This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine February 2017. FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine. You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!
Four Must-Do’s of Train Hopping on the Trans-Siberian Railway
How can I pack the wonder and excitement of the Trans-Siberian Railway into a one page article? I can’t. It’s impossible. The colors! The smells! The sounds! The Russian culture! The other travelers! Every moment is memorable. You’re just going to have to go do it yourself. But before you do, I can at least offer these four “must-do’s” for your trip.
“But wait!” you say. “What exactly is the Trans-Siberian Railway?”
It is an incredibly long train route (the longest in the world in fact) that extends from Moscow in the west to Vladivstok in the east. It spans 6,152 miles and takes seven days straight to complete. It crosses much of Russia’s Taiga and Western Siberia. A similar route, the Trans-Mongolian Railway extends from Moscow in the west to Beijing in the East, passing through Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, on the way.
For those adventurous travelers on the hunt for slow travel experiences, this should be high on your bucket list.
On our particular journey, we began in St. Petersburg and ended in Ulaanbaatar. We stopped in Moscow and Irkutsk along the way. We spent roughly two weeks on our journey, and the longest leg of our train ride was the three days between Moscow and Irkutsk. Which leads me to my first tip.
Tip 1: Build city stops and side trips into your itinerary.
Jumping on the train in Moscow and not stopping until you reach the eastern coast is ambitious, but you may get more enjoyment out of your journey if you break it into smaller legs with breaks to sight-see along the way. In Moscow we spent three days exploring and it still wasn’t enough. There is so much history and modern day culture to take in!
In Irkutsk we took a side trip to nearby Listvyanka, a small village on the shores of Lake Baikal. Here we took time to hike parts of the Great Baikal Trail, dine on local fish, and take in the breathtaking beauty of the crystal clear lake. After three days of sitting on a train making small talk with our cabin mates and wandering between our bunks and the meal car, having a few days of fresh air was a pleasant change of scenery.
Speaking of cabin mates, my second tip is to treat yourself to a second class ticket.
Tip 2: Buy 2nd/Kupe Classe
I know, I know. You’re an intrepid backpacker, not afraid to travel rough. You want to stretch each travel dollar and make the most of your experiences. I’m right there with you. But I am forever grateful that I let myself be convinced to splurge on a second class ticket. In second class up to four people share a cabin with four relatively comfortable beds and a door that closes and locks.
In Plackscarta/Platzcart (Third Class) they pack up to 54 beds in a train car with little to no privacy, security, or comfort.
Tip 3: Bring Tea, Buy Piroshki/Pirozhki
Each train car has a hot water station at one end and a bathroom at the other. You can drink the water from the hot water station. Travel with tea and sugar cubes to liven up your beverages without resorting to the exorbitantly high costs of the meal car drinks. It is also helpful to pack snacks to eat and share.
At most stops the train will pull into the station and stay for 10 minutes to an hour or more. This can be a nice chance to hop off and stretch your legs. Just be sure to check with the conductor before wandering too far from your car! On the platforms there are often old Russian Grandmas selling freshly baked and still hot and steaming piroshki, vegetables, potatoes, and even some fish. Buy the piroshki. Often filled with potato, cabbage, meat, cheese, onion, or carrot, each is more delicious than the next. Try them all!
Tip 4: Pack a notebook and pens
As you get farther east there are fewer concessions to English speakers. There are fewer signs translated and fewer strangers who might just happen to know some English. Don’t think you can just rely on your trusty cellphone either. You are in Siberia after all!
Packing a notebook and pen can be a help when trying to communicate. Additionally, you may want to journal some of your experiences, and sometimes breaking open the laptop and furiously typing away just isn’t prudent.
As always, pack light and enjoy yourself. Life is an adventure!
For more stories about my Russian railway adventures, be sure to check out my Russian Adventure Posts!
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Have you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur. To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.