Journi Guide | Here's Why You Should Skip Croatia and Head to Albania

It's time to try Croatia's less crowded (yet still awesome) sibling

When travelling to a famous international destination, we tend to have high expectations. Breathtaking views! Great food! Cultural exchanges with friendly locals! But too many times, our lofty aspirations are met with the harsh reality of dirty, overcrowded streets and pricey hotels. Local flavor? It's nearly impossible to find in many of the world's most touristy destinations. That's why we've created Journi Guides.

Journi Guides tell you where to beat the crowds, experience something authentic, and get the best 'gram of your life.

Check out this week's Journi Guide below to get our top recommendation of places you might not have heard of, but definitely should get to know.


We've all heard the chorus on why Croatia is so fabulous: gorgeous Adriatic waves gently lapping against unspoiled beaches; breathtaking historic architecture; beer for under $3 USD. You get the picture. And yes, Croatia is an amazing place to visit, no doubt about it. However, its southern European cousin, Albania, is fast eclipsing Croatia's newfound fame.

Blessed with a remarkably diverse ecology, mild winters, and humidity-free summers, Albania is one of those under-the-radar countries that will soon be overrun by gaping tourists…but not yet. While it still attracts just shy of 4 million visitors per year, it's still only the 25th most visited country in Europe. (In case you were wondering, France was number one as of 2014 polls, with over 80 million.) So let's get to it. Why should you join one of those four million visitors this year?

Um, it's cheap AF

You can live high on the hog in Albania for very little leke (Albanian currency). We're talking $1 USD gyro cheap. You can get a double room in a budget hotel for under $40, and dinner at most local restaurants for under $20. You can also score a dorm bed for under $20 a night if you're really looking to save cash. That means if you're traveling on a shoestring budget you can still afford to eat more than grocery store ramen and bananas (hello travel staples!). Croatia overall is still very affordable, but in the more popular cities like Dubrovnik and Split, hotels often run you over $200.

It has insane history…and no lines!

Albania, like much of southern Europe (think Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo), has a long, rich history and was once part of the Greek, Roman, and Ottoman empires. That means incredible ruins to explore, including the Unesco World Heritage site Butrint. This rare combination of architecture and nature has proof of occupation from as early as 50,000 BC, and is tucked inside the Butrint National Park. From an ancient Greek theater to neo-Christian era baptistry with ornate mosaic floors, you'll have plenty of Insta-opps. And the best part is that it'll be deserted. You may even have the place to yourself if you go off-season. To be fair, most of Croatia is still vastly under-trafficked, but if you're planning on going to well-known ruins like Diocletian's Palace in Split, be prepared to admire it with hundreds of other tourists – it gets over a thousand visitors daily.

Crystal clear waters that rival the Caribbean

It's called the Albanian Riviera for a reason. The beach in Ksamil is just across the channel from Corfu, a gorgeous Greek island that attracts tourists in droves for good reason. Tempting turquoise waters and straw-topped beach umbrellas dotting the beaches are the perfect antidote for a stressed-out mind. Beaches in Croatia are certainly nice (Zlatni Beach is one of the most picturesque), but unfortunately, they're also highly trafficked. In fact, there's a tourist train that delivers sun-starved travelers there every half hour in the summer.

Aquamarine springs, dammit!

Remember how Albania has an incredibly diverse ecology? That's why you can spend one day hiking in and the next soaking up the cool beauty of the Blue Eye natural springs. In fact, while driving to Blue Eye you'll get to see a variety of landscapes from beach-stationed palm trees to dense mountainous forests. While the water temperature is, how shall we say, "refreshing" at roughly 50 degrees, walking along the shore and going for a brief dip in its still-unmeasured depths is a highly memorable time.

If you're craving warmth, try the Benja Hot Springs in Permet. While a bit stinky—the springs are heated by gas exiting the sulfurous earth—you can't beat the canyon views and cheap entrance fee (approximately $2 for two people and parking). While Croatia does have thermal springs, many of them have been made into spas, rather than left to their own natural devices. There's a certain je ne sais quoi about springs out in the open; their rustic surroundings possess a romance that no spa treatment can top.

Authentic Greek cuisine for a fraction of the price

Thanks to its minority population of Greeks, Albania has some exceptional Greek food. Their local produce doesn't have to travel far to get to markets and grocery stores, so tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes (imagine that), and they make a mean stuffed grape leaf. Salads feature heavily in Albanian food, so get ready to dig into plenty of juicy tomato and cucumber salads, often topped with locally made feta cheese. Croatian food certainly has its Greek influences, but overall the cuisine is fairly heavy: they favor lots of stews, meat-stuffed pastries, and even edible dormouse (EW).

Ideally situated for traveling in the Mediterranean

If you've had your fill of Albanian beaches and want to check out the Greek isles, Corfu, one of the beloved Greek islands, is just a short (like 30 minutes short) ferry ride away. Greece, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia all easily accessible via public transportation, and you can even hop on a ferry to get to Italy! And need I bring up the affordability factor again? A one-way ferry trip to Italy will run you under $50 USD.

Go forth and beach camp

With a relatively small population and lots of open land, beach camping has become very popular in Albania. Try Durrës, a trendy beach town with free showers dotting the beach (key for beach camping if you don't have an RV) and bars that don't care if you nip in to use the bathroom without buying anything. Although, with beer so cheap, you may as well grab one! Gjipe Beach is an under-the-radar beach in the south of Albania. It's a bit of a hike to get to, requiring a half-hour trek on narrow track, but with scenery so beautiful it's more like a nature walk. While beach camping isn't technically allowed, people do it all summer anyway. You can also post up overnight at the car park for around 200L ($2 US) per night.

Albania is just one of the many undiscovered gems of Europe. Much like Croatia 15 years ago, it has abundant natural beauty, exceptionally friendly residents, and a cost of living that allows you to travel in relative luxury without emptying your bank account. Check it out before the rest of the world realizes what a fabulous vacation spot it is!

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We don't know how to feel about winter this year. Sure, nobody likes the cold and dreary months, but there's something special about the Holiday season that just seems to be missing. Maybe the thought of staying inside and cozying up to a nice book isn't very enticing given the last few months. The joyful winter wonderland that we usually associate with winter seems to be missing.

That's why our editors decided to take it upon themselves and spread some delight with seasonal meals, courtesy of HelloFresh. For those who don't know what HelloFresh is, it's a meal-kit delivery service with dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes to choose from. Simply select which meals you want as well as how many servings and a neatly organized cardboard box will arrive at your doorstep within the week. Nobody wants to go out in the Winter anyway, and with HelloFresh, you don't have to!

To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

A hearty and warm soup is a Winter staple and this veggie loaded kale and risoni soup from HelloFresh absolutely hits it out of the park. All anybody wants during the colder months is to feel cozy and nurtured--just like the flavorful bowl of nutrients. Warm and creamy risoni compliments the seasonal veggies perfectly and the side of garlic bread is a sure-fire cure for any winter blues. With 22 meals to pick from each week, this one is sure to be a household favorite.

Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

Everyone is familiar with classic green pesto, but have you ever tried red pesto? Red pesto offers way more complexity and oomph than its green counterpart. It is incredibly bright with rich notes of umami, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil and garlic. This rendition also features hits of chargrilled capsicum for a little extra zest. You get the exact amount of each ingredient and seasoning, as well as super detailed recipe cards, that make meal prep a breeze. Spread it over a glistening chicken bread and sprinkle with cheese for delectable chicken melts.

Winter Risotto

Risotto is a great winter warmer. It's packed full of veggies so your body will light up like fire, but it's also silky, sumptuous and a real crowd pleaser. HelloFresh's Winter Risotto features a heart helping of kale that pairs perfectly with nutty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts for a robust taste. Did we mention that it also comes with fennel seeds sprinkled throughout? This unique seasoning adds a distinctive, yet delicious flavor to this classic winter staple. We know these meals are pretty hardy, which is why we love having the option to pause our subscription or cancel a week when need be.

Cheat's Italian Pork & Veggie Bolognese

A bolognese that only takes 30 minutes to make? Sign us up! This one is chock full of all the rich flavors of a classic Italian sauce. In fact, we're getting some serious Italian grandmother vibes with this recipe. Silky baby Spanish and grated carrots melt into a hearty meat sauce, offering a mouth-watering meal for anyone looking for a little zest. It's delivery quality, but much more affordable, plus you get to cook it yourself!

Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

Yet another clever twist on a weekday favorite! The paprika and garlic flavored cured sausage is a staple in our chopping baskets since it goes well with practically anything. Not only is Chorizo loved for its taste, but also for its ability to infuse sauces with its tantalizing flavor. This time around, HelloFresh has decided to spice up a classic bowl of bean chili with Spanish styling of a smokey mild chorizo. The end result? A mix of chorizo, red kidney beans, corn and avocado, and an irresistible flavor that everyone will love. This is just one of dozens of unique HelloFresh recipes you won't find anywhere else!

