Last summer I ended my Silk Road trip in the Azeri capital and port city of Baku. I began my travels with stepping out of my apartment in Hangzhou, catching a bullet train to Shanghai, and then working my way over the course of two months to the Caspian Sea along ancient trading routes connecting China to the Mediterranean.
Baku wasn’t on my original itinerary for that journey, but it was a lot cheaper to fly from Azerbaijan back to China than from the small, bizarre Kazakh port of Aktau (where I saw elderly ladies walking raccoons on leashes in the park). The backpackers at the hostel in Baku were vagabonding around the Caucusus, and I kept hearing rave reviews about Georgia.
So almost a year later I have plane tickets to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Why travel to Georgia?
When I arrived at the Mexican border, five months after having set off from Canada on a 2800+ mile foot journey through the Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide, I was really fucking done with hiking and camping. But two years on, I miss being on trail and want to dip my toes back in for a bit.
Georgia is small, a little more than half the size of my home state of Ohio. But it’s beautiful, with gorgeous mountain scenery and stellar hiking. Almost 30 years after independence from the Soviet Union, it’s still quite poor and struggling with democracy (though with a reputation for the best food in the former USSR!).
Georgia is a comparatively cheap country. A bunk in a higher end hostel is $7 to $10 a night, while a centrally located comfortable hotel is around $30. I expect to spend a fair chunk of nights in my tent, and camping is free in the mountains. There will also be opportunities to spend the night or get meals in villages while on my hikes. A dinner at a very nice restaurant in the capital should cost around $9. A bed on a night train is $5.50, and road travel by public transit costs around $1 an hour.
My Charles Schwab card has zero foreign transaction fees along with refunds of fees from any ATM in the world, so I’ll be using that to withdraw cash. Georgia’s currency is called the lari, which is equal to about 35 US cents.
Citizens of developed countries don’t need a visa to visit Georgia. I purchased travel medical insurance for $42, which will cover me for my 18 days in country plus a week in Belarus following Georgia.
I fly on China Southern Air from Hongqiao International, a small airport close to downtown Shanghai with mainly domestic flights. It’s five hours to Urumqi, a growing Central Asia transit hub in the far west of China. Then I have a six hour layover, during which I’ll get stamped out of China, and another five hours to Tbilisi. I should arrive around 9:30pm Georgia time, and have arranged for a driver to take me to my hotel near the airport. The next morning I will get up, take the metro downtown, and check in to a hotel in the heart of the old town (Tbilisi has been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years).
Then I’ll look at the weather forecast and decide where to go from Tbilisi.
I will eventually go into more detail about the things I bring with me on my hiking trips. Here are some of the big ones:
Tent = TarpTent Protrail. 26 ounces, 740 grams. A single walled tent that I have spent around 150 nights in. Uses my trekking poles as support.
Sleeping bag = Zpacks 10 degree Fahrenheit down bag. 15 ounces, 425 grams. It’s definitely lost some of its warmth, and I would likely not get a Zpacks bag again. But it’ll do, and I’m bringing a liner for extra warmth. It doesn’t warm up my legs as much as it used to, but I am bringing some extra thick long underwear. It’s kept me alive in temps going down to 13 degrees F (-10.5C). I’ve spent 210+ nights in this bag and will buy a new one the next time I’m in the US.
Backpack = ULA Circuit. 40 ounces, 1.13 kilograms. My old backpack died the day before I reached the Mexican border on the Continental Divide Trail, and this is the replacement. I’ve taken it with me on lots of trips all over Asia, including hiking in the Tianshan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
Electronics = I’m bringing a 10,000mAh Xiaomi battery pack to charge my phone on the trail. I use my phone for navigation, podcasts, music, and photos. In Tbilisi I’ll get a Georgian SIM card with a cheap data plan (~$10, more than the $1.30 a month I pay to China Unicom). I’ll also have my Kindle. I’m in the process of downloading tons of Chinese romantic comedies to my phone through my Tencent Video subscription to watch on the plane. My addiction to Chinese rom coms is beyond ridiculous.