In this article, you can find an overview of all the possible routes that you can take if you want to hitchhike, cycle or drive from Europe to Asia, including information on ferries, borders, visas and how to deal with possible obstacles along the way.
Plans are made to be changed. Especially when they include hitchhiking, overland travel, crossing borders and applying for visas. We had to change our initial route and plans a few times for the second part of our overland journey from Europe to Southeast Asia.
Some countries like to change their visa regulations on a regular basis so you have to adjust your plans accordingly (yes China, I’m talking about you) and others don’t let you easily in because of your nationality (Iran seems to be very suspicious of Canadians and Brits while US citizens can just forget about entering this country at the moment).
A few countries (like Pakistan and Russia) only issue a visa when you apply for it in your home country and/or give you a very limited time to enter the country between the time the visa is issued and your arrival (e.g. you only have 3 months to enter China from the moment you’ve got your visa). This isn’t really a problem if you’re taking airplanes but it becomes tricky when you’re hitchhiking, cycling or driving and you want to take the time to explore the countries you’re passing through instead of rushing towards your destination.
9 months in Turkey, 11 months in Georgia, already 4 months in Central Asia. We like to take our time while we travel and hitchhike …
So how can one travel overland from Europe to Southeast Asia without too much hustle, bustle and fuzzle?
I’ll give you an overview of all the routes we found, including the obstacles and solutions for each one. You can read the whole article or you can go straight to the part you need info about by clicking on the following links:
- Traveling in Europe by land and sea
- Entering Eurasia from Europe
- From Europe to India (Myanmar – Thailand) (route A)
- From Europe to China and South East Asia by land (route B)
- From Europe to SE Asia by land and sea (route C)
* Note that I have a Belgian passport and Niko is Canadian so the visa rules might be different for you, depending on your nationality. I added links to useful websites where you can see which rules apply to you.
Traveling in Europe by land and sea
As a European citizen I can travel as much and as long as I want in all the countries of Europe. I have the privilege of not needing a visa, not even for the European countries that are not part of the EU or the Schengen area.
To travel in Europe as a non-European citizen, you’ll need a Schengen visa which allows you to stay 90 days in countries that are part of the Schengen area. The countries that are not part of the EU, or the Schengen area, will allow travelers holding a Schengen visa to enter and stay in their territory for 90 days. This means that you could actually stay 6 months in Europe (or longer).
I’ll give you an example: Let’s say you’re traveling from Spain to Turkey by land. You already stayed for 60 days in the EU and are about to enter Croatia. This country is part of the EU but a non-Schengen country which means that you’ll receive a visa on arrival at the border (after showing you have a Schengen visa) and you can stay 90 days in Croatia. Once you leave this country, you still have 30 days on your Schengen visa to travel around in the Schengen area.
Dubrovnik – Croatia
Just be aware that the Schengen visa allows you to stay 90 days in a period of 180 days. If you decide for example to spend 90 days in Croatia and another 90 days in Albania (also a non-Schengen country) before entering Greece (which is a Schengen country), your Schengen visa will be expired and you’ll have to apply for a new one.
→ Make sure to apply for a multi-entry Schengen visa when traveling around Europe!
I tried to explain all of this as clearly as possible. Even as a European citizen I find this whole Schengen – non-Schengen stuff a bit confusing! Here’s a website that gives you more detailed information about it and it also tells you how and where to apply.
So whatever route you take to travel through Europe, as long as you have a multi-entry Schengen visa, you shouldn’t encounter any problems at the borders. Just expect long waiting times, especially between Schengen and non-Schengen countries as the security controls became more strict and thorough due to the events in the recent years (refugees, terror attacks,…).
Our whole hitchhiking journey from Ireland to Turkey went very smoothly, even for Niko as a Canadian citizen. We only had to hurry to enter Turkey once we were in Greece because Niko’s visa was running out. Read more in Leaving Europe in a hurry.
