January 21, 2014

9 Myths About Travel to Russia

9 Myths About Travel to Russia

Travel to foreign countries means experiencing the unknown. How terrifying! Or, perhaps, how exhilarating! Educational, even. It's fun to challenge yourself, to experience something new and step outside your comfort zone.

Some places are more daunting or attractive than others. Russia, for example! Unfamiliar to most who have not been there, Russia can be challenging to define... This leads to travelers’ myths, many of which I encounter frequently as a travel professional. Here are nine I feel are worth debunking:

  1. Russia is full of communists and poverty. False. While it is very bureaucratic, Russia is not a communist country. It threw off that yoke in 1991 and, given its 70-year experiment, is less likely to welcome a communist regime than many other states around the globe. As to poverty, while Russia (like almost every country) has a struggling underclass and wide regional disparities in economic development, this is simply an overblown stereotype. The Russian economy’s dependence on export of oil and gas dealt the country a huge blow a few years back, but it has since (thanks to rising prices) achieved steady growth in GDP, and the general standard of living is on the rise. While inflation poses problems, poverty has been decreasing since 1992.
  2. Russians are all glowering and mean. Nope. Norms in Russian society are different from the West. Russians smile less and show less emotion publicly. They are also quite direct in public conversation. But they are warm-hearted and sincere. The lack of trivialities in public conversations is matched with a depth and sincerity in private conversations that lends to rich social experiences. This can make a visit extremely enjoyable and fulfilling for a foreign tourist.
  3. All Russians are alcoholics. Not true. Russians do love alcohol and especially vodka (they invented it, after all). But don't let this widely overstated stereotype lead you astray. Alcohol abuse occurs in all countries, and like anywhere, you need to pick and choose whom you socialize with. Most Russians drink responsibly and cherish vodka as part of their cultural traditions and customs.
  4. Travel to Russia is complicated and a hassle. It's not! It's actually very easy, far easier than it was even just a few years ago. All you need is a passport, an invitation (easy to obtain from a hotel or other accommodation) and a few other documents. The process is as easy as with any other country that requires a tourist visa. The trick is to work with a company experienced with travel to Russia, to help make the process seamless and hassle-free.
  5. It's expensive. Not really. Traveling to Russia is not really any more expensive than traveling to other European destinations. It’s just a hop and a skip further. There are now even budget airlines that offer low-cost flights to Moscow from various European cities. And, once you get there, as anywhere in Europe, there are budget hotels in most any city. Just check with your travel agent and rely on their recommendations for where to stay.
  6. It is teeming with terrorists. No. Any time you travel to any city or country, there will be places it is wise for tourists to go and places that are unwise. The high-risk areas to stay away from that are within Russia are on its southernmost borders: Chechnya and Dagestan. Elsewhere, Russia is not any more dangerous than any European country. Still, no matter where you travel, it is smart to exercise caution, check international warnings and threat levels before you go, and stay away from high-risk areas.
  7. Russians are racist. Sorry, no. Russians are actually very open-minded. It may be true that they speak about others in a manner that is not “politically correct” in your home country, but this does not mean that they have bad intentions. And it can be a good basis for long and interesting discussions on politics, social issues and economics.
  8. There's nothing to see beyond Red Square and the Kremlin. Absolutely false. A wealth of experiences awaits you in Russia. Moscow is far more than Red Square, and don’t even get me started about St. Petersburg, traditional villages along the Volga, wildlife in Siberia, wooden churches in the Far North, gems along the Golden Ring... It would take over a month to get an adequate sampling of the food, society, history and architecture of this thousand-year-old land. But you shouldn’t attempt it all in one trip. Start with a week or two, there will be more than enough to keep you enthralled (and to make you want to return).
  9. It's corrupt and full of organized crime. Not really. Yes, Russia has corruption and organized crime, thanks to the bumpy (to put it lightly) transition from communism to capitalism, but it is no less safe than Europe. Just as traveling in Europe and the US, you just need to take normal precautions to be and feel safe. In fact, most Russian cities have a strong police presence and it can be safer walking about late at night than in many American cities. What is more, exploring Russia at night is actually very delightful.

Rich travel experiences are grounded in common sense, well-informed guides and a healthy store of curiosity and adventure. If you are looking for a new and interesting destination, ignore the myths and consider Russia.  

Do you have myths about travel to Russia you think are worth busting or proving right? Drop a comment below and let’s discuss it!

Slava Shirokov is a Russian native and a COO of Travel All Russia, a travel company specializing in tourism to Russia.

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