Ultimate guide to planning the Trans Siberian adventure
Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Follow the multi-part Trans Siberian Travel Series posts below.
- Ultimate guide to planning the Trans Siberian adventure
- Life on the Trans Siberian train journey
- Trans Siberian routes and the trains
- First Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Moscow
- Second Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Yekaterinburg
- Third Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Irkutsk
- Fourth Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Mongolia
- Last Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Beijing
Trans-Siberian train journey is a once in a life time adventure worth experiencing, even if you are a pack-your-bags-and-leave kind of person, this trip will make you a planner.
On this trip you will have to cross a few countries, so a bit of planning goes a long way in ensuring you have a fun filled trip ahead, there are a few visas to be applied for, train tickets to be booked for a various legs of the journey and most of all, you need to have a rough idea of what places to visit, the train tickets will need to be booked based on that, also if its the summer season you would need to book the tickets in advance as they sell out pretty quick.
We have listed our experience of the whole process and might help anyone else planning the trans-siberian adventure.
Below is a rough time line to get things organised and some action items.
Plant a thought about the trip, nothing needs to be done, but the thought is a powerful one, start the research about the trip, read reviews, use google. The ultimate adventure starts now and let the excitement begin.
Get a list of Visas required and its good to start applying them now, we took the train from London all the way to Beijing, if you plan this route to Moscow, then you need to apply for a Belarus transit visa, below is a list of visas and how long in advance you can apply them.
You also need confirmed hotel bookings for the Russian Visa and also Train tickets and return tickets for the Chinese Visa.
If you cant find any cheap return flight tickets from Beijing back to your home destination, we found a way out by booking a fully flexible ticket via British airways, since its fully refundable, you can use it to book your visa and then change to a cheaper ticket closer to the date of travel.
RealRussia can also help you with any invite letters and train tickets, they can also help you get the Visas if you don’t want to take the trouble of filling up forms and making VFS visits.
- Russian Visa – 6 Months advance (no appointment required at visa centre)
- Belarus Transit visa – 6 Months advance (no appointment required at visa centre)
- Mongolia Visa – 90 days in advance (no appointment required at visa centre)
- Chinese Visa – 90 days in advance (Appointment at VFS required, gets quite busy, book early).
Now is the time all your plans start getting full speed ahead, the excitement is in high peak and a few more important items to tick off the list.
- Eurostar do cheap tickets 45 to 60 days before travel, so its time to book the London to Paris leg.
- Paris to Moscow train tickets open up 60 days in advance and its time to book them.
Paris to Moscow trains can be booked directly from the Russian railways website, it might seem scary at first thought of booking a train from the Russian railways website, but with the help and guidance of Seat61.com expert ideas on navigating the Russian railways website in english made it so easy to find the tickets and book them, we had absolutely no issue in finding the trains or the booking and the payment system.
If you are planning to do offbeat areas and trekking in Siberia and remote places in Russia, then its recommended to get yourself vaccinated against Ticks which are quite common in summer time.
Tick vaccine is a course of 3, the first one to be had 45 days before travel.
Its time for the second dose of the Tick Vaccination.
It’s now pure excitement of the thought of embarking on an adventure of a life time and just bask in the amazing experiences that lie ahead. Just close your eyes and enjoy every moment.
On the day:
What else, its time to leave, what are you waiting for :).
Packing for the trip, essential things to take:
We used a mix of Packmate roll up vaccum bags and packing cubes for our dresses, its best to pack them in roller bags to get them through stations, most of the stations don’t have escalators or lifts, so you end up carrying them down or up the stairs, the lighter and less bags, the easier the trip.
- A silicone or a steel cup to use for coffee on the train.
- A swiss multi tool kit will be handy
- Hot chocolate and coffee will be very useful on the train.
- Light beach slippers for the train.
- Night clothes for the train.
- Body, face and toilet tissues.
- Camera and batteries.
- A few books to read.
- We also got some souvenir key chains and small gifts for kids and people we meet on the train.
- A small torch will be handy.
- First aid kit, Deet based insect repellant for Siberia and Mongolia if planning any treks.
- A hand fan will be very very useful for those hot and lengthy border crossing stops.
Summer in Moscow and other cities on the route are hot and sweaty, so pack thin clothes and a rain coat, you can get laundry done in the hotel or in your hotel bathroom and dry them if you stay there for a few days.
T-shirts, tech wool type shirts are best and quick drying, good shoes for the overall journey, light weight sandals for the train, thin shorts and tops for the train will be more comfortable.
