Here's a little list of tips we've compiled for living on the road in Albania.
Albania’s official national language is Albanian. The Shkumbin river divides the Gheg and Tosk dialects of the North and the South.
Albania’s official currency is the Lek. Credit and debit cards are not widely accepted- even in larger chain stores you will have difficulties using them. Cash machines will often only accept Visa OR Mastercard and you can incur steep charges on withdrawals. We found that only the Societie Generale Albania bank accepted Mastercard with no charge, although the Romanian Raiffeisen bank also accepts MasterCard, but charges around £7 in fees. Many outlets accept Euros but the exchange rate will be poor.
Shops are generally open from early morning until late into the night 7 days a week. There are barely any supermarkets and no working hour regulations in Albania.
Drinking water can be difficult to find here for free. Water fonts can sometimes be found outside restaurants. Albania’s own government website recommends tourists do not drink from open water sources such as wells or fonts, and to instead buy bottled water from street vendors and supermarkets. A 5L bottle will cost around 90 Lek (60p / 55 cents).
You can view our map of water points in Albania here.
To our knowledge, Albania does not offer a Poste Restante service. It may be possible to organise with a local post office to get items delivered but we did not try this.
Diesel: Diezel / Gazoil
Petrol: Benzinë pa plumb (95 / 100)
LPG: GLN / LPG / Autogas
Fuel prices aren’t consistent with other products and services in Albania. Prices vary significantly from station to station as does quality of fuel. Albanians pay their road / car tax through their fuel, hence the steep prices. There are three high-quality and trusted chains namely Gulf, Alpet and Kastrati. The prices here will be close if not higher than UK prices but the fuel will be of higher quality. Some people have reported having water in their fuel after visiting Albania which caused mechanical issues.
Fuel will be provided by an attendant. There are no automatic pumps in Albania.
LPG is widely available even at the smaller stations. They are more than willing to refill gas bottles, providing they have the correct adaptors. We found a station called Cen Oil in Vlorë (link provided) who were able to fill our gas bottles for £2.40 each!
It is important to calculate how much LPG you will need for your gas bottle before filling up, to let the attendant know the correct amount. Gas bottles must only be filled to 80% capacity, any more than this and you can risk explosion due to gas expansion in cases of high heat or vigorous movement. To figure this out, look at your bottle’s capacity- e.g. 4.5kg. 1kg of gas = 1.96 litres. So 4.5kg of gas = 8.82 litres. Take 20% off this amount and you will get 7.06 litres. This is the amount you should tell the attendant to fill your bottle up by.
It has also been said that the bottle’s capacity already includes this 20% buffer, but as refilling gas bottles with LPG is not common practice it is better to be on the safe side.
Butane and Propane are both classified as LPG; while these are sold separately in the UK, in other parts of the world they are sold as the same thing. There is little difference between the two types of gas apart from Propane burns hotter than Butane, and works better in cold weather.
It is also advisable if you plan to get your gas bottles refilled while abroad that you purchase your own adapter for your type of gas bottle. These can be found on eBay here.
Unfortunately, Albania has a huge problem with litter and waste. You will not be able to escape it. Many rural communities do not receive waste collections and with an ever-increasing reliance on plastic packaged goods, this doesn’t seem like it will be resolved any time soon. Oddly enough, bins can be found frequently in most villages and towns, but there are no recycling facilities. Instead, someone will most likely come along and sift through the bins to collect and sell the plastic, so don’t feel too bad about throwing plastic bottles away.
Built-up areas 24 mph (40 km/h)
Outside built-up areas 49 mph (80 km/h)
Main intercity routes 55 mph (90 km/h)
Motorways 68 mph (110 km/h)
The minimum legal age of driving in Albania is 18 years old. Visitors should supposedly hold an International Drivers Permit, although we weren’t once asked about this during our stay.
When driving, you must have on your person at all times a valid driving license, proof of insurance, proof of identification and proof of ownership. Failure can lead to heavy fines.
You may use your horn to alert other drivers you are trying to overtake. Use of the horn is part and parcel of driving in Albania. The biggest vehicle usually wins when determining who has priority. Nobody uses roundabouts correctly, so take extreme caution when approaching, using and exiting roundabouts. Albania’s recognises the priority to the right rule on unmarked intersections, so be prepared for vehicles pulling out. Albanian driving is generally very erratic and careless. It’s common practice to see people using mobile phones, an entire family on a 50cc moped with no helmets, police using their phones, bus drivers using their phones and everything you’d expect to see moments before a head on collision. Drivers can become very inpatient if you’re driving slower than they’d like to drive, and will often flash you repeatedly to move over so they can overtake. Overtaking is common, expect drivers to overtake cars ahead and come at you on the wrong side of the road until the last second. You’ll get used to it after your first few hours driving.
Speed restrictions are lower than most European countries but are completely ignored by the majority of drivers, including police and other officials. Traffic police are on every corner in Albania and checkpoints are set up to pull drivers frequently. Expect to be pulled by the police during your stay. Over 5 weeks we were pulled quite a few times, and most times they simply saw our British passports and waved us on straight away. The final time we got pulled over, the policeman was visibly drunk and began accusing me of various driving infringements such as speeding, swerving and not wearing a seatbelt, before telling me I needed to pay him 20 euros. We argued with him for a while and then after asking us for some coffee money and arguing some more, we were eventually allowed to leave without paying anything. Some police will try their luck, so make sure you aren’t breaking the law and if they try and fine you, stand up for yourself and they will eventually back down.
