Trans Siberian vacations advice

TRANS SIBERIAN HOLIDAYS ADVICE


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN EXPRESS

Cultural tips


Olga Sitnik, co-founder of our tour suppliers ExploRussia, shares her local knowledge of Russia: “Stereotypical, non-smiling Russians do exist; however, be aware that smiling is considered to mean that you want something which is why it rarely takes place with strangers. A few words of Russian spoken by a foreigner, especially an offer of hot tea, will unlock those smiles and break the ice over the course of a long train journey. But remember – Russia is so vast that it can often provide a cultural shock for its traveling citizens too. Don't be surprised if you ask a few questions about Siberia and are met with equal bewilderment.”

Food advice


Anna Rice, from Responsible Travel offers non-meaty alternatives: “The dining car is definitely worth visiting at least once and provides an opportunity to get out of your cabin, stretch your legs and talk to a few new, or familiar, faces. The menus are quite meat heavy but there are usually one or two vegetarian options; bring a phrase book with you to help you translate or ask the dining car attendants to be on the safe side.”
Olga Sitnik, co-founder of our leading Trans Siberian Express supplier, ExploRussia, also shares her advice on what to eat: “If a fellow passenger offers you some food, make sure you take them up on the offer. Grandmas, especially, often insist their grandchildren take far too much food on a long train trip, so much so that they're often happy to lighten their load by offering it around the carriage.”

WHAT TO DO IN THE WINTER


Chris Owen from Responsible Travel braved the Trans Siberian in January. He shares tips on winter trips: “Get as much daylight as possible and don't be tempted to hibernate for the entirety of the trip. Heaters are in every cabin and there's just something about wrapping up warm and braving the elements at every station that makes the Trans Siberian Express in the winter like nothing you've ever experienced before.”

GET OFF THE TRAIN!


Anna Rice from Responsible Travel offers advice on avoiding cabin fever: “There are plenty of opportunities to do this and it is highly recommended to get off the train. Ulaanbaatar is the gateway to the beautiful Gobi Desert while just over the Russian border, Irkutsk, is the perfect place to disembark and explore magical Lake Baikal and stock up on some freshly grilled omul.”

CLASSIC READS


Olga Sitnik, co-founder of our tour suppliers ExploRussia, shares her long distance reads: “There’s a saying in Russia if you’re stuck for reading material: “read the classics” for example: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Pushkin.”

HEALTH & SAFETY ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN


TRAVEL SAFELY ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN

Health


Take out comprehensive travel insurance and visit your GP a couple of months before you leave just to make sure you’re up to date with vaccinations.

The water is safe to drink on the Trans Siberian as it's boiled, so you just need to wait until it's cooled down. Only drink bottled water if the cap is safely sealed.

Eat as healthily as possible; don't just stick to vodka and noodles. Fruit, cereal and water may not sound like much but keeping hydrated and avoiding too much stodge is the best way to limit the chances of illness on the train. However, do avoid buying salads and cold meats from platform vendors, especially if they look like they’ve been sitting out a while.

Get as much daylight and fresh air as possible. If you're traveling in the winter then try to get your body clock in tune with daylight hours rather than sleeping in and waking when it's dark.

Only drink alcohol if you know the bottle that it came out of. Home-brewed hooch may sound tempting but the hangover, or worse, is not for the faint-hearted.

On the longer stretches, do some exercise every day, even if it's just walking up and down the carriage. Get the blood supply working with a daily energy-building routine – and make the most of your stops with walking tours, treks, aor even skating across the frozen waters of Baikal.

Safety


Make sure you pack an up-to-date first aid kit including any prescribed medicines, inhalers, etc.

Be friendly with fellow passengers but try not to let your guard down too readily. Sometimes people (often Westerners) may try to take advantage of travelers, so avoid accepting drinks and cigarettes unless you're sure they come from a trusted source.

Spread your cash out and keep your passport and visas on you at all times. Make copies of important documents and keep expensive items hidden away or, better yet, left safely at home.

When on the train, keep your luggage close at night by storing it under the bed, if you're in the lower bunk, or overhead if you're at the top.

Don't make jokes or avoid telling the truth in front of officials or police boarding the train to run routine checks. Nine times out of ten this is just procedural and they won't question why you're on the train but play things straight no matter what the situation.

Trans Siberian Express advice from our travelers


RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THOSE WHO HAVE DONE IT

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Trans Siberian Express advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
“Pack light and download metro maps for St Petersburg and Moscow before leaving.” – Samantha Thomas

“Have a sense of humour, patience when things you are not use to happens, and involve yourselves in all of the activities. Make sure to bring a sink plug for the train.” – Alan Kay

“If your leader recommends somewhere really try and do it; they have done it before and if they think you would like it you probably will.” – Julia Ware

“If you are a woman then be aware that you may well get some hassle & some inappropriate proposals. I would recommend that women always stay in pairs or larger groups.” – Georgina Wright

“1. Don't forget flip-flops, eye mask and ear plugs for the train. 2. If you have back problems ask for extra bedding - this made all the difference at some of the hotels and on the train.” – Jane Cozens

“We were very surprised at how easy everything was and how good the accommodation was. The worst room we had was better than we had expected for the best. The entire trip is now fairly "mainstream" - with English understood by a large number of people with whom we interacted.” – Ian Daniels

“Take vitamins. Russian and Mongolian food is very high on stodge. Take nice face-wipes. The train toilet is awful even when it's at its best and it's the only place to wash. Be ready for extreme temperature changes from within to outside of the train.” - Jessica Dromgoole
Photo credits: [Cultural tips: Anthony Knuppel] [Food advice (Olga Sitnik): Annie and Andrew] [Get off the train: Francisco Anzola] [Help desk: Boccaccio1] [Review 1 : Annie and Andrew] [Review 2 : Guyal]

Written by: Chris Owen
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