The Trans-Siberian Handbook has a kilometre-by-kilometre account of the sights to look out for from the train. Highly recommended, as this helps you get the most from your journey. You can tell where you are from the black and white kilometre posts all along the line, usually on the south side of the tracks.
Seat61 also has a wealth of information about everything required.
As you will be travelling through a few different countries, you can buy currencies before you start the journey if you want to save on some currency exchange and also you get better rates at home.
Mongolian currency is a restricted one, so you can only buy them in Mongolia, once you enter the country, you can buy them on the platform from locals willing to sell them in exchange for USD or Russian roubles, rates would be quite varied,
A Travel cash card worked best and got us the best rates available, we used the CaxtonFx card and found it very useful and worked quite well in Mongolia.
Travel Savvy Apps
There are a few phone apps that come in very handy on this adventurous train journey, apart from the usual Instagram and other apps, we have list a few useful apps below.
The most used app was Google Translate, get the app on your phone and also download the language packs for the countries you will be visiting and you can then use it offline to have a conversation with your fellow travellers, we spoke like this quite a lot, almost 2 weeks in Russia and a week in Mongolia.
As Vegetarians, we get asked most of the time about veg food and how easy is it to find them when we travel, the secret is again, a very useful app aptly named HappyCow, you can search for a list of Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants and eateries, also lists places that have vegetarian options.
The Veg places we found were not huge chains and no big ads like KFC or McDonalds that make them easier to find, without the app, we wouldn’t have had a clue that a veg restaurant did exist in our vicinity, the app had us walk narrow alley ways and took us to places that had very tasty veg food options that would have been difficult for us to find without such an app.
Getting lost in a new city is quite fun, you find new places, interesting people and attractive off beat attractions and locations, but you need a way to find your way back too, getting lost for too long is also not too much fun, sometimes you just need to find that lovely vegetarian restaurant and having a map is very handy, but google maps need data and although you can cache the area, its not a very easy process, thats where the amazing maps.me app comes in very handy.
Download the country you are planning to visit and you have driving directions, walking and easy search for most of the stuff you need at your finger tips.[jbox color=”green” title=”Visas and Train Tickets” icon=”https://www.vividscapes.com/post_icons/travel_icon.png”]
RealRussia is a very reputable agency who can arrange them for you, they also can buy all the train tickets and arrange the whole trip if you don’t find it fun doing it yourself.
Seat61.com provides all the information you need to know about travelling on trains the world over
Russian Railways booking can book trains all over Russia.
London to Paris Eurostar for tickets from London to France and Brussels.
When to go
Summer is a good time to enjoy the trans-siberian, winters are quite cold and gets dark quite quick, April to September is best enjoyed, if you want to plan around the Nadaam festival in Mongolia it happens around the 2nd week of July.
Long day time and hot days are quite the norm in Russia, Mongolia and China around June and July, temperatures can reach 35 plus during the daytime.
Trans Siberian Travel Budget
Here is what we spent for the whole train trip from London to Beijing, cost as of 2016.
The budget below is no way a guide or a baseline, the Trans-Siberian can be done much cheaper and if you want to hitchhike and stay in hostels, the cheaper it gets, its your trip and your budget, so feel free to spend as much or as less as you would want to.
Amounts are in GB£.
|Trains (2nd class) – 2 People|
|London to Paris – (65 x 2)||£130|
|Paris to Moscow – (145 x 2)||£290|
|Moscow to Yekaterinburg – (105 x 2)||£210|
|Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk – (100 x 2)||£200|
|Irkutsk to Ulan Bator – (90 x 2)||£180|
|Ulan Bator to Beijing – (85 x 2)||£170|
|Visas – 2 People|
|Russia – Single entry Tourist – (40 x 2)||£80|
|Belarus – Transit – (20 x 2)||£40|
|Mongolia – Single entry Tourist – (40 x 2)||£80|
|China – 2 year multiple entry Tourist – (150 x 2)||£300|
|City Spend – Tours, Stay, food and Misc|
|Moscow, Russia (2 days)||£150|
|Yekaterinburg, Russia (2 Days)||£200|
|Irkutsk, Russia (4 Days)||£300|
|Ulan Bator, Mongolia (6 Days)||£500|
|Beijing, China (7 Days), treated ourselves to a little luxury here 🙂||£1300|
|Tick Vaccination – Course of 3 – (65 x 3 x 2 of us)||£195|
|Hep A – (20 x 2)||£40|
|Beijing to London return tickets – 400 x 2||£800|