Gone are the days of trekking through the frigid cold just for a few groceries. Sign-up for HelloFresh today and get your ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. Time to start cozying up the right way, with a delicious meal and a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Update: Our friends at HelloFresh are extending a special Black Friday offer to our readers. Follow this link to get $90 off across 4 boxes including free shipping!

Travel Tips

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.


Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.

Travel Tips

Are Disney World And Universal Orlando Doing Enough To Keep Visitors Safe?

Is it possible to keep a theme park clean and safe during a pandemic?

California governor Gavin Newsom recently announced a plan for reopening theme parks in the state.

After months of lobbying for reopening from both Disney and Universal as the state sought to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan was not received well, with representatives from both companies balking at measures they saw as overly restrictive.


With staggering losses and massive employee layoffs as a result of months of closure, both Universal and Disney are eager for their theme park businesses to get back in gear in California. But the companies don't have the same issues in Florida, where they have been operational since the summer.

In fact, Florida governor Ron DeSantis completely eliminated state-level restrictions on businesses as of September 25th, and even made it impossible for local municipalities to mandate anything beyond the most minimal restrictions on bars and restaurants.

Despite some worrying trends in the state's coronavirus numbers, the Governor has been determined to return to business as usual, even promising a "full Super Bowl" in Tampa next February. But not everyone is as blindly optimistic as Florida's highest elected official.

Why Go to Disney World During a Pandemic? | The New Yorker www.youtube.com

While Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World have been reopened since June and July respectively—when Florida's first wave of COVID cases was at its worst—if travelers are considering a trip to either resort, they may want to have a closer look at the precautions taken by each company to make their parks safe(ish) for visitors.

With that in mind, my wife and I recently went under cover as "tourists" and "nerds" to inspect these theme parks by going on a bunch of rides and getting overly excited about various attractions that may or may not be designed for small children.

Capacity

universal entrance

While both resorts claim to be taking measures recommended by the CDC, only Disney World has explicitly stated that they are operating at 25% capacity. That said, guests should not expect to see 25% of the usual crowds, because Disney World's various parks don't generally fill up to 100% capacity under normal circumstances.

Instead—on days when the parks reach their 25% capacity—the resulting crowds should be around 40-60% of average levels. While this creates a noticeable reduction in the density of visitors, Disney World is far from a ghost town, and both Epcot and Animal Kingdom—the two parks my wife and I enjoyed inspected—were host to a comfortable number of people on the weekdays we spent there.

As for Universal Orlando, it's hard to get a proper comparison, because we found ourselves at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the Sunday before Halloween. While that weekend would probably see the parks packed to the brim under normal circumstances, it was still quite busy, with throngs of people—especially in the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" sections—frequently making us feel uncomfortable.

While it may not be fair to blame Universal for the way their guests choose to cluster, it's worth noting that the resort has refused to publicly clarify their current operating capacity, referring to it simply as "limited capacity" or "reduced capacity," without providing a specific number.

Perhaps it's a more lax approach to limiting guests that has allowed the resort to maintain long hours with lots of mascots and live performances, while Disney has reduced both their operating hours and the presence of performers in their parks—having laid off around 90% of Disney World's union performers—in order to cut costs.

While this may make for a more fun experience for some visitors to Universal Orlando, if safety is a priority, Disney is clearly taking a firmer approach to minimizing their crowds. And while Disney parks are operating for fewer hours each day, the reduced crowds make it easier to experience a lot in that limited time.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 3/5

Social Distancing

social distancing universal disney

Disney World and Universal Orlando have adopted the same basic protocol when it comes to social distancing, instructing guests to maintain at least six feet of distance from anyone they weren't traveling with, and providing floor markings in lines for rides and attractions.

However, Disney was a bit more stringent about repeating and enforcing these instructions, which made a clear difference. While a substantial portion of guests at Universal seemed to ignore the floor markings—generally leaving only a few feet between themselves and other parties—nearly all the guests we saw at Disney World seemed to take the six foot rule seriously.

Disney also took the extra step of adding physical barriers between lines wherever necessary, which is a major reassurance when you would otherwise be forced to keep track of dozens of strangers in various directions in order to maintain appropriate distance from everyone around you.

Disney: 4.5/5

Universal: 3.5/5

Face Masks

Again, both Disney and Universal have adopted the same basic protocol advised by the CDC. Guests must keep their mouths and noses covered by a face mask at all times, except when eating or drinking—which is only to be done while stationary and away from other guests.

