I grew up camping, and have had a travel bug since my Freshman year of university. When I had a child, I wasn’t about to stop traveling and finding adventures throughout the world. Isabel and I had taken a few small trips together by train and staying at rented apartments along the way. But I’d never taken her into the wilderness camping.
Aren’t You Scared?
At first, even I thought I must be crazy.
You are taking your 3-year old camping?
Just the two of you? ALONE?
Aren’t you scared???
I WAS a bit afraid, mostly of poisonous snakes. There are lots of them in the part of the Balkans that I wanted to visit. So I did my research. Hours of it. I learned that, if Isabel gets anti-venom within 4 hours of getting bit by a viper, her chances of dying are zero (based on one thorough study of snake bites in Croatia), and very small of losing a limb. Knowing that, I made sure I knew how to say snake in Albanian (giaper!). I was informed that I could just go running around the village shouting “giaper” and some locals would come and help me. So I made sure that the nearest village wasn’t more than 2km away, and a clinic with anti-venom wasn’t more than 4 hours away.
Since it was Isabel’s first time camping, I decided to ease her into it. I made reservations at the only official campground right on Lake Skadar (Albanian: Shkodër).
Getting to the Campsite
I don’t know how to drive, and don’t want to learn. I’ve done fine without the responsibility of a car up until now with trains, hitchhiking, and the occasional bus, and I plan on continuing.
That said, getting to a campsite without a vehicle can be challenging. Isabel and I took a train from our home in Belgrade to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. From there, we took a local bus to Tuzi. And from there, I’d heard that there were local taxis who would drive you to Skodra for 5 euros (about $5.50). We found a taxi and made a deal for 8 euros since the taxi wasn’t full. We took it to the border, and there was a long line of cars waiting. I was impatient (and I’m a hitchhiker at heart), so we got out of the cab, paid him half fare, and hitchhiked a ride to the campsite with a couple of young Germans in a camper van. They ended up staying at the same campground as us!
Lake Shodra Resort (link) was a nice auto-camp located right on the lake. The lake itself is really shallow so you can go out deep without risk of drowning (in other words, great for little kids who don’t know how to swim yet). There was a small café and restaurant right on the “beach” which had picnic tables, hammocks, and a kids playground. The owners were an English and Albanian couple with two kids (what a great place to grow up!).
The camp was set up so it had a giant open space in the middle. You could play volleyball, badminton, football… The kids played flashlight tag when the sun started to set. I had a beer in the café while stilling being able to keep an eye on Isabel.
Here I need to point out that traveling without a car isn’t always so fun. This was an auto-camp, which means people came via car, RV, motorcycle, or bicycle. It was a 1km dirt road to the main road. When we went on day trips, Isabel and I were lucky enough to grab a ride from one of the other campers. But, one day coming back from a day trip, Isabel fell asleep on the bus back to the camp. It was 40 degrees Celsisus ( 104 F ), and I carried her the entire 1km down that long dirt road. Of course, she woke up and started running around the moment we got back. Lazy girl! Lucky for her that her mama is strong!
Day Trips from Lake Skadar Camping
Lake Skhodra Resort is located along the beach, but I’m not one to lounge in hammocks or swim all day. I researched the area and found a few day hikes for us to go on. I’d planned on going by bus. Albanians use these small minibuses called marshutkas. They don’t run on any schedule — just go when they fill up. So I quickly gave up on Albanian’s public transport system and we mostly hitchhiked to these beautiful locations.
Day trip to Rozafa Castle
Just outside of Shkodër city is the Rozafa castle. We took a public bus there and all the locals in the bus were so nice. They made sure we got off at the right stop. From there, it was a nice hike on a paved road through a neighborhood. Isabel did the walk like a champ, especially when I told her that we were going to where the princesses used to live.
After living in Sarajevo, I am in love with old Ottoman-style bridges in the Balkans. Friends of mine had visited one near Skhoder, so I decided to go with Isabel. We took a local minibus to the bridge. I wasn’t sure whether the river underneath would be dried up in summer. I didn’t expect all the boys from the village to be out swimming and jumping off the bridge! There was one older man there who seemed to be looking after all 40 boys.
Fun While Camping
If you’ve never gone camping with your kids before, you probably wonder What do you do all day???
Since I had to carry all of our gear, I didn’t have room or strength for toys. All Isabel was allowed to bring were 2 small stuffed toys, a notebook, and 5 markers for drawing.
It turns out that kids do not need toys to have fun. Without toys, they become creative and invent their own games. Kids also love to play with camping gear. There were lots of kids at the campground and they all played together.
There was a French family at the camp spot next to ours. They had brought some toys, and Isabel and the girl played together. No common language required! After a bit of them playing together, I noticed that Isabel was speaking in what sounded (to me) like gibberish. I asked her, and she said she was speaking French! Well, yes, that is actually how we learn languages — by imitating what we hear.
Isabel and I had a lot of fun here. Though ultimately campground camping isn’t my thing. I prefer to be more in the wild without distractions from radios, cars, and other campers in general. Since Isabel had such a good time, and loved sleeping in a sleeping bag in the tent so much, I decided that she was ready to go deeper into the woods and try wild camping.