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I Have Visited Every Country In Europe And This Was My Favorite Digital Nomad Destination

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As a digital nomad based in Europe, I have traveled extensively around the continent, working remotely from every country you can possibly name across the pond, from the tourist hotspots of France and Italy to the lesser-known Baltic states and the multicultural Balkan Peninsula.

Nope, I haven't skipped the millionaire-owned micro-state of Monaco, war-raging Russia and its neighbors, nor newly-born Kosovo, one of the poorest states in Europe.

With over 40 European countries under my belt, I was bound to have a personal favorite by now.

The Port Of Saranda In South Albania, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

That one special place that keeps pulling me back, where I could actually see myself staying longer than the usual three months or even putting down roots at some point down the line, and that somehow feels like my home away from home.

When I set out to visit every European country as a digital nomad, never would I have expected an unheard-of, post-communist state most tourists mistakenly believe to be dangerous, and even not worth seeing, to rank at the top of the list by the end of the five-year journey, yet here we are.

It's beautiful Albania that stole my heart, and this is why I believe it is the strongest contender for European Digital Nomad Capital:

The Landmark Castle In Kruja, Albania, South Eastern Europe

Why Albania Of All Places?

Unless you've been country-hopping around Europe as a tourist for a while, having had to come up with ingenious ways to extend your stay beyond the restrictive 90-day Schengen rule, it is unlikely you have passed through Albania, much less heard of it.

We're here to remedy that together, but first, where even is Albania?

Geography isn't everyone's forte, so I won't dawdle and waste your time going into the specifics of it: all you have to know it is located across the Adratic sea from Italy, and just north of Greece.

Old Mes Bridge In Albania, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

We know what you're thinking: if it borders these two popular vacation spots, could Albania be yet another off-path Mediterranean destination waiting on the sidelines to be discovered?

The short answer is a resounding Yes!, and the shocking part is it's been deliberately concealed for decades.

What we mean by that is it was actually kept hidden, so we wouldn't blame you for not having the foggiest idea about Albania beforehand: as customary in Eastern Europe in the 20th century, the country was ruled by an iron-fisted communist regime.

Why Haven't You Heard Of Albania Before?

Modernist Architecture And Modern Park In Tirana, The Capital City Of Albania, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

Albania's dictatorship was among the harshest in Europe, with very few people being allowed to leave the territory, and likewise, only a select number of visitors were allowed to enter well into the 90s, meaning this wing of the Mediterranean was virtually off-limits only three decades ago.

In case you've been wondering, Albania is now an open, progressive state, having adopted democratic principles since the collapse of communism and being on a firm path to aligning with the Western World: it joined NATO in 2009, and it has applied to become a member of the European Union.

Dhermi, Albania in the sunset

The latter aspiration has not been as successful yet, but we'll get into that soon enough – the question is, why has this unsung, troubled nation surpassed every other Southern European competitor to become my safe haven as a digital nomad?

I don't know about you, but like any self-proclaimed Europhile, this continent's immense cultural wealth was a decisive factor in my decision to stay a whole five years so far, and my dear fellow nomads, sure Albania has a lot going for it on the culture front:

Hospitality Is At The Heart Of Albanian Culture

Friendly Looking Old Albanian Gentlemen Playing A Card Game On The Street, Unspecified Location In Albania, Eastern Europe

Albania is a one-of-a-kind-country, in the sense that its language (Albanian) is not closely-related to any other languages on the periphery, like Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian share similitaries, and its culture is markedly different from the Slavic-dominated Southeastern Europe.

Family is extremely important, and it's not uncommon to find nuclei of relatives living together in the same neighborhood, or even the same street, and to them, hospitality is not only a long-standing tradition, but a national value.

In the words of renowned Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare, who couldn't have phrased it better:

Women Passing Over Albanian Food During A Banquet, Albania, South Eastern Europe

‘Of God and the guest, you see. So, before it is the house of its master, it is the house of one’s guest. The guest, in an Albanian’s life, represents the supreme ethical category, more important than blood relations. One may pardon the man who spills the blood of one’s father or of one’s son, but never the blood of a guest.’

There were certainly occasions where Airbnb hosts would invite me to partake in rounds of raki tasting shortly after we've made acquaintances, and hospitable locals would invite me back to theirs to share high-spirited conversations and a hot meal.

Kosovar Albanian Girl Smiling At The Camera As She Wears Traditional Albanian Attire, Pristina, Kosovo

As a digital nomad traveling solo, actively seeking to distance himself from other expats to fully immerse in the local way of life, it was definitely not a challenge to befriend Albanians, even if the older generations are more proficient in Italian than they are in English.

