You ask 'How much does it cost to backpack in Georgia?' - I am answering. Let's discuss prices.
Prices for hostels and guesthouses in Georgia
Let's start but first I'll say a couple of words about Georgian currency. It is called lari and its abbreviation is GEL. The rate was 2.2 GEL for 1 US dollar while I was there last time, in June 2016. Check the current rate of Georgian lari.
So getting a place to stay in Georgia is easy - all budget accommodation is fully represented on booking.com. The average price for a budget room is 11 US dollars (25 GEL) although you can find places for 9$ (20 GEL) almost through all country. For such money, you will typically have
- common bathroom/s
- a common kitchen
- wi-fi, quite decent if you compare with India or Thailand
Dormitories which are cheaper, of course, can be found in many cities and towns on booking.com either. Generally, Cleanliness in Georgian hostels is usual as well as friendliness. I never ever heard or read about thefts in hostels and guesthouses. And this is the reflection of the general situation - it is very safe in Georgia.
Many local people can't speak English or speak very basic English over there but booking.com works and ... Is that a big trouble you can't discuss the weather with an owner of a guesthouse? I think it is even more adventurous and this is what we search when we go so far from the Shire.
In Tbilisi, you might get a very small room for 25 GEL so pay 5-10 more or choose a hostel, Tbilisi is full of hostels from the cheapest to luxurious.
As for my 2016 experience, I stayed at Corner Hostel. It was a tiny single room for 25 GEL without even a window (the air comes from the window open to the corridor) but the location was incredible, just inside of the old town. They have better rooms for the higher price also. The son of the owner can speak basic English.
Kutaisi is the least advanced and the cheapest city of Georgia as for accommodation. You might have a big room with decent furniture there for 25 GEL. I stayed at Mariami Guesthouse. The room looked like an apartment - much space! - except for bathrooms and the kitchen were common. (It could be disappointing for someone but Georgian budget rooms don't have a private toilet and shower. You need to pay much more to have them on your own.) I don't think the owner and his wife can speak English but their Russian was just fine. Yeah, if you want to communicate with the locals like bus drivers and vendors and so on you can learn some Russian words (still many Georgians can't speak both Russian and English). Later, when you are in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine or the Stans, this skill will be useful again.
It is a harder to get a room for 10$ in Batumi, the capital of Georgian Riviera where booking.com asks 15$ (35 GEL) for a room in summer. The very peak season actually lasts from the beginning of July to the beginning of September. At other months, the most of the budget hotels are not full but, still, they can ask 15$. That's crazy! Check www.airbnb.ru. You can find some rooms for 10-11$ there. I had this one https://www.airbnb.ru/rooms/12466514 - 5 minutes to walk to the city center, 20 minutes to the sea.
If you are new on airbnb, use the bonus link to sign up on the website in order to get a gift of 30$ for your oncoming booking. Airbnb wants to beat booking.com and this is why there is such generous promotion.
It was a private house of a local family, truly nice educated people. So you live together with them but tourists, that rent a room there, have their own bathroom (new, clean) and the family uses another one. If you arrive in Batumi by bus the price of a taxi drive to the place will be 4 GEL (the real price is less than 2 GEL but Batumi street taxi-drivers are very tough to bargain - the peak season is so short...)
Or stay at a hostel - the choice of hostels is large in Batumi.
The last stop of mine was Mestia, a town in a mountain region called Svaneti. I paid 20 GEL (9$) for a room at Guest house Natia. 12 square meters room with a window and an electric heater (nights in June and September can be sometimes cold like +8-10). Wi-fi was very slow. But you can have wifi in a restaurant. I used skype at Sun-Seti restaurant. The service in Georgian restaurants is usually slow so I had plenty of time.
The mentioned cities are key places for traveling but there are other destinations in Georgia, much more. I will write a separate post to highlight the issue.
'What is a cost of traveling for a budget backpacker in Georgia?' - let's continue. The next topic is expenses for food.
Prices for food in Georgia
The cheapest way to eat meat food in Georgia is to order khinkali in a restaurant. Khinkali is a Georgian dumpling with spicy meat filling and some broth inside which (ideally) meant to be drunk without spilling it on the plate. (The nearest analog is Tibetian dumplings called momo - I tried them in Kathmandu in 2014.) For futher information, read wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khinkali. The price of this traditional Georgian food is 0.7 lari for a piece. Generally, all restaurant all around Georgia offer this price. You need from 6 to 8 khinkalis to be full. For those who don't eat meat, there are khinkalis with local mozzarella-like cheese and sometimes with mushrooms (both served for fasting purposes cause many Georgians are responsible Orthodox Christian believers). So a dinner with khinkalis, tea or soda will cost around 6-7 GEL (2.5-3$).
