Travelling to Georgia with less than 300 USD

Every traveler (including me) knows the problem – how can I spend an amazing holiday while staying on my budget? Where can I find great accommodation and how will I still be able to spend money on souvenirs and great meals?
It is safe to say that Georgia combines all those aspects. You get value for money, whether it is simple or luxurious and basics, such as travel and meals are extremely cheap for western standards.

So if you’re planning your next vacation already, you can keep the tips in mind that made my trips the cheapest (and best!).

1. Choose a local homestay

The best way to get a natural and unique experience of Georgian culture while saving money is to book a room or apartment at a local family’s home. Georgians are very welcoming and hospitable and will love to chat with you. Many houses even offer to cook for you for a very small fee and you can get to know locals while enjoying homemade dishes. If you prefer to stay private, it’s also not a problem. There are many separate apartments being offered and even in local homes your room will always have the privacy you need. A room at the sea, for example in Kobuleti starts at the price of $5.00 per night, a flat in Batumi suitable for a whole family around $45.00. Keep in mind that you will pay less and also find less crowded beaches when booking a room in a village near Batumi. In case you want to stay in Tbilisi you normally pay around 20$ for a flat and 10$ for a room in a guest house. You can easily book online on well-known pages like booking.com but there are also Georgian sites such as infobatumi.ge which might feature more variety and lower prices.

2. Travel like a Georgian

Travel is incredibly cheap in Georgia when you know how to do it. Ditch the train or omnibus for a Marshrutka (which is a mini bus) or Taxi and save some money! A Marshrutka going from Tbilisi to Batumi, which is 375km (232mi) normally costs 20 Lari ($9.00) per person. Normally Taxis and Marshrutkas drop you off at central stations but for 5 GEL ($2.10) most drivers will drive you directly to your hotel. It’s important to negotiate with Taxi drivers, as they will sometimes charge tourists more, but keep these average prices in Lari in mind to be sure. All drivers I’ve met were very friendly and did their best, so don’t worry about being tricked. In case you’re taking a bus in the city, prepare to pay less than 0.50 USD.

3. Eat local and fresh products

Georgian restaurants and fast food shops mostly have very good prices, for 1 GEL ($0.40) you can eat a hotdog or freshly baked Khachapuri, a big Adjaruli Khachapuri or meat dish will cost around $3.00 to $4.00, so you can order anything you like without second thoughts. Bear in mind that Georgians often order many different dishes they share, so salads will most likely come in smaller portions and sides for meat dishes have to be ordered separately. But as Georgian food is mostly very nourishing, you won’t need to worry about staying hungry when you’re on a budget. If you want to cook at home, you should stick to fresh Georgian products, as imported goods such as chocolate, oil or foreign cheeses are mostly very expensive for local standards. Fresh fruit and vegetables are mostly unbelievably cheap and you will be able to cook great dishes with them, as the natural and unprocessed quality enhances the taste.
Now that you’ve got a good overview on the prices, let’s calculate the costs of an example trip to Georgia. Let’s imagine you arrive at Tbilisi airport and stay in Tbilisi for two days, after which you will travel to Batumi for five days. Two nights in Tbilisi will be around $20.00, meals for two days around $30. Let’s add $9.00 for the bus ride and $5.00 for snacks and meals on the way and you’re at the sea, having spent only $64.00.

As you’ve chosen a very nice room with access to a kitchen in a homestay in Kobuleti, four nights will cost you $40.00. At a local shop you can get everything you need for breakfast for the next days for $5.00. Let’s say you’ll also spend $5.00 on buses or taxis to Batumi, snacks and some souvenirs. Dinner on four days will cost you around 50 USD. You will see that after some relaxing days at the beach you will only have spent $164.00. After having saved a lot of money, don’t be shy to spoil yourself a little and go shopping in Batumi or have a great party at a beachside club in Kobuleti.

Only $10.00 will get you and your new suntan back to your guest house in Tbilisi and, including dinner in Tbilisi that day, your total expenses will be around $250.00. However, after a good night’s sleep you might want to think about staying just a little longer.

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Tsinandali Palace

If you are a fan of culture or history or simply of pretty things, you’ll have to let the dreamy garden or museum of Tsinandali charm you. Upon arriving you will be greeted by rows of trees leading you to the house, which is not a huge mansion but displays wonderful Georgian architecture and taste. You can take a guided tour and learn about the Chavchavadze family that built the house and their exciting and inspiring lives. The furniture and letters are especially cute and it’s a pleasure to feel as though you were visiting a home preserved from the 19th century.

