Train travel is one of Russia’s most iconic and rewarding experiences. In fact, there may be no better way to understand Russia’s land, culture, and people than spending a few days chugging through the country atop a pair of iron rails. So we have compiled a list of helpful tips to make the most of your experience.
Train trips are one of the easiest ways to make meaningful connections with all kinds of Russians, especially those you might not frequently encounter as a tourist: children, the elderly, people from small towns, the less-well-off.
And so, our first train travel tip is to take a risk and just start talking to people; they will likely be fascinated by you as well.
Embrace train travel as a retreat from the real world. Pack the bare minimum of what you need; traveling light can offer a sense of freedom. Similarly, minimize your expectations about creature comforts like showers and internet connectivity. All those things will be there when you return. For now, start the adventure...
Trains trips start with a ticket. Luckily, you no longer need to stand in line to get a paper ticket.
The lower the class, the more authentic the experience (read: more interaction with fellow passengers). Surprisingly, sometimes higher class tickets are neither safer nor more comfortable.
Platskart / “open seating” / 3rd Class
Kupe / “Sleeping compartment” / 2nd class
Stretching out horizontally during an overnight trip while being rocked to sleep by the rumbling tracks can be wonderful, but it's not for everyone. If you are not sure, try a Moscow-Petersburg overnight train before booking the Trans-Siberian.
Do not sit down on someone else’s bunk, especially if their sheets are on it, without their explicit permission. Even if you have a top bunk, you do not have a right to sit on the bed under you during the day. However, the vast majority of people are reasonable and will tell you that of course you can sit. If you have the bottom bunk, be the reasonable person.
Trains can be a safe option for everyone, from 90-year-old granny to the family cat.
You won’t be eating gourmet, but it is possible to eat a relatively well-balanced diet, with some advance planning.
Don’t avoid the bathroom. Even if it is logistically challenging and ill-maintained, washing up will help you feel far more civilized.
It’s unreliable. Savor your tech detox.
This post was sponsored by Seattle-based MIR Corporation, which for three decades has been providing quality individual and group travel services to Russia, the FSU, and beyond.
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