Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Each country has peculiarities that you can only know after being there for a while, which makes planning your trip a little tricky. Fortunately, we've created a list of five tips that you should know before you go to Georgia that will hopefully help you plan your trip.
1: Traveling around Georgia takes longer than you would think
This point cannot be stressed enough! Georgia is a fairly small country, but it is a very mountainous country, which means what would normally be a short 1-2 hour drive becomes 3-4 hours. For example, despite Tbilisi and Telavi only being around 60 km/37 mi away from each other (straight-line distance), it takes around two hours to drive there, Tbilisi-Kutaisi takes around 3-4 hours, and Tbilisi-Zugdidi takes around 7 hours. What’s more, thanks to Georgia’s mountainous topography, many of its roads are in less-than-stellar condition. This further increases travel time. Give yourself adequate travel time. After all, the purpose of traveling is to experience someplace new.
Additionally, don’t be allured by the railway. The country’s only “fast train” is between Tbilisi and Batumi and still takes around five hours. The other trains move about as quickly as a car does thanks to the country's mountains.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to travel between your destinations. This is especially true during the winter, when snow and poor visibility can make travel conditions treacherous. The Roads Department of Georgia will frequently restrict traffic on Georgia’s mountainous roads in the winter, or may even completely close roads. This is especially common on the Tbilisi-Kazbegi road, the Zugdidi-Mestia road, and the roads connecting Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti. Check the government's website the day before and the day of your departure.
Do: give yourself adequate travel time
Don’t: expect to realistically go from Kutaisi to Mestia and back in two days and not have to spend more time in the car than in Mestia
Do: enjoy the journey between your destinations
Don’t: over-burden yourself with destinations and sights
2: Georgia is generally a safe country, so don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and explore
As a rule of thumb, Georgia is safe. Young children take public transit alone and old ladies walk the streets at night unescorted. So when you’re walking around Kutaisi, Tbilisi, or Rustavi, and you see an interesting street, alley, or courtyard, go ahead and give in to your curiosity!
Furthermore, if you have a little extra time on your hands and want to explore the country a little, don’t be afraid to take an unplanned day-trip. If someone tells you of a nearby ruin, village, or park that they think you should see, go for it! Georgians are spontaneous, in-the-moment people, so don’t be afraid to adopt this mindset when you’re in Georgia!
Do: explore someplace new
Don’t: ignore your instincts and common sense
Do: be spontaneous
Don’t: take an unexpected day-trip to Baku (not that there’s anything wrong with Baku)
3: Georgia's Marshrutka System Is Intimidating
The most common way to get around the country is in a marshrutka--or minibus cum shared taxi. Most cities and towns have a vagzali--a transit hub which is usually located near the main market or in the city center--where you can get on a marshrutka or find private taxis to other parts of Georgia. Unfortunately, there is no official organizational system. Don't bother looking for a website for a schedule or destination list from marshrutka companies. If there is a schedule posted, there isn't any guarantee that your driver will stick to it.
If you find a ticket office which has a marshrutka going to your destination, buy a ticket and just get on the marshrutka which you are direct to (and if you aren't directed to a marshrutka, usually the closest one going to your destination is the right one, the driver will check your ticket anyway). If there is no ticket office near the marshrukta which is going to your destination, check with the driver to make sure that there is enough space on the marshrutka for you along with where to pay.
If you're wanting to schedule your trip in advance, just plan your travel time between 7am and 8pm and you'll be fine.
Do: know that posted schedules aren't always accurate
Don't: be in a hurry
Do: give yourself adequate time to find your marshrutka at the vagzali
Don't: be intimidated by traveling on marshrutkas
4: Knowing a little Georgian goes a long way
Aside from being a sign of respect, knowing basic words and phrases of the local language can be very beneficial when traveling. Georgians, especially older Georgians, are always amazed when foreigners can say a few words or phrases in their language, especially because most of the world still barely knows that Georgia is also a country.
In Tbilisi and Batumi, where tourists are common, knowing basic Georgian greetings won’t really surprise locals because they are accustomed to foreigners. Small towns and villages, however, are a different story. Many people in Georgia’s small villages don’t regularly come in contact with the outside world, nevertheless foreigners who show an interest in Georgia and Georgian(s), so saying a few words and phrases in Georgian to locals in the country’s villages might get you a free drink, homemade meal, or bottle of wine!
The phrases მე მიყვარს საქართველო me miq'vars sakartvelo, which means "I love Georgia" and საქართველოს გაუმარჯოს sakartvelos gaumarjos "Cheers to Georgia" are a good start.
Do: show respect to your hosts
Don’t: assume that saying გამარჯობათ gamarjobat "hello" will get you discounts or special treatment
Do: show an interest in cultural exchange
Don’t: take advantage of local hospitality
5: Georgian’s don’t really eat breakfast
Breakfast in Georgia is generally simple--bread served with cheese or honey, cucumbers, and tomatoes; hard boiled eggs, buckwheat, and plain yogurt. For morning beverages, Georgians generally drink coffee (Jacob’s instant coffee), tea, and possibly fruit juice (usually cherry juice). It’s uncommon for restaurants to be open during the morning, and most that are won’t serve breakfast. Additionally, cereal selection in Georgia’s grocery stores is limited.
Do: make sure your hotel/hostel serves breakfast
Don’t: expect a continental breakfast complete with three different types of pancakes, scrambled eggs, and hazelnut creamer for your coffee
Do: eat freshly-baked shoti with Georgian honey in the morning, it's delicious
Don’t: go to a grocery store or hypermarket expecting to find your favorite cereal brand and non-fat GMO-free dulce de leche-flavored yogurt