While the plants and pictures are very nice to look at, the history of this place is even more interesting. Alexandre Chavchavadze, the owner and aristocrat was a lover of European culture, poetry and art. He was a pioneer in this area, as he brought the first piano to Georgia, created poetry with Persian influences and organized meetings of poets he admired; even Tolstoy visited Tsinandali once. The guests were treated with the fine wines of the region and you can get this special treatment for yourself when taking a tour that includes wine-tasting.

Another lovely addition is the Tree of Wishes, on which you can tie a piece of fabric and make a wish. Furthermore, if you’re there with a lover, you should try to walk through the little tunnel covered with wine and other plants; if you make it through hand in hand while not opening your eyes, you will stay in love forever. It sure is fun to do as you will keep running into the metal bars but can be pretty romantic. What I found nice to imagine is that generations of young Georgian couples might have met up here, shyly and excitedly walking through the park or sitting on benches, enjoying the afternoon sun. (One secret tip from me: If the park is full and you’re in the mood for a kiss and don’t want anyone to see, just sneak into the little cave made from bamboo near the entrance.)

In case you simply want to relax, take a walk, admire the trees from all over the world and get lost in the wonderful park. You will see abandoned buildings and there is a little hidden church which you should absolutely not miss. I can of course not sufficiently describe the unique atmosphere Tsinandali is surrounded by, but I hope that I could inspire you to experience it yourself.

Telavi

Telavi, the capital of Kakheti may not be the first city that comes to mind when thinking of Georgia, but it is the perfect location for lovers of wine, culture and nature.

What will strike you first is the amazing view on the Caucasus Mountains. Telavi is located on a hill and surrounded by the Alazani valley that you can also easily admire from above. In a few minutes you can reach Gremi, the famous church and castle; you can visit Tsinandali with its wonderful garden and even Sighnaghi, the city of love, is not far from there.

But you can also spend wonderful days in Telavi without much travel. The city centre has great restaurants and you can take a walk in the park which I would describe as little Mtatsminda – it gives you a nice view on the city and the valley, it has attractions and little stalls for toys and food. I loved to just sit on a bench with friends, eating sunflower seeds and watching the sun go down.

My favorite activity in Telavi is shopping. The central market and bus station leads onto a street where dozens of cute little shops are found. You can find perfume, all sorts of bags, really cheap cosmetics and if you have time, you might even find nice dresses or shoes. What makes the shops so unique and fun is the owner’s kindness and the marketer’s motivation to find what you were looking for.

I had just broken two pairs of shoes by excessive walking and sightseeing and needed a new pair of sandals, so naturally I went to an indoor market with heaps of shoes. I browsed a little, but there was no big choice for sizes so we asked whether they had anything in 42 (I know, I have ridiculously big feet). I was seated on a little chair and two women started looking for shoes and had me try them on without minding my opinion on them. The problem was that Georgian women naturally have rather small feet and my German size seemed absolutely unrealistic to them. I was struggling to fit into size 39 shoes, wanting to please those women and finally getting to buy some, but it was impossible. We started to joke and they gradually brought me more undesirably looking shoes about which I was glad they didn’t fit.

After around ten minutes one of them said she wouldn’t let me go home without shoes and it felt like they presented every single big-looking shoe to me. One time I actually fit into a shoe I realized that I had a similar pair at home and told the woman, upon which she answered: “I also have a piano at home!”, which I interpreted as “Just take them already!”. However, they were making me many compliments about my height and were surprised that I knew a little Georgian and I tried to look as polite as I could when declining their offers. In the end, we left the market without shoes and found some sandals in a Chinese shop that were only two sizes too small.

Buying bags however, is very pleasant and I was warmly welcomed and complimented of either my tallness, German-ness or my little knowledge of Georgian. In one shop I even ended up hugging a woman, without having understood very much, but my boyfriend mostly introduced me and translated everything.

What you should be careful about is that many items that are being sold have little flaws, but the good prices mostly excuse that. If you like, you can also negotiate about the prices in most shops and you can always expect people to be friendly and helpful.

Mtatsminda

Mtatsminda (holy mountain) is praised by many as one of the main attractions in Tbilisi. It’s safe to say it is a must when spending time in Tbilisi. But let me tell you why even to me, a sceptic of roller coasters and anything that moves too fast, it was an unforgettable experience.

