Top Trans-Siberian Travel Tips
We have taken over a dozen Trans-Siberian trips over the years and these 7 tips below apply to each of the trips we have taken from both our own experience and that of others and they are genuinely invaluable as Trans-Sib travel advice! None are particularly obvious before you take the train and most are easy to forget even if taking the train multiple times so we make sure we read through them before every trip we take along the railway!
Learn the Russian Cyrillic Alphabet
We would put this above learning some basic Russian as a surprising amount of Russian words such as “supermarket”, “restaurant” transliterate. Immensely helpful on the metro systems of Moscow and St Petersburg as well despite English signs now in use.
Learn the Local Language Basics
This always goes down well – “please” “thank you” “hello” “goodbye for starters as well as numbers 1 to 10 and preferably up to 100. You will be glad you made the effort!
Beware of Russians Bearing Vodka
You will never out drink them and getting foreigners drunk is a sport to some. Trains are terrible places to have catastrophic hangovers. Locals who are genuinely friendly wouldn’t dream of getting you drunk against your wishes! Applies mainly to Russians but can also to the Mongolians and Chinese (and Brits!)
Must Haves for Train Trips
They don’t seem important when packing but a spoon, fork, pre-mixed coffee sachets, teabags, sugar and powdered milk are the most useful things you can have on the train and hard to find on platforms. People will gravitate towards your supply of these essentials. On a recent trip we also saw a small salt and pepper dispenser making others green with envy.
Bring Enough Local Currency on to the Train
Seems obvious enough but so many people don’t and assume the conductors will be like banks and ATMs will be on every platform. There is nothing more stressful than disappearing off into the darkness at a remote station in search of an ATM knowing you have 3 minutes before the train moves on. We have yet to be on a trip where someone in the carriage hasn’t run out of local cash on day 2!
Know How Long a Stop Is for
The conductor should know exactly. Don’t trust the timetable as the train may shorten stops to make up time. Note that you can usually only board your own carriage – not someone else’s – for security reasons. If you do miss a train at a station make sure you have your passport, some money and your ticket on you (and you will find having shoes on rather than flip flops also useful!) Visit the station master and see what they can do – we have been amazed at their ability to reunite passengers with both their luggage and even the right train.
Be Nice to Your Conductors
It is like a head teacher / new pupil relationship on the train between conductors and passengers and getting on their bad side on day 1 is unlikely to add to the experience! They are there to look after you and will keep an eye on you on the platforms at stops to make sure you don’t miss the train. Even if you hardly speak to them they are usually very much part of a Trans-Siberian experience and the memories you have from it.
Clean the Windows
The interiors of the trains are usually kept clean but the exteriors can be another matter and this can be an issue for the windows. A make-do but slightly laborious way to clean is a bit of newspaper (often in your cabin) and water but we have seen squeegees used by some. As well as making for better photos from your cabin you will also be providing free entertainment for the locals.
Multi-plug / USB for Charging
If you are lucky your cabin might have 2 plug sockets which is often not enough. We like to bring along a compact extension lead with multiple sockets and a couple of USB points. That way only one adapter per country is necessary and this setup can then charge several devices at the same time.
Train Door Key
Bring along a triangular and square combi-key (available on Amazon etc…) so that you can lock and unlock your cabin door without bothering the provodnista. Be discreet with its use though.
Be Nice to Your Conductors
It can’t be said often enough – pack as light as you can. See the suggested packing list section a few pages back.
Download this App to your phone and then don’t forget to download the relevant languages for offline use.
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