What is the best route to travel overland from Europe to Asia?
Here’s a detailed overview of all the possible routes you can take if you want to hitchhike, cycle or drive from Europe to Asia by land or travel from Europe to Asia by train.
You’ll find information on ferries, borders, visas and how to deal with possible obstacles along the way.
Planning a big overland trip requires preparation. And flexibility.
We often had to change our initial plans and routes when we were hitchhiking from Europe to South East Asia. The biggest challenge was dealing with closed borders and difficulties in getting visas.
Or the occasional car problems while we were hitchhiking in Kazakhstan
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).
Others don’t allow you in their country unless you’re part of a tour group. Iran, for example, doesn’t like Canadians, Brits, and US citizens traveling independently and Turkmenistan is just suspicious of any other nation in the world.
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.
It took us 3 years to hitchhike from Europe to Central Asia. We like to take our time…
So what’s the best way to travel from Europe to China and/or Southeast Asia without too much hustle, bustle and fuzzle?
I’ll give you an overview of all the possible routes on how to hitchhike/cycle/drive/take the train from Europe to Asia, including border and visa obstacles and possible solutions.
1. Traveling across Europe by land (and sea)
1.1 Visas and border crossings in Europe
As a European citizen, you can travel as much and as long as you want in all the countries of Europe. You have the privilege of not needing a visa, not even for the European countries that are not part of the European Union or the Schengen area.
Source: International Living
This also means that, if you pass a border checkpoint, you just have to show your passport or national ID card and you’re free to go.
The European countries that are not part of the Schengen area will allow travelers holding a Schengen visa to enter and stay in their country for 90 days. This means that you could actually stay for 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’ve already stayed for 60 days in the EU and are about to enter Croatia.
Croatia 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) that allows you to stay 90 days in Croatia.
Once you leave Croatia, you still have 30 days on your Schengen visa to travel in the Schengen countries.
Dubrovnik – Croatia
Just be aware that the Schengen visa only 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 by then 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 travel route you take in Europe, as long as you have a multi-entry Schengen visa, you shouldn’t encounter any problems at the borders.
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.
1.2 Driving and cycling in Europe – travel routes
Resources for driving in Europe:
- Driving in Europe – Requirements and Tips
- Driving in Europe – Checklist
- European Roadtrip Ideas by Wandering Bird
- 20 Best Road Trips in Europe by Skyscanner
Resources for cycling in Europe:
- EuroVelo: 15 long-distance cycling routes across the whole European continent
- Tom’s Bike Trip: How to prepare yourself for a long bike trip
1.3 Travel in Europe by train
Here are 2 in-depth guides on how to travel across Europe by train:
- A Complete Guide to Train Travel in Europe by the Savvy Backpacker
- A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel in Europe by The Man in Seat 61
1.4 Ferry routes and crossings in Europe
When you’re cycling or driving from Europe to Asia, you might want to save some time by skipping a part of the overland journey and take a ferry instead.
Here are some ferry companies that offer different European ferry routes:
- OK-ferry: ferry routes to different destinations of the Mediterranean Sea
- Direct Ferries: numerous option for ferries in and around Europe
Traveling by ferry in Greece
2. Crossing the border between Europe and Asia
There are 3 different ways to travel across the European-Asian border and make your way towards the East.
2.1 Traveling from Europe to Russia
This is the road less taken if you’re traveling towards Asia as it’s not always that easy to obtain a tourist visa for Russia. You could also opt for a transit visa, which is easier to get but it will only allow you 10 days in Russia (not ideal if you’re cycling).
1) How and where to apply for a tourist visa for Russia
If you’re from Latin America, South Africa, Georgia, Central Asia or any of these 45 countries, you’ll get a free visa on arrival that allows you to stay 30 to 90 days in Russia, depending on your citizenship.
Travelers from North America, Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Australia will have to apply for a Russian tourist visa in the Russian consulate or Russian embassy in their home country.
To apply for a tourist visa for Russia, you’ll need:
- a Letter of Invitation (LOI),
- a visa application form that you’ll very likely have to fill in online
- passport with 2 empty pages valid for 6 months after arrival in Russia
- photocopy of your passport
- passport picture
- Travel Insurance for Russia (only for citizens of the EU)
iVisa is a reputable online passport & visa service that offers Tourist Invitation Letters (LOI) for Russia. They can also help you with the whole visa application process to receive the Russian tourist visa.
What if you’re already on the road but you still want to apply for a tourist visa for Russia?
If you’re a citizen of Europe, Australia, etc, you could always send your passport home and aks a friend or a family member to do the application for you. However, this is risky and not something I’d recommend as your passport might get lost in the mail. It’s also illegal in most countries to travel without having your passport with you.
2) How and where to apply for a transit visa for Russia
You can easily apply for a Russian transit visa in any country that has a Russian consulate or embassy.
A transit visa allows you to stay up to 10 days in Russia. To apply for this visa, you need:
- proof of onward travel like transportation ticket from Russia to the next destination or, if you travel by car, car documents and a print-out of your planned route
- proof of valid visas for the countries from which you enter and exit Russia
Here’s more detailed information on how to apply for a transit visa for Russia.
3) Cycling or driving from Europe to Russia
The best way to travel from Europe to Russia is via the border with Latvia, Estonia or Finland as they all belong to the EU, which means less hassle.
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 shouldn’t cross at all!
You can also enter Russia via Belarus, but you’ll have to apply for a visa to enter Belarus by land as you can only obtain a free visa on arrival if you arrive by plane. Check the visa policy for Belarus here.
The Way to Russia is a great resource for if you want to travel to Russia by car, motorcycle or hitchhiking.
