In the age of travel blogs, Tripadvisor and budget airlines, solo travel has never been easier. Advice on how to take your first trip abroad is now just a mouse or a swipe away. You no longer have to spend time in bookstores trying to memorize pages from the Lonely Planet guidebooks or hunt down that elusive family member for a chat, just because that uncle or aunt once backpacked Europe in the 70’s. Traveling tips and hacks are longer rare. Brick-and-mortar travel agencies are slowly becoming irrelevant in the digital age.
Did you imagine the start of your travels to be somewhat like this?
A regular family is eating dinner quietly, when all of a sudden, the youngest of the family, the mousiest of the lot, suddenly drops her fork with a clatter, announces to her parents that she’s going to globetrot, her parents cheer and then, the next thing you know, she’s wandering into the heart of Patagonia, with a backpack and saucepans clanging on the side.
Yes, you did and worse of all, you truly believed in that little story that you’d made up. You haven’t started your travels because you’re waiting for that one-size-fit-all-sure-fire-formula that will turn you from an ordinary being into an extraordinary adventurer. While waiting for this formula to drop from the sky, you thought perhaps it’ll be just be easier to travel vicariously through your favourite travel blogs.
SOME TIME IN 2009…
I unscrewed the large metallic screws that held my cabin’s porthole tight and looked out. The real threat of Somalian pirates has passed-we’re free to enjoy the transient but majestic ocean vistas once again. Looking out from Deck 3, the ocean appears close; occasionally a whiplash of water would graze the surface of the porthole. The night was jet-black, the horizons indistinguishable except for the lash, swash and slosh of the waves against the vessel, illuminated by the neon on the promenade deck. I pressed my face against the porthole, unable to take my eyes off the constant motion of the ocean and thought, “I never want to stop wandering.”
What exactly is this insatiable wanderlust that has urged me to throw myself into the maelstrom of romance and ‘consummation’ of far-flung lands? I am not an explorer, a historian nor even an avid tourist, yet consumed with a certain kind of restlessness, I had packed my bags and had set out for the unknown.
“Why do you want to go to Albania for?”
An Italian friend sneered after I told him of my backpacking plans across the Balkan Peninsula, where the plan was to start from Albania and finish in Turkey (in 2009). Travelling time: however long it takes.
“You want to see Albanians? Just go to Italy…so many of them. Dangerous people. Thieves, some of them.”
The plan came to fruition when Tim, an English friend, proposed of a slow journey across the isolated fringes of Eastern Europe, when he knew that I was about to finish one of my ship contracts. I didn’t know anything about the country till then but I jumped on the invitation right away. The less I know, the better. Far-flung countries with strange names compel me most. How am I supposed to know how dangerous the place is if I haven’t experienced it myself? Besides, British Airways had a special deal going for less than £100 one-way from London to the capital city of Albania, Tirana. It sounded just like the perfect place to explore and to kick off the trip.
“If you don’t hear from me on Facebook, then call 911,” I told my skeptical Italian friend.
The verdict? Check out the pictures of Tirana here.