First-hand perspective and practical tips for solo female travel in the Caucasus with photographer and journalist, Elisha Donkin.
The more I travel – and the more I write about travel – the more I realise that as a blogger, I have a very specific (some may say unnatural!) way of experiencing the world.
Even though I always try to offer balanced advice, at the end of the day, I’m just one person with my own particular travel style. In other words, not everyone travels like I do.
I was searching for a way to better capture the diversity of travel experiences when I had the idea to launch a new series of interviews. Over the next few months, I’ll be speaking with a host of ‘everyday travellers’ – not necessarily bloggers or people involved in the industry – to learn new insights into everything from trip planning, to what motivates people to visit a particular destination.
This interview is the first in the series. I hope you find it valuable!
Solo female travel in the Caucasus is a topic I often get questions about. I’ve done my fair share of solo travel in Southeast Asia – but since I’ve only ever visited this part of the world with my partner, there’s only so much insight I can offer.
The Caucasus, particularly Georgia, has a reputation for being safe and hospitable, and I know lots of women decide to travel here independently for that reason. One such woman is Elisha Donkin, a fellow Australian whom I met over social media last year.
Originally from Melbourne, Elisha is a freelance writer, photographer and prolific traveller who has been on the road solo for the better part of five years. As soon as I started following her on Instagram, I realised she has a taste for adventure and isn’t afraid to challenge herself. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself looking at her photos and asking, ‘Could I do that!?’
Although Elisha and I have very different travel styles, we also have a lot in common – including a passion for overland travel (yes, we both love long train rides), slow travel and street photography. And, of course, we share a bit of an obsession with Georgia.
Elisha and I first connected after we both stayed at the same homestay in Pankisi and ended up trading tips about the region. When I asked her if she’d be interested in sharing the details of her journey and some advice for solo female travellers, she kindly agreed.
This interview isn’t just about solo female travel – you’ll also learn why Elisha was interested in visiting the Caucasus in the first place, what her itinerary looked like, and whether or not she’d recommend the region to others.
Thanks Elisha for chatting with me! Firstly, what inspired you to visit the Caucasus?
To be honest, I knew very little about the region before going and I had never been to any ex-Soviet countries before.
I was travelling in Iran last year and contemplating where I was going to go next. When I put it to some friends and followers on Instagram, I had quite a few people tell me that I would love the Caucasus – I think because of the history and the incredibly beautiful landscapes.
I then started meeting people who had been to Armenia or Georgia, and I was pretty quickly persuaded that I needed to go there. So after a bit of a long-winded overland journey I did.
Can you give us a brief overview of your itinerary?
I crossed into Georgia from Turkey in October last year and spent a total of seven weeks in the region. I spent a month in Georgia first, mostly using Tbilisi as my base for exploring.
I particularly spent a lot of time in the Caucasus mountains around Kazbegi and Svaneti. Then I went to Armenia for two weeks to explore Yerevan, Dilijan National Park, Gyumri and Goris. I then went back to Georgia to take the train to Azerbaijan for a week to visit Baku, Sheki and Gobustan National Park.
What was it like travelling solo in the Caucasus? How did it compare to other countries?
I had a great time travelling solo in the Caucasus. It really felt like one of the safest regions I’ve ever travelled in. People were so friendly and helpful that I really can’t think of any time when I felt overwhelmed, frustrated or lost.
After having travelled through Asia for months beforehand, I actually found the Caucasus to be a more relaxing place to explore, especially as a solo traveller.
I also think it was a real advantage to travel solo there because I got to interact and spend time with local people. I found the family-run guesthouses and homestays, which are all over the region, to be some of my most memorable experiences.
The families who ran the guesthouses often treated me like their own. I always had people going out of their way to help me beyond what I expected.
What are your top tips for other women who are thinking of travelling solo in the Caucasus?
I would highly recommend staying at family-run guesthouses, as they really care about their guests. I was overwhelmed by people’s hospitality. Otherwise, there are good quality hostels like Fabrika in Tbilisi, where you can always meet other travellers.
I would also suggest getting a SIM card in each country so you can communicate with people back home, but also so you’re able to call ahead to your accommodation and ask directions or reserve a room. They’re easy to get and it’s also very affordable to buy data, which means you can book a Bolt or Yandex (like Uber) if you’re out late.
My other suggestion would be to have Maps.Me or some other map app downloaded for offline use. That way you can pin your accommodation or save locations for when you’re out exploring and use the GPS so you don’t get lost (also very important if you plan on doing any hiking).
But in general, I found the region really safe and friendly. I even hiked on my own, and I met some amazing people.
What was your overall impression of the region? Would you recommend it to other travellers?
I really fell in love with the Caucasus and would highly recommend it to other travellers. For me, it had everything I love about travelling all within one region. There are incredibly stunning landscapes, particularly within the Caucasus mountains. The hiking opportunities blew me away.
The history is also really fascinating and still very pervasive, but it seems to somehow strike a perfect balance of old and new, with some of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited. The food and wine are to die for, and the people are kind, helpful and hospitable.
But you still have rough roads and the marshrutky (local shared transport) that you have to love and hate at the same time. It’s the right kind of level of adventure without being too exhausting or challenging.
Do you have any upcoming travel plans you’d like to share?
My trip last year was quite a long one and so for now, I’m taking some time to rest and explore my own country, which is something I haven’t done too much of on my own so far.
But I’d have to say, at the moment, my next overseas trip will likely be exploring more of Central Asia and parts of the former Silk Road that I haven’t seen yet.