Most people have heard of the epic Trans-Siberian Railway journey. Starting from Moscow and crossing eight time-zones to the Pacific Ocean, Mongolia or China, traveling on the Trans-Siberian can be the trip of a lifetime, and is an ideal journey for the student backpacker.
Russia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and by far the biggest. To truly appreciate the vastness of the country, its immense diversity in cultures, natural wonders, languages and cities, you should take as much time as you can possibly spare to complete a Trans-Siberian Railway trip. If you want to get the best out of a Trans-Siberian trip, you should try to set aside a month at the very least, but the more time you have, the better. Unfortunately, too many people make the mistake of rushing through it — some even do the entire six-day trip without stepping off the train for more than a few minutes.
Purchasing your tickets locally as you go is both affordable and convenient, although it is well worth learning at least a few basic phrases in Russian before you set off. Learning the alphabet is also a must for navigating your way around this journey. With 33 letters, and many of them the same or similar to their Latin counterparts, it is not as hard as it sounds.
With a great list of places to visit along the Trans-Siberian, you will have no shortage of options. The first major stop is Yekaterinburg, on the border between Europe and Asia. Another major stop is the Siberian city of Irkutsk, a place where the mercury regularly plummets below -40°C in the winter months. After that you have the Lake Baikal region, home to some of the world’s most unspoiled natural beauty. Other places which you can visit on your trip include the distinctly Tibetan-style city of Ulan Ude and the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok.
One caution, though. A common misconception that many people have about traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway is that it is a comfortable and romantic way to travel. In reality, however, the food options are limited, the facilities leave a lot to be desired, and the train can feel painfully slow at times. Accommodation is far from luxury. There are no showers and the cheapest sleepers are in entirely open wagons (known as platskart) or four-berth couchettes. You will be able to get off the train for a short while at major stops, so buy plenty of traditional local food, drinks and souvenirs at stalls set up near the tracks.
On the positive side, you are certain to meet a fascinating mishmash of characters, including both locals and backpackers of all ages and nationalities. A journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway is sure to be an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime.
About the Author Charles Jackson has been an enthusiastic traveler ever since spending two years in Venezuela and the Caribbean in his mid-teens. Since 2003, he has spent the years traveling on and off in Eastern Europe. He has worked in hostels in both Romania and Lithuania, and has lived in Ukraine, Czech Republic and Georgia.