage container (one per party)
- Biodegradable Soap
- Spoon/Fork/Knife (one set per person)
- Headlight (one per person)
- First Aid Kit
- Packtowl (one per party)
- Toilet Paper
How to Best Use This Guide
We have put a lot of details about our road trip in three places, (1) our road trip Google Map route (especially in the Points of Interest part of the map), (2) in the sections below and (3) in the captions of our pictures, also below. Note: The captions in the pictures below correspond to the Points of Interest on our Google Map.
You can replicate our exact trip, if you’d like, but we recommend you use our materials as a guide for planning your own road trip in Albania.
How to Plan Your Own Road Trip in Albania
Basically, you’ll have to do the following five things.
1. Pick a Route
Have a look at Google Maps, and then plot your course. Do not feel obligated to follow our route. If you want a beach experience, drive along the coast. If you want mountains, head for the hills. If you want both beaches and mountains, you can follow our road trip route by clicking here, as we indeed opted for a mix of beaches and mountains. If you look at our route map, read the notes on each of our Points of Interest. We’ve put a lot of important details into each one of those.
Our route is ~650km (~400 miles) long. As you can see from the map, we made a counterclockwise loop through the country. Distilled, we started in Tirana, drove south on SH8 to Sarande, and then drove north back to Tirana on a combination of SH4 and SH7.
Take Your Time
We spent 8 days on this trip, and we wished we had spent at least 8 more. So, when you plan your own road trip in Albania, don’t be in a rush, and don’t plan too far in advance. Savor the spectacular landscape. Drink LOTS of smooth and creamy espresso along the way, and eat as many Albanian seafood dishes as you possibly can. Meander through the country, and you’ll be rewarded with spontaneous, off the beaten path, culturally immersive experiences.
We never planned out more than 2 nights in advance, we were in Albania at the height of their tourist season – summer time – yet we never had any problem finding accommodations, etc. A road trip in Albania should be a relaxing experience, so don’t get too bogged down in the planning.
2. Rent a Car
We rented our car from Enterprise in Tirana. We paid a little more for our rental than some of the local companies charged, but we got a nice new vehicle (important up in the mountains), and when we needed a replacement vehicle (someone stole our license plates), a new one was brought to us in about an hour. Folks we met along the way who rented from local companies complained about poor quality vehicles and lacking customer service. If we had to do it again, we’d again rent from Enterprise.
3. Get an International Drivers License?
By our rental car company, we were told that Americans can use their American driver’s license in Albania. We decided to trust them, but it seems they might have been wrong. Anything to make a sale, right? Regardless, we followed the rules of the road, so we never got stopped. However, in retrospect, we probably should have gotten an international driver’s license.
Perform Due Diligence
Given that there are ~195 countries in the world, we’re not going to research each one for you here, but suffice it to say, you should definitely Google around to determine what documents you’ll need in order to legally drive in Albania.
4. Download Albania on Google Maps
Before you depart for your trip in Albania, and while you still have WIFI, download the entire country of Albania on your Google Maps app. If you don’t know how to save part of a Google Map to your phone so that you can use the map even when you’re offline/have no service, iPhone instructions are here, and Android instructions are here.
After you’ve downloaded the map, once you’re out of WIFI/have no service, all you you have to do is make sure you’re NOT in airplane mode, and you’ll be able to look up driving directions anywhere within the downloaded area. (The two links above explain more about this too.)
5. Book a Few Accommodations (But not all of Them)
For a few nights, we stealth-camped on public beaches. It was thrilling, free, beautiful and deliciously spontaneous. Our road trip in Albania would not have been the same if we had not experienced this relaxed and casual part of Albanian society. Moreover, we would not have been rewarded with all the unplanned and deeply memorable experiences that happened as a result of our unplannedness.
There are Lots of Options
Hotel Palace Lukova
The appeal of this hotel is the STUNNING view from their poolside as well as their DELICIOUS, fresh and affordable Albanian food. If you stay here, plan on getting some amazing value, but understand the value is not coming from the quality of the room. The room we had was a bit dated, didn’t have a working TV, had slightly working air conditioning, and the mini-fridge barely kept anything cold.
We Weren’t Bothered
As we are VERY low-maintenance folks, this didn’t bother us at all, especially since we were relaxing by the pool or beach for the majority of the day time. We are including these details for sake of providing you full disclosure on the nature of this place, not to suggest in any way that we didn’t absolutely love this place!
Adrian Augustin Rooms
The appeal of this place is that you’ll be 5-minutes walking from a desolate pebble beach. On the beach is a tiny seafood shack called Old Anchor which sells only what they have caught fresh that day. The food, again, is spectacular. However, the Adrian Augustin Rooms are spartan. There is no air conditioning here (only a fan), and there is no food available either. They do have a small kitchenette in each room. However, if you stay here, you’ll have to scrounge up some groceries (there are not many well stocked stores around) or, you’ll have to go out to eat at any of the nearby restaurants.
There are nice restaurants about a 15-minute drive away on a neighboring beach. Or again, you could go to Old Anchor, just at 5 minute walk away. As I said before, we’re very low key folks, we spent all day outside anyway, so this budget accommodation was quite appealing to us. We just want you to know this place is very basic.
What it Looks Like
And now, the part you’ve been waiting for, pictures from our road trip in Albania. In many of the picture captions below, we’ve put a lot of important details you’ll want to know when planning your own road trip in Albania (as well as details about a secret campsite we found), so take your time to enjoy these pictures, just as we hope you will take your time when you’re on your own adventure through this spectacular country!
The only thing left to do is start planning your own road trip in Albania, and if you want to ask us any questions, feel free to drop us a line here. If you’re looking for a gorgeous and active adventure travel experience to do either before or after this road trip, you should seriously consider backpacking on the Via Dinariac Trail in nearby Montenegro. You can check out our Via Dinarica Trail Guide here, and our Via Dinarica Trail itinerary here.
And whatever you do, leave us a comment below letting us know what you think about all of this!
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