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Category: Travel Advice
We were set for the trip of a lifetime…but not at all prepared for what a wild ride visiting Russia can be. Which is why we want help you plan your trip to Russia by sharing these 5 things we learned along the way.
When my American mother turned 18, her parents gifted her a suitcase.
It was a symbol of her new independence. She was old enough to go out into the world and make her own way. And she did, eventually moving to Mexico and building a life there for more than 20 years.
When Gaurav’s Indian father was of age, his parents begged him to remain in India. Who would take care of them in their old age? They asked. The decision he made to stay was a symbol of a debt repaid: his parents had born him, raised him, and sacrificed for him, now he needed to sacrifice in turn.
Though that concept might seem outdated and difficult to grasp for a Western mind like mine, it still persists on some level today. Indian families are close-knit in ways that can be hard to understand, and it’s always fascinated me how Indian adult children juggle expat life with the needs of aging parents living on the subcontinent.
There are definitely more pressures placed on Indian children to look after their parents once they reach a certain age. And these days, with people moving around the globe at a faster and easier rate, looking after parents from afar is becoming more and more common amongst Indians of our generation.
It could be said that there is a brain drain of sorts going on in India as some of the best and brightest pack up and seek opportunities overseas. In fact, India is the top country of birth for immigrant scientists and engineers. And while I can’t think of a single person I grew up with who has moved and stayed overseas, Gaurav doesn’t know any childhood friends who haven’t. The majority have settled in the U.S., though many have gone to the U.K. and Canada as well.
Which begs the question, how do they balance the cultural demands to take care of parents with their ambitions and desires for a life abroad?
When Gaurav’s mom passed away three weeks ago, it brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings that had been simmering beneath the surface for a while. We’ve wondered if we did enough, visited enough, called enough. And we’ve also asked ourselves what is considered ‘enough’?
Gaurav and my approach to being expats with aging parents is as diverse as our differing cultures. Even though I grew up in Mexico (where families are often just as close-knit as those in India), my mindset tends towards American in this regard. My parents have often told me that they don’t need me to look after them. And I’ve always viewed them as independent adults who don’t require any meddling on my part.
Gaurav, on the other hand, has been intimately involved in his parents lives—from bills, to booking travel, to doctor appointments, he knows it all. I don’t even know the names of any medications my mom might be taking, not because I don’t care, but because our dynamic lends itself more to the idea that you don’t tell people these things unless you absolutely have to.
Gaurav manages living abroad with daily phone calls home to check in, while a phone call a week is about average for me. It’s a huge mystery to me what Gaurav could have to talk about to his parents every day, and the idea of trying to hold a conversation when there’s nothing to tell is anxiety-inducing. But then Gaurav and his parents are well-versed in the art of mundane daily chit-chat, while I and my parents feel the need to have ‘something’ to talk about.
Watching Gaurav and other Indian friends work hard at being good expat kids—from phone calls, to sending money, to having parents come stay overseas with them for months at a time—has definitely been an inspiration to me. I pick up the phone a lot more often now to call my parents, and I’m learning more and more how important it is to prioritize the people I love.
And after witnessing Gaurav go through losing his mum, I think we’ve both learned a hard lesson: our parents won’t be around forever, so why not pick up the phone and talk to them whenever we can?
It will always be a difficult line to walk, that feeling that we’re sacrificing time with our parents for a future and life abroad. I have to keep reminding myself that our happiness matters too and that quantity of time doesn’t always equate to quality. And, I’d argue, children who live abroad often go the extra mile for their parents because we’re working to make up for not being nearby.
Even then, as expats we’re left with the sense that it’s never enough. Never enough phone calls, or visits, or trips together. There’s always going to be that guilt that you didn’t do enough.
Grief is funny that way, isn’t it.
If Russia is on your travel bucketlist you’re probably keen to begin mapping out your journey to this incredible country! We’ve already written up posts to help you book your Trans-Siberian railway journey, as well as what to expect once you’re on the train, but what about getting into the country to do these exciting things in the first place?
