Iran is a very friendly country. Some hitchhikers on their way to India even decide to stay in Iran instead.
|Language:||Persian and turkish are major languages; recognised regional languages Kurdish, Mazandarani and Gilaki|
|Currency:||Iranian rial ( IRR )|
|Hitchability:||<rating country='ir' />|
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Hitchhiking is done in Iran by waving one's arm at an oncoming car, or by dribbling one of your hands. Do not gesture with your thumb up as in the West, because this is an obscene gesture in Persian culture.
NOTE: In 2017 I hitched with the thumb, because several iranian hitchers told me to do so, they were doing the same. Also I noticed many times that locals gave me the thumb as a positive gesture, for example when taking selfies.
Waiting for a ride can be a frustrating experience sometimes, but it is generally relatively easy to hitchhike here. Frustration comes when there is a driver stopping for you every few minutes and suggesting taking you to a bus terminal, and sometimes you may find it hard to explain that you travel at low budget and that you actually want to hitchhike.
When hitchhiking in the north of the country, it might occur that people stop just to ask if you need assistance unrelated to transportation. In fact, you don't stand longer than 10 minutes without some car stopping for you. It can be even a police/army vehicle (they are in every corner of Iran): they will pick you up and even stop a car for you and convince a driver to take you further.
In Farsi language (official language in Iran spoken as a first or second language by most citizens) the word "hitchhiking" doesn't exist. The translation of this word found in English-Farsi dictionaries seem to have a confusing effect on locals of Iran since they hear it for the first time in their lives. Though some people (especially couchsurfers or young Tehranians) know about it, call it "autostop" or English "hitchhiking". The Farsi majani savar shodan seems to be the closest (means driving for free) and it is the literal translation of the dictionary though doesn't seem very widely understood also because "savar shodan" means take a lift and most often refer to shared taxis (savari) so that it may sound as "taking a shared taxi for free" (fact that can actually happen kind of often though is not very fair and respectful for the other passengers who however most probably will smile and welcome you).
A very easy way to hitch a lift and make cheater run away is clarify since the beginning that you are not going to pay anything asking before entering the car "bee doona pool?" (without money?) asking for confirm several times in case the driver doesn't seem nice "mutmaeen? sad dar sad?" (are you sure? 100%?) otherwise you can also use the magic word salavaati which works quite good. (this word has originally a religious background from the war time between Iran and Iraq. some people would do some favours for soldiers and asking them for salavaat which is kind of good pray instead of money.) as soon as you say this word, everyone understand what exactly you mean. (and nobody expect you to really pray.)
I found just "majani" / "majane" simple enough and efficient. It's farsi and means that something is for free or without payment. "Kujamiri" means "Where do you go/ drive?" but people would if at all answer only after I ask the fourth or fifth time.
An offline farsi dictionary and Arabic Alpha app (free for iPhone and Android) helped me get by and sped up aquiring some basic farsi. Farsi has 3 more letters than arab script but once you know arabic letters, you can guesstimate the farsi ones.
Useful phrases are: Do you go to ...? - shoma be ... mirin? Can you do me a favour please? - Mishe ie lotfi be man bokonin? Can you give me a ride to ...? please - Mom kene ast man ro be ... beresonin? lotfan I don't want to pay - Man nemikham pul bedam
In the North West of Iran (Tabriz area, until Qazvin), Turkish will work equally well.
Watch out when somebody says a ride is for free: it might in fact not be. Tarof is an Iranian custom of saying a white lie, which is understood by both parties. This enables everyone to keep face. For example, at the end of a taxi ride, the driver will say it's free, because tradition dictates you should be extremely hospitable to guests. If you reply with "na" (no), he will quote the real price. While you could ignore this, it can cause offense, as it is an integral part of Iranian culture, whether you like it or not. One of the more useful phrases is "Tarof nist?" (it's not Tarof?) with a rising intonation at the end. When the answer is no, you can probably expect the offer to be genuine. Maybe the answer is another instance of tarof, but you can probably stop playing the game at this point.
There are three main border crossings with Turkey, including Esendere and Bazargan. The crossing with Armenia is at Nordooz. At least one with Azerbaijan and one with Pakistan at Taftan/ Mirjaveh, Bandar Abbas and Bandar Lengeh are sea ports if coming by ferry from United Arab Emirates. Chabahar is port if taking the boat from Muscat.