For more detailed info about the countries we traveled and hitchhiked through in Europe, go to this page.
→ You can also travel across Europe by sea! Have a look at the website of OK-ferry where you can choose between a lot of different routes and ferry companies to sail across the Mediterranean Sea!
Enjoying the sunset in Albania
Entering Eurasia from Europe
There are 3 different ways to enter Eurasia from Europe:
1. Crossing the border with Russia
This is the route less taken, due to the fact that it’s not so easy to obtain the Russian visa, that certain borders are a bit of a hassle and that most world citizens can only spend a limited time in Russia. Even if you have a 90 day visa, you’ll have to hurry up to cycle, hitchhike or drive across the biggest country in the world!
How to apply for the Russian visa:
First of all, it’s very difficult to apply for a Russian tourist visa outside your home country, unless you’re a citizen of one of these 45 countries that are entitled to a free visa on arrival. There are also a few countries (such as Canada or the US) where the citizens can apply for a Russian visa anywhere in the world but unfortunately, as a Belgian citizen, I couldn’t.
If you’re in the same situation as me, there are 2 other options:
1) Send your passport to someone in your home country and ask that person to do the application for you.
2) Apply for a transit visa (which allows you to stay 1 to 10 days in Russia) but only if you have proof of onward travel – transport tickets from Russia to the country of destination and a valid visa for that country.
You can find more information about the Russian visa and how and where to apply for it on this page of Caravanistan.
→ You’ll notice that I will refer a lot to Caravanistan as it’s the number 1 website to find information about visas, border crossings and updates from other travelers that are traveling the Silk Road.
Best way to travel from Europe to Russia:
The best way to enter Russia is via the border with Latvia, Estonia or Finland as they all belong to the EU, which means less hassle.
It’s better to avoid going from Ukraine into Russia as they were at war with each other and there are still some rebel-held zones in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea, which you better not cross at all!
You can also enter Russia via Belarus, but the chances are that you’ll need a special visa to enter Belarus by land as you can only obtain a free visa on arrival if you arrive by plane, except if you’re from Central Asia or South America.
This article from WaytoRussia will give you all the info you need on how to enter Russia by car, train, bicycle and hitchhiking.
2. From Europe to Turkey
Another way to enter Eurasia is by traveling from Europe into Turkey.
You can cross the land border with Greece or Bulgaria at Edirne or you can do like us and take the boat from one of the Greek islands to the mainland of Turkey (we took the ferry between Rhodes and Marmaris).
Here’s a ferry connections route map between Athens, the Greek islands and the ports in Turkey. You can book tickets for the ferry online or in a travel agency in Athens or on one of the islands.
If you’re not a citizen of one of these countries who doesn’t need a visa to travel in Turkey, you’ll need to apply for an e-visa, which is a super easy and straightforward process and it’ll allow you to stay 30 to 90 days. This is plenty of time to cross the country.
We ended up traveling for 9 months in Turkey and we overstayed our Turkish tourist visa (which we don’t recommend). Go to our Turkey Guide to find more information about our route and which places we visited in Turkey.
Sailing on the Aegean Sea in Turkey
3. From Ukraine/Bulgaria to Turkey/ Georgia by ferry
There’s also the possibility of taking the ferry from Chornomorsk in Ukraine to Batumi or Poti in Georgia or Haydarpasa in Turkey. Another ferry goes between the port of Varna in Bulgaria and the port of Batumi in Georgia. You can find all the schedules and prices on this website.
Batumi in Georgia
Read more about backpacking in Georgia here!
Now comes the fun part: how to travel from Russia, Turkey or Georgia to South East Asia.
There are many different ways, some easier and more accessible than others. I’ll focus on the 3 main routes, the last one being the one we’re taking. You can always mix and match the information to make your own journey towards (Southeast) Asia.