Plan your trip to Russia well in advance. It’s the largest country in the world and even if you get a 90-day tourist visa, you’ll have to drive a lot if you want to cross the country within a decent time frame.
Also, keep in mind that winter isn’t the best time to travel through Russia (especially if you’re cycling or hitchhiking!!). Prepare yourself well!
4) Traveling from Europe to Russia by train
Here are 2 fantastic resources if you want to travel by train from Europe to Russia:
- How to travel by train from London to Moscow & Russia by The Man in Seat 61
- The Best Train Routes to Russia by The Way to Russia
2.2 Traveling from Europe to Turkey
The most popular way to travel from Europe to China and Asia is by going through Turkey.
1) How and where to apply for the tourist visa for Turkey
Citizens from Latin America, Central Asia, New Zealand and certain European countries (for the complete list, look here) receive a free visa on arrival that allows them to stay up to 90 days in Turkey.
It’s super easy and straightforward to apply for the e-visa online and once you receive it, you’ll be allowed to travel for 30 up to 90 days in Turkey. This is plenty of time to cross the country (although, we overstayed our Turkish tourist visa with 6 months, but that’s a different story…)
Cappadocia in Turkey
2) Driving or cycling from Bulgaria or Greece to Istanbul
You might encounter a lot of security checks at both land borders as many refugees try to enter Europe from here.
3) Taking the train from Europe to Istanbul – the ‘Modern Orient Express’
Does ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, the famous detective novel by Agatha Christie, ring a bell?
Throughout history, there are many referrals to train travel in Europe on the Orient Express route. The route started in Paris, went across Vienna and ended in Istanbul.
Nowadays, you can still travel by train along the Orient Express Route:
- Read how Naomi from Probe around the Globe followed this famous historical train route from the Netherlands to Istanbul.
- The Man in Seat 61 wrote a comprehensive guide on how to travel by train from London to Istanbul
4) Taking the ferry from Greece to Turkey
When we were hitchhiking from Europe to Turkey, we took a ferry from Rhodes, one of the Greek islands, to Marmaris, a port in Turkey. If you like traveling by boat, I’d definitely suggest you take this route.
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, in a travel agency in Athens or on one of the islands.
5) Taking the ferry from Ukraine or Bulgaria to Turkey or Georgia
There’s also the possibility of taking the ferry from Chornomorsk in Ukraine to Haydarpasa in Turkey or Batumi or Poti in Georgia.
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
3. Traveling from Europe to Southeast Asia by land – travel routes
There are many different routes to travel overland from Europe to Southeast Asia, some easier and more accessible than others.
I’ll focus on 3 main routes. You can always mix and match the information to make your own journey towards Central Asia and Southeast Asia.
3.1 Route A: From Europe to India by land (Myanmar – Thailand)
A lot of people dream of traveling overland from Europe to India. This is also the route we first had in mind. We wanted to travel overland from Europe to Thailand across Iran, Pakistan, and India.
It looks like an easy road on the map but it doesn’t come without any obstacles. This route is also not possible to travel by train.
Turkey/Russia (- Georgia – Armenia) – Iran – Pakistan – India – Myanmar – Thailand
1) From Turkey to Iran
The shortest way to travel from Turkey to Iran is by crossing the Gurbulak – Bazargan border or the Esendere – Siro border. Find all the information about the Turkey-Iran border crossing here.
Iran issues visas on arrival but only if you arrive by plane. If you travel overland, you still have to apply for a tourist visa at an Iranian embassy.
However, the whole visa situation changes constantly so for the most recent updates concerning the Iranian visa, check out the updates on Caravanistan.
The best place in Turkey to apply for a tourist visa for Iran is at the Iranian embassy in Ankara.
You could also travel from Turkey to Iran across Georgia and Armenia. Both countries offer free visas on arrival to many nationalities (check the visa policy for Georgia and Armenia’s visa policy) and are definitely worth a visit!
If you travel across Georgia and Armenia, apply for the Iranian tourist visa in the consulate of Iran in Batumi (Georgia).
Only citizens of the UK, US and Canada can’t travel independently to Iran. They need to be accompanied by a tour guide at all times. But… 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.
The Agha-Bozorg mosque in Kashkan, Iran. Photo by Lost with Purpose
2) From Iran to Pakistan
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.
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.
3) From Pakistan to India
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-month tourist 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
4) From India to Myanmar and Thailand
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 want to continue your journey towards Southeast 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 on 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.
Myanmar. Source: Guidelines.org
Nobody said that traveling by land would be easy, eh?
Alright, next route:
3.2 Route B: Traveling overland from Europe to Central Asia and China
(Turkey/ Russia -) Georgia – Azerbaijan – Kazakhstan – (Uzbekistan – Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan) – China – Vietnam
1) From Georgia to Azerbaijan
You can enter Azerbaijan with an e-visa (since 2017!) which allows you to stay for 30 days in the country. If you’re planning on staying longer than 10 days in Azerbaijan, you’ll have to get registered!
If you want to travel by train, there’s a daily train leaving from Tbilisi (Georgia) to Baku (Azerbaijan).
* 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.
Read everything you need to know about:
2) From Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan by boat
You can cross the Caspian Sea from Baku in Azerbaijan to Aktau in Kazakhstan by ferry, which costs around $80. It’s more expensive if you travel by car.
This ferry doesn’t have a fixed schedule but it leaves at least once every 3 to 7 days.
Read our Comprehensive Guide with everything you need to know about taking the boat from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan.
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.
3) From Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan by boat
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 visa 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:
3.3 Route C: from Europe to China (the long way round)
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!