In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with Lavdi Zymberi, the world traveler and blogger behind Kosovo Girl Travels. We talk with Lavdi about what sparked her love of travel, what it’s like to travel as a citizen of Kosovo, her favorite things to do in her home country, and much more. Check out her favorite destinations around the globe and her best advice for people who want to travel!
How did your passion for travel get started?
I have been a quiet kid, always reading a book or listening to adults’ talk. I read almost all the books in my primary school library and went on to read the ones from my hometown’s. I enjoyed reading and for a while being in another world with various characters. My first travel outside of Kosovo (although at that time we were occupied by Serbia) was to Belgrade. I loved seeing a different environment, enjoying a different kind of culture and life. Later, during high school, I got to visit France on my first travel by plane. I was excited to fly, to be in a foreign country, and to be surrounded by people from all over the world. It was surreal. When I began my work as interpreter with Kosovo Government, I got the chance to travel in the neighboring countries and to Hungary which remains one of the countries I love to go back to again and again (I’ve been there 4 times so far). The other job gave me also travel opportunities to other European countries and my wish to see even more was growing stronger every day. During my studies in the US, I traveled every chance I got – winter break, spring break, holidays – near and far Chicago where I was located. Even when I went back home after completing my studies the travel bug was in me and I kept traveling every time I could. Now that I’m located in the African continent, I want to travel more within it and explore the beauty of this mispresented continent by media as only a place of wars and poverty. I want to show another side of Africa.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels at an ethnological museum
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
One can learn every time she travels and from anyone she meets. I travel because I want to experience things with my own senses and not see a place or people through someone else’s eyes. I believe traveling opens people’s minds (though you must be openminded to travel initially) and makes one realize how small we are in this planet of ours.
You run a travel blog called Kosovo Girl Travels. Can you please tell us a bit about it? How did it come about? What makes it different from other travel content out there?
My travel blog, Kosovo Girl Travels, started more as a platform where I could post information on Kosovo and things to see/do there. There isn’t much online about Kosovo as not as many travelers make their way there either due to lack of information, misinformation (concerning their upcoming or potential visit/s to Serbia) or they think there is nothing to do there. A friend of mine, Karen, travel blogger herself pushed me into starting this blog since it combines two of my passions – traveling and sensitizing others about my country through writing. My content comes from my experiences abroad which I also try to customize for Kosovo citizens (giving information on the visa process which is a big obstacle for us) and inside information about my country. I’ve also brought through various posts the perspective of foreigners living in Kosovo as a way of bringing objectivity to my blog and the opinions of other travel bloggers who visited Kosovo at some point in time. I occasionally write stories also which are not travel guides, or top 10 things to do in a country but more a way of bringing the attention to people like me who cannot just hop on the first flight to anywhere even if we have the financial means for it.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels checking out a shipwreck in Juba, South Sudan
You’ve been very honest on your blog about the difficulties of traveling as a woman from Kosovo. What are some of the toughest challenges you’ve faced as a world traveler?
Traveling as a Kosovo citizen is difficult. Traveling as a woman from Kosovo makes it even more difficult though I believe being a woman in the traveling world is difficult on its own. There are way too many questions people ask women who travel which they don’t ask to men. Questions on why you are traveling and not settling down? Why are you traveling alone? Where is your partner/boyfriend/husband? Then assumptions on a woman traveling to have sex abroad (like who would do that when there are plenty of men anywhere you go – more than needed LOL); the harassment and catcalling a woman gets during travel is enormous. There are good people everywhere, no doubt, people who are helpful and careful and not judgmental but they are rare.
Obviously, you’re from Kosovo. What do you suggest people see and do when they visit the country?
The first thing I recommend anyone who comes to Kosovo is to take their time. Most travelers seem to only be passing by to check it off their bucket list without really getting to explore the country and feel the vibe. Kosovo is small and might not be as touristy as some other countries, but it has amazing, hospitable people and a very welcoming culture towards internationals that is hard to be found. A Kosovo citizen will go above and beyond to make a foreigner feel at home. Prishtina might not have lots of touristic attractions though it has museums, the Saint Mother Teresa cathedral with 360 degrees view of the city, a coffee culture that is very inviting, a street full of graffiti on its side and plenty of cafes and restaurants on the other. Few kilometers away you can visit an old cave, ruins of an old city, or a monastery. There are beautiful mountains to be visited, old castles, and the old city of Prizren that is one of the main reasons most of travelers end up in Kosovo.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels at Llogara Pass in Albania
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year? What types of places do you like to visit?
My travels depend on my job. Currently, I’m on a full-time job which, however, gives me a week off every six weeks I am in the country plus annual leave which I try to make good use of. I like to visit the places most of travelers don’t but also the touristy ones. I visited Djibouti last year, for example, which is among the least visited countries in the world. As I am in Africa now, my aim is to visit the African countries while periodically going back to Kosovo also to visit my family and friends and, always, make a short trip to Albania.
