A few eyebrows were raised when I said that I was going to visit Albania.
‘Look after your kidneys!’ more than one person told me in a tone that was joking but definitely not joking.
Albania is largely unknown territory to most people. Many haven’t even heard of it, and most of the people that have have garnered their impressions from films such as Taken, which portray Albanians as human traffickers and drug smugglers.
It’s easy to get carried away with our assumptions about places we know little about (just ask my dad – he’s the original Prophet of Doom), but after travelling through Albania and experiencing it for myself, I decided to do some research about safety in Albania in order to present you with the facts.
Is Albania Safe? The Truth.
To begin, let’s take a look at the stats. According to the Global Peace Index, Albania ranks at number 52 out of 163 countries, making it safer than the United Kingdom, France and the United States (the United States ranks at number 121 on the list).
GOV.UK concludes that public security in Tirana is ‘generally good,’ and states that ‘Albanians are very hospitable to visitors.’ It continues to say that although crime and violence do occur in ‘some’ areas, ‘reports of crime specifically targeting foreigners are rare.’
When we think about how safe a country is, we often look into whether there is active conflict going on, either as part of a civil unrest or conflict on a larger scale. In Albania, the last unrest was way back in 1997 after civil war broke out, and Albania hasn’t been involved in any international conflict since World War 2.
Albania and Petty Crime
As a tourist in Albania, I never once felt unsafe, and this is something that Alice echoes over at The Balkanista. Whether it be walking home at night or getting a lift from a stranger (hitchhiking is incredibly popular in Albania), I never felt threatened. In fact, according to World Nomads, walking around in Albania is significantly safer than walking around in the UK or USA.
Petty theft and random acts of violence are pretty much unheard of in Albania, and if a tourist does become a victim of a crime, the police take it very seriously as they are trying to bolster their image and show that their country is a safe place for foreigners to travel to. Of course, there are opportunists in every country, but crimes such as pickpocketing occur far less in Albania than they do in places in Western Europe such as Paris or Barcelona. Not only that, but street harassment is basically non-existent in Albania, which is a welcome change to other places I’ve been!
To put this into some context, allow me to tell you about something that happened while I was in Berat, 120km from Tirana. One night, a young tourist got drunk and banged on a stranger’s door, thinking that it was her hostel. This caused such uproar that the entire neighbourhood gathered around in horror and police were called to banish the girl from the city. This tiny incident was more excitement than Berat had seen in years, and if this doesn’t say something about how little crime actually happens in Albania, then I don’t know what will!
Albanian people are the warmest and most hospitable people I’ve met in over three years of travel. Not only is it part of their culture to be honest and welcoming, but due to Albania only recently making its way onto people’s holiday bucket lists, Albanian people are delighted to see tourists enjoying their country and will go out of their way to make sure your trip runs smoothly.
I can’t count the number of times that people would ask me where I was from before beaming at me and telling me to enjoy Albania. The reaction was even stronger when I was with people from Australia and the USA – people just can’t believe that young travellers are coming all the way from Australia to some random village in Albania!
I also couldn’t tell you about all of the random acts of kindness I’ve experienced from Albanians. From the girl at the market who told me the prices I should be paying for everything, to the man who saw my friends and I struggling uphill with our bags and drove us to our hostel, to the guy who called us an ambulance and came to hospital with us after my friend drunk too much raki (how embarrassing).
Albania and Organised Crime
It is true that most crime in Albania (and the Balkans in general) is of the organised variety. Crimes involving drugs and human trafficking do sadly occur in Albania (Albania is a large source country for human trafficking victims, meaning that victims are taken from Albania to work in countries such as Spain and the Netherlands), and while this is terrible, it doesn’t affect travellers visiting Albania*, and so shouldn’t be something that deters you from visiting the country as a tourist.
Additionally, while it can’t be denied that Albanian mobsters are not people that you would want to bump into on a dark night, the vast majority of them are not actually in Albania. Albanian mobsters are where the money is – in Western Europe – meaning that you’re highly unlikely to get ensnared in a drug smuggling ring whilst enjoying a night out in Tirana.
The most dangerous thing for tourists by far in Albania is road travel. The roads are often poor, the streets aren’t always lit, and Albanians are known to be aggressive and erratic drivers. Deaths from road traffic accidents in Albania are among the highest in Europe, and so if you are planning to rent a car in Albania then be very careful.
So, in conclusion, I think it is fair to say that Albania is an incredibly safe country for tourists, even solo female travellers. Petty crime rates are extremely low, people are welcoming, there are no active conflicts, and people are so trusting of each other that hitchhiking is the main means of getting from A to B for both locals and foreigners. You’re much more likely to see groups of old men playing chess on the side of the road than you are to see gangsters gunning each other down, and the only thing you really have to be careful of is not to drink too much of the free raki (fruit brandy) that will inevitably be offered to you!
Albania is, to date, one of my favourite countries in the world, and I cannot recommend you go and visit it enough. It might seem somehow ‘other,’ and you may not be able to point to it on a map, but don’t let that deter you. Albania is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Have you ever been to Albania? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!
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*The media likes to pretend that girls like me are hugely likely to get trafficked, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Victims of human trafficking are people from poor countries, usually from marginalised communities, who are desperate to escape poverty. Privileged girls from countries such as the UK and USA are not who traffickers are looking for.