Some entered Iran at the Yuksekova-Esendere border. People coming from Turkey don't get frustrated! It's amazing if you know that a hundred meters back on the Turkish side most people would understand 'autostop'. Other than the young and modern Iranian generally won't know what is hitching. Tell them you have no money. You can explain everything later in the car. Iran is the best country I have ever hitched. Even in the hottest desert on earth (you feel dying after 10 minutes) the first car stopped. Roads are in good condition. Some days I my average hitch-hiking speed topped 100 km/h!
Iran has almost the worst death toll due to traffic in the world. Be prepared to have a week or more adjustment time, even if you come from neighbouring countries. This applies mostly to crossing the road in cities, but be vigilant at all times. When on the back of a motorcycle, make sure to keep your knees tucked in next to the vehicle, as they pass very close to cars, and you might get hurt.
Opium is commonly consumed, so if you are not interested, make sure to not accept dodgy looking waterpipes (hooka/nargile/"hubble bubble") at people home's, especially in the countryside, unless you ask for the contents before.
Taking photographs is prohibited in many circumstances, especially of buildings related to policing and military use, as well as people in uniform. Surprisingly, it is also forbidden to take pictures of license plates, and is considered a quite serious offence. Playing dumb tourist is still the best way to get out of this situation.
Unmarked police vehicles prowl the streets of Tehran at night-time. While they don't check for hashish/opium, they do have breath analysers. After a party, it might be wise to consider staying there rather than going home.
Not all military installations and no go zones are marked on maps, so make sure you get advice from a local before you head out or stay on the road. An example would be the Maranjab desert.
These rules might seem conservative, especially as locals violate them all the time. On the other hand, as a foreigner, you run the risk of being made an example of, so you need to make your own judgement calls rather than follow what people around you do.
In any case, foreigners are rarely troubled, and are easily forgiven transgression of "islamic" laws on ground of ignorance. Violating the dress code, talking to woman in the street is no problem at all. Premarital sex is probably not ok, if you get caught. Stay away from demonstrations, you might be considered a journalist travelling on a tourist visa.
Hitchhiking as a girl as experienced by Mariegab
Problem 1: not being able to hitchhike In Iran, everybody stops to take passengers on the road, especially if you're a girl. You should not forget to say you're traveling with no money as most of the cars become taxis when they stop for you. (but people might offer you to pay your ride by bus). If this is too difficult, you can also say you're traveling by truck and that's easy to understand, even if hitchhiking is not a common thing at all and most of the people don't understand it. When somebody stops for you and understand that you travel by hitchhiking, as soon as he/her takes you, you become her/his host. As a girl, it often means that they feel responsible for you. Responsible also means they won't let you in a situation they judge dangerous. So leaving me on the road was something that a lot of people couldn't do and they just drove me in city centers, bus stations, hotels, homes, etc even if I disagreed.
Problem 2: physical harassment In the Iranian society, boys and girls are -in most of the families- separated: they go to different schools and can't have much contact, especially physical contact until they marry. So it often happened that they felt more free with me because I was a foreigner and just started touching me everywhere they could until I left the car. It often started with my hands that in a lot of cases where considered as a very sensual part of the body. However, if the situation was really uncomfortable, I never felt in danger in such a situation as it was really clear and they didn't want to have something else than just touch my arms, legs, hands or any part that they could reach. After getting out of the car, it was over.
Problem 3: cultural differences I put myself in difficult situations not understanding custom. For example, many couples or groups of young people like to drive around to just spend time together. So it happened that people who picked me up actually didn't want to drive me anywhere but just drive me around to spend time with me. Another problematic situation was when I accepted to go to my drivers's house to use internet. They didn't let me leave the house when I wanted to because they said the neighbors would call the police if they saw a girl going out of a boys's house and that would be a bad situation as they could think I'm a prostitute- which is one of the worse punished crime in Iran. About shaking hands: with some people, it was pretty normal, with some other considered as a very sensual thing. In the second case, it happened that religious people refused to shake my hands or that guys trying to hit on me refused to give me back my hand. I shocked a girl saying that I had no problem checking the hand of her friend.
Advantage: In addition to advantages you can have as a hitchhiking girl (people trust you more, you can be faster, etc), traveling as a girl in Iran, where genders are often separated, has the advantage that you can have a better access to intimacy and to women's world. It is very easy to meet a lot of men in the street but being invited in a house, sleep there or having an access to the women's world is probably easier for a girl, especially outside Tehran. I had the opportunity, for example, to spend 2 days in a girls' dormitory where I could speak with a lot of different women about their lives and got invited in many houses to spend the night with the family.
