In 2015, I visited 35 countries on three continents. I traveled on a budget and tried to stick to the cheaper ones. Southeast Asia was cheap, but the cheapest country was Albania!
I’ve just finished getting my accounting in order for 2015. Wow. Among other things, in the three weeks I stayed in Albania I spent a whopping $210. Comparatively, the average price paid for a hotel room in 2014 in the USA was $137 per night. Let’s get down to the specifics.
Albania is a country which only came out of communism in 1992. Even after that the country went through hardships and a war in the region. It wasn’t until 2005 when the country actually started to settle down and build itself up. The infrastructure is terrible, many places in the country don’t have consistent utilities (or any utilities, ie, water and power) and buses in town leave from general locations and not per any set schedule. Despite all that, Albania is still one of my favorite countries I visited this year.
I arrived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, on June 23rd, 2015. I had booked two Workaway projects, each one working at a different hostel for a week. I ended up staying at the same hostel (Propaganda Hostel) for three weeks, as it was too much fun to leave. I had a bed in the hostel in exchange for four hours of work a day, or 8 hours on the night shift that I could sleep during while on call. That’s always the first way to cut your costs in travel – use Couchsurfing.com, Workaway.info or Helpx.net. Otherwise, hostels in Tirana are around $8-12 a night. While there are many cities cheaper than that (Chiang Mai in Thailand can be as cheap as $2.50 a night), it’s much cheaper than other places in Europe.
The food is where it became most evident that Albania was the cheapest country. Overall, I was spending an average of under $7 a day on food. Albania is the only country I’ve been to where it was cheaper to eat at nice restaurants than it was to buy food from the market to cook at home. The first week while I was there, I was buying a lot of groceries and cooking meals for the manager and other volunteers in the hostel. That’s actually where a good portion of the $210 dollars went to. After that, I simply ate out every meal. I tried to visit different restaurants as much as possible, but there were a few which I couldn’t stay away from.
For breakfast, I would go to Bachmann, a German bakery across the street from the hostel, which served fresh Italian sandwiches. Random, but delicious. At less than $1 a sandwich, the price was unbeatable. Lunch was usually at The Creperie “I Saw It First,” a restaurant serving crepes better than the ones I had in France. I usually had the chicken crepe with gouda cheese, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and cream cheese. The crepe was jumbo size and cost a paltry $1.70. Sometimes I’d splurge and get a giant dessert crepe too…for an additional $0.94. Dinner was quite variable, whether qofte (meatballs) for $1, a surprisingly good pizza for $3 or pasta for $4. One night I went wild and had a really fancy dinner at Era, one of the top “tourist” restaurants in town. This extravagance, complete with appetizer, entrée, wine and dessert, cost a grand total of $9.60, the most expensive meal I had in the country. And it was yummy!
Including the groceries I purchased to make meals for others in the hostel, an expensive glass of prosecco someone asked me to pay for and my crazy meal at Era, my grand total for all food and snacks in Albania came out to $128.94. Divided by 21 days, that’s only $6.14 a day. Granted, there were a few meals that locals bought for me. As part of the culture there, when I went out with a local they flat-out refused to allow me to pay, whether it was an ice cream cone for $0.23 or a fancy dinner for $5. The follow up blog post to this is that Albania is also the friendliest country I’ve visited! Talk about restoring faith in humanity, and ignoring the media spreading their stories of fear.
Other than food, I watched a couple movies in the theater as well. I hate to admit it, but I went out to see Jurassic World when it came out. I was hoping it might be somewhat decent, but I was disappointed. For $7.20, it was a little more expensive than I was expecting, and definitely not worth it. A week later I saw Terminator: Genesis (I know, I’m a moron) but that one only cost $2.34. The bus ticket out to the first movie was a full 23 cents. By the way, on the way to the cinema the ticket man laughed at me when I accidentally tried to give him the wrong currency, and then walked on before I could give him the right coin.
The other $50 was spent on random other things, like my only haircut of the year (I think it was $2.34 and she wouldn’t take a tip), a couple utensils for the hostel kitchen for $3.90, an eyeglass repair kit, etc. When things were so cheap, I had no inhibitions on purchasing anything that caught my eye which might be useful (although I still didn’t have room in my bag for anything big, or more clothes). I even succumbed to a Cinnabon, which happened to be the only American establishment in town. Except that their cinnamon roll for $2 was very un-American.
My final purchase was my bus ticket to Prizren, Kosovo for $11.71. Even that was one of the cheapest bus tickets I paid for this year. So for an average of exactly $10 a day, Albania tops the list as the cheapest country I traveled to in 2015. Do I recommend that you travel there yourself? Hell yes!
Read the full story of my Albanian adventures here.