Is Georgia a safe country to visit durring a global pandemic and while there is a war in Ukraine? Yes and no.
For years now, visiting Georgia has been on the top of my travel wishlist. Ever since eating khinkali at a Georgian restaurant in Istanbul, I was convinced this country was for me. Then I read about its history and came to understand it’s an up and coming digital nomad hub.
I was sold.
As such, I made Tbilisi the hub of my insane around the world trip for April 2020…then Covid happened. Not to be defeated, I made visiting Georgia a priority for as soon as it was safe to travel again…then Russia happened.
I contemplated (hard) about putting this trip on hold once again however, after careful consideration, I ultimately pushed ahead. Now that I’ve been in Tbilisi for a week I thought I would share my thoughts on if Georgia is a safe country to travel to right now.
Why I Decided to Travel to Georgia
Like everyone else in the world, I was saddened and shocked (but not shocked) when Russia invaded Ukraine. I was glued to the news and sickened by it all. Selfishly, with my first international trip in over two years coming up, I questioned if I should proceed. Was it safe? Would I enjoy the trip if I was distracted by the news and events? Again, it felt selfish to be excited about a trip while millions were displaced and losing their home and loved ones.
Naturally, war is not ideal for anyone, let alone for travellers. It’s less ideal when the war is next door to the country you are visiting and a country that is already on edge. On the flip side, for a country that enjoys tourism money, to go from a global pandemic to the fall out of war nearby is devastating to the economy, to say the least.
So, instead of avoiding the trip, I took it as an opportunity to spend my travel dollars in Georgia. Also, as pointed out in my final plans post, I really wanted to speak with locals and get their thoughts and concerns about the war in Ukraine. I also wanted to find out from them, first-hand, if they consider Georgia a safe country to travel to, now more than ever.
The War in Ukraine as Seen and Felt in Tbilisi
To say there is solidarity with Ukraine in Georgia is an understatement. Walking the streets of Tbilisi there are Ukrainian flags draped alongside Georgian ones on most buildings. Cars have Ukrainian bumper stickers or flags hanging from the mirrors. There are “Fuck Russia” and “Fuck Putin” tags on sidewalks and walls thought-out town. All of this is understandable, possibly in Georgia more than anywhere else.
Besides 70-years of Soviet occupation, Georgia has had its own recent conflict with an invading Russia. In 2008, Russia started a war with Georgia. It lasted just 12 days but resulted in hundreds of deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced Georgians. When the dust settled, Russia took control of 20% of the country including much of its Black Sea coast. They also took South Ossetia whose borders are under 100 km northwest of Tbilisi.
What Do Locals Think?
I asked Miriam, co-owner of and operator of the cooking classes at Nana’s Kitchen, what her thoughts are and if Georgia is a safe country in her opinion. Before Russia invaded Ukraine she would have said of course Georgia is a safe country. Now she is not so sure.
“I could not sleep for the first two weeks“ referring to when Russia first invaded Ukraine. The fear that Russia can do the same to Georgia at any moment is a reality, especially when they are encroaching so close to Tbilisi. Miriam has a young daughter and has contemplated leaving with her until the war is over.
On the flip side, while taking a wine tour we met two Belarusians who left their home to avoid being forced to fight and be able to continue making a living wage. My brother met a Russian who had the same story. To them, Georgia is 100% safe, at least for now. They do not support the actions of their “elected” leaders and are ashamed of their actions. To speak out against it, however, is unsafe. As such, they have come to Georgia.
Interestingly, from the locals around me at the time, there was understanding and no animosity. When I found out that this couple was from Belarus I immediately had my back up and thought the worst of them. Turns out, no one here wants this war. No Georgians, Russians, or Belarusians.
CNN just shared the same experience in this report from Tbilisi.
Is it Safe to Tour Around Georgia?
Walking around Tbilisi I feel incredibly safe and comfortable. Yes, Russia is nearby but life must go on for those that live and work in Georgia. And it does.
Aside from frequent peaceful protests and the extra cost of living we are all feeling, life is the same in Georgia. Tour operators are running and are all too happy for the business. You can’t walk far from Freedom Square without being asked to visit the wine regions, Caucasus Mountains, or nearby Mtskheta.
Trains are also running and, if the land border was open between Tbilisi and Azerbaijan (as of writing this, it remains closed due to Covid), I would have happily taken the train from Tbilisi to Baku. I love a good train trip and have heard this one is an incredible ride. You can still book tickets online at 12Go for domestic travel and it remains a safe, affordable, and convenient way to travel in Georgia.
What About Covid in Georgia?
Speaking of Covid, what of the pandemic in Georgia? The country has largely been open without restriction throughout the pandemic so travel is not an issue. Mask wearing is widespread which was good to see although I believe the restrictions have eased since arriving. Also, there is seemingly a testing clinic on every corner. My brother and I literally went shopping for our PCR tests before flying to Azerbaijan. We landed on one that was just $25. What a country.
So, Is It Safe To Travel to Georgia Right Now?
At the end of the day, this really comes down to your comfort level. Again, for me, walking around and staying in Tbilisi, I feel 100% safe. That said, things can change with an aggressor next-door. My biggest concern isn’t an attack in Georgia per se, it’s the potential overall disruption in air travel. To me, after being cooped up for two years and having the chance to spend my travel money in a place like Georgia is worth it.
On top of that, getting the chance to talk to and understand those that live through this on a day-to-day basis is important. Too often we let fear seep in from the media and the scope is lost. Yes, the current situation is scary and not ideal for anyone. This has led to many cancellations to destinations all over Europe. That said, currently, the conflict is in Ukraine. Georgia, however, is open for business. After being here and seeing how welcoming and hospitable the people are, I hope more come to support them as they support their neighbours.