==> I met some Iranian girls who use to hitchhike and they said it was a great experience. I had also really good experiences as a girl alone hitchhiking in Iran. You should be aware that the custom is really different from Europe and even Turkey and that the law protects men better than women.
Hitchhiker Ivan Đogić
The hitchhiking concept in Iran is unknown and people mostly don't speak english so some basic farsi vocabulary can be very practical. In Iran people share rides by picking others up and getting some money for it so if you hitchhike you will have to explain a bit what you do.
1. Are you going towards (city name)? Aya shoma be (city name) mirid?
2. But no taxi, I dont have money. Ama na taxi, pul nadaram.
3. I'll get out on the road. Jote piode misham. (Important to stress because drivers will automatically drive to center to the bus or taxi terminal)
Do not use signs while hitchhiking, it's useless. People don't understand it is your desired destination, they will look at you strangely thinking you are showing them in which direction the city is. And of course, they already know that. In 90% of cases drivers will pick you up after you stress you have no money just because they are such hospitable and curious people. Generally, the more touristy and evidently western you look, you will be greeted more warmly. Having blue eyes and blond beard made my traveling in Iran so easy and enjoyable. Drivers tend to stop and detour for various reasons, sometimes to visit somebody, to pick somebody up, to talk to somebody and more often than not you'll be confused at what is it now this time?!. If you know your location at all times and you're not in a hurry just let it be and enjoy, it might be a beginning of something really cool - meeting interesting friends, going on a trip, staying with family for lunch or staying overnight at your drivers'. There aren't so many roads in Iran so it was easy to orientate but nevertheless I found having Google maps with GPS very helpful especially since Google maps have cities in both persian and latin letters. At the same time MAPS.ME was almost useless. Iranians are incredibly hospitable and friendly and I found it important to give something back for all the kindness I would receive. Particularly while hitchhiking... Apart from showing interest in their language I would always have some cookies or nuts or something simple like that as a small sign of appreciation. It makes them really happy and proud plus it often results in Iranians giving even more. You will have to exchange phone numbers and take loads of selfies. But Iranians are not aggressive in trying to get your attention the sell something or get money from you, they are just plain nice and politely curious. It's a very safe country to travel around, hitchhiking works perfectly well, wild camping super easy. Just enjoy! Careful on the Caspian coastline, it is very touristy and thieves tend to brake into tents and steal so make sure you hide well. That's how I was robbed and I heard the same story from others too. Also, the Caspian coastline is very urban and cities are connected so it was difficult to get a longer ride and people expect money for rides a lot more than in the rest of the country. Anyway, one of the best hitchhiking countries for sure.
Hitchhiker Iris Veldwijk - Mind of a Hitchhiker
I hitchhiked for one month around Iran in 2014 and generally felt very safe. It's true that right across the border nobody knows what hitchhiking is anymore, so I wrote signs in Farsi for everywhere I went, but occasionally cars would stop for me on their own initiative to ask me why I'm in the middle of nowhere. I crossed the Meghri border from Armenia when coming in to Tabriz and left from Orumiyeh to the Esendere border with Turkey. Hospitality was really great and if you're invited to someone's home, there's a fair chance you'll be "temporarily adopted" by a nice Iranian family. It's not seen as a positive thing if a woman travels by herself, let alone by hitchhiking, so it might be tiring to try to explain why you're doing it. Stopping cars was generally really easy and often I could just choose rides that had at least one woman present. Lots of women also just stopped for me with no other drivers in the car and they were often the ones that spoke the best English. I'm writing a book about my experiences hitchhiking alone in Iran.
Marcel and his female friend
Hitchhiking/ Travelling in Iran is simply amazing! Be prepared for many taxis though, even if thumbing they'll stop, thinking this person's western and doesn't know how to stop a taxi. I'd thumb western-style and not eastern-style (holding the hand at waistheight level to the ground) - showing a thumb is meanwhile understood as a positive thing and local hitchers use the thumb too. After some days you'll get a feeling for who's taxi and who's not. Unfortunately my second lift turned out to be a 'shared taxi', but still today I'm not sure if he just wanted to rip us off or indeed was a cab driver.
Now I'll spare you hundreds of wonderful stories because you'll make your own and only share the one that went semishizzle, hoping it can safe you from repetition. Both me and my friends are still very very happy to have been to Iran! I'm sure the guy who picked us up and 24h later groped the female of us thinks badly about what he did, I saw his eyes when he left us.
