We ended our Albanian road trip early. We have never left a trip early, nor have we ever felt unsafe in Albania for the entirety of our stay…until last night.

Getting There

On Tuesday, we headed for the airport in Tirana to pick up a rental car, take a road trip around Albania, and explore the country for ourselves. We stayed in an absolutely adorable guest house in central Albania with sweeping canyon views. We enjoyed our short stay among the mountains and cliffs, then went to Vlore on Albania’s southern coast.

We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in a cute and cozy beachside hotel which gave us Jane the Virgin’s Marbella in Miami vibes and incredible views of the Adriatic Sea. We loved our visit and wanted to extend our stay. Still, we were eager to get to Ksamil, the southern tip of Albania, known for its amazing beaches. We thought Vlore’s beaches were lovely, so we didn’t know how it could get better, but we had to know if what TikTok and Instagram showcase truly lives up to the hype.

After a long and windy 3.5-hour drive through the mountains, we finally reached the beach town of Ksamil. We went to check into our hotel…which came to be the weirdest hotel experience we’ve ever had. The photos of the view and the outside didn’t look as nice as they did online.

Checking In

I started to question myself. I double-checked the address AND the online reviews.
Correct and all positive.

We finally found a sign for the hotel with no directions or proper signage. We followed our gut and found an awkward staircase by an outdoor restaurant that was spot on with the map. We opened the second-floor door to find an awkward reception desk but found no staff and, again, no signage.

This is weird. And it’s hot.

I google the hotel’s name and call the number to ensure we’re even in the right place. A phone near us rings, so I just quickly hang up. (A panic move, maybe? Or is it just introversion and the hatred of talking on the telephone?) Since the phone rang, surely someone will come help us soon. Instead, my phone rings, I answer it, and it’s a female voice on the line. The age-old problem is – she doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Albanian. She hung up.

We continue to awkwardly stand in the un-airconditioned entryway for a moment until we hear a nearby door creek. Out shuffles a small, middle age Albanian man who looks at us, walks behind the reception desk, rubs his eyes, and says, “I…I just woke up.” I need your passport to check you in. (This is normal in Europe.)

I gave him Andrew’s passport, then he asked if we were paying by card or cash. I reminded him I already prepaid for the room online. He asked how much I paid. (Weird.) I told him the price for the two nights we booked. He says, “Okay,” shuffles down a hallway with some truly befuddling art, and opens the door to a hot, large room.

He seems to quickly change his mind and then guides us back to the room by the entryway directly across from “reception” and says here, this one. Bed, toilet, balcony, good? Um, sure. It was weirdly surprising that this room looked exactly like the ones in the photos online. I began to think, “Okay, so this IS the hotel I booked.” He gave us the key, and he literally went back to bed.

Before we could process, a young man with decent English asked to confirm our booking, then said we could park across the street in a rather dodgy lot. Sure.

We’re feeling skeptical, but at least the room checks out and has an AC unit. We head back to the car to move it and collect our luggage. I checked the online reviews one more time. 15 glowing reviews and a 9.6 rating. What am I missing here? Check-in was so strange, and the vibe was off.

You know those gut instincts you just can’t explain? We both felt it. Warily, we put our two carry-on suitcases in our room, didn’t unpack, but headed out for lunch.

Just Going With It

After lunch, a little work, and some time exploring the beach, we returned to the room for the night. I just didn’t feel right. We checked the room for cameras, holes, bedbugs, locks, and unknown devices connected to the same wifi – all the things we know to do before unpacking. Everything technically checked out.

We watched several shows on our laptop and tried to go to sleep. We both just lay there. Sleeplessly staring at the ceiling. We heard the same odd door creaking occasionally until at least 1:30 a.m. Every time a surge of adrenaline ran through both of us. Andrew put our suitcases in front of the door to block it – just in case.

Andrew can sleep just about anywhere and through anything. I absolutely cannot. On top of that, I don’t know if it was weird vibes, a gut feeling, womanly instinct, promptings from God, or a combination of all of them, but alarm bells rang in my head saying, “Get out of here early in the morning.” I decided I didn’t care what money we would lose. I let Andrew get a few hours of sleep since he’s the rental car’s driver, and we’ll decide together in the morning. I barely got a wink of sleep.

The Next Day

Andrew woke up at 6 a.m., asking how I felt. After a very short chat about how this place feels off, we quickly gathered our things, left our door open, left our room key on the unmanned reception desk, practically raced to our rental car, and left before 7 a.m.

We grabbed a gross canned coffee from a nearby grocery store and started the nearly 4-hour drive back to Tirana to drop off the rental car a day early.

So What Happened?

We don’t know. We wish we could pin it to one thing – one solid reason. But sometimes, just being familiar with that little voice inside you and following your gut is the only thing you can do. Did we waste some money? Sure. But are we alive and well and happily back in our temporary “home” Airbnb in Durres? Yes, and we’ll sleep so soundly tonight.

We don’t always get to know why our instinct tells us to run. Still, we know we’d rather make the hard choice to follow our intuition than stick around and learn any kind of negative lesson the hard way.

Maybe we were saved from a potentially bad situation coming our way in the town or hotel we were staying in. Maybe something would happen on the road tomorrow that would affect us horribly. Maybe we were saved from disaster. But maybe we were just paranoid and threw away one more night stay and a day of our car rental.

Either way – we will continue to trust our instincts when it comes to travel and do what feels wise. We might never get to know if we made a rash decision, but we will always know that we have each other’s backs and trust ourselves to make the best choices we can while traveling.

This isn’t a lesson in “Don’t go to Ksamil.” This is an honest story from experienced full-time travelers. While we love sharing beautiful destinations, we want to always share the whole truth and remind you that travel doesn’t always pan out exactly as it seems. Always use wisdom, trust your gut, and stay alert.

Booking Warning

As for the weird hotel (a term used sarcastically here), it was Kona Hotel in Ksamil. The lesson I now took away from this whole experience is to not book a stay that doesn’t have a review from a Canadian or American. Call it shallow, but we know what we want/need/expect when it comes to big trips abroad. It takes so much more time and money to get all the way from North America to Europe for a summer vacation, and we Americans and Canadians don’t have the time, patience, or money to waste on a bad time after multiple long-haul flights. While Europeans also have valid opinions, they often have less invested than we do and so the stakes are lower. As we continue to travel and learn, I plan to write a guide on hotel red flags to look out for. Until then, we can at least advise making sure there’s a North American perspective on at least a few reviews of the hotel stay.