Route A: from Europe to India (Myanmar – Thailand)
Turkey/Russia (- Georgia – Armenia) – Iran – Pakistan – India – Myanmar – Thailand
This is the route we first had in mind. We wanted to travel from Europe to SE Asia across Iran and Pakistan. It looked like an easy road on the map but it didn’t come without any obstacles (at least for us).
You could enter Iran from Turkey or Armenia. Both countries are very accessible concerning visas and you won’t encounter any problems crossing borders.
Crossing the Turkey – Iran border shouldn’t be a problem but traveling independently in Iran would be for Niko since he’s Canadian.
While Iran is loosening up with their visa policy and is even issuing free visas on arrival (only if you arrive by plane), depending on your citizenship you still have to apply for a visa in an Iranian embassy, especially if you’re going to enter by land. I’ve met many travelers that visited Iran and they never had any issues when they applied for the visa.
-> Check this page on Caravanistan for all the updated information about where and how to apply.
As a Belgian citizen I wouldn’t have any problems to apply and obtain my Iranian visa but for Niko, being Canadian, it’s a different story. For some reason, the Iranian government doesn’t want British and Canadian passport holders to travel independently and they need to be accompanied by a tour guide at all times. No problem if you don’t mind being part of a tour group (and have the money to pay for it) but we don’t like to travel this way (and don’t really want to spend money on an organized tour).
There’s a way around it. You could enter Iran via the Armenian border where the border controls are known to be less strict. Alex from Lost with Purpose wrote how she entered Iran independently as a UK citizen. As hitchhikers, we didn’t feel like taking this chance. The police tend to stop us often (because we’re hitchhikers) to check our passports and if they would see that Niko is traveling without a guide, he would most likely get a severe punishment (prison). Even though we’re always seeking ways to find free accommodation, this one is not on our list! Especially not after hearing the stories of the Qasr Prison, (which is one of the many interesting places you can visit in Tehran)!
The laws are changing quickly and who knows, the Iranian government might start liking the Canadians in the near future. Iran isn’t going to disappear any time soon so we’ll get the chance to visit this country one day. We hope so
For more information about the Iran border crossings, read more about it on Caravanistan.
The Agha-Bozorg mosque in Kashkan, Iran. Photo by Lost with Purpose
Crossing the Pakistan – Iran border is possible but a bit tricky.
This border crossing is very long and known to be a dangerous area. That’s why you can only cross with an armed escort. Read the border crossing report by Lost with Purpose and check for updates on Caravanistan.
Pakistan was our second obstacle. You can only apply for a Pakistan visa in your home country or country of residence. Europeans and Canadians can get a visa on arrival if they arrive by plane and are part of a tour. Since we’re hitchhiking across the world, that’s not possible for us.
Just like with the Russian visa you can try to send your passport to someone in your home country and ask him/her to apply for the visa in the Pakistan embassy of your country. Know that you’ll be without a passport for a while and you should check the regulations of the country you’re in whether or not it’s illegal to travel there without a passport.
If you are able to obtain a visa for both Iran and Pakistan, it means that you can enter India without too much hustle.
There is one Pakistan – India border that is open only for foreigners.
You can obtain an e-visa for India but only if you arrive by plane. If you want to enter India by land, you’ll have to apply for a regular tourist visa in an Indian embassy. You can apply for a 6 months tourists visa on your way towards India. I’ve heard that the embassy in Pakistan is quite a hassle but you can try to apply for one in Tehran (Iran). Other options are applying for an Indian visa in Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,…) but that means you’ll have to make a huge detour and you need to be aware that the visa starts from the date of issue, not from the date of entrance!
Palitana in India. Photo by Lost with Purpose
Traveling from India to Myanmar and Thailand by land
If you’ve finally managed to travel from Europe all the way to India (congrats, let me know if you’ve done it in the comments!!), you might still want to continue your journey to SE Asia. The only way to reach Thailand or Laos is to cross Myanmar (aka Burma).
