This post is a supplement to what I wrote for Journal of Nomads about police assistance while hitchhiking in Georgia. Check it out!
Georgia is a country not quite like anywhere else in the world. This goes for everything – food, language, culture, as well as hitchhiking. Hitchhiking in Georgia is an exciting experience and a unique way to get to know the culture, and is almost always faster than taking public transportation. By hitchhiking, you’ll not only get to your destination quickly, but you’ll also get to know the firsthand experience of your driver, experience Georgian hospitality in its truest form, and witness the utter chaos that is Georgian roads from the front seat. And unlike other countries, the police are always ready to help you hitchhike!
In Georgia, my average wait time on the road was 12.25 minutes across 35 rides. This includes everything – hitchhiking with my ski equipment in the middle of the night, hitchhiking roads in Svaneti where only 2 cars pass per hour, as well as the more common routes. If I cut out the rides at night, with skis, or on roads with nearly no traffic, the average time is reduced to 4.5 minutes. This statistic puts Georgia at the top of the list of fastest hitchhiking countries, rival only to other hitchhiker’s-paradise countries like Turkey and Albania. Drivers often told me that they rarely see other hitchhikers, but the reason for that is not because few people hitchhike, it’s because they’re picked up so fast that you rarely see them standing on the road.
English is generally only spoken by the young or well educated. If you’re lucky enough to get an English-speaking driver, take full advantage of it and ask as many questions as you can! Georgians are generally quite excited to talk about their country and tell you everything they know. Otherwise, learning some Russian phrases or hitchhiking with a Russian-speaking friend will greatly enhance your experience. Of course, knowing Georgian would be the best, but for a traveler who is planning to visit many countries, Russian is a much more practical language to focus your time on. As with every post-Soviet country, nearly everybody over 30 speaks fluent Russian.
If you hitchhike enough in Georgia, you’re going to get invited to dinner by a driver. Many Georgians are very proud of their traditional food (for good reason) and are excited to show it off to a foreigner. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life are when a driver invites me to dinner and takes me to a little unmarked restaurant that I never would have found otherwise, or calls his grandmother and asks her to cook a special meal for me. Note that to enjoy the full Georgian culinary experience, you should be willing to eat meat, but there are usually vegetarian options as well for those who aren’t. You might have to explain several times that you don’t eat meat before your host will understand that there are actually humans on this planet who don’t eat meat, though. As Georgian houses are typically equipped with several extra beds and ungodly amounts of homemade alcohol, invitations for dinner sometimes come along with a place to sleep and a marathon drinking session. This can be a lot of fun, but if you don’t want to have the worst hangover of your life when you go back out to the road the next day, just say that you’re allergic to alcohol or that you can only drink wine because liquor hurts your stomach. Best to make this clear before the party starts, though, as drunk people are more likely to get offended when you don’t accept their alcohol as a present.
Unlike other countries where police look down on hitchhikers as dirty criminals, Georgian police really enjoy the opportunity to help a visitor to their country. Stifle your instinct to hide when you see a cop coming and instead keep your thumb out; there’s a decent chance they’ll give you a ride. Georgian police are well known to pull over random cars and ask if they have space to take you as a hitchhiker – a hitchhiking experience hard to come by in other parts of the world! Check out a collection of stories hitchhiking assistance from Georgian police here.
In most countries, you have to walk along the road until you reach a place with ample space to pull over, good visibility, and slow traffic. This isn’t the case in Georgia. Cars are willing to stop literally anywhere, no matter how fast they’re going or how much it would obstruct the other traffic. Even in spots with plenty of shoulder space, I find that most drivers stop right in the middle of the road anyways. A very common attitude of drivers is, “Pull over all the way to the side of the road? Nah, that’s way too much work! I’d rather just sit here in the middle and get honked at.”
No sign necessary! In some countries it’s important to hitchhike with a sign, especially when hitchhiking from the last good spot before a large junction. In Georgia this is not the case. There aren’t many large intersections, and there are even fewer bad hitchhiking spots, so even the shortest rides almost always get you to a better place to continue from. Unlike Europe where fast hitchhiking requires a photographic knowledge of the road network and on-the-fly strategic decision making, in Georgia the most strategy you’ll ever have to use while hitchhiking is deciding when to accept an invitation for dinner.
Sometimes it’s not even necessary to hold out your thumb and wave at passing cars. Many drivers will recognize you as a hitchhiker simply by your presence near a road in the middle of nowhere with a backpack, and will stop to offer you a ride. So, if you’re hungry, take a break and sit down by the road for a snack, and you might be offered a ride before you can even finish your snack. Just a few days ago I was dropped off by the cops on an empty stretch of highway and sat down in the sun to write in my journal about the awesomeness of hitchhiking with police, but I only got about 2 words written before someone else stopped and offered a ride further.
All in all, hitchhiking is an incredible way to experience Georgia (and everywhere!), and is well-suited for the adventurous traveler. To read more about hitchhiking in Georgia, check out these links: