RUSSIA TRAVEL GUIDE | Trans-Siberian Railway

RUSSIA TRAVEL GUIDE

I want to give you guys more context and travel information to go along with the series for those of you who wish to travel to Russia one day; which I highly recommend.

I’ll preface this video like I do with all my other “travel guides” by saying; I did not visit the entire country, so I will only be speaking on my personal experiences based on the people I met and what I encountered first-hand. 

There is still so much more of this country that I want to discover – but I’ll talk about future plans later.

Truthfully, Russia was the country I knew least about before visiting from anywhere I’ve been in the world.

I typically don’t research a ton before arriving to a new place, because I want to have authentic first-hand experiences and lessons from locals, 

Russia however, was a whole other level. We spent 25 days traveling across the country on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Embarrassingly enough, my knowledge was limited to the media, a few documentaries, and movies.

And boy was I blown away!

EXPECTATIONS VS REALITY

 This was one of the biggest eye-opening aspects of the Russia trip – people drink much more tea than they do vodka, and not everyone had AK-47s or trying to hack our internet. 

There is sunshine, and mountains, lakes, wildlife, great food and happiness. I was expecting gray skies, bland food, and frowning faces all based on a completely naive perception. 

The majority of people are normal, hard working citizens who want the same love, security, and comfort as we do anywhere.  

If you take anything away from this video, let it be this; a countries politics, media or stereotypes more often than not do not represent the people. 

That is what I learned most about the world from Russia.

VISA PROCESS:

Now, lets go back to the beginning and talk about the visa process:

– In order to travel to Russia you need to have an invitation, but that isn’t as hard as you might think.

– Any tour operator or many visa agencies can provide this for you.

– I had an invitation from Yaro of Svoya Tropa and went to a visa agency to handle everything for me.

– There are limited Russian consulates in the US so I would recommend spending the extra money to get this done. 

– Right now there is one in SF, Houston, and DC – the new york consulate has shut down. 

– I had to send my passport away to get the visa and it took about one month (you can have express delivery for a charge)

– Once this is done, entering into the country and customs was very easy. No extra questions landing in Moscow and connecting to Saint Petersburg.

GROUP VS SOLO TRAVEL:

Even though you need an invitation to get the visa as an American citizen, you do not need to stay with a guide. You are free to travel solo. 

And while I am usually all for traveling solo in most places in the world, for Russia, I would actually recommend going with a group.

This has nothing to do with safety, but rather, language.

English is not widely spoken outside of Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and Kazan. Even in those cities it can be difficult. 

As someone who desperately wants to interact with locals, having a local guide 100% made the trip more enjoyable. 

As you know we went with Svoya Tropa, and I would highly recommend them, but I’m not saying this as an advertisement for them – you could get a translator just for the day.

Speaking of safety, lets jump into that… 

IS RUSSIA SAFE:

Again, only based on my experience… simply put, it felt incredibly safe. 

Granted, we were a group of 4 large caucasian males. 

We had a local guide with us the entire time. 

We had local contacts everywhere we went.

We were never scammed, forced to bribe, robbed, threatened, literally not one incident over the course of a month. 

We were very cautious with our valuables on the train and in hostels, and we always stayed together at night – if you can do these two things, you can avoid 80% of issues while traveling.

With that said, we didn’t meet many foreign solo female travelers, but many Russian native women traveling alone on the train and throughout the country.

So if you are a woman who has traveled in Russia, perhaps you could leave a comment below with your perspective. 

As a side note, 

It is very rare to see African people in Russia – at least in the places we visited. 

We ran into only two African  travelers along our train journey. 

Also, just because I was asked – it is rare to see openly gay people as well. 

Russia is still pretty conservative country – very generally speaking – and Saint Petersburg, is considered the most progressive place in the country, which is ironic because it is also Russia’s cultural and historical capital. 

Again, I am not gay, African American, or a women so I wouldn’t be the best person to ask about this – hopefully we can get more information from the comments. 

ARE RUSSIANS FRIENDLY TOWARDS FOREIGNERS?

To be very honest, for the people we did not know, they were more reserved than other places I’ve been – nothing like the open, friendly nature of Filipinos for example. 

I would compare Russians more to Argentine’s in the way they are reserved or keep to themselves until you get to know them. 

Kids and people younger than 30 were very curious, but I think the language barrier was a major contributor to this. 

When Yaro stepped in and translated, people warmed up. It just wasn’t outwardly warm and inviting. It took time to gain trust, and I respect that.

I found that with me being from America, people asked a lot of questions about what I thought of Russia, and always had something to say about America – sometimes good “I want to visit New York,” and sometimes it would be something they saw on the news about our current president or our military. But it would never get into a debate like let’s say when I’m in Germany or UK for example; it was always based on genuine curiosity about what I thought – and I usually had similar questions for them. 

Conversations with the goal of understanding.  

As for the people we did know from local connections; they were awesome! 

Just don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms if you don’t have a connection. 

Learning “Spasiba” will go a long way. 

COSTS:

I would say, again, generally speaking, Russia is on-par with American prices. Moscow and Saint Petersburg obviously much more expensive.

The current exchange rate is about 63 Russian rubles to US Dollars. 

  1. Average price of hotel in Moscow: from 90 usd
  2. Average price of hostel in Moscow: from 20 usd
  3. Average price of lunch/dinner in Moscow: 5-7 usd / 15-20 usd
  4. Average price of one beer in Moscow: 5 usd
  5. Average price of 1st class train ticket (ex: Moscow to Kazan): 80-90 usd
  6. Average price of 2nd class train ticket (ex: Moscow to Kazan): 35-45 usd
  7. Average price of 3rd class train ticket (ex: Moscow to Kazan): 25 usd

Credit/debit cards can be used in most places in the city, and I would recommend bringing cash for the train and any smaller villages you visit.

TRAIN LOGISTICS:

Where can you book tickets?

Trains are clearly marked. 

Trains are very punctual. 

RAPID FIRE:

Place I would live: Kazan

Must-Try Foods: Borsch, Buuzis, Pelmenis, 

Least Favorite Food: Groundhog (which I know is not a typical Russian dish)

Best Hike? Definitely Stolby National Park

How does Russia compare to other places? It actually reminds me the most of the US – which I realize is crazy to say because the media portrays us to be arch rivals and complete opposites.

Saint Petersburg vs Moscow: 

Russia_Travel_Guide_Trans-Siberian_Railway

FUTURE PLANS:

And lastly, will I return? 

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!

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