One more cheap option for meat-eaters is ostri. 5-6 GEL for a plate. For 8 GEL, I can have a portion of Georgian barbecue pork called mtsvadi (Georgian sour and spicy wild plum sauce called tkemali will be fine with it). Not every restaurant cooks nice barbecue pork so ask the staff of your hostel or guesthouse where to go.
And two more fact about Georgian restaurants:
- Portions in restaurants are usually big so if you order a main course dish it is usually supposed you'll be nearly full with it.
- Restaurants often include 10% commission into a bill, a kind of weird mandatory "tips", you should know.
- Prices are the same in almost every restaurant in the country. Still, check menu, there are also luxurious restaurants in Tbilisi and anywhere.
The cheaper source of food is bakeries which are very common in every city of Georgia.
A pie with local cheese called khachapuri is one more perfect option for those who are on a tight budget. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khachapuri Very traditional food, a pride of the Georgians, a must-eat as well as khinkalis. Tasty and affordable. If you count the calories you will know that khachapuri is probably the cheapest source of energy in the world and the fastest way to get extra pounds. At numerous bakeries, you'll get a piece for 2 GEL (0.9$) all around the country. This is the way to have a dinner for 1 US dollar in Georgia - just add a cup of sweet tea at your hostel's kitchen and that's it. To make your dinner healthier, cook salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, fresh chili and fresh coriander and basil leaves to eat with khachapuri.
My meals in Georgia
In restaurants, prices for khachapuri are higher, 6-7 GEL for a bigger size and more cheese, plus a restaurant surcharge.
There are three types of khachapuri are worth to mention - standard (Imeruli khachapuri), achma and Ajarian khachapuri (a boat-shaped one with an egg in the middle).
One more typical Georgian pie worth to mention is a pie with boiled kidney beans called lobiani that is even cheaper 1.5 GEL (0.6$) for a piece in a bakery.
As a source of vitamins, you can have local seasonal vegetables and fruits which are cheap from June to October. 1.5-2 GEL for a kg of tomatoes, 1-1.5 GEL for cucumbers. Apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, plums, strawberry, melons, watermelons for 1-2.5 GEL for a kilo. In winter and spring, there are not many vegetables there, mostly from Turkey greenhouses and taste not so good.
Buy hot bread called shoti in bakeries (0.7 GEL for a huge piece), local mozzarella-like cheese (5-7 GEL for kg of imeruli, 9-12 GEL for suluguni) and cook salad. This is one more tasty and healthy way to eat when your budget is low. Don't miss local yogurt called matsoni. Imported yogurts of known brands are maybe more expensive than in your country but there are a local one, homemade matsoni, waiting for you in a fridge of almost every small grocery shop in any Georgian city. Just ask a vendor.
If you don't mind drinking soda, try special Georgian sorts. The most popular ones among locals and travelers are estragon soda (tarkhun) and pear lemonade (ask lemonade 'groosha' that means 'a pear' in Russian).
Good news for drinkers - prices for regular wine, beer and chacha (Georgian grape brandy) are very low. I paid 3 GEL for a half-litre cup in a restaurant. Georgia has its own ancient wine traditions (wiki) and the things are so serious that some people claim Georgia to be the cradle of wine... From the point of traveling science, it means that getting drunk at least one time is a definitely must-do in Georgia.
You ask 'How expensive is it to travel around Georgia?' - Let's discuss costs for transportation.
Prices for transportation
There are three international airports in Georgia (Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi). Currently, there are cheap flights from Europe to Kutaisi by low cost Wizzair and cheap ones from Russia to Tbilisi. Turkish Pegasus can bring you for a low price from Turkey and some Eastern European countries to both Batumi and Tbilisi.
Kutaisi airport. How to get from there to Kutaisi city, Tbilisi or Batumi - learn on GeorgianBus website. It is a bit more expensive than a regular bus but it's convenient since the schedule of GeorgianBus is tied to the timetable of arriving flights.
Tbilisi airport. There are cheap public buses go to the city center (sometimes overcrowded). You can find a bus stop just outside the exit of the airport. A taxi drive to the city center costs 25 GEL. However, airport taxi-drivers can ask much higher prices like 50 GEL. To avoid the trouble contact any local taxi service to pick up you. Example: http://taxionn.com/en/Home/Rates
Batumi airport. It is quite near to the city. Take a public bus or a taxi (search in Google taxi services and pay twice-thrice more).
And two more tips about low budget traveling in Georgia:
- Viber application is very popular in Georgia. It could be convenient to use it.
- You can't say that the Georgians tend to be well-organised people so it is better to have any other taxi service's contacts in a case..
