Since arriving here in Georgia, I have spoken to a lot of travelers who seem to be staying here for longer than in other countries. Not only is the average duration of stay longer, the number of visitors is increasing. Georgia was recently voted as a top 10 destination for 2018 by world renowned travel guidebook company Lonely Planet. What is it about this nation at the crossroads of Europe and Asia that is so appealing? I met with Matt Hayes, from New Zealand, this week to find some answers.
So, who is Matt Hayes?
I'm a freelance writer from New Zealand. I was studying medicine up until mid-2016, before deciding that I would much rather spend my life doing what I love. In the past year, I've been based between Nepal, Bulgaria, and Georgia, and I'm currently working on a book about a totally fictional character who does something similar
…And how long have you been here in Georgia?
I arrived back in August, so that’s just over 3 months. I’m staying here until December, so I’ll have been here for about 5 months in total.
Why this length of time?
Well firstly, the visa rules are very relaxed. I know other people who are staying here for the long term. Most of us can stay here for 1 year, step out into Armenia, and re-enter with another year. Other reasons? There are beautiful mountains, and both the food and wine are cheap and delicious. It’s fascinating historically. I don’t know anywhere else in the world that has such a blend of cultures. A lot of places have something like this, but here it is so alive. It doesn’t feel like a museum, it has a real living spirit.
…And you’ve spent most of your time in Tbilisi. Why?
Tbilisi is very well set up. As a freelancer, I feel very inspired everywhere I go. People are doing things here, there’s a great creative energy. There are cafes and jazz bars full of creative people. I feel content here. It satisfies so many of my needs.
What brought you here?
I heard from other travelers’ stories about hiking in the mountains, meeting shepherds and drinking wine from ram horns, so I felt I had to see what it was all about. I made the decision to come when I realized a friend was going and I decided to meet them. After he left, I liked it so much I decided to stay for a few more months.
Would you ever come back?
Absolutely! The length of time depends on my commitments, but I’d love to stay for a longer time. A lot of places I travel to I am ready to leave after 4-5 days, but Tbilisi has a magnetic pull.
Least favorite thing?
I have found it quite hard to make good Georgian friends. As a foreigner, I have found it hard to go beyond the tourist bubble. This was lack of knowledge and effort on my part, though. I realize now that when you’re a tourist, mostly only other tourists want to approach you. Whereas if you want to make local friends, you must be pro-active and speak to people.
What’s your favorite thing about Georgia?
It feels like a place where everything and anything is happening. People aren’t tired of life here, they’re always wanting to begin new adventures.
By Tom Day
Edited by Tamzin Whitewood