I do see some things to improve on in our behaviour, given the cultural differences middle east and west:
First thing I found a little odd was when my friend followed his offering to have a cigarette, the driver lit the cig in his mouth and passed it to her on the back seat! I don't smoke so I'm not an expert on customs but I found it somewhat intimate. Later, being invited to eat, he would push most of his veggies to her plate, not once to me or the other male hitcher. Okay, he's got only one daughter, in my friend's age and she's abroad studying, maybe he's suffering some sort of daughter-syndrome...
Later we followed his invitation home, he wants to show us the town. Which turns out to be a shopping tour across all floors of a mall and we enter many (female clothing) shops, he searches clothes for her, asking do you like this do you like that. She declines the questions, but wanting not to be too impolite she gives in after three or four times. Half an hour later she carries a number of plastic bags with various garments. (To me it seems she has also proven as many times that if he insists long enough, he'll have it his way.) Something in me was screaming that this is going in the wrong direction, but I understood that she didn't want me to interfere and the other hitcher seemed to not be bothered by all this. I tried to push our host aside and had a quiet word with him, he just said okay last one and carried on. At this point I left the party to wait outside, because I didn't want to take part in this drama play anymore. And since there was another male hitcher I could go without leaving the girl unaccompanied.
Back at host's house I went to sleep and male friend sat down infront of the PC, female friend and host engage in conversation and teach songs to each other. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but he's been interested in mostly the female among us and now she's showing interest in his culture (my, who isn't, for why else are we hitching around in Iran!) while all male company has retreated. Nothing extraordinary for us and I bet manageable for most persians, yet keep in mind that boys and girls in middle eastern places are or have been separated in school and social life, singing and smiling in public is illegal for irani women (hard to imagine that it'd go punished tho). I'm telling my observations and thoughts here, don't ask me for a solution to this situation.
Then we figured there are four matresses, but only three guests. Turns out our host prefers to sleep on the ground with us! At least here we made sure to have gender separation.
The next morning, when my friend was alone having a smoke infront of the house, our host groped her and lured her behind the house to "show something". This time he gave in to her no.
East of the bosphorus men are socially implicated to be protecters of and providers for women (especially their "own", which is defined by marriage and family relations), who have a societal status of being weak and dependent. I'm using severe language here because this to me is the key point. We have been fed the same sexist soup, but with western seasoning. That is that a guy gotta accept when his friend doesn't want him to behave like he was her big brother, without insisting several times. And that she says no and means no, whereas traditional iranian/persian/turkish/arabian she says no and means okay, maybe or no. Pretending you and your travel companion are married will probably help. However then you won't be making an example of what's possible in western society. In a different house a different host though that he needs to put us into separate rooms for sleeping when we said that we're not married! But his friend convinced him, since we have a tent we might aswell share a room.
Not many people are "stuck in old conventions" anymore, after some time you'll be able to tell traditional folk from city people. For instance, being new in Iran I was very cautious of tarof, but then I figured it's very few iranians still doing this.
The best place ever to hitch-hike in Iran are pay-tolls. Right after every pay-toll, there is a large bay where drivers going a long distance often stop to put money in boxes to bless their journey. As you can talk without hurry to the drivers, and explain you are a hitch-hiker, it is very easy to catch a long-distance ride.
Example : direct ride Mashhad to Tehran (900km) in less than 10 minutes !
I have only experiences with hitchhiking in Northern Iran, Tehran Airport towards Turkey. However, this was quite easy and I assume that it is the same in the rest of the country. Many people do not know the idea of hitchhiking (you start a "conversation" with an explanation that you do not want to go to the bus terminal) but they are very helpful and hospitable. With the first drivers who gave me a lift I couldn't really communicate as we didn't have a language in common (most people I met spoke Farsi only) -- just hand, feet and PointIt. However, at a later stage many lifts I've got have been from people that spoke to some extend English. It is beneficial when you can read Arabic writing as Farsi uses an extended version of it even though many road signs are in Farsi and English. Many people say you are expected to pay drivers in Iran. Generally, I personally found it easy to notice if a driver is willing to give a free ride, or he expects money, - noticing this in time, it is easier to reject a ride if it is a latter case. Furthermore, I had some rides from couples and families, too. PS: As with in Turkey it is wise to have you own mug along as you are offered tea all the time.
