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Updated: Apr 22, 2023

My next trip of 2022 was to Albania. In this blog, I’m going to be competently honest and talk about the reasons why it wasn’t great. Albania itself was amazing and I would go again. But I went with a tour group which was not ideal for me and I learnt what I would do differently next time. My main incentive for travelling is how it benefits my mental health. I go abroad to feel freedom, reward, value and a purpose, as well as the adrenaline from adventure sports and hiking. Unfortunately, this holiday didn’t give me any of these things and it did quite the opposite!

Let’s start with the positives. Albania is a beautiful place, with ancient picturesque castles, wonderful landscape made up of over 60% mountains and 200 lakes, and a complete lack of ugly modernised western buildings. Sometimes I left the group for a solo wander. The castles were beautiful and great fun to explore alone, although getting lost was often a consequence!

We visited the Red Mosque ruins in Berat and, you know me, I can’t resist a climb to the top of something! Standing on the top of the tower was one of the highlights of my trip and the views were stunning. The capital city of Tirana was a very nice blend of colourful buildings, lively bazaars and vibrant cafe culture. I didn’t see a great deal of wildlife, but there were plenty of stray cats and dogs. I always have to cuddle them! It was very hot, 38 degrees on a few occasions and we had one day of wonderful lightening and thunder.

As beautiful as Albania was, there were quite a few negatives to this trip. I was reminded of how important travel is for mental health and that there are some disadvantages to travelling in a group tour if it’s not the right one for you.

Firstly, our itinerary kept changing. One thing I know that I need when I travel is structure. With life being so unpredictable, I find certainty helps me lots and plans are everything when I go on holiday. Many others in the group shared my frustration about the changing itinerary and I was grateful that I could talk and offload with them when it felt stressful.

I got on well with the group and especially enjoyed talking to a retired police woman and a lovely widow from Cardiff. However, I was the youngest of the group by far and no one really shared my passion for adventure. I always enjoy travelling with strangers, but need to have something in common with them; you get so much more out of a holiday when connecting with fellow travellers. This trip was not nearly active enough for me. Stuck on the coach all day, I looked up at the mountains and longed to be climbing them. Although my muscles certainly got a rest and my tendinitis still needs to heal, the lack of activity was very difficult for me mentally.

Also, I made the mistake of not booking my own room. Everyone needs their space and a solo room is ideal for when you want to escape for a bit. On one occasion, I got caught in the middle of an argument between the host and my roommate and this made a few days of the holiday very tense!

Bulimia was a challenge for the entire trip. The group liked to eat late, and we were asked daily to meet at 7.30pm for dinner. The thought of eating this much later than I normally would was very anxiety provoking for me and I missed out on many evening meals. I often bought some fruit and a protein milkshake during the day and ate it at 6pm on my own in the hotel. I decided not to tell anyone about my ED, but with hindsight I wish I had. If fellow travellers had known, I don’t suspect I would have heard comments like “that’s calorific!” when I had a hot chocolate. It is so important to share at times, as people are often not aware of what they are saying and how it affects others.

Overall, I felt too restricted on this trip and didn’t like being tied to a schedule that didn’t suit me. It reminded me how much I love my independence. My youth was 100% controlled by others, so as an adult I really value my freedom in life. Lessons learnt, when I book my next holiday I will make sure any itinerary has my preferred level of activity, travel with a group that’s around my age, and pay extra to have my own room.

In the end, I was counting down the hours for the flight home, and I booked cabin luggage so I could escape immediately when we landed! I am pleased to say I noticed much less anxiety when at an international airport. I began shaking when I arrived at the airport, but didn’t have a full FND seizure. This shows that my brain is learning that the Helsinki airport experience was a one off and the fear of airports will eventually disappear.

This holiday did not fill my cup in any way. Friendships play a huge role in my mental health; my friends back home help me manage my daily problems, make me laugh and protect me. Away from home on my usual hiking trips, with the activities, wildlife and mountains, even if I don’t click with my travel buddies, the adventure is enough. In Albania, I had neither, and I struggled with both the lack of fun and friendship.

So, if you’re thinking of joining a group tour, make sure it’s the right one for you - it can make or break your holiday. Or don’t be afraid to book a solo trip, if you know what you want to get out of a holiday and love your independence, go for it! Life is too short to settle when it comes to travel, so make sure you book a holiday you will love every minute of.

I’m off to Morocco next, watch this space!

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