Without any doubt one of the most hospitable and traveler-friendly countries in this world, hitchhiking in Iran is definitely a great way to get around. Especially as in recent times of economical sanctions from the West, prices for transport (as for nearly everything else) are on the rise.
Here are five things to consider if you want to give it a go!
1. No thumbing
Rising your thumb is seen as an obscene gesture in Persian culture, although many young Iranians are aware of that sign in today’s time. Still, absolutely prefer to wave your arm or your hand at incoming cars. You’ll surely make yourself understood better and avoid possibly offending drivers.
2. The Taarof
One of the most interesting cultural customs in Iran, it might be the most difficult one for travelers in many situations, for example when hitchhiking.
Taarof is a system of polite lying that should enable people to keep face in different situations. While hitchhiking, it could happen that a driver actually expects to get paid some money for the ride (what is absolutely common, as the system of hitchhiking is not really known in Iran). He will probably expect that you’ll offer money at the end of the ride. So far so good. Now it gets tricky: If you do offer money, you can be pretty sure the driver will refuse. You offer again – he will probably refuse a second time. If you offer a third time and he really wants some cash, he might accept then. If he still refuses, he probably means it! A pretty detailed explanation you can find here.
Best to avoid unpleasant situations for yourself and for the great Iranian people would be to clarify things from the beginning.
An important phrase in Farsi to learn is “Pool nadaram” (“I have no money”). If the driver still waves you in, ask “Taarof nist?” (“That’s no Taarof?”). To be absolutely safe, you could follow up with: “sad dar sad??” (something like: “100% sure?”).
This way you can be sure about the situation and at the same time you surely create appreciation by flashing your amazing Farsi language skills!
3. Clarify directions
Nothing very specific for Iran but for most countries without a hitchhiking tradition and language barriers, many drivers do not understand you are really looking for a ride to another city – but rather for help to get to the next bus station / train station, like all “sane” people. Unfortunately there is no word for “hitchhiking” in Farsi, so you have to improvise. Know well the next cities on your route to mention the names and clarify that you really don’t want to go by bus (“atoboos”) or train (“qatar”). Also consider using signs, preferably with the city names in Farsi.
4. Stock up
On some routes distances between inhabited places can be immense and I probably do not have to mention the climatic issues in a country like Iran. So be prepared! Stock up on supplies before heading off to a longer journey, especially carry enough water. Besides that, it is always nice and very ‘Iranian’ to carry small snacks like dates or fruits and offer your driver – you can be sure there will be a revenge.
By the way, do not be afraid of getting stuck on the road as long as you are close to some village or town – Iranian hospitality will save you every time! You surely won’t have to sleep on the street! If really nobody invites you in, it is always a good bet to knock at the doors of the local mosque. It should be an oddity to encounter an Imam who sends you away instead of helping.
5. Police is your friend
While many travelers might have dark images about encounters with Iranian police or military in mind, while hitchhiking they are mostly a great help instead of any threat. Firstly, the “bad guys” are the Basiji, some kind of religious police, the guardians of the islamic revolution. Those fellows are mostly not very keen of having foreigners in the country. Often dressed in civil, it can be hard to recognize them.
Anyway, when hitchhiking you’ll rather encounter the regular police or military. Young, underpaid and often pretty bored guys who will absolutely go out of their way to make the stay for a foreigner in ‘their’ country as enjoyable as possible. Be not surprised to be invited to chai, lunch, a ride or even an overnight stay at the station or lean back when those guys are just doing your job: stopping cars for you to take you further!
Or: Good trip!
With those things in mind and the usual pinch of common sense in your luggage, traveling in Iran will be one of the best things you did in your life and hitchhiking the final ingredient for a delicious oriental travel feast!