This is also tricky! You can enter Myanmar from Thailand with an e-visa but there are some mixed reports whether or not it is possible to enter Myanmar from India. You’ll also need a special permit to travel overland in Myanmar. On the forums of Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet you’ll find more information about this.
More info about the Myanmar visa here.
Myanmar. Source: Guidelines.org
Nobody said that traveling by land would be easy, eh?
Alright, next route:
Route B: From Europe to China and South East Asia by land
(Turkey/ Russia -) Georgia – Azerbaijan – Kazakhstan – (Uzbekistan – Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan) – China – Vietnam
* Note: If you also want to visit Armenia, know that they aren’t the best buddies with Azerbaijan. Definitely avoid going through the disputed region of Nagorno – Karabakh because you can be sure that you won’t be allowed into Azerbaijan at all! If you decide to go through that region, make sure that you have your stamp on a separate piece of paper.
There are also no open borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan so you’ll have to return to Georgia first before entering Azerbaijan or you can go through Iran (see route A). You can expect annoying questions from the Azerbaijani border controls concerning your visit to Armenia (they will ask if you visited Nagorno – Karabakh) but they will allow you in.
For more information about Azerbaijan, read our Travel Guide to Azerbaijan!
You can go from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan by cargo ship, which costs around $80. This ferry doesn’t have a fixed schedule but it leaves at least once every 3 to 7 days.
If you don’t want to take the ferry from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan, you can always enter Kazakhstan through Russia (either on a tourist visa or transit visa from Eastern Europe or Georgia). There shouldn’t be any issues crossing the Russian – Kazakhstan borders. Read more about it here.
*Note: I’m not mentioning the ferry from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan on purpose.
Turkmenistan is a pain concerning visas and independent traveling. You can only enter the country on a tourist visa if you’re part of a tour group. If you just want to apply for a transit visa, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. The rejection rate is 50% and they love to play games.
Applying for a transit is like playing the lottery. We also heard stories of couples that applied for the transit visa and while one of them got the visa, the other person got his application rejected. We’re super curious about this country but it’s not worth the hustle. Oh, and you can’t get any visa during the month of September, due to an important festival in Turkmenistan.
As from the 1st of January 2017, Kazakhstan issues 30 days visa-free on arrival for citizens of these countries, including the EU and Canada (hooray!). Find more information about traveling and driving in Kazakhstan in our Travel guide to Kazakhstan.
Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan. Check our Travel Guide to find out how to get to this stunning place!
You have 30 days to cross Kazakhstan into following countries:
You’ll have to apply for a visa if you want to visit Uzbekistan. You can find more info about the application process here. You can stay up to 30 days in the country. Remember that you have to register at least one night out of 3 with a hotel or hostel and show the registration papers when exiting the country. Find more info about Uzbekistan in our Travel Guide to Uzbekistan!
Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Kyrgyzstan has the most liberal visa regime in Central Asia. Niko and I can stay up to 60 days visa-free. Read our Travel guide to Kyrgyzstan to learn everything you need to know about this beautiful country!
You can enter Tajikistan via Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. More info about the border crossings here. You can visit Tajikistan on an e-visa unless you’re from one of these countries. While you’re in Tajikistan, you definitely should travel the Pamir Highway!
Oh, dear China, how moody art thou! If you don’t take the route from Iran to India, you’ll need to cross China to enter Southeast Asia. For a while, China was issuing visas in different countries in Central Asia but unfortunately, they recently changed their visa regulations and you can’t obtain a Chinese tourist visa in Central Asia at the moment.
Remember that the rules change all the time so you better check the Caravanistan forum for recent updates. We had a sparkle of hope we could apply for the Chinese visa in Tbilisi (Georgia) but currently, they are only issuing visas for residents of Georgia.
The only solution is to send your passport home (there we go again) and ask someone to apply in the Chinese embassy in your home country (unless you’re from Germany, then you have to be physically present to apply for the visa). Here’s what you need to apply for a Chinese visa. If you can’t or don’t want to do that (like us), don’t worry. We’ve found a different way to travel to Southeast Asia (see route C below).
