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TRAVEL TIPS | 17 Tips to Survive the Trans-Siberian

Trans Siberian gallery

A journey on the Trans Siberian Railway should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is one of the greatest train adventures in the world. Our experience is amazing, especially since we travel in ‘spring’ and see Siberia with snow! Before stepping on the train, we dive into the internet to find EVERYTHING there is about this magical train ride. We have read many blogs and tips, and scrolled through LOTS of information. After traveling the train ride ourselves we made a list of the 17 ultimate tips and trust us: this is all the information you need!

Trans Siberian gallery

Booking your tickets

  1. Book your train tickets on your own, not through an agency

It will be a lot cheaper if you buy the tickets yourself directly from the Russian Railway website. The first time booking a ticket takes us a little longer due to language (the website is half English half Russian), and our credit card payment gets rejected a couple of times. But once you get the hang of it, it is the best way to get the cheapest tickets. You can also buy tickets on the go for the same price. Nonetheless buying tickets at the train station with no English speaking Russians seems too hard to us at first. Eventually we do make it happen one time though! As you can only buy tickets for trains in Russia on the website, we have to go to a train station for our ticket into China. We have to admit we have booked our ticket into Mongolia through an agency (we recommend Real Russia), as we need the certainty for our Mongolian visa. 

  1. Go on multiple train rides and visit some cities

If you have time, go out and see places instead of staying in the train for a week. Staying on the train is awesome but you will miss out on a lot of the culture. In addition, staying on only one train can be boring. We meet an Irish guy who travels the Trans Mongolian Express in once, and therefore he has booked a ticket on an international train. That resulted in him being all alone in the compartment during the ride (locals are not travelling by expensive international trains) and most of the stops takes place at very inconvenient night-times (because it goes in one go).

  1. Book trains with different numbers (if you go on multiple rides)

There are many different train numbers riding (parts of) the Trans Siberian/Mongolian track. Beforehand we read the quality varies a lot between lower (great, classy, international trains) and higher numbers (less quality, but cheaper). In our experience, the higher numbers we take the more authentic the train feels. We take a very fancy and expensive 002ЙА, but enjoy the rides on the more cosy trains 082ИА, 140HA, 008HA, 012УА, 362 (into Mongolia) and the 004 (into China) even better!

  1. Book different classes (if you go on multiple rides)

On most trains there are 1st, 2nd and 3rd class wagons, and even two options for the second class (with or without food). We travel  in second class mostly. That means you travel in a closed 4-bed coupé. One train ride we travel third class, which is an amazing experience. In third class there are bunk beds, the big difference with third class is that there are no doors. This makes it look and feel like a 45-bed dormitory! People even say travelling third class is safer, because of social surveillance.

Trans Siberian gallery

Preparing for the ride

  1. Learn some basics words, download offline dictionaries & download Russian/Chinese keyboards on your phone

First of all, you are travelling in countries where the English-level is low, if they speak English at all. Travelling by train also means meeting (local) people and – believe us – you want to become friends. If only because they can help you when you have problems. So we recommend that you learn at least the Russian words for thank you, some things like hello, goodbye, and nice to meet you. Knowing some words guarantees a smile on locals’ faces – even on the harsh-looking-Russian faces! Luckily you do not need to follow an entire language course beforehand, since there are many handy apps (Google translate offline!) to help you with your conversations.

  1. Charge your electronics

On most trains there are some outlets in the hallway and on the toilet. Only one time (the fancy train ride) we have an outlet in our coupe. It is best to just charge all your devices beforehand.

  1. Pack light clothing

Packing light clothes for Siberia? Yeah! During winter and spring the heating on the train is working overtime, it gets bloody hot. And with the sun burning through the train windows – that can not always open – it is highly recommended to bring light clothing. So do bring your shorts, tank top and some flip-flops – you’ll need it. We even saw people cool off in their summer clothing at the stations with an outside temperature around -9 degrees Celsius.

Trans Siberian gallery

  1. Bring tea, noodles, instant coffee, and optional: some beef cubes

There is free hot water on the train! So bring a cup and bowl/lunch box with you and enjoy your warm drinks and meals. Bring enough food, because the restaurant wagon is expensive. And while some people tell us there are cute old women selling stuff at all stations, we have not seen any (might be the wrong time of the year).

  1. Take cleansing wipes and toilet paper with you

There are toilets, but not always toilet paper, and there is water on the train. However, you will not stay fresh forever, so bring some cleansing wipes and toilet paper.

  1. Pack ear buds

Always a good idea to bring ear buds when sharing a coupe with strangers. We are happy we have them when we share the small space with a snoring drunk Russian guy and a mum with a crying baby.

  1. Bring some things to share with you

You can bring drinks like vodka or beers, snacks, card games or just an open attitude. Anything you can share will give you the most memorable moments in return! We do have to mention we are happy we do not bring vodka, because we only meet Russians who don’t drink vodka!

  1. Be prepared to meet all kind of people

If not in your coupe, you may meet them in the hallway/restaurant car/at the station. We have had great meetings with the nicest Russian guys (who appeared much tougher than they were) and giggly tea-partying ladies, but we also encountered challenges with a drunken Russian guy and a mum with a baby. It is all part of a great experience, but you will have to be prepared (mentally) for it.

