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.
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…
Imagine 6 days, 7 nights on a train traversing the biggest country in the world. If this sounds appealing to you, then you need to add the Trans-Siberian railway to your travel bucket list!
If you dream of doing the Trans-Siberian one day but are intimidated by the idea of a week on a train in a foreign country, don’t worry you’re not alone. Years ago when Gaurav and I first started dreaming of doing this we were discouraged by the advice we received. Many told us not to attempt it unless we had a Russian speaker with us, others said it would be unsafe, and all this made us feel very insecure about trying it.
But this year we decided to ignore the naysayers and just take the leap. We were thirsty for some adventure and ready to see what the Trans-Siberian was all about. Now that it’s over, we can say without a doubt that you should take that leap too. It was a truly amazing experience and we learned so much along the way that we’re excited to share with you. So we’re going to post a blog series dedicated purely to the Trans-Siberian railway. And to launch our series we’re starting off with a step-by-step guide of everything you need to plan and book your spot on the Trans-Siberian train!
High Season vs. Low Season
There’s no ‘right’ time to take the Trans-Siberian. However, scenery, ticket prices, and availability will differ depending on when you book. High season starts in May and runs through September. Weather is great during this time of year and you’ll find a lot of Russian and foreign tourists travelling. This also makes for higher ticket prices and often tickets can sell out quickly—especially for the ‘Rossiya’ train which runs from Moscow to Vladivostok (we’ll talk about this a bit more later).
Shoulder season is from October through April and while the scenery isn’t as green during this time of year, it doesn’t mean you won’t have a wonderful experience. We took our trip in April and got to see a little bit of snow and newly blossoming flora. Because it was shoulder season our tickets for two beds in 1st class were about half of what they’d normally cost during high season. If you’re looking for a more affordable experience this is something to consider. We were also able to book our tickets last minute on the ‘Rossiya’ train with no worry of them selling out. The added benefit of April is that it’s right before high season so you still see long summer days which means more time looking out the window at the scenery!
Rossiya vs. Skory
Contrary to popular lore, there actually is no such thing as the Trans-Siberian train. Instead, you can choose to book the ‘Rossiya’ or ‘Russia’ train which offers 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class tickets. Train 002 runs from Moscow to Vladivostok on odd days (we took the train on the 17th of April), while Train 001 runs from Vladivostok to Moscow on even days (2,4,6, etc.). These trains are the most modern trains on the Russian rail network so you’re getting to experience the best of what Russia has to offer for train travel.
If you’d like a more budget-friendly option, you may want to consider booking a ‘skory’ (fast) train. These would be train numbers 99 and 100, depending on the direction of the train, and offer cheaper ticket options with only 2nd or 3rd class fares. The 001 and 002 are more expensive because of the perceived prestige and higher quality of service, so it all depends on what fits your budget. Despite being called the fast train, ‘skory’ will also actually take longer and add about 20 hours to your total travel time.
Moscow vs. Vladivostok
As mentioned above, you’ll have the option of either departing from Moscow to Vladivostok or the other way around. Our Russian friends were of the opinion that Vladivostok-Moscow is the better option because you’ll travel from the less developed side of Russia to its bustling capital. We took the Moscow-Vladivostok route and honestly don’t think it matters. Vladivostok is not as exciting and busy as Moscow, but it’s still a fun city and a great place to end your train journey.
Keep in mind that whichever route you choose you’ll have to fly either back to Moscow or to Vladivostok to catch the train. Russia is huge and this is an experience in and of itself. The flight is nine hours long, so (assuming you want to return to your starting point) you’ll need to add an extra day for air travel when planning out your Trans-Siberian journey.
1st Class vs. 2nd Class vs. 3rd Class
Lets get into the perks of travelling 1st class, 2nd class, or 3rd class!