If anything, my rusty Italian and poor attempts at mouthing basic words in Albanian would get me humorous smiles in response, friendly pats on the shoulder, and more raki invitations: I'm not sure previous writers have coined this already, but Albanians are the Latin Americans of Europe.

The Whole Of Albania Should Be A UNESCO Heritage Site

Ottoman Era City Of Berat, Albania

We know you're here for some of that Old World flair, the cobbled towns with origins lost to time, and fairytale castles Disney has tried their best to emulate in kitsch theme parks, and you'll be glad to know Albania has its fair share of manmade wonders.

From the Accursed Mountains in the north, home to the ethnic village of Theth, best known for its rustic cottages and solitary church, to the medieval citadel in Kruje, south towards a UNESCO-listed, Ottoman-built Berat, and the Stone City of Gjirokaster, this country's beauty is truly boundless.

Clock Tower In The Inner Citadel Of Gjirokaster Castle Set Against The Backdrop Of Green Mountains, In The Old Town Of Gjirokaster, Albania, South Eastern Europe

The 296-mile long Mediterranean coast is littered with historic port cities as well, including Durres, where a 5th-century castle still stands, the charming Vlore, with its Italian-inspired, pastel Old Town, and the hilltop, whitewashed village of Dhermi, overlooking the turquoise sea.

If you're looking forward to wearing your Indy Jones hat again, Butrint is a vast archaeological zone dating back to the 10th century BC, encompassing flooded Byzantine palaces, partially-preserved colonnaded agoras, and a landmark Greek theater.

Greek Amphitheatre In Butrint, Albania

The point is, Albania may not be as popular as some of its closest neighbors, for the reasons already outlined above, but it certainly does not suffer from a shortage of heritage sites. In fact, it's almost as if it's taken a page from the book of every other Mediterranean hub in the vicinity:

A Potpourri Of Everything That's Great About Europe

With Its Own Little Albanian Twist

Some of its settlements are as ancient as Italy's, it is just as warm as Greece, the pebbly beaches as pristine as Croatia's, the local cuisine rivals Spain's, and it is as topographically diverse as France, with a territory that comprises both towering alpine peaks and a subtropical coast.

Old Catholic Church In The Historic Village Of Theth, Albanian Alps, Accursed Mountains Of Albania, South Eastern Europe

I'm not averse to harsh winters myself, and I'm a firm believer that, in order to truly appreciate the balmy days of summer, you need to experience the changing of the seasons, but if you can live without the occasional snow, coastal Albania will not disappoint.

Temperatures can plummet to negative levels in northern Albania, but much of the coast remains perfectly sunny and a pleasant 64°F. Having visited in February myself, I was surprised to find that the additional wool coats and puffer jackets I packed ‘in case' were not at all necessary.

Aerial View Of Ksamil Beaches In Albania, South Eastern Europe

If you're hell-bent on escaping the cold, the laid-back coastal village of Ksamil, a stone's throw away from the lively harbor city of Saranda, is your best bet at year-round springtime weather, with lemon trees, soft white-sand beaches and teal-colored waters making up the scenery.

Don't Come To Albania On A Strict Diet

Albania may be isolated in terms of language and culture, but the food served in Albanian homes and restaurants is typically Mediterranean and Eurasian in character, having been heavily influenced by Italy, Slavic gastronomic practices, and even Turkish cuisine.

Albanian Food Set On The Table At A Restaurant In Albania, Eastern Europe

Its cheese and spinach-filled, flaky-dough byrek pastry is a variation of the Turkish burek, the cold cucumber soup takes direct inspiration from Bulgaria's tarator, and I could certainly draw parallels between Gjirokaster's qifqi rice balls and the more mainstream Italian arancini.

That being said, there are a number of native delicacies only Albania can lay claim to, with my personal favorites being the deep-fried petulla fritter, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, typically served with butter and jam, and tavë kosi, lamb baked in yogurt.

Lamb Yoghurt Tave Kosi, A Traditional Dish In Albania, South Eastern Europe

Given Albania's ample selection of dairy and hearty meat-based dishes, not to mention the fresh seafood and fruit growing in abundance in the verdant hinterland, rest assured you'll never go hungry here, whether you're staying in a small qytet on the shores of the Adriatic, or the sprawling capital city of Tirana.

How Nomad-Friendly Is Albania?

How about digital nomad infrastructure, a.k.a. long-term rentals, availability of coworking cafes, foreigner-friendly services, and so on?

I'll be honest with you: outside major urban centers, life as a remote worker can be challenging (at times).