The Persian weekend trick by Harveypekar
Every weekend, thousands of students from Tehran climb into their jeeps, and head out into the country side. It's difficult to catch them as they leave the city, but in the remote places, it's easy to pick them out. And in every car you will find at least one who speaks passable English. The downside is that Iranian weekends tend to make these places fuller, but as I was traveling in November, this was not an issue for me. This way, Harveypekar managed to hitch inside Alamout valley (but got trucks and motorbikes too), and also inside of the Maranjab desert. With that last one, he stayed with them two days, seeing nearby attractions and camping out with them. Because cars tend to be full, it might not work so well when you are more than one person.
Note from a traveler: weekends in Iran are Thursdays and Fridays!!
Iran is definitely the best country I ever visited for hitchhiking as for travel in general. Though the concept itself of hitching doesn't exist at all, people are always extremely kind, friendly and try to help you as much as they can. Very few people speak English, though learn a bit of Farsi is not very difficult and the body language, smiles and kindness supply any other misunderstanding.
Holding a panel with clear signs ("No taxi") and being always strict in refusing offers (though keeping calm and kind) I avoided "cheaters" most of times and I've had the best encounters of my whole life, from the most remote rural area to the suburbs of Tehran. You can hitch extremely easily wherever, from the motorways pay tolls for long distances, to the sidewalk of a desolate road, every time having in mind that you have to talk with the driver and explain what hitchhiking means as why you are doing it (more than almost the whole story of your life..). Said so, it reveals itself really supereasy.
The only bad experiences I had (hitchhiking at night and being hosted by a couchsurfer with empty profile) were definitely not enough to change my feelings and give me either the smallest negative impression of this amazing country (though made me acknowledge it was still part of the Earth and not the paradise, but still remaining among some the closest reality to my idea of it..!)
Even if the cost of transportation is extremely cheap (my host in Tabriz told me, "why don't you take the bus? it costs less than 2E!") this is not a reason at all not to hitch, as most of times, it is not matter of money..!
I noticed some different things while hitchhiking in Iran. Firstly, (as a guy), i was groped/asked for sex/had-people-talking-about-how-beautiful-i-am-to-the-point-of-discomfort, more times in iran than my entire previous hitchhiking experience in other countries. Young blond kids with no beard and long hair should bear this in mind. Secondly, much has been made of how kind and generous iranian people are. This is absolutely true and it is wonderful. However there are glaring downsides to this, chiefly that your rides begin to care too much about you, and refuse to let you continue hitchhiking, instead, they invite you to their home, or quite literally force you onto a bus, despite constant protest. I even had a driver that decided that my cs host was going to hurt me somehow, and wouldn't allow me to get out when my destination came. it took many phone calls and constant pleading to finally negotiate with my driver to let me out. Thirdly, while saying that you have no money (pul nadarim) is the easiest way to hitchhike, it is also a lie/half-truth that can lead to frustrating consequences, especially when they take you to the tourist police or regular police because they are worried about your situation, or force you onto a bus and try to pay for it for you (i usually end up pulling out my cash-stash at that point), or they give you money from their own pocket (in western countries this is not an issue for me, but here, people are hurting very badly from an awful financial situation, and generally have a hard enough time keeping their family afloat. here you can take a 500km+ bus for the price of a berlin u-bahn ticket). Finally, hitchhike during the day if you can. during the night, it is easy enough to find your first ride, but it is difficult to convince that first ride to let you continue hitchhiking, whereas during the day they will usually give up after a couple of minutes. Despite these quirks Iran remains in its deserved place on every hitchhikers bucket-list. Astonishingly beautiful, superlatively kind and generous people, great food, and fascinating culture. Just keep these things and the other issues already written about in mind and you will have an amazing time. One more thing - try to hitch where there aren't too many passerbys or people sitting around, as they will invariably come up to you and not leave, crowding you out and making it hard for you to hitchhike. It can be very hard to make them understand hitchhiking, and that it is a *choice*.
- Iran general safety overview
- Just hitching rides: A journey from Eid to Christmas, Abgefahren Blogs
- The female blogger of The Tourist has been to Iran several times and hitchhiked on small and big roads, from city to city, and through tiny mountain villages. She also has hitchhiking tips for the Middle East.
- User Craig hitched along the Silk Road and wrote about his experiences here: Thumbing Asia From West to East Iran is my favorite place to hitch-hike!
- User RovingSnails tells about hitchhiking in Iran from a woman's perspective, with experiences,thoughts and talks on "hitchhiking with hijab"
- Three women hitchhiking in Iran by an aimless hitchhiker
- User Apprentis-Vagabonds wrote a guide in French about Hitchhiking in Iran in 2018 : L'autostop en Iran : comment ca marche ?