How to survive the Transsib

The Trans-Siberian railway. A train ride I have been dreaming of since I was a teenager. There was something about that wild and mysterious Siberian nature and the long, giant trains… In reality, things are a little different than in my dreams of course… If you read my current mission page, you might remember I said I love travelling by train, but after being locked for 38 hours, I was in desperate need to get out and stretch my stiff limbs.

I know I wrote that this blog wasn’t a place to give tips & tricks for travelling. But in this case, describing my experiences in the Transsib are best given in a list: ‘how to survive the Transsib’:

  1. Although it might be cold outside the train, don’t make the mistake of thinking it might be cold inside too. The Russian way of heating is one that would allow you to walk around naked and still feel warm. So make sure you have a shirt and short on top of your backpack, so you can easily change as soon as you get in to the train. And don’t worry about a towel, you will get a small one with your bed linen, just big enough to wipe the sweat from your face.
  2. Russian conductresses (I don’t want to be sexist, but I’ve not seen one conductor) usually do not speak English and might seem a little strict or distant at first. But a smile and some effort to translate with yandex-translate app (still so happy with my 6-euro sim card) will soften any conductress. During our longest train ride, some young kids were really eager to practice their English and played cards with us. Our conductress joined and the kids translated!

    playing cards with a young Karate team and the conductress
    playing cards with a young Karate team and the conductress
  3. Bring enough food! They sell some small snacks at the end of the wagon, but it won’t fill you up. At some train stations, the trains stops for half an hour, just enough to get some fresh air, but it might be a little too stressful to run and search for a supermarket…
  4. A knife and own cups our plates for your food can be practical too.. although we just asked for the fancy looking tea glasses. They sell tea and coffee (instant coffee of course), but it is cheaper to bring your own, you can just use the boiling water tank in the train for free.


  5. All departure and arrival times (on tickets, in trains and at the trainstations) are shown in Moscow time. This creates a lot of confusion when travelling through multiple timezones. One time we got up one hour too early, because we crossed one zone more than we thought and my alarm was not correct. Our phones and computers were connecting to the new timezones, but they all said something different, so a watch with a fixed Moscow time can come in really handy…
  6. Use thongs or slippers… One time I went to the conducter on my socks and she gave me a weird look when pointing at my feet. And she had a point… the hallway is one thing, but the toilets are really gross and you defintely want to wear shoes or something.
  7. Try 2nd and 3rd class (coupe & platzcart) ! It is fun to see both sides of the way Russians travel. It is really normal and common to travel 3rd class, nothing to be afraid of. Just be aware of the smