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HOW TO TRAVEL THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY

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Ive always wanted to travel on the Trans-Siberian railway. It seems like an amazing adventure that literally spans the width of an entire continent. Until I make the journey myself, Katie Aune is here to share her experiences on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

In this guest post, Katie shares everything you need to know for the journey. She is a frequent traveler to Russia and knows this journey well. Shes here to share her wisdom with you to help you make the most out of your trip across Russia!

The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the most famous train journeys in the world. For me, it was the highlight of the three months I spent in Russia. I traveled in reverse, going from Vladivostok to Moscow (most people start in Moscow) and went slowly, taking nearly a month to complete the journey and stopping in five cities along the way.

Step One: Planning Your Route
The traditional Trans-Siberian route stretches 9,288 kilometers between Moscow and Vladivostok. Two variations are also popular: the Trans-Mongolian (between Moscow and Beijing via Mongolia) and the Trans-Manchurian (between Moscow and Beijing, bypassing Mongolia). All three routes take 67 days if going non-stop.

Most travelers start their journeys in Moscow and go east. If you are anxious to interact with locals or improve your Russian skills, consider starting in Vladivostok or Beijing and heading west. You will likely encounter fewer tourists and more locals who are simply taking the train as a means of transportation, not as an adventure.

Beijing is probably a more attractive bookend to the journey than Vladivostok and likely provides easier onward connections the best options from Vladivostok are to either fly back to Moscow (about $250 USD) or take a ferry to Japan or South Korea ($400 USD and up).

Chances are you will need a visa to travel to one or more of Russia, Mongolia, and China, so that may factor into which route makes the most sense for you. Rules vary by nationality, so I encourage you to visit the consulate website for your home country several months in advance to learn what is required.

For more on my experience obtaining a Russian visa

Step Two: Booking Your Tickets
If you are on a tight schedule, it makes sense to book your tickets ahead of time. Tickets can be issued up to 45 days in advance and many travel agencies can do this for you. I used Real Russia and highly recommend them they can also help with obtaining a letter of invitation for visa purposes. It is also possible to book online yourself at www.rzd.ru or www.poezda.net if you can read a little Russian.

For more flexible travelers, you can purchase your tickets at the stations as you go along. However, be prepared for the possibility that the train you want may already be sold out, and dont be surprised if none of the cashiers speak any English. And schedules posted at the stations will be on Moscow, not local, time.

Most trains offer three classes of sleeper service: spalny vagon (1st class), kupe (2nd class), and platskartny (3rd class). Spalny vagon compartments have just two berths, with both beds at the lower level. Kupe are four-berth compartments consisting of two upper and two lower bunks. Finally, platskartny are open six-berth compartments with both upper and lower bunks.

Both spalny vagon and kupe have doors that lock, while platskartny compartments are open this makes third class a little more social, but a little less secure.


Step Three: How Much Should You Budget?
How much you spend on your train journey will depend on all of the factors mentioned above, but I would say around $1,000 for tickets, accommodations, and food is a good starting point.

For example, booking through Real Russia, a kupe ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok might run about $900, while platskartny would be less than half, at just $360. On the other hand, splurging on first-class would cost you nearly $1,800. Prices for the nonstop trip to Beijing are similar. You can save up to 33% by taking one of the lower-quality passenger trains instead of the cosmetically nicer firmenny trains.

Note that breaking up the journey into separate legs may add some additional cost to your trip. For example, making stops in both Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk en route to Vladivostok would increase the total to $1,130 for kupe.

Price can also vary by day and time of departure, so if you are on a tight budget, be sure to play around with the schedules and note that not all types of trains are available on all routes or run on all days. Russian Railways offered a sale this fall that offered up to 50% off fares booked at least 30 days in advance but also imposed a 5% penalty on tickets purchased less than 10 days before departure. Keep an eye out for similar deals in the future.
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