9 Tips For Making The Most Of The Trans-Siberian Railway
It’s probably the most famous train in the world: the Trans-Siberian train, or Transsib and Транссиб, as the Russians call it, crosses the largest country on Earth from east to west. The main route of this legendary train ride runs from Moscow through the Volga region, the Urals, never-ending Siberia and finally ends in Vladivostok, on the coast of the Sea of Japan. With the Trans-Siberian Railway, you’ll discover the true splendor of gigantic Russia. If you want to measure this extraordinary ride in numbers, here are some that’ll make you dizzy:
- it’s a 5771-mile route
- with an average speed of 37 miles an hour
- the journey travels through eight time zones
- it’s an eight-day-long trip
- and it goes through hundreds of train stations
So while there are thousands of reasons to take the Trans-Siberian Railway, we believe that everyone should do it once in their lives. Here are the nine best tips to help you prepare for it:
1. Pick A Class That Suits You
The Trans-Siberian train is a miniature society on wheels, divided into three classes:
- The first class compartments offer two beds each.
- The second class compartments accommodate four beds.
- But the real experience awaits you in third class, which altogether has 54 beds.
Despite what you might have seen in movies about this section (forget everything you saw in Titanic), nearly all travel aficionados recommend traveling in third class. Here you’ll meet the most interesting people in the open corridors, between the beds. Curious students on a journey through Eastern Europe, children overflowing with energy, and even real Soviet babushkas (бабушка).
2. Pack Summer Clothes
Conventional wisdom states that Russia = cold weather. While that’s often true, Russians tend to overheat rooms, and the Trans-Siberian train is no exception. Whether it’s summer or winter, you will sweat in your coach: The temperature in the train rises to 82°F (28° C). For this reason, passengers typically change their attire immediately after boarding. Follow their example and you’ll enjoy the journey more.
3. Wear Slippers
At first, you might think it’s strange to wear slippers out of your house for several days in a row, but trust us — it’s worth it. If you ‘re traveling for a week, you’re going to want to feel comfortable, and nothing is as comfy as a good pair of slippers. Incidentally, comfy slippers are not only great for you, but also for the Provodnitsa (sleeping car attendants), who’ll spend less time mopping after the travelers.
4. Drink Tea
Let’s talk about Russia’s national drink. Vodka, you say? The correct answer is tea (or as they say, чай)! The provodnitsa distribute cups to passengers to make sure no one dies of thirst during the trip. At the entrance of each coach, you’ll find an enormous container full of hot water — free and at your disposal. This is the famous samovar (самовар), the “self-brewer” for your hot water needs. So don’t forget your teabags! Our insider tip: Some of the best conversations during the journey start with a cup of tea.
5. Dried Food And Snacks
Now that you’ve quenched your thirst, you’re still hungry — especially if you’re taking a longer trip. So what should you pack in terms of food? You’ll notice Russians enjoy freeze-dried foods. These can be purchased in any Russian supermarket in the form of pasta, mashed potatoes and other nutritious foods. Once again, the samovar is your best friend on the train. Just add hot water and your delicious meal is ready.
If you’re hungry for something different, I recommend dry, durable foods such as cookies, dried fruit and biscuits. Sweet-toothed travelers will discover that chocolate rarely survives the heated coaches. In any case, you can always buy food on the train or the platform (if you have enough time during the stop).
6. Power Banks And Adapters
I don’t mean your physical energy — you’ll have plenty of time to refuel while you’re sleeping. Actually, after eating, sleeping is the second best thing you can do during your Trans-Siberian Railway trip. What I mean is energy for your phone, laptop, camera and other electronic devices. Travelers beware: Sockets are scarce on board. Well-prepared riders never forget their power banks to charge their batteries.
7. An App For Learning Russian
Traveling through the Trans-Siberian Railway without speaking a word of Russian is among the worst things you can do. Your neighbors will want to talk to you — and be warned, they’re going to ask lots of questions! Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get to meet locals and travelers — this should be the best motivation to keep learning. Better yet, your time on the train is perfect for learning Russian.
8. Bring Souvenirs From Home
Russian travelers probably won’t understand why you went well out of your way to experience the Trans-Siberian Railway. The route is long, the journey is slow, it goes through Siberia of all places. An excellent tip to bridge this gap is to bring a little something for the people you’ll spend these days with. Souvenirs from your homeland are a pleasant surprise for the friends you’ll end up making.
9. Trust Your Fellow Travelers
Typically traveling in an unfamiliar land means that you shouldn’t trust the people around you. While you should still use lots of common sense, it’s better to trust the people you travel with. Why?
Russians like to share things — especially food! You won’t always know what they’re offering you, nor will you likely understand exactly what they say if they explain it to you. But one thing is sure: never refuse food! Take a deep breath and try what you’re being served. In return, you’ll gain the trust of your fellow Russian travelers.
All of a sudden, fellow travelers will share personal anecdotes without hesitation, and you might be asked to watch a fellow passenger’s bag while he smokes a cigarette on the platform. Believe me, after my 12,430 miles on Russian rails and no negative experiences, let me say that trust improves your experience considerably.
Bonus Tip: Relax For The Last 71 miles
The Trans-Siberian railway is not 5,700 miles long, but 5,771 miles long. If you start in St. Petersburg, it’ll be even longer: 6,213 miles! This brings me to the last (bonus) advice for your Trans-Siberian Railway trip. You’ll often be bored and you’ll probably be sick of the train experience at some point. Just remember why you started this journey and remember how unique this experience is. Take a deep breath, and the last 71 miles will seem a little better.