- One more way is to contact your hostel or guesthouse and ask the price of transfer. Every accommodation makes that business but some hotels ask more than a normal price.
If you need a taxi to another city of Georgia, check prices here http://taxi.ge/price.php?lang=2. Intercity connection is covered by minibuses called "marshrutka". Costs are
- Tbilisi - Batumi - 20 GEL (it takes approximately 5.5 hours)
- Tbilisi - Kutaisi - 10 GEL (3.5 hours)
- Tbilisi - Telavi - 7 GEL (2 hours)
- Tbilisi - Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) - 10 GEL (3 hours)
- Tbilisi - Akhaltsikhe - 10 GEL (3.5 hours)
- Kutaisi - Batumi - 10 GEL (2.5 hours)
- Batumi - Zugdidi - 10 GEL (2 hours)
- Zugdidi - Mestia - 20 GEL (3 hours)
You can travel between main cities by train also (http://railway.ge/?web=1&action=page&p_id=479&lang=eng) and by local trains to small towns and stations.
There is also air connection between Tbilisi and Kutaisi and Mestia (Svaneti). Prices for flights are only a bit more expensive than minibus transportation. You can't book a ticket online, instead, you should communicate by e-mail with the staff (they speak English).
More details about cheap flights inside of Georgia: http://www.vanillasky.ge/index.php?action=contact&Lang= http://www.vanillasky.ge/index.php?cat=1&show_id=814&Lang= http://travelsurfrepeat.com/how-to-fly-from-natakhtari-tbilisi-to-mestia/
- Tbilisi - Yerevan - around 30 GEL
- Tbilisi - Baku - around 30-40 GEL
- Tbilisi - Istanbul - around 90 GEL
- Batumi - Istanbul - 60 GEL (buy ticket on the Batumi bus station)
- Batumi - Trabzon - 20 GEL (Batumi bus station)
- There are many buses from Batumi and Tbilisi to Russian cities, even to Moscow ans Saint Petersburg but the way is very long
Links for those who go from Georgia to Turkey:
- Most advanced bus company: Check Metro Turizm Georgia web-site: http://geometro.ge/
- Cheaper one: LuksKaradeniz bus company http://www.lukskaradeniz.com/eng/seferler.htm
- Searching system for bus ticket in Turkey https://www.neredennereye.com/bus-ticket/
There are trains from Tbilisi to Yerevan and Baku - http://railway.ge/?web=1&action=page&p_id=479&lang=eng
From Baku and Yerevan, you can go further to Iran, Tabriz or Teheran, by bus. http://www.navigator.az/bustable/ (use Google translator).
By ferry, you can go to Ukraine, exactly to Chornomorsk city near Odessa, cheapest option is 95 USD for a ticket - check UkrFerry website. By speed boat, you can go from Batumi to Sochi city of Russia (in spring, summer and autumn at least) - contacts here.
'How much does it cost to travel through Georgia?' - Let's go on.
Mobile connection in Georgia. Geocell is known as a mobile company whose connection covers even the most distant areas of Georgia. For example, I had mobile connection on the foot of Chalaadi glacier and while being on the height 2400 meters above sea right next to mountain Ushba (4700 meters). Tariff Globusi + 2Gb mobile internet for 7 GEL for a month.
One more expense is tickets for cable roads in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Svaneti. A trip costs up to 5 GEL depending on a length of a cable road.
Currency exchange. The best money to bring to Georgia is US dollars. Euros are fine too. As for other currencies, it is usually better to exchange them into dollars in your country and, then, exchange dollars into GEL in Georgia.
Good rate of US dollar is here http://www.procreditbank.ge/index.php?lang=ENG
and there http://rico.ge/?lng=eng for example.
And the website of Bank of Georgia to compare currency rates: http://bankofgeorgia.ge/en/services/treasury-operations/exchange-rates
How much does it cost to backpack in Georgia?
As the conclusion, I will say that my total expenses in Georgia 2016 were 18-20 US dollars a day (about 40 GEL). I stayed at only rooms, not dorms so it will be much cheaper for those backpackers who are ready to stay at hostels.
It is interesting that I spent the same money - around 20$ a day - in India in winter 2015-2016. I can't say that prices in India and Georgia are the same... For example, a room with its own bathroom will be more expensive in Georgia than in India. Or Georgia doesn't have so cheap very local restaurants as South India has. At the same time, you can stay at rooms with common bathrooms for quite a low price and use a common kitchen at hostels and guesthouse to cook breakfasts and dinners with fresh vegetables, eggs, cheap and tasty local cheese and bread and stuff from bakeries... That's why traveling in Georgia can cost the same money as in India.
Thank you for reading the post guys! Hope it was useful. If you have any questions, you are very welcome to ask anything in comments!