While brainstorming activities for the 20th birthday of my friend Mary in Tbilisi, I remembered I hadn’t yet been there despite having heard a lot about it and actually, that was the only reason I suggested it. My boyfriend already got excited about the Ghost Castle (or in his words “scary house”), Mary agreed immediately and I was hoping there would be one or two attractions I could participate in.

Even though I knew the park was situated on a hill or mountain, I didn’t expect it to be that high. The view from the taxi was already breathtaking and I couldn’t help thinking there were few cities with such a wonderful natural viewpoint. And if that is not high enough to you, remember there is a massive ferris wheel that will get you even closer to the clouds.

After we arrived and put credit on our cards made especially for the park, the first aim was the Ghost Castle. I was very reluctant, but they just dragged me with them and while waiting in a cage-like car for the ride to begin I was already regretting it. Clutching the metal bar in front of me firmly, I hoped for the best and the ride began. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let me say that some things are really funny, but other puppets and scenes are really interesting, surprising and a little scary. We gave a thumbs-up to the guy running the attraction and went on.

The second – and admittedly the best ride – was the water slide. We were sort of worried about getting wet, but it was a hot and sunny day, so we jumped inside the wooden log. The first slide looked harmless, nicely arched, not too high, but it is actually the one that gets you wet. Soaking, dripping wet right up to your underwear. For someone not used to roller coasters and slides only going down was already a thrill. But the real specialty is the feeling when you hit the water. The second slide was amazing, it made us scream and thankfully didn’t soak us once again.

Right afterwards, we took pictures in the photo booth which was sort of difficult to operate. We waited for it to start but it had already taken the pictures without us noticing and we ended up with this:

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I guess it was still worth the 4 Lari!

To dry, we walked around, admired the view from the ferris wheel’s foot, took pictures and enjoyed the sun. The last attraction we took part in was Tutanchamun’s House of Mirrors (or so). I was still traumatized from the one time I got lost in a mirror maze in Munich when I was eleven and ended up crying. Thus I had strong objections to going in. But as it was the last attraction that was open and suitable for (almost-) adults, I gave in. The staff were funny and friendly, showed off their German skills and I calmed, seeing that I would not be alone in there. Actually, it was great fun to be confused by the many different versions of your friends and yourself, wondering which one was the real person and whom to follow. The way was not hard to find, but the reflections and lights made us want to stay longer. Laughter at the whole situation paired with small moments of shock when you lose someone made for the perfect attraction.

One last advice from my side: Don’t take a taxi back, take the cute little train going down the hill. It’s only 2 Lari and can also be considered as an attraction, if you’re a very enthusiastic person (like me). The view is even more stunning when you slowly move towards it and you might be able to amaze your Instagram followers with a sped-up video of the trip!

Roadtrips

When taking a Marshrutka (minibus) from one city to the next, you will most likely pass villages, rivers and mountains and that is where I discovered the contrasts between “Tourist-Georgia” and real-life Georgia.

I really advise you to keep your eyes open and watch. It will be worth it.

Get out of the metropolis and your hotel and see abandoned houses next to state-of-the-art government buildings, watch out for cows relaxing on highways and admire beautiful rivers with the sun glistening back at you.

Watch how many facettes Georgian nature has and eventually you may understand why Georgians are so proud of their home. Maybe you will start to wonder why anyone would pollute such a beautiful landscape with bottles and plastic bags, as it is the case on almost every picnic patch and roadside, and put this Georgian pride of their nature in question.

Passing the villages, you will realize that there is still a lot of work to do in rural areas, but keep in mind that the insides of those houses are often much tidier and cared for. Even in big cities, apartment complexes may not always look inviting but hold the most beautiful and comfortable flats. Try to spot typically soviet features, but also get aware of the individuality of each flat or house, the different colours or even just new windows.

While driving, you will most likely notice that driving on Georgian streets makes it feel like your life is seriously in danger and in case your driver is in a rush, there is nothing else you can do but pray you will survive driving in the middle of the street. Never mind curves or trucks coming your way, overtaking is always a must. I’m not saying it’s not sort of thrilling to get this rush of adrenaline every now and then, though and for non-Georgians it will surely be an experience you will never forget. Once you start to get annoyed by the latest Russian hits your driver has been playing on full volume for hours, remember, that is also part of the experience.