Be aware of unmarked speed bumps laid by locals. We were told by one local that he knew some people who had laid speed bumps outside their café to try and entice visitors in. There is possibly not a single marked speed bump in all of Albania, so be wary in residential areas as they can be difficult to spot.
Driving at night, during rain and periods of snow are hazardous and should be avoided if possible. The general condition of roads in Albania are poor and you can expect journey times to be significantly increased here. A 4x4 would be the recommended choice of vehicle.
Albania is one of the few countries in Europe where it is possible to purchase a local SIM card without needing a local address or bank account. After reading up on prepaiddatasimcard.com, we decided to go for Telekom, which seemed to be a balance of good coverage and value for money. All you need is a photo ID i.e. a passport to buy a SIM card, which costs 700 Lek (£4.69 / €5.32), then 1200 Lek (£8.05 / €9.13) for a package with 10GB of social data (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp...), and 4GB of normal data (Google, Youtube etc). You can top up in store but if you're in the middle of nowhere you'll want to buy a prepaid voucher (300 / 500 Lek) from any small shop where you see the Telekom (or whichever provider) logo. You can call 142 to apply it and top up your internet; press option 2 for english, 3 for prepaid, then 0 for operator. Roughly 9/10 of them will speak English, and the service is 24 hour, even on bank holidays.
Compulsory items to carry in your vehicle at all times:
Headlamp beam deflectors (Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually)
First aid kit
Safety helmets are compulsory for motorcycle drivers and passengers although this cannot possibly be enforced. You’ll see what we mean when you go!
Wild camping in Albania proved difficult for us during the winter. Many tracks and roads were destroyed by flooding in December 2017, particularly along the coast. The beaches we could access were quite built up and not what you’d consider ‘wild camping’. The best place for camping we found was the area in the North around the Accursed Mountains. We did find a lovely spot around Vlorë too, but the police harassed us almost daily anywhere between 10pm and 1.30am so we didn’t enjoy that particularly.
Wild camping on the beaches in summer would most likely prove unenjoyable due to even the most remote beaches becoming extremely packed in summer, and most of them being covered with bars and deckchairs for which you will have to pay.
There is no law against wild camping in Albania, but as it is still a growing country in the tourism industry you may confuse locals and police alike by parking your van in a wild place. You will not be asked to move on, they will probably just knock on your door or sound their sirens and ask you what you’re doing there.
Albania is a wonderfully underrated country and relatively untouched by the tourism industry, apart from the large numbers of Italians who flock to its coastline during the summers. Interestingly there are more Albanians living outside of Albania than in it, with some of the largest emigration numbers in Europe leaving it with a tiny population of just 2.8 million.
We enjoyed inland Albania and its mountains far more than its overcrowded coast; we found just one wild beach we could camp on along its entire 476km coastline, but this is partly due to the widespread flooding and storms they suffered in December 2017, making many beach tracks impossible to access in anything other than a 4x4. We hope that over time these beach tracks will become driveable again, although it appears that virtually every inch of Albania's coastline is up for sale, to be purchased by land-grabbing millionaires who enjoy building expensive hotels and resorts by the sea, or charging people to use deckchairs while not allowing them to sit on the sand for free. We hope that Albania will keep some of its wild beaches and not destroy them all by pouring concrete over them, as seems to be a running theme in the Balkans.
That said, Albania boasts some of the most beautiful mountains we've ever seen, the Accursed Mountains, also known as the Albania Alps, a wild, rugged landscape which presents unlimited wild camping oppurtunities but can also equally be exploring by taking a boat across the stunning Koman Lake and hiking. Although we are not usually city-goers, we particularly enjoyed the historic city of Berat, city of a thousand windows, and the Northernmost city of Shkoder.
There are so many things we enjoyed about Albania we cannot name them all, although the fact that most coffee shops open at around 4am and you can enjoy a delicious Turkish-style coffee for just 30p is a real highlight. You can also go out for a two course dinner for two or lunch for three for less than £10. There are no working hour regulations and the majority of businesses are small family-run affairs, meaning they have greater control over their opening hours and will often be open late into the night. There are almost no supermarkets which allows smaller businesses to flourish, and you will be able to buy delicious organic fruit and veg for very little money, from shops or roadside sellers.
Make sure you try Albanian coffee, Pilaf (rice cooked with olive oil and seasoned, available as a veggie option) and Byrek (filo pastry stuffed with cheese, spinach, yoghurt or meat) which is to die for! Albania also makes Balkava, similar to Greece but half the price, and their pink-iced Gurabie biscuits are tasty if you fancy something sweet. One food we didn't enjoy too much is the Kackaval, a type of sour cheese similar to Feta, and their butter which seems to be sold pre-rancid, but you'll have to try it for yourself!
Our main and only issue with Albania is the litter, which is so widespread it seems the country may never recover from it. Lacking in recycling facilities and in some areas waste disposal, plastic has made its way into every river, onto every beach, and fly tipping zones are everywhere, which is really sad to see in such an otherwise beautiful country.
Also don't let the crazy driving put you off- it's a type of organised chaos that you'll get used to after a few hours. Just keep one hand on the horn and both eyes in all directions on every roundabout and you'll be fine.