Getting a visa is one of the more tedious aspects of travel, but it’s not something you can avoid if you’re really keen to visit Russia. The good news is, the visa process doesn’t have to be a complicated one! We’re here to help you through it, so read on for a guide on everything you need to get your Russian visa.
Visas with Indian vs. American passport (and most other Western countries)
Gaurav and I often have very different visa experiences when we travel together. He has an Indian passport while mine is American. This means that most of the time it’s Gaurav who has to jump through a lot more hoops to get a visa! Hence I was a bit surprised to discover that the visa application for Russia is pretty much the same for both American and Indian passport-holders. It was a good reminder of what a privilege it is to have a passport that makes it so easy to travel to a lot of countries around the world.
Because we live in London, we had to submit all our paperwork through the local Russian Visa Application Centre—just keep in mind that this process might change depending on what country you’re applying from.
Step 1: Getting your invitation letter
First things first, before any visa application, you’ll need an “invitation letter”. This is required for most nationalities including UK, US and Indian passport-holders. There are a fair few tourist agencies online which can help you with this. An invitation letter can only be issued by official tour operators or agencies approved by the Ministry of Tourism in Russia. After doing some research, we settled on visatoruss.com. They were reasonably priced – £8.99/$11.99USD for single-entry for US/UK citizens and 20USD for Indian citizens – and once we gave our hotel details and made the payment, we received the invitation letter with the registration number within an hour on the same day.
To get started with the invitation letter you’ll need to fill out an online registration form for the agency you choose. And you’ll also need two important details in advance: your accommodation details for the entire trip, and the booking details of a hotel in whatever city you’re flying into. For the first item, we reserved hotels with free cancellations on booking.com. This offered us a safety net in the unlikely scenario that our visa application would be rejected. No one wants to end up paying for a hotel they’re not using, right?
Below is our invitation letter (we’ve blocked out some sensitive info) so you can see the details you need and what it should look like.
Step 2: Getting your documents together
Here is a list of the documents we each submitted:
- Completed visa application form
- 1 recent passport-sized photo
- Hotel booking form
- Russian National Tourism Office invitation letter
Step 3: Submitting your documents
Once you have all your documents together, you’ll need to head to the visa office in person to submit them. Here in London you don’t make appointments, you simply show up, take a number, and wait your turn.
The office is open from 8:30am – 3pm Monday thru Friday.
We went early on a weekday right when the office opened in order to avoid a long wait. It’s hard to know if it gets busier later in the day, but when we were there we got through the entire process within thirty minutes, which was great! Keep in mind that the closer you get to high tourist season (May-August), the likelier it is that the visa office will be busier.
Step 4: Fees and processing
You’ll make a payment for your visa right after submitting your documents. The cost for a single-entry 30-day visa is £145. Because it’s so pricey we recommend making it count by spending at least 2 weeks in Russia, or use up the entire 30 days if you can!
This standard visa takes 21 working days (around 4 weeks) to process, but if you’re in a rush there is a fast track option too. This one costs £245 and takes just 3 working days.
Step 5: Picking up your visa
Depending on which visa processing service you request, you’ll receive a slip of paper telling you the date on which your visa will be ready. Bring this with you on that day. Your passport will be given back to you in an envelope. Your Russian visa will take up an entire page of your passport and will include your photo and all your information as well as the dates for which the visa is valid.
Your visa can only be used for the specified dates.
This means you aren’t free to use the visa whenever, you have to stick to the travel dates you provided to the Ministry of Tourism when requesting your invitation letter. For us, the visa was for exactly 15 days—from April 13 to April 27—because those were the travel dates we provided.
Step 6: Get ready to have fun!
Phew! The hard part is over and now comes the fun bit: planning out the details of your trip. Check out our tour of Moscow’s beautiful metros for something to do in the vibrant Russian capital, and stay tuned for more articles with tips for visiting Russia!
Hopefully this simplifies somewhat the Russian visa process, but if you have any questions please leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer them. Good luck and happy travels!
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If you’re an avid traveler, you’ve probably come up with New Year’s wanderlust resolutions for 2019. We certainly have a list of places we’re keen to explore this year, and we can’t wait to start checking a few off! But those aren’t the sort of travel resolutions we’ll be talking about here. Instead, we’re going to look at the more practical side of travel with this list of 2019 goals and tips for achieving them. These are the types of resolutions that apply to any traveler, so let’s get started!
Travel Resolution #1
Be more adventurous:
Okay, okay, this one is a vague, overarching statement, so let’s narrow it down a bit: do more adventurous activities. It’s all too easy even for travelers and wanderers to fall into a sort of routine. The more experience you gain travelling, the easier it becomes, and sometimes it can even lose that spark of adventure that made you start exploring the world in the first place!
Set a goal to accomplish a certain amount of adventurous activities by the end of the year. We’ve decided that our goal is to do one adventurous thing every month. No, you don’t need to jump out of an airplane or snowboard down a mountain while being pursued by an avalanche in order to be adventurous. Things like trying foods you normally wouldn’t, attempting a challenging hike, or learning Bollywood dancing all count as adventurous activities!
Travel Resolution #2
Be more economical:
Saving is probably one of our biggest challenges, and it seems we’re constantly trying to come up with ways to pinch our pennies (sometimes not very successfully). Even then, we usually find out we’re not saving nearly as much as we’d like to, which translates into less travel.
Here’s the thing, if you have to think monthly about setting aside a certain sum, it’s probably not going to happen. Sure, some months you will do it, but there’ll be others where you’ve spent more than you should and you simply don’t set aside any savings. To combat this, Gaurav and I have decided to open a savings account and have a certain amount automatically transferred from our monthly paychecks. Automating it takes away the ‘will I, won’t I’ aspect of saving and makes it a heck of a lot simpler.
Travel Resolution #3
Be less of a photohog:
Gaurav is the photography lover in this relationship, but we’re both guilty of snapping way too many photos every time we take a trip. The result? Thousands of pictures which we simply don’t have the time to sort through, edit, or post. In the age of visual-heavy social media, a lot of travelers seem to encounter this same problem. It’s almost as if if you don’t capture every minute of a trip it didn’t happen.
We’ve decided we’re going on a photo diet! This means we’ll set a limit for how many photos we’re allowed to take when we travel. That way we’ll be sure to focus on quality instead of snapping pictures at random, AND we’ll enjoy our time more not being tied to the camera constantly. We are still undecided about the right amount for our photo diet. What do you think? 100 pictures per trip? Less? More?
Travel Resolution #4
Be lighter packers:
Oh man, this is a tough one. You know when you’re packing your bag and you think: What if, by some random, probably-impossible turn of events I suddenly need X, Y, Z item. So you stuff it in your bag. Don’t feel bad, we’ve done this plenty too….and usually regret it loads later. There’s nothing more unpleasant than carrying around a heavy, overstuffed bag while you travel, so next time you’re keen to pack that extra pair of shoes, remember how much it’s going to hurt later!
One of the best ways to make sure you don’t overpack is to simply get a smaller bag! Ever since we switched to gym duffels, we’ve been carrying a lot less. Now we tend to pack enough shirts to last 3-4 days and pants/shorts that can be worn daily, and we wash things as we go along. Also, if you do arrive in a foreign country and discover there’s something absolutely essential you’ve left behind, remember that you can usually purchase it abroad too.
Travel Resolution #5
Be less connected:
This seems like a weird resolution considering we live in the age of Instagram and Twitter, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t really need to be connected 24/7, do you? Social media can be addictive, which makes disconnecting really difficult, but sometimes it can be the best thing to do for your overall well-being. You’ve got to admit, updating your social media every hour while traveling can be something of a hindrance to enjoying the full experience!
Let’s start with baby steps. Choose one day out of the week and dub it ‘Social Media Free Day’. Use that time to get out and do something without documenting it. It might feel weird at first, but we guarantee you’ll start to enjoy those days of disconnection. We certainly plan to!
What are your 2019 travel resolutions? Share your tips, and destinations, with us!
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