A Young Handsome Man Working With His Laptop From A Cafe In France, Digital Nomad In Europe

That is particularly true in the off-season, when restaurants and guesthouses on the coast typically close down, and getting around without a car is an adventure you don't want to embark on.

Albania is nothing short of stunning, but it's years behind in development compared to the average European country.

For that reason, I would recommend you spend most of your time in a large city like Tirana, where there's enough of a social scene and nighttime services to keep you entertained, as well as bus connections to the resort zones on the Adriatic coast, unless a quaint village life resonates with you.

Tirana Beyond The Grey Clusters Of Communist Apartment Blocks
Skanderberg Square In Tirana, Capital City Of Albania, Western Balkans, South Eastern Europe

Tirana may not be the prettiest of capitals – much of the old city has been razed to the ground in favor of a modernist makeover – but you can't deny it is intriguing, with communist-era bunker museums, artifical lakes and eccentric high-rises dominating the skyline.

If you're a regular cafe-goer, you should probably know Albania is a global leader in the number of cafes, with around 654 such establishments per 100,000 inhabitants.

There are no Starbucks, but there are plenty of local-owned and Mulliri Vjeter coffeehouses around.

Smiling Female Digital Nomad, Remote Worker Working From Her Computer In An Alfresco Cafe As She Ships On Some Tea Or Coffee, Unspecified Location

Mulliri Vjeter is the oldest coffee chain in Albania, and stores are typically rustic in character, offering visiting nomads free WiFi and a cozy nook to work from. Central Tirana is loaded with those, and not a day goes by that I don't miss their signature Capuccino Chocomel.

It's truly no wonder Tirana has proudly taken up the mantle of Europe's center for digital nomadism, hosting a Digital Nomad Conference since 2022 and with an expat community that continues to grow year after year.

The Top 5 Best Digital Nomad Destinations In Albania

Modern Pedestrianised Street In Tirana, Capital City Of Albania, Eastern Europe

The way I see it, the top five best destinations for digital nomads in Albania are:

  • Tirana: the exciting capital city, packed with quirky cafes, oozing urban art, and full of verdant parks for temporarily escaping the city crowds and crazy traffic
  • Shkoder: the cultural heart of Northern Albania, famous for its revitalized, restaurant-lined Old Town and an imposing 2,400-year-old Rozafa Castle
  • Durres: the busiest port, offering ferry connections to Italy and distinguished by its ruined, recently-unearthed Roman amphitheater and Venetian Tower
  • Saranda: the largest city in the Albanian Riviera, bounded by the teal-colored waters of the Adriatic and within short driving distance of the up-and-coming leisure zone of Ksamil
  • Elbasan: the fourth-largest city in Albania, and one of its food meccas, where I tried the best jani me fasule on the trip (make sure you add Taverna Kala to your list of restaurants)

Albania Is The Cheapest Country I've Been In Europe

Albanian banknotes

It only took me a couple of days of being in Albania to understand, at least in part, why nomads like me are finding an unlikely home in this overlooked Adriatic gem: prices are the cheapest I've seen anywhere in Europe.

On average, Albania is 40.6% less expensive than Western Europe, with meals in inexpensive restaurants costing an acceptable $10.43, based on data gathered by Numbeo, and monthly expenses for a single person capping at roughly $700, excluding rent.

A young woman looking at the historic city of Berat in Albania, UNESCO

Even though accommodation costs aren't included in this estimate, rent can be up to 69% cheaper than Paris or London, two overpriced cities that will wipe your wallet clean if you're not careful enough. Luckily, living costs are nowhere near as exorbitant in Albania.

A quick Airbnb search led me to find seafront condos in Vlore for only $617 per month this April, whole apartments with dedicated workspaces in Saranda for a negligible $343, while in Tirana, there are private, centrally-situated flats for as cheap as $520 monthly.

It Is Incredibly Safe For Foreigners

Young Female Waving An Albanian Flag In Downtown Tirana, Albania

Not only is Albania remarkably cheap to live in, it is just as safe as fellow Southern European states Italy and Spain.

That's not my own judgment, but the U.S. State Department's, which officially considers Albania a low-risk destination, as seen here.

Having spent most of my time between Tirana, Shkoder and Durres, never once did I feel unsafe walking the streets during the day, or get ‘jumpy' in crowded areas, as much as I normally do in busier areas of Barcelona, or sketchy zones of South Dublin.

Aerial View Of A Beach In Durres, Central Albania, A Port On The Mediterranean Sea, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

While I wouldn't take my chances going for a late evening stroll in Tirana – Albanian cities are not particularly well-lit at night – crime levels are under acceptable levels, and visitors are rarely, if ever, affected by violence.

