Backpacking iran ultimate budget travel guide – updated 2018

By car: The traffic in Iran is fairly crazy but if you’re an experienced driver, go for it. I’ve driven a lot in Iran; tackling the busy streets of Tehran and learning the hard way that Iran does indeed have traffic cameras. If you’re driving in the cities, keep your speed reasonable even if the locals don’t – they know where the cameras are and you don’t. Iran is a popular stop with overlanding backpackers travelling from Europe onwards to Pakistan or Afghanistan. An Iranian friend of mine lent me their car for a couple of weeks and I drove from Tehran up to Shomal and then across the top of Iran to Tabriz and into the mountains. Roadtripping in Iran is a lot of fun.

Hitchhiking in Iran is unbelievably easy and I hitched over 2000km whilst backpacking Iran. In the past, the thumbs up was seen as an obscene gesture in Iran however as more and more Iranians watch western movies people now understand that it’s a common ‘European thing’ … If you are hitching though, it’s best to avoid using your thumb and instead to simply flag down cars or make a kind of ‘pat the dog’ motion with your outstretched arm.

It never takes long to get a lift in Iran, many drivers are not familiar with the concept of hitchhiking but as soon as they see somebody by the side of the road they tend to stop; partly out of curiosity and partly out of the fact that everybody is just so damn nice. Backpackers in Iran are not a particularly common sight and hitchhikers in Iran are even rarer, although it is very easy to hitch, so plenty of friendly and curious Iranians will be bound to stop and pick you up.

About five percent of these guys will expect money but, if you explain your situation before you get in, it’s easy to avoid confusion. I learnt a few basic hitchhiking phrases in Farsi, below, and found that as long as I could explain ‘no money’ everything was usually fine – a few drivers did simply drive off when they realised I was hitchhiking without any money and wasn’t going to pay but this was never a problem; another lift was just a few minutes away!

The heartland of Persian culture for more than 2000 years, Shiraz is famed for its scholars, poets, nightingales and wine. Home to the impressive Arg-e Karim Khan fortress, this is a city that is best explored on foot. Shiraz is, actually, the reason I came to Iran in the first place. The masjid-e Nasir-al-Molk Mosque is one of the most stunning buildings in the world and, as a kid, I had a faded photograph torn from a National Geographic upon my wall. The mosque is filled with glittering stained glass windows and when the sun hits at the right angle the entire building is filled with multicoloured rainbows that dance across the floor and walls. The mosque opens at 8 am and I recommend arriving before that; it is the only place in Iran I visited that was crowded with tour groups… Despite the crowds, it should not be missed. The Pardis Hotel, near the Karandish Bus Station on Safar Street has bargain private rooms at 40k – about 12 dollars – if you don’t mind slumming it and are sick of camping.

Iran shares borders with Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. When you’re finished backpacking Iran and ready to move on to a new adventure (I recommend Pakistan!!) check out Caravanistan for plenty of info on visas and crossing reports. If you want to arrange your visa in advance, get the authorisation code from 1stQuest.

Iran, or Persia, had been an important global player for millennia and is home to one of the oldest civilisations in the world. The First Persian Empire stretched from one corner of the known world to the other and 40% of the world’s total population lived and died under the reign of The Persians during 480BC. Once a superpower of immense proportions, Iran has been invaded many times and suffered during the medieval ages as it was ravaged by the unstoppable Mongol hordes. Despite this, Persian culture refused to be diluted and Iran maintained a strong national psyche. Iran sided with Germany during World War II and was promptly invaded by British, American and Russian forces. After the war, Iran struggled with multiple local uprisings incited by Soviet forces who wanted cheap access to the country’s massive oil fields. A military coup orchestrated by the CIA in 1953 catapulted the young and enigmatic Shah Mohammed Reza to power.

In 1973, the Shah returned the oil fields to national control and raised export prices to further fund the country’s development. The West, who had enjoyed dirt cheap Iranian oil until this point, responded by fanning the flames of discontent amongst the Islamic right wing in the hopes that a change in government would lead to cheaper oil. It was largely because of foreign powers meddling behind the scenes that Iran changed so abruptly.

In an attempt to avoid a civil war the Shah left Iran in January 1979. Just a couple of weeks later, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and received a heroes welcome. Iranian army forces, surrounded on all sides by rebel revolutionary forces, declared neutrality and Khomeini took control as the ‘Supreme Leader of Iran’. Many political activists fled during the Iranian revolution as revolutionary forces took a hardline approach on nationalistic groups in a bid to unite the country. Khomeini’s policies changed Iran drastically, something I cannot write about here.

The USA and her allies, keen to get its hands on some dirt-cheap oil again, encouraged an Iraqi invasion led by American ally Saddam Hussein. The eight year Iran-Iraq war raged as Khomeini continued to enforce anti-western policies and the country changed beyond recognition. Khomeini died in 1989 and control passed to Khamenei, a powerful figure with an almost identical name and beard.

Recently, the situation in Iran has been rapidly changing. Many trade embargoes have now been lifted and Iranians are hopeful that economic prosperity and a softening of attitudes is on the horizon. Iran has the potential to be a world power yet again and the country is opening up to the world. Inspired by a glorious past, many Iranians are now excited to see what the future holds for Iran and there are exciting political developments upon the horizon as politics slowly begins to move away from being totally intertwined with religion. Right now it is an exciting time to go backpacking around Iran; the sense of hope and excitement in the air is intoxicating and Iran is finally emerging, blinking into the light, as a global player yet again.

Don’t worry about your tattoos. Yes, it is true that generally Iranian people do not use tattoos on their bodies and they somehow do not like it, but nowadays many Iranian people also tattooed their bodies like arms, neck, back and etc. So, definitely there is not any problem for you because you are not Iranian and everyone completely know that your culture is different from us.

Second, about money: the best way is provide a gift card (in persian: karte hadie) for your self by helping someone. This card is like your international cards but you can use it just in Iran, all over the country even in villages. It is easier and also safer. Iranian people also use widely these cards, they don’t keep much cash in their wallet. In every where they use their cards. Actually, almost all places like shops, markets, restaurant, Transport station, cinema, zoo, gas station, public places and etc. accept your card. Theses card are issued by different bank, no matter which bank. All of them are connected to one system which works all over the country.

Third about currency: the official monetary unit of Iran is Rials. But, our people do not use it much, rather they use “Tomans” instead of “Rials”. Each Toman is equal to 10 Rials. For example, 100,000 Rials is equal to 10,000 Tomans. It is so easier to work with Tomans in Iran. If you see a cost to Rials, Just drop a zero, it becomes to Tomans. and if someone tells you a price in Tomans, you just need to add a zero in front of it in order to change it in Rilas.