*If you’re traveling by car, you can’t drive independently through China. You can only do this if you’re part of a tour group or have a personal guide, which can be very expensive. The best solution is to find a group of travelers who also want to cross China by car or motorbike and split the costs. You’ll also need to apply for a Chinese driving license. Click here for more information.
Once you found your way through China, you can enter SE Asia by Vietnam or Laos. Laos issues a 30-day visa on arrival to citizens of these countries.
Vietnam. Photo by astours.fr
And now, saving the best for last: the route we’re taking to Southeast Asia:
Route C: from Europe to South East Asia by land and sea
Turkey – Georgia – Azerbaijan – Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan – Kazakhstan – Russia – Mongolia – Russia – South-Korea – Japan – China – Vietnam
As you can see on the map, this is the long way round to China and South East Asia. It’s the best chance we have to get a visa for China and reach SE Asia. We’re following the same route as in route B up until Kyrgyzstan.
First, we have to go back to Kazakhstan and from there we continue our journey towards Mongolia. There is no direct border between Kazakhstan and Mongolia so we’ll have to apply for a Russian transit visa (2 days) in Almaty or Astana (Kazakhstan). For this visa, we’ll have to show proof that we’re taking the bus or the train (unfortunately we can’t hitchhike this part) to cross the distance between Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
We also need to apply for a Mongolian visa (30 days). As a Canadian citizen, Niko can get a 30-day visa on arrival but only if he would enter the country by plane. This means that we both have to apply for a tourist visa, probably in the embassy in Almaty (Kazakhstan) or in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). Both seem to be very easy and straightforward options.
Mongolia. Source: The Global Village
After visiting Mongolia, we’ll have to apply for a new Russian transit visa (we’ll try to get 10 days) in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia). We’re going to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian train from Ulan Ude to Vladivostok (Russia) and book tickets for the ferry from Vladivostok to Donghae (South-Korea).
We could stay on the ferry all the way to Japan but we’ll hop off to visit South-Korea for a bit. We both can get a free visa on arrival (Belgium 90 days, Canada 180 days). Once we’re there, we’ll apply for our Chinese visa. Apparently, it’s possible to get a Chinese Tourist visa in Seoul (if they haven’t change the regulations by the time we’re there).
Once we’re ready to move on, we’ll take that same ferry from Donghae to Sakaiminato (Japan).
Have a look at the website of Hedgers Abroad for more info about South-Korea!
Naejangsan in South Korea. Photo by Hedgers Abroad
Japan is also generous with its visa. We are entitled to a 90-day free visa on arrival. That will give us plenty of time to cross the country towards the port of Osaka where we can take the ferry to Shanghai in China.
In case we wouldn’t be able to get a visa for China in South-Korea, we’ll try again in Japan (at the moment of writing, this is also still possible. Fingers crossed!!).
So if everything goes well, we will be able to enter China. Depending on the length of our visa, we’ll travel around for a while before moving south towards Vietnam and Laos (see route B).
It’s going to be a very interesting and exciting trip! We’ll update this post if there are any changes and will provide more detailed info concerning this route while we’re making the journey. You can follow us on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram or sign up for our newsletter!
→ note that all this information might change quite quickly. I’ll do my best to keep all this info updated but double-check on the website of Caravanistan to make sure!
A special thank you to Steven and Saule from Caravanistan to keep the website updated at all times!! It’s a wealth of information for all of those travelers (including us) who want to travel as smoothly as possible in Central Asia! Also thank you to my friends Alex and Sebastiaan from Lost with Purpose and Ryan and Stephanie from Hedgers Abroad for allowing me to use some of their great pictures!
If you’re going on a long journey like this, you better get a good travel insurance! We recommend World Nomads:
If you’ve traveled part of these routes (or the whole way) by land and you have extra information or stories, please share it with us in the comments! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!