Your main concern here is pickpocketing, though I never felt the need to hide my phone when out in public, and judging by the amount of jewelry Albanian women wear and the fancy sportscars the men drive, nobody's visibly worried about petty theft, either.

Ksamil In Albania, On The Ionian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

Naturally, general safety advice applies, but odds are you'll be fine. Once I was lulled to sleep by the gentle sound of crashing waves at a busy Ksamil beach, with my laptop bag by my side, and I startlingly woke up to find it still untouched where I left it.

I'm not sure this fortunate outcome was an exception to the rule, or whether Albania is really so safe your personal unattended items will be probably left alone, but it doesn't change the fact I've never felt on edge, nor remotely suspicious of the people around me.

Believe it or not, I've saved the best for last:

Are You A U.S. Passport Holder?

You Can Stay An Entire Year In Albania
Traveler Holding USA Passport At Airport

Every digital nomad based in Europe has a love-and-hate relationship with Schengen.

In case you're not familiar with the term, it corresponds to a 27-country-strong, passport-free zone where customary cross-border checks typically do not apply.

All of Europe's top destinations are signatories to Schengen. I'm talking France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Spain, and the list goes on: flying, taking trains, or boarding ferries between any of the Schengen states, you will not be subject to passport control.

A Border Officer Stamping A Visa Page On An Unspecified Passport, International Travel

The only downside to Schengen? You can only be present in the Schengen territories for 90 days out of any 180-day period. In other words, if you've used up your 90 days in Spain, another Schengen country can't be your next destination for another three months.

In Albania's case, the strict Schengen policy does not apply, as it is not a member of the European Union (EU), and it is not bound to join the borderless area anytime soon in the future.

Foreign nationals get a whole 90 day-stay in Albania, irrespective of time spent elsewhere in Europe.

Gjipe beach with white sand, tourist tents and umbrellas, the turquoise Ionian sea hidden between mountains in canyon on a sunny day in Albania.

If you're an American citizen, however, you're issued a whole year-long tourist visa upon arrival, on the basis of being a U.S. passport holder alone, making Albania the perfect long-term destination, if you're not merely looking for a grey zone to wait for your Schengen clock to reset.

Despite being outside the EU, Albania remains at the heart of Europe, sharing land borders with four other countries, and boasting low-cost flight connections to the entire continent, with fares starting from $19 on Ryanair.

What Are Some Of The Main Downsides About Life As A Nomad In Albania?

View of Tirana Albania

What are some of the negative aspects about life in Albania as a digital nomad, you may ask?

I have already touched on some of those throughout this article, but I would say some of the main ones include:

  • The lack of public transport (good luck getting from point A to B if you're not renting a car and you have reservations about hitchhiking)
  • With the exception of the main motorways linking Tirana to the coastal ports and resort towns, the regional road network can be quite precarious, with lots of potholes and missing road signs (if you're driving, I would advise against hitting the gas, especially after sundown when visibility is lower)
  • Reception can be poor in remote areas, particularly up in the mountains, so make sure you save your drafts working from your computer during that bumpy ride up the Accursed range, or you might have to write that 1,500-word article from scratch again (not that it's happened to me…)
  • This is no spotless, idyllic, First-World European country: basically, as much as you try to turn a blind eye, you can't easily ignore the poverty-stricken areas
Young Man Working From The Computer
  • Nomad-friendly facilities, like work-friendly cafes and coworking offices may be harder to come across outside cities like Tirana, Shkoder and Durres (I would add Berat and Gjirokaster, but compared to the capital city, they are not even close to being considered well-equipped)
  • Social attitudes in Albania are pretty carefree, considering this is one of Europe's handful of Muslim-majority countries, but I wouldn't encourage you to show affection with your same-sex partner in public if you don't want to get grumpy Albanian nonos to curse you lowly, or more rarely, an unfriendly shoulder bump
  • If you're flying, your only way into and out of Albania is via Tirana: mind-boggling as it may be, there are no airports yet on the Adriatic Coast, and the country's only other operational international airport is located in Kukës, near the Kosovo border (with a single seasonal flight route to Basel in Switzerland)*
*The easiest way to get to Southern Albania is actually flying first to the Greek island of Corfu, which lies just offshore, and then take a ferry to Saranda. The journey takes just over half an hour on average.

Needless to say, the good far outweighs the bad, and I can't wait to be back in Albania myself this summer. I'm now based in Paris, and there's no way I'm sticking around to see how utterly anarchic this city will get once the Olympics – or should I say Hunger Games? – commence.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Anna

Thursday 7th of March 2024

Do your homework.The Albanian government treats the Greek minority terrible.They have taken their homes and the Greek elected mayor of Saranda was jailed for no reason.