The only real trick to riding a marshrutka is finding it. After that, the process is quite simple. So, how do you go about finding the right marshrutka? First, you need to know which station serves your destination. This is sometimes harder than it sounds, because there isn’t always a centralized place to find this information, and even smaller cities may have more than one marshrutka station (Telavi, for example, has three–all very close to each other). I’m halfway convinced that Georgians get this information through a system like the Voice of the Tribes in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall—they all just have a mind-meld every evening and exchange important information about public transportation and when events start. If you aren’t able to break into this system, though, never fear. Some marshrutka information is available online, and I predict that the amount of information available online will only increase in the near future. Tour books tend to include this information in their “getting there” sections. Another good, though sometimes intimidating, way to find it is just to ask someone. Friends living in Georgia, hotel staff, and random passers-by are all likely to be able to help you find the right station. Once you reach the marshrutka station, your next task is to find the right marshrutka. For this part, it is very helpful to be able to read the Georgian alphabet, or at least be able to match two sets of unfamiliar symbols. Major tourist destinations may have a sign in Russian or English, but the vast majority of marshrutka signs will only have the destination written in Georgian. If you can’t read the sign, or are unsure if you have the right marshrutka, just ask! Georgians are, in general, very hospitable towards visitors and happy to help you with things like getting on the right marshrutka. I’ve also found that standing around a marshrutka station looking confused will usually result in plenty of offers of help in finding the right one.
Sometimes you have to buy a ticket from the station before the marshrutka departs—if this is the case, the driver will tell you (or mime to you), and will take you to the ticket office to make sure you have the right ticket. Usually, though, you pay the fare when you exit. There is usually, though not always, a table on the wall/ceiling between the driver and the front passenger seat which explains the prices to different destinations along the route. Marshrutka drivers will make change for you.
On the marshrutka, I personally tend to find the seat behind the driver the most comfortable; the driver’s window is almost always open, and you can get a nice cooling breeze. The other windows in the marshrutka may or may not function. If you’re going close to the end of the line, it’s better to try and get a seat further from the door since there is lots of coming and going in a marshrutka trip, and it’s easier for everyone that way. If you aren’t used to being in a car, or are terrified of Georgian driving, you might want to sit somewhere where you can’t see out the front windshield. If you don’t know your destination well, it can be a good idea to chat with the driver and other passengers around you to make sure you don’t stay on the marshrutka for too long. I recommend a window seat, as well, so you can see where you need to get off. Make sure you sit engaging both your abs and your back, since most marshrutka seats don’t exactly provide good lumbar support, and you don’t want to reach your destination too sore to have fun.
In order to get off the marshrutka, just holler “Gamicheret!” (გამიჩერეთ) or “Stop for me!”. Don’t forget to pay the driver if you didn’t buy a ticket when you got on!
You can also hail a marshrutka as it passes along the road, but this is a topic too advanced for Marshrutkas 101. If you have found these directions because you Googled “How to Ride a Marshrutka” take a taxi to the marshrutka station and proceed from there. If you are an advanced-marshrutka rider, you know the drill.
See, it’s not as hard as it sounds. I know that the idea of marshrutkas seems absolutely terrifying to many foreigners, but once you know the basics, they’re a very convenient and inexpensive method of transportation. Personally I love marshrutka rides. For some reason, I feel very free with the wind in my hair (I don’t know how Georgian women manage to keep beautiful hairstyles while riding marshrutkas…), some good marshrutka music on my iPod (I like Florence + The Machine, The Clash, and the obvious choice of the Georgian band მგზავრები (mgzavrebi=travellers), and looking out the window at the mountains.