- On a recent trip to Russia, I spent 50 hours riding the Trans-Siberian Railway across more than 2,000 miles and four time zones in Russia.
- It was the experience of a lifetime, but there are a few things I wish I’d known before my journey.
- I wish I would have chosen my route more carefully, made some stopovers, and brought a better variety of snacks and entertainment.
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On a recent trip to Russia, I spent 50 hours riding the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway across more than 2,000 miles and four time zones in Russia.
I got on the train in Novosibirsk, the third-largest city in Siberia, and rode it all the way to Moscow. I had to deal with not showering or changing clothes for more than two days, entertaining myself without cell service or Wi-Fi, a cramped bathroom, mediocre food, and a snoring compartment mate.
But it was the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. There are, however, a few things I wish I’d known before embarking on my journey.
Here are my top six tips for riding the Trans-Siberian Railway.
1. Do some research on which route will be most interesting to you.
I wish I had done more research on the stretch of railway I’d be travelling.
I only knew that I didn’t have time to ride the entire thing, and as I was already in Siberia, leaving from Novosibirsk back to Moscow made the most sense from a logistical perspective.
Next time, I would try to choose a route with more varied scenery. While the views were beautiful, the flat landscapes of green fields and forests got a little monotonous after a while.
I longed to see some mountains or more varied landscape, and apparently, I missed my one chance to do so. One afternoon, our train passed through the Ural Mountains. One of my Australian compartment mates told me the scenery was stunning and reminded her of Switzerland.
Unfortunately, at that time, I was napping.
So if you’re not riding the entire line, I’d recommend doing a little research on the different stretches of railway and how they correspond to what you’d like to see.
2. Make some stops along the way.
Fifty hours on a train is a long time. But it wasn’t until I was about 15 minutes into my train journey and already bored of my snacks and reading material that I realised just how long it really is.
And a week – which is about how long it takes to ride the whole thing nonstop – would really be a long time to spend on a train.
If you’re riding for a significant length of time, I’d suggest breaking up your journey with some short stays in cities or towns along the way.
Lake Baikal, off the Irkutsk stop, is a popular destination, and I heard Yekaterinburg (which I passed through) is a beautiful city. The Culture Trip compiled a list of the 10 most beautiful stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Hopping off the train for a night or two here and there would add some variety to your trip, and you’d get to experience more of Russia than you would from the train window.
3. Travel with a friend.
I cannot stress enough that the hours you spend on the Trans-Siberian can sometimes go by very slowly.
I was travelling for work so this wasn’t an option for me, but I’d recommend riding the Trans-Siberian with a friend rather than alone.
While I often enjoy travelling alone, I kept thinking about how nice if it would be if I had a friend to talk to, eat with, perhaps play card games with, and someone to watch my things if I felt like leaving the compartment for an extended period of time. Fortunately, I felt like all of my compartment mates were pretty trustworthy.
Even better, if you had four friends, you could book an entire compartment to have to yourselves. The only downside of this would be that you’d have to make more of an effort to talk to locals travelling on the train, if you’re into that.
4. Bring books and other entertainment, because there will be no Wi-Fi and very little cell service.
There’s no Wi-Fi on Trans-Siberian trains, and I found that I only had cell service when the train made a stop, which was sometimes only for two or three minutes at a time.
There are, however, power outlets on the train, so you have the option of watching movies or TV shows that you’ve previously downloaded.
I kept myself entertained with a good old-fashioned book, but I did sometimes wish I had some other options.
5. Don’t worry about packing all the drinking water you’ll need.
I didn’t discover until the last few hours of my trip that there was drinkable water on board. Instead, I spent 40-something hours rationing the three litres of bottled water I’d brought, worried that I’d run out.
It turned out that in addition to the samovar (hot water kettle) that I used to make cup after cup of tea, my train car had a faucet near the attendant’s cabin that provided drinking water so I could fill up my water bottles.
However, I’ve read some reports that not all trains have this faucet for drinking water, and that the water may run out. Either way, there is also bottled water available to purchase from the attendant, as well as from train station vendors at stops along the way.
6. Choose your snacks wisely.
I found the food served on the train to be mediocre, so I was glad I’d packed my own snacks for the journey. I brought tea, dried noodles, granola bars, chocolate, and some fruit-and-vegetable baby food.
But I got sick of these things far more quickly than I’d expected – as in, probably within the first few hours.
An Australian couple I shared my compartment with for the later part of my journey brought fresh fruit as well as meat, cheese, and bread to make sandwiches. My granola bars and dried noodles seemed pretty boring in comparison, and I was quickly craving “real food.”
While snack choice is very personal, I’d recommend bringing a variety of options that won’t spoil quickly.
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