Living in the Balkans can be a really strange experience. As the new group of volunteers draws ever closer to arriving I am reminded of the hours upon hours I spent fretting about what to bring to Albania. What would I need? What would be available? Basically it was pre-departure jitters but it’s still a valid question. And this is not your mothers Peace Corps. Technology is everywhere, and most of the time that means electricity and cell service. But this doesn’t mean you should neglect your good old fashioned gadgets either! You’re going to need a combination of both so here are a few things that make me quote ‘Balto’ and say I would be lost (sometimes literally) without them:
- My waterproof Speaker. I use this speaker Every. Single. Day. And my Sitemate is constantly in awe of its power for being such a small little piece of equipment. It even has a carabiner so I literally clipped it to my purse as I headed to the airport (read: Takes up no room or weight in your 100 lbs). The fact that it’s waterproof makes me so much more relaxed taking it on hikes or more often, into the shower so I can time myself during my morning routine.
- My unlocked Smartphone. Like any human living in the 21st century, having this is crazy helpful. I might have accidentally heard someones directions incorrectly in the capital once, and I may or may not have almost walked to a bordering town….And without my smartphone I would not have been able to make my way to a restaurant that actually had Dr. Pepper. Smartphones can bring you from the wilderness to the delightful fizzy taste of home. Never underestimate the necessity. **Cultural note** I made a conscious choice to purchase a phone that was not the newest, shiniest, version out there. I did this because, as an American I’m already assumed to be wealthy and I don’t want to make it any more apparent. I really like that I blend a bit better with this phone. My Language teacher accidentally picked up my phone on accident thinking it was hers once and it was a level of normalcy that I really enjoyed.
- My universal power strip. I wish I’d brought two! I can use my American chargers right next to my European ones without any issue. Also: Some doofus wrote that there were different plugs in Albania sometimes. YEAH, that’s super false as far as I can tell, and if there are any, they’re so uncommon that you need not worry about it. For the record we use the European 2 prong plugs. Buy a six pack of those converters as well and you’ll be set. And I should mention that you should’t bring a hairdryer or hair appliance as they will not like the voltage here, and you won’t ALWAYS have you’re super useful power strip with you. I just bought a hairdryer here for 2000 lek or about 17 US dollars. AND it came with a hair diffuser for curly hair!!!! A huge win for curly girls everywhere! It has a thing-a-ma-bob for straight hair too but the world was made for y’all so I don’t care.
- My swiss army knife. You’ll get to be a hero so many times with this thing. Trust me always having a pair of scissors on you at all times can never be a bad thing. It’s just super useful and you shouldn’t need any convincing……………. You just shouldn’t.
- My planner. Okay, maybe not strictly a gadget but I promise you, if you like lists like I do, you will begin to have a whole new appreciation for the humble planner. Unlike the online versions on your phone and computer, you can physically throw it down in front of your counterparts to discuss classroom times, event dates, and when you plan to take leave. It’s a fantastic tool to help you make sense of the crazy world that is Peace Corps in a post-communist country. I have recently been bombarded with requests to help people with learning English, and being able to show people (and myself honestly) when I have time to meet is invaluable! **Cultural note** using your phone ALL THE TIME kind of shows your American privilege a bit more than might be prudent. And I like to show my community that you don’t need to have all the latest, fancy tech stuff to make make change happen and/or simply be organized. Also this might be a great gift to bring for your counterpart (if that’s your style). Mine is super into the planner scene now, and I am hoping to procure one for her somehow.
- My lock. It seems small, but having the ability to keep your property safe in a locker or in a piece of luggage can be such a stress reliever. Especially if you plan to frequent hostels on vacations. I was in a pinch in Copenhagen and by luck stumbled upon a shop that had locks for sale, but I wouldn’t bet on that ever happening again! Plus, if for any reason you brought some things you don’t want your host family, or sometimes nosey little host siblings, to find have I got a solution for you! Locks. Just buy one and thank me later.
- My headlamp. Essentially my headlamp has endless uses. Wanna read in bed but you don’t have a lamp? Solution: Headlamp. Wanna go explore a cave at a moments notice? Headlamp. Lights go out at night and you have work to do? You feel me. here in Çorovodë we’ve had a ton of power outages that have lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to all day! that was only once but still, it was not pleasant. And often these power outages occur at night. So yeah, unless you’re planning on stocking up on a ton of candles and don’t have any desire to explore this regions weird and wonderful sights take one of these trusty guys with you.
All of these things have made living and exploring in this country so much easier. And if you have any questions or wanna know if Albania already has what you’re thinking of taking let me know and I’ll do what I can to help!