Backpacking in Iran is safe, easy and absolutely worth it. Here are a few things that you are ought to know before you head on your great Persian adventure!
It’s ‘only cash’ world for foreigners. No foreign cards or travel cheques are accepted, so for backpacking in Iran you will have to bring everything in cash. Euro or US dollar both work everywhere, yet often they are converted 1:1, 25 euro being 25 USD.
Becoming a millionaire
Be ready for some complex math, millionaire! You might already know it, but it is so confusing that it’s worth pointing it out once more. One euro is something around 40 000 Iranian rials (2017-03), but locals count in Tomans. 1 Toman is 10 rials and locals often skip the word thousand. If you are told 5, that means 5 000 Tomans, so search for the bill of 50 000 rials. In your mind divide it from 40 000 and here you are paying a bit more than 1 euro. Also note that there are several colours for the same bill. So yes, good luck with that.
This short video illustrated the struggle with money rather well!
Booking accommodation is a bit of a headache, be prepared. Sanctions mean 3 options on booking.com so you will have to do a lot of search on your own. While Iranian web designers have their own trends going, like who needs contacts information, or lets hide language change button, but hey, you have animated doors opening when you click on rooms! Your Iran experience starts before you actually head on the road.
Stay connected through VPN
Get yourself a VPN app. Facebook and some other websites a blocked in Iran, so if you want to use these, you need a VPN app. It is simple to use, simply open the app, connect and do everything as you usually would. I used Hotspot Shield for iPhone.
Local Sim Card
Get a local Iranian sim card (you can get one at the airport or at a hostel). Mobile internet is rather good, especially in larger cities, while wifi is usually pretty slow. When backpacking in Iran, I used it often to make calls to local hostels to book rooms. Also locals tend to give you their phone number, just in case.
Buy a hijab
When backpacking in Iran, if you are a woman, bring a scarf and once there, my advice, buy a hijab. I personally found a scarf very uncomfortable and it kept falling off, so I invested 3 euros into a black hijab. Buying it was a whole adventure, wearing it made my life on the road much easier and I got home a great souvenir that all my girlfriends tried on. Local girls wear various scarfs on daily basis, a black hijab like I bought is worn on public service, university and other official matters, while the big black cloth is called Chador and is worn by choice and you will see more of it in the rural areas.
Be careful in the traffic
I never thought I will say it, but in Tehran traffic is worse than in New Delhi! Have a look at these video, crossing a street in Iran is the most dangerous thing you will experience. Try to cross together with locals and never run, cars in Iran go around you when you cross without decreasing their speed, so running is the worst thing you can do.
Renting a car in Iran is not only difficult, but also dangerous, especially if you have just arrived. Furthermore, local transport is great, VIP buses are cheap and really comfortable, the only thing missing there is toilet. And if you want to go off the beaten track, rent a car with a driver, petrol is ridiculously cheap, so it will not cost you a fortune.
It’s sort of time travel
And remember, it is a different year in Iran. 2017 March was the No Ruz, Iranian New Year, making it the year 1396.