Iran is a very friendly country. Some hitchhikers on their way to India even decide to stay in Iran instead.
|Language:||Persian; recognised regional languages are Azeri, 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.
Waiting for a ride can occasionally 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.)
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 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.
If you're heading towards Iran through Turkey, it would be silly not to pick up your visa in Trabzon. You don't need the expensive code from iranianvisa.com or Touran Zamin (this process can take up to 5 weeks) and will receive your visa within one day. Hitchhikers have also managed to get visas in Istanbul, Ankara and Erzurum.
Or go to Batumi. you don't need any authorisation codes, and you get your passport back, with visa, in one hour. cost was 75 € for 30 days.
- Hitchhiker Craig 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!!!
- Hitchhiker alex: "Sadly, I had to fly into Iran. I did not manage to get a visa in Yemen or in the United Arab Emirates beforehand (I stayed 7 days in Muscat until the embassies opened again; they told me at the Embassy of Iran that they can only issue for residents in contrast to what I have been told before). Flying into Iran is an option for people from some privileged countries. Larger airports in Iran can issue a 14 days transit visa on the spot. However, I guess this is not an issue as most people here will travel the other direction and will only start their journey when they have this visa (since this is the only visa Germans can not get at the border)."
Finding a place to sleep in Iran is generally as easy as knocking the first door you come across. If you get tired of the unrelenting hospitality however, the city parks offer an excellent alternative. Many parks, even in big cities, are designated as camping zones, with toilets open all night. Camp fires are tolerated, but it's best to ask before. Though in some cities (e.g. Hamedan) there are clear panels showing "forbidden camping" and policedo come to unset tents (often used as nest by couples young or not); arriving late at night and setting off the tent early in the morning you will avoid any annoyance for sure. Sleeping in mosques is also possible, even though you should ask for permission beforehand. In this case, make sure you respect the segregation of sexes when travelling as a couple. Harveypekar slept in a mosque close to Mesr, only to overhear the Imam the next morning, explaining other travellers that it's impossible to sleep in the mosque. The imam was friendly enough though to show the other group the other side, as to leave him sleep his fill.
It is possible to camp in the deserts as well, but be sure you cannot be seen from the road to prevent attention from the authorities. They can send you to jail for being on some site you're not allowed to be on. Note that while the desert might be dazzling hot during the day, it can get extremely cold at night, so be sure to take some extra clothes with you for the night!
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 hitchin 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 language of body, smiles and kindness supply any other misunderstanding. Holding a panel with clear sings ("No taxi") and being always strict in refusing offers (though keeping calm and kind) I avoided cheaters all the times and I've had the best encounters of my whole life, in every kind of place, 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 him what hitchhiking means as why you are doing it (more than almost the whole story of your life..) it reveals itself really supereasy. The only bad experiences I had (hitchhiking at night and being hosted by a couchsurfer with empty profile) were not enough at all to give me either the smallest negative impression of this amazing country though made me acknowledge it was still part of the Earth and not of the paradise, still remaining 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 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.
- Just hitching rides: A journey from Eid to Christmas, Abgefahren Blogs
- 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!