Trans Siberian gallery

On the train

  1. Clean the window

Before you even make your bed, check if your window is transparent enough! We had to clean it once, because it was too dirty to even look through. It will ruin your view (and your pictures), so make sure it is clean!

  1. Make friends with the people you share the coupé with

This is the fun part; make friends! Most of the time you are on the train for a while, make yourself at home and get to meet the people with whom you share the experience of the ride. In addition, you might need them! Almost all train employees can’t speak English.

  1. Know the trains stops and get out for some fresh air

In every train there is a list with all the stops and the duration of the stops. If the stop is longer than twenty minutes, go out, get some air and buy some (local) food/drinks at the station.

Trans Siberian gallery

  1. Go to the toilet in time

They almost always lock the door of the toilet when the train gets to a train station. Most of the time you can go to the toilet at the train station, but sometimes they don’t let you off. This is the case when you are crossing the border, and in that case you sometimes have to wait two to three hours!

  1. Pay attention where you have to get off

After surviving the hours/days on the train, you have to make sure you don’t miss your stop! Sometimes the conductor comes to tell you it’s time, but sometimes they don’t. We read you can ask them to tell you, but with the language barrier we decide to figure it out ourselves. And make sure to clean your bed when you leave, someone else might get on the train and has to sleep in your bed!

Want to see more pictures? Check out our Trans-Siberian Gallery! And don’t forget to read about Russian food & their recipes!

trans siberian railway

If you like our tips, please share it with someone you think should travel the Trans Siberian Railway!
And if somehow we missed something, let us know.

21 Comments

  • getlostinnature96

    This is so interesting! I’ve never thought about travelling on the Siberian railway but it looks like an incredible adventure!

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Yes it is! So funny, in The Netherlands lots of people talk about it. Everyone wants to do it, but not lots of people do it. Hope you will do it one day!

      Reply
  • Eva

    So awesome! This is definitely one experience that I would like to do in my life! I would love to see Siberia – and your tip to clean the window is actually a pretty good one indeed!! Thank you for this guide, I’ll make sure to keep some of these tips in mind when the time comes for me to make this dream come true. Great to see also the third class wagon. It really looks like something I’d like to try, too!!

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Thanks a lot! Hope you will do it one day, we really liked it! So shitty and sad, if you have a dirty window and a can’t make good pictures 😉

      Reply
  • vickiviaja

    Wow. Looks like a great adventure. I’d totally get out the train at some point to explore the cities around. The third class beds look adventurous. I guess you really do need ear plugs when basically sleeping with that many people in one room. (It kinda is one room, when it doesn’t have doors I guess haha) One day I guess I will also want to take this kind of trip. Thank you for sharing, girls!

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Yeaah you should! And haha yes Maartje really needed ear plugs, I’m a very good sleeper so I almost never wake up 😉 Third class is just one big hostel room, and it was the most fun class! So many locals. Thank you Vicki!

      Reply
  • Sarah Shumate

    This is such a fantastic guide! I would love to take this train ride someday…it sounds like such a great adventure!

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Thanks a lot! Hope you will, we really liked it!

      Reply
  • Lena

    This is such a helpful guide for those who are going on a this long train trip in Siberia. But the only thing I would disagree about is that it should be on everyone’s bucket list. For sure, this kind of travel is not for everyone, wouldn’t you agree? 🙂

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Hmm not sure about that! You can take a luxurious train/cabin, so you have the coupé for yourself (+ get dinner). Or you can buy the more adventures train/class and share a coupé or even buy the tickets without a coupé. Plus you can stop as much as you want or just stay on the train. You can also pick all of the seasons. So many options, we think it is for everyone!

      Reply
  • sarah

    This is such a great guide. My husband is dying to go on this journey. I especially like the “clean the window” tip!

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Aah thank you! You two should do it, and it isn’t that expensive as people think it is. Just buy the tickets yourself! Hope you will do it one day.

      Reply
  • lisannevanbeurden

    Dit lijkt me echt zo gaaf om te doen!! Handige tips, zal ik zeker opslaan voor als we een keer deze rit gaan doen!

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Jaa het is echt zo’n ding waar veel mensen het over hebben en het een droom van is. Waar wij kennen niemand die het ook gedaan heeft. Dankjewel!

      Reply
  • passportforliving

    This is a once in a lifetime trip isn’t it!? I’d love to do it. Great tips.

    Reply
    • Maartje Hensen

      Yes it is! Would recommend it to everyone. Thank you!

      Reply
  • Katalin

    Great post! We took the Trans Siberian train few years ago, and I absolutely with your points. 16 was my ‘nightmare’, hated the locked toilets and the huge queue…

    Reply
  • Bernie and Jess Watt

    This is definitely on our bucket list. Great shots too!

    Reply
  • tineke Koning

    Wow! wat een ervaring, dit lijkt me geweldig om ooit een keer te doen. Heel apart om sneeuw in de lente te zien. Ik wist eerlijk gezegd niet eens dat er verschillende treinroutes en nummers zijn. Ik dacht dat er 1 soort reis was.

    Reply
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