In January 2019 I started the journey to embracing the freedom the online business world brings into my life and I set off to Tirana, Albania.
WHERE THE HECK IS ALBANIA
I know for most of you reading this the first thought is going to be the desperate ‘where the heck is Albania’ thought. So for those of you that don’t know. Here’s a map!
Albania is located in South East Europe and seems to be one of the most forgotten places when it comes to tourism – so prices are fairly low in comparison to central European standards, yet standard of living is high in comparison.
IS ALBANIA EVEN SAFE…? THANKS LIAM NEESON…
When I told my Mum I’m heading to Albania she naturally assumed what everyone else assumes which is that I am headed to a communist war zone where I’m bound to be kidnapped and sold for my organs by the Albanian Mafia.
Far from it.
I am currently in Tirana and I feel safe af. I’ve been out across town all times of day and night and I’ve had no issues whatsoever – actually I’ve had people be overly nice and force me to take the seat on the bus – when I didn’t even want it. #werespectourwomen
And here is a video to make you laugh on this topic…
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE AND WORK IN TIRANA?
These are my first impressions so far and there will be many more posts to come… particularly on bathrooms 😉 ! As someone that works online there are a few things that are going to be important for us, so I’ve broken this down into the following categories: A place to stay, Internet, Places to Work, People and Culture, Language and Food.
PLACES TO STAY
I have been using AirBnb to book places around Tirana as and when I needed them. It’s possible to get a studio/one bedroom apartment of good quality for around $20 per night. These are places right in the centre, and the whole apartment is yours. If you are happy to share a bathroom or be based further out, you can find places for even cheaper.
There are a few things that are different to for example UK homes – and you will notice a few of these. The kitchen is usually part of the actual living area – it can get very cosy! Most places have air conditioners, so you’re good for heat/cold in Winter/Summer. Most places have a balcony. In quite a few places there are no shower curtains/doors… this is not completely unusual. It’s also not unusual that your entire bathroom has a wash at the same time as you…
Internet is fairly cheap if you’re staying longer term, BUT if you’re reliant on AirBnb’s, ask the host about internet speed. I have had places with 1MB download speed and a grand upload speed of 0.1 MB…. – no comment.
PLACES TO WORK
Albania has a true coffee culture. There are cafes every 50m, so there are ample places to sit and work – and of course enjoy good coffee… BUT.
They seem to either have decent internet OR plug sockets. We are yet to find a decent place that has BOTH available (and plenty of them). On another positive note, there are places that are open 24 hours, so if you’re a night owl, this will be music to your ears.
We will write a separate post on different places to work, BUT if you’re coming across a good place, drop us a message! We are always looking for a new place to enjoy.
There are also co-working spaces available, but I enjoy working from home too much to sign up for one of these at this point.
A couple of places in town are open 24 hours – so even if you’re a nightowl you’ll find somewhere to work. BUT most places close around midnight.
PEOPLE, CULTURE AND LANGUAGE
I have had ample exposure to the culture for a few years through friends and former colleagues, so a lot of things that may seem strange to you, I have gotten used to and wouldn’t even consider worth mentioning, but I’ll try and think back to things I considered odd for the longest time, or have noticed recently.
The first thing that I want to mention that the language spoken is Albanian and there are times where even in Tirana you will not have a soul working in a cafe that speaks English, so be prepared for google translate (which doesn’t always want to play nice with Albanian) and using your hands and feet to buy bread and other things. Many of the younger generation speak English, but just don’t rely on it!
If you want to embark on learning Albanian (which so far I’ve found interesting and fun) then check out Elson’s videos on YouTube, these helped me an awful lot with getting to grips with Albanian.
Follow @miqteelibrit1 on Instagram for your daily dose of wisdom!
Apparently 70% of the population consider themselves Muslim, however being in Tirana does not feel like being in a country with a majority Muslim population (I have to say that I have experienced most of London to be more Muslim than this place, eg. halal butchers/takeaways etc. are the default) – this must be to do with the history and religious freedom. I can’t actually say that anyone local I’ve met so far seems hugely religious to me.
The culture overall does still seem very traditional and male-dominated to me (not necessarily in a bad or uncomfortable kinda way). Family values matter and overall I can see men for sure run the show. It’s mainly men driving cars and mainly men working in different places. Again some of these things seem to have changed with the younger generation, but for sure there is a strong need for men to be men.
Overall there is a great hustle and bustle during the daytime – with a decent amount of traffic and beeping mixed in – and it’s quiet at night. Like REALLY quiet. I have walked home for 20 mins at about 1am passing absolutely NO ONE in the streets.
Although Tirana is a capital city it does not feel like it in comparison to other major international cities and people seem VERY local.
Eating out is cheap. You can literally stuff your face for less than $5 per person – and it tastes good! Fruit and vegetables grown locally are organic and cheap, but very seasonal, so it will vary hugely what you can get. If you meal plan or eat vegan etc. you will want to figure out when what is for sale and enjoy it for the 2 weeks it’s available.
Other things that are imported will cost A LOT ($14 for a pineapple or $20 for a bunch of berries are not unusual!).
[Same goes for things like toiletries. Some brands are easily available for $1 or so and Dove will set you back $4 depending on where you buy.]
There are is one 24 hour shop close to where I live, and a 24 hour pharmacy so even in an emergency (toilet paper run out, anyone?!) you can still get things.
MOBILE PHONE / MOBILE INTERNET
Prices for phone SIM cards etc. are cheap enough. For 1400 Lek you get 400 mins, 400 texts and 5GB of data with T Mobile, I didn’t compare any other plans, since this one was perfect for me.
Albania uses Albanian Lek. There is just one slightly confusing issue with this… in the olden days 10 Lek were actually 100 Lek. And 100 Lek were 1000 Lek. However when the currency got adjusted it doesn’t seem to have sunk in with the people. So you will go to a shop and someone will tell you that whatever you’re buying costs 1000 Lek, however they don’t MEAN one thousand they mean 100 but NOT EVERYONE does this.. and it’s not just the older generation, but also young people. Confusing much? Yep! Over time you’ll get a feel for how much stuff costs and you’ll just give them the right amount.
You are also entitled to get a receipt from a shop whenever you purchase something. Some places try to avoid this, because they’d rather do transactions under the counter, so if you don’t get a receipt, but you need one. Ask for it!
Ok, these were all of the thoughts that came to my mind when I first got here. I sure have many more things to write about and funny stories to tell, so I’ll keep posting them as I go along.
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See you next time!