Traveling By Car in the countryside in Armenia and Georgia
When visiting Armenia, many of us "city folk" get sucked in by the seductive gravity of Yerevan and although we have the good intention of getting out of town and traveling in the countryside, the social contacts, tight entertainment schedules, partying at night and then waking up a little too late the next morning...every morning, keep us in Yerevan until it is time to leave and go back home. Sound familiar? I know I have been caught in this cycle several times especially after having visited Armenia many times in a row and having created a strong social circle in Yerevan. But I remember a time when I arrived in Yerevan with some friends from Europe. We joined another friend from Armenia, took a rental car and started a two week long journey around the countryside. We covered pretty much every square inch of the country and this was one of the best trips I had ever taken.
First of all, something to be said about driving in Armenia. Some Glendale moms will complain that driving in Armenia is "craaaaazy". Ok if your entire driving experience consists of driving from Burbank to Gelndale then back to Burbank, taking only small residential streets in an automatic gear-boxed Armenian mom-van, driving in a real city might seem a little "crazy" but if you have driven in any European capital then you will find that driving in Yerevan is not much different. And driving outside of Yerevan, in the country side is even easier. I have a particular affinity for getting a rental car, instead of hiring a driver with his car because of the freedom and the intimate connection it gives you with the land of the Caucasus, without the presence of a middle man. Those who have done it will know what I mean.
The roads in Armenia, Karabakh and Georgia are mostly in good condition and sparsely populated by other motorists. One thing you have to take into account is that the landscape is very mountainous often with steep, winding mountain passes. Distances that you are used to covering in X amount of time back home, let's say on the "autobahns" or your local equivalent, will probably take you X-squared amount of time to cover in the Caucasus so plan accordingly. Don't be fooled by the small size of Armenia and Georgia, you can easily spend a month driving around the countryside in and between these countries and not get bored.
Plan your time in a balanced way. Make sure you don't end up only driving and sleeping. Booking a place to stay for more than one night at each stop will give you a chance to take a break, have drive-free days, absorb your surroundings, make new friends and engage in local activities. Sometimes what may seem like "wasting time" is what ends up in the most unusual and unforgettable experiences outside of our planned and structured routines.
Be wary of the inclination to cover everything in one go. Remember, Armenia and Georgia have been around for thousands of years and they will still be around for some time to come. So unless you are at the sunset of your life, you don't need to see and do it all in one trip. Pick a route and a region for one trip and if you end up loving this part of the world, or perhaps you already have, you can always plan another trip to Armenia and/or Georgia later and cover the areas you did not get to cover on your first trip.
Taking a driving trip has many advantages but taking a driving trip in the beautiful and wild countryside of the Caucasus is a special experience. So next time you think of visiting Yerevan or Tbilisi, do consider building some time into your planning for country side travel.