Eventually you will wish to be treated with the same respect and care as those cows on streets, as they have the amazing privilege to walk and stand wherever they want. In other words, they seem to own and rule the place. Occasionally there will be a whole flock of cows occupying the road and you will find yourself in a very special kind of traffic jam.

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Honking at them is only sometimes effective and you will have to navigate through them very carefully, because you might want to avoid paying both for a cow and for a new car. Once you are successful and are on the road again, you will be able to admire dozens of them on savory, fresh grass, enjoying the sun next to a fresh mountain stream.

Who wouldn’t wish to live a cow’s life in Georgia?

Batumi, Episode 1

The first time I got to Batumi I was in a terrible haze.

I had been sitting in a minibus (so-called Marshrutka), on my own, awkwardly stuck between all sorts of people, feeling sort of lost but also amused by the whole situation. The driver had turned on the latest Russian hits and blue “party-lighting”, and due to his style of driving I was glad I could not see through the windows.

But this strange experience only doubled my excitement, as I was about to enter the city I had only yet seen the amazing skyline of from Kobuleti Beach. For the first time in my life, I was alone in Georgia, slightly unsure of where I was going, having just jumped on the next best bus going in the right direction.

I arrived at “Sabagiro”, Batumi’s cable car and unofficial bus stop and stumbled out of the bus, not being quite sure whether I was at the right station. But with the help of a friendly, English speaking taxi driver, who reassured me that I was in fact in Batumi, I even managed to pay my fee.

That’s the thing about Georgians, any signal of a foreigner having trouble and they will jump to help.

After my friends eventually picked me up (and an awkward conversation about the taxi driver’s grandchildren), it was already getting dark and the streets were filling up with people. As the city was slowly awaking, attractions and lights being turned on, we relaxed in the taxi and suddenly found everything very hilarious.

Following a few days of eating Shawarma and Adjaruli Khachapuri, we walked to the centre of the city. Batumi Boulevard is the place to be after a long day of swimming and doing nothing. Imagine a year-round fair with all the typical attractions: a ferris wheel, carousels, cotton candy, swings and playgrounds. Add bars by the beach, clubs, street musicians, beautiful fountains and fancy restaurants and you get Batumi. What surprised me was that it is not uncommon for families with small children to be out until, maybe, 11 pm and that the city was practically asleep in the afternoon. The reason for this obviously is the heat, summer temperatures are likely to reach up to 40°C, which makes it even more attractive to simply stay in bed all day unless you are going to swim.

Shopping is surprisingly easy and comfortable in Batumi as much as it is cheap (especially for foreigners). Take a walk on the centre’s streets on a particularly cool afternoon or in the evening and look out for beach dresses, your new favourite pair of sandals or the fake version of a handbag you’ve always been dreaming of.

Georgia’s tourism industry is on the rise and the place to experience that is Batumi. So I advise you to find a local guesthouse in the surrounding villages, pack your swimsuit and let the laid-back but occasionally very luxurious atmosphere carry you away.

 

Love

I am in love.

In love with a country that I didn’t even know of for the bigger part of my life.

I am starting to experience patriotism for a place I barely know and I am experiencing a foreign culture so much deeper than my own.

Have you ever been so fascinated by a country that you started to learn the language, study the history and even got excited about traditional dances?

Have you ever felt a sense of belonging thousands of kilometres away from your hometown?

If so, you might have a clue of how I feel about Georgia.

Located in the wonderful area between the Caucasus and the Black Sea, Georgia lies strangely unrecognized by Europe. When entering “Georgia” in Google Maps, the first result is the American state, not the country. And when my friend Mary told twelve year-old me where she lived, she needed several maps to make me understand where it is situated.

I have only known about this country for six years of my life, have only spent a total of 54 days here, yet I could not imagine how my life would have turned out without the amazing people I’ve met here, without the stories I’ve experienced and the joy they have shared with me.

Georgia is home to the love of my life, my second family and all the wonderful friends I’ve found here. And the Alazani Valley in Kakheti (which you can see on the picture) has become a second home to me.

This is why I would like to introduce the many facettes of this wonderful but underappreciated country to a greater number of people and I would love to share my thoughts with you.

On this blog you will find practical tips, general info, travel stories and fun facts about the culture and language.

And hopefully you will find the one reason why a trip to Georgia will be worthwhile to you.