When I was in the US, during my winter break, I visited Haiti – another country that not many visit. And, no, I don’t want to go to beach resorts. I want to mingle with locals, see how they live, eat where they eat. To me, going to a resort with all-inclusive services isn’t travel and you have not seen anything.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
There are four things I aim to show to audiences to gain and learn from my work. Two of them are for Kosovo citizens: that despite visa issues and travel restrictions because of our country, hence our passport, not being recognized worldwide, it is still possible to travel to a lot of countries; and that how did I go about getting a visa for the countries I visit. The other two aims are for others: showing to them what Kosovo offers and showing to them (the ones with strong passport) that not everyone can just pack and go somewhere. To some this requires long planning, lots of paperwork, and even at the end the answer can be negative.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels at Aquarium Bay in Albania
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Jordan remains my top destination followed by Thailand and Albania (I almost forgot it as I consider it home more than a destination).
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
My top five for Jordan is: Wadi Rum – I spent the last night of 2017 and woke up to a whole place in front of me to my own, so peaceful that I could stay there for weeks; Petra (hike from Little Petra towards Petra early in the morning to enjoy it all to yourself), Amman Citadel as it provides a great view of the city, Jerash for the roman architecture, and food – I just loved food in Jordan anywhere I ate – in particular I loved some pistachio sweets from a local shop in Aqaba.
My top five for Thailand are: the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Phi Phi islands, Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, see the order in Bangkok metro stations – just loved how no one was pushing others to make way for entering the train, street food of Thailand is just amazing, and the temples – they are all beautiful but try to combine the visits with something different in between so you don’t get tired.
My top five for Albania: the beaches in the south – in particular the smaller ones like Jal, Radhime, Porto Palermo; the lovely city of Shkoder in the north with the castle overlooking the city; the hike between Theth to Valbona which takes between 4 – 9 hours (depending on your strength), colorful Tirana especially with the places exhibiting history from the communism time such as BunkArt 1 and BunkArt 2 and the House of Leaves; and the Mullixhiu restaurant by the artificial lake in Tirana which serves bio food that tastes delicious.
How many countries have you visited so far?
So far, I have visited 38 countries.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels blending in with the local street art
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
I love Italian cuisine – I could eat pasta almost every other day. I love Kosovo Albanian cuisine – not all of it but the part of flija, pies (byrek) – and probably I miss it more now that I am away. And I enjoy a lot Mexican, Indian, Chinese food but customized to my taste LOL. I’m pretty picky when it comes to food and I can’t eat hot/spicy food but I still love to eat these foods.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
Hmm. I don’t think I have a favorite restaurant in the world. However, back in Kosovo there is this bookshop café in Prishtina, Dit’ e Nat’, where I used to go and have their Carrot Linguini. It’s one of the dishes I look forward to when I go back home.
What is your favorite travel movie?
“The bucket list” is one of the lovely, fun travel movies I have watched. However, I am more a series person and I loved watching “An Idiot Abroad”. It’s hilarious and well-realized.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels at Wadi Rum in Jordan
What is your favorite international airport?
Probably because I took so many trips out of O’Hare and I came to know it very well that is my favorite international airport. I know at times the lines are so long and it takes a while to reach where you are going but since I know it very well I feel okay any time I go through it.
Which city had the friendliest people?
This is a difficult question. I’ve had good experiences with people in many cities. I will say I like to think back to Tybee Island, Georgia (USA) experience. I was there over Thanksgiving and in a small local place, locals were gathered to celebrate it and soon after I entered I was part of the celebration and felt like part of that big family.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My friend, Burbuqe, with whom I traveled in most of my travels while in the US and we keep occasionally taking a trip when I am back home and she is available even if that is a trip inside Kosovo or Tirana, Albania. We understand each other and it’s easy to travel with her.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels at the Amman Citadel
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
Read. I always have a book (yes, hard copy) with me and I read whenever I am on a flight or during layover at an airport or just waiting to board. Also, watch Netflix at night time. And the obvious, posting on social media.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
Definitely, South Sudan. Not exotic as in beaches and stuff but it’s totally different from whatever place I’ve been with my career (not as a traveler but through my full-time job).
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Do it. It’s not easy to start big, like traveling to the other side of the world on your first trip so you can start with something small – like going to another city in your country or to your neighboring country. Nothing is like the media says it is. Go out there and see it with your own eyes. Every experience is different and never, ever, omit a place because someone else had a bad or not so pleasant experience. There are so many factors that can impact your experience which cannot be compared to other people’s.
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels hiking in Theth National Park in Albania
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
My phone, my laptop, a scarf, and my “Keep calm and love Kosovo” tote bag (which I need to replace with a new one as it’s gotten old).
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Can I share three ultimate dream destinations? India, Cuba, and Russia.
What is your favorite travel quote?
Not travel related per se but my favorite quote is “Do more of what makes you happy”. So, if travelling is one of those things, than keep doing it!
Lavdi Zymberi of Kosovo Girl Travels checking out Art in Paradise in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Where are you headed next?
Well, currently because of this [coronavirus] situation nowhere.
If all ends by mid-June then I am going home and then on a one week or 10-day road trip through North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro with my travel buddy, Burbuqe, and another friend who will be visiting that part of the world for the first time.
I’m Lavdi, a Kosovo citizen traveling on a Kosovo passport. So far, I’ve been to 38 countries and since I live in South Sudan now I plan to visit as many African countries as I can (conditioned by my passport). I have a dream of visiting every country in the world and I hope it won’t remain a dream only but things will change and my passport will be as good as any other passport to get scanned through the immigration scanners.