7 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

Hitchhiking with a friendly phone checking local - On the road, Georgia

7 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

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Food & Drink

Georgians pride themselves as being the food connoisseurs of the former Soviet Union, and with some justification. The ever present khachapuri (A cheese filled bread, resembling a kind of cheese pie) is a locals favourite but can get a little sickly over time. Khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities) and Mtsvadi, grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal served on sticks with onions, are staple dishes and a very good cheap eat option. For a quick snack ghvezeli (pastry) comes stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese or other ingredients, and is sold in markets and by street-side vendors.

To drink, beer is sold everywhere with local brews including Kazbegi,  Natakhtari, and Tushuri. Georgia has one of the oldest making traditions in the world and the locals like nothing better than downing a large shot of chilled red stuff. Famous local wines include the reds Akhasheni and Teliani which are dry-fruity numbers and the dry-white Tsinandali. Cha-cha, similar to Italian grapa, is the liqueur of choice.

Cobbled Baratashvili Street in Sighnaghi city centre - Sighnaghi, Georgia (2), backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

Supra

The importance of traditional food and drinks in Georgian culture is best observed during feasts. The Supra, which can be organised at the drop of a hat, can take many forms and is an important social custom which is typified by the consumption of large quantities of food and wine. The whole feast is lead by a Tamada (toastmaster) who punctuate the evening with a serious of deeply symbolic toasts. Read about our experience at a Georgian Supra here.

Accommodation

In Georgia, there is a relative lack of widespread couchsurfing. We only managed to find hosts only in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Akhalkalaki. In Tbilisi, there are a number of budget accommodation options, with both hostels and private accommodation options. Outside the capital, there are plenty of homestays in all parts of the country to choose from. They are a sort of unlicensed guesthouse run by local families, who offer paid accommodation under their roof. In most cases they also provide food (at least one meal a day), which is a huge advantage, since there aren’t many restaurants outside the cities. The best way to find a homestay (as they don’t advertise) is just to walk the streets looking lost. You will be quickly spotted by a friend of a friend of someone who runs a homestay, so just let yourself be found and they will do the rest. In the Caucasus this form of accommodation is the cheapest and provides the most authentic sort of experience. Speaking Russian helps (as English is rare in these parts), but it’s not essential.

Interesting buildings in Tbilisi Old Town - Tbilisi, Georgia (2), backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

It’s also a good idea to have a tent if you decide to travel of the beaten track in Georgia. There aren’t that many other options outside big cities, apart from homestays and the odd Soviet era hotel.

Weather

Broadly speaking there are two main climatic zones, separating the Eastern and Western parts of the country. Much of Western Georgia lies within the humid subtropical zone and thus rain tends to fall all year round . The climate in this region depends a lot on the elevation and whilst the majority of the lowland areas of western Georgia are generally warm throughout the year, the foothills and mountainous areas experience cool and wet summers and extremely cold and snowy winters.

Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental and sees a lot less rainfall. Eastern Georgia experiences hot summers (especially in low-lying areas) and relatively cold winters. As in the western parts of the nation, elevation plays a key role as those places above 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) are considerably colder.

The lonely rider taken at an elevation of 2500m - Svaneti, Georgia, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

Political Situation

At the time of writing the border with Russia was open for tourists but the situation is notoriously changeable and it is always best to check ahead before attempting to cross.

Travel to the breakaway regions of South Ossetia & Abkhazian is advised against by the majority of governments. South Ossetia is next to impossible to visit, and at the time of writing was only accessible through Russia. You might be able to cross the Abkhazian border at Inguri (if you call the Abkhaz Ministry of Foreign Affairs and prepare all the necessary paperwork in advance; be warned, speaking Russian is a must). Check here how it works, but you might have problems crossing back to Georgia, because according to Georgians it’s illegal to cross this border.

Beautiful sunset with solitary ship, the Black Sea - Batumi, Georgia, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

Polish – Georgian Love-in

Another thing you should be aware of is that if you are Polish or if you’re travelling with a Pole, you will be treated like a prince as Georgians really have a soft spot for Poles. Many a time, while getting in a car and starting a typical conversation with the driver, we witnessed the same reaction:

Driver: Откуда вы? (Where are you from?)

Jon:  Из Англии. (from England)

AniaИ я из Польши. (And I’m from Poland)

Driver:  Ааа …. из Польши! (Aaah… from Poland!) which was usually followed by naming everything they knew about Poland (forgetting about England completely); starting with Lech Kaczyński, Poland’s ex-president who died in a plane crash in Russia and insinuating by the driver that Russians must have had a hand in it (Русские убили Качинского!).

What’s more, the majority of backpackers and hitch-hikers that you will meet in Georgia are bound to be Polish (don’t ask me why). I’m not sure if this information is of any help, but good to know.

Hitchhiking with a friendly phone checking local - On the road, Georgia, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Georgia

Money Exchange

You should also be aware that Georgia currency cannot be exchanged in any surrounding state, so either spend all your laris within the country or pray that you meet other backpackers on the way who would be kind enough to cut you a deal.

written by: Ania and Jon

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