In announcements reminding guests of the rules, those who do not comply are threatened with removal—though we did not witness any effort to make good on that threat. As with social distancing, the reminders were more frequent at Disney, and employees did occasionally correct people who left their noses exposed. Many of the workers at Disney World also had the added protection of face shields, which was nice to see.

As for the various restaurants in each park, they were still operating. And while there was some effort to space guests out, we did not feel comfortable removing our masks in indoor spaces with uncertain ventilation, so we chose to make use of abundant outdoor seating.

Disney: 4.5/5

Universal: 4/5

Hand Washing

This is the one area where Universal definitely had Disney beat. While both resorts had hand sanitizer stationed all around their parks in automatic dispensers—and Disney Epcot also had a number of outdoor handwashing stations, which was handy with their food and wine festival ongoing—only universal had employees stationed at every ride to make sure each guest sanitized their hands before boarding.

This made a big difference when grabbing seatbelts, restraints, and handlebars. We had a reasonable assurance the hundreds of other people who had also touched those surfaces had relatively clean hands at the time. Without that added step at Disney, it felt a little more urgent to track down hand sanitizer after getting off each ride. And while it was generally easy to find, it's easy to imagine what a challenge it could be for parents to keep a small child from touching their eyes, mouth, and nose in the meantime.

Both parks seem to be using hand sanitizer that includes aloe or some other kind of moisturizer, because after three days of near constant application, our hands had not transformed into scaly, irritated claws.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 5/5

Cleaning

Cleaning

Speaking of strangers touching surfaces, you might wonder what kind of army it takes to keep these massive theme parks clean while thousands of people mill about, touching and breathing on everything. And you can keep on wondering, because while both resorts assure visitors that they have ramped up their cleaning procedures, that was only evident at Disney—and even there it didn't seem sufficient.

While nothing looked particularly dirty at either park, at Disney we saw only a handful of workers moving about with spray bottles and cloths, sanitizing handrails, benches, outdoor tables, and other surfaces. At Universal, the only place we saw that approach to cleaning was at the temporary lockers where guests are required to place their belongings before more intense roller coasters—which is less of an issue at Disney, where there's less emphasis on thrill rides.

This is not to say there weren't workers cleaning surfaces at Universal, but unless they are exceptionally good at doing their job undetected, they are certainly fewer than at Disney World.

Disney: 3.5/5

Universal 2/5

Guests...

Macaulay Culkin scream

Of course there is a confounding factor in all of the efforts theme parks take to keep their guests safe: the guests themselves.

While the new rules and safety measures are positive steps, there's nothing that will stop a stubbornly oblivious or selfish or just plain stupid person from pulling their mask off to talk on the phone or itch their nose or sneeze into their hand and then proceed to touch everything.

As much fun as we had at both Disney and Universal, that fun was regularly disrupted by the horrified rage of watching people comply with public safety rules only as much as they had to to avoid getting in trouble.

At Universal—where there was less effort to drive home the rules—that included way too many people crowding close to strangers, many of them not seeming to realize that their noses are attached to their lungs, i.e. the things that can get infected and then infect others with a deadly virus...

But at both parks it included people—only some of them children—touching everything within reach, ignoring hand sanitizer, then touching their phones, their loved ones, and every part of their faces. And worst of all, the drunk people...

There's a reason why bars have been subject to stricter rules as the country attempts to reopen. Drunk people cannot be tamed. If they remember and understand the rules, do they care?

Does it matter to someone who's just trying to keep a buzz going that they can spread COVID-19 even if they're asymptomatic? That—when they ignore the rules and take off their masks to throw back some some beer—they could be indirectly triggering the deaths of who knows how many innocent people?

At both Disney and Universal we saw people fully remove their masks while surrounded by strangers, indoors, in line for a ride, and leave their masks off for an extended period of time. In both cases they had drinks in their hands and were already drunk.

Maybe that's on the parks for letting them join those lines while they had drinks with them. Either way, it was a healthy reminder of how stubbornly selfish and uncaring people can be.

People: 2/5

Drunk People: 0/5

So if you're considering a trip to Florida, and hoping that the theme parks at Universal Orlando and Disney World will provide a safe place to escape the world for a bit, you should know that, while neither one is doing a perfect job in terms of COVID safety measures, Disney is probably a safer bet.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 3/5

That said, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal might be the most fun you'll ever have on a rollercoaster, so... tough call.