A 3rd class ticket is the cheapest fare option for any of the Trans-Siberian routes. This will get you a bed in a 4-bunk open “cabin”. What this means is that your bed area is basically open for anyone walking down the aisles to see. Unless you’re traveling with friends you’ll have to share the area with other travelers and contend with less privacy and a more crowded carriage. You’ll also need to be more careful with your personal items as there’s nowhere to lock them up when you get off the train at station stops. A suitcase with a lock is a decent solution in these cases, so it doesn’t necessarily need to be an inconvenience. Just be aware that 3rd class also won’t be as clean as 2nd or 1st as you’re sharing the space (bathrooms included) with a lot more people.
A 2nd class ticket will get you a bed in a 4-bunk closed cabin. Unless you buy tickets for all the beds, you will have to share the cabin with strangers and your fellow travelers may change throughout the journey. 2nd class does offer more privacy as well as security (you can lock the cabin if you need to) and has a nice social element to it that you might otherwise miss out on in 1st class. Basically you’ll have more opportunities to meet and talk to people in 2nd and 3rd class, which we think is a nice perk. However, you have to take into account the human element and realize that you’re not guaranteed good cabin mates. It’s important to consider whether you’ll be able to handle a week on a train sharing a small space with people you may not like or get along with. We think this option adds a good dose of adventure and is relatively easy on the pocket for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
With 1st class you pay more for extra little bonuses. When you buy a bed in 1st class you get a cabin with a lockable door so you never have to worry when you get off the train or leave to go to the dining car to eat. 1st class also comes with more privacy and quiet, though if you’re a solo traveler you may be required to share your cabin with another solo traveler (because you buy the berth, not the whole cabin). Your provodnik (male attendant)/ provodnitsa (female attendant) is more involved in 1st class with keeping things clean, vacuuming daily, and maintaining the hygiene of the bathrooms. You also get 2 small towels, a welcome packet with slippers and a toothbrush, and a packet with a large bar of chocolate and tea bags. You’ll have access to a small kitchen area with cold drinking water, a sink for washing dishes, and a microwave. And finally, one complimentary meal from the dining car is included with your first class ticket too! 1st class is a great way for couples especially to travel, and we really enjoyed doing it. Of course, this also means the cost goes up per ticket, so you should definitely think hard about what you want to get out of your trip.
Note: Regardless of which class ticket you book, each carriage has a samovar which dispenses hot water. We’ll have more details on this in our next article.
Booking your train ticket
Here’s a step-by-step guide to booking your train ticket
In the old days, the only way to book a train ticket for the Trans-Siberian was through an online agent, but luckily times have changed! You still have this option, but the easiest (and cheapest) way to book a DIY trip is to head to rzd.ru and do it yourself. There’s a convenient English language option as well which makes it easier for you navigate the website and plan your own ticket.
1. You’ll need to register and create an account to login.
2. Once you’re logged in you can search for all available train options between your departure and arrival stations for your chosen date and time.
E.g. Here are the options for two trains on a randomly selected date.
Important Note: Make sure you enter your details exactly as they appear on your travel document. This will be checked very thoroughly upon boarding along with your passport. If you don’t have a middle name please make sure you enter ‘-‘ before proceeding.
3. Double check the train times and dates as well as the berth number and ticket class before you hit ‘enter’ to book.
4. You’ll be given the option to add insurance and it’s really up to you whether or not you decide to do this. We already have separate travel insurance so we didn’t have to add this option. However, if you’re not going to include insurance with your ticket we recommend you buy some sort of travel insurance before taking your trip. You never know what could go wrong and it’s always best to have a safety net, especially when traveling in a foreign country.
5. Make sure you check the box which says “I hereby confirm…”
6. After this you’ll be taken to the payment page. Enter your card details and rejoice! Your Trans-Siberian train ticket has now been booked.
And now you’re pretty much ready for the adventure! Hopefully this has been helpful in explaining how to book your Trans-Siberian ticket, but if you have any questions just drop us an e-mail at email@example.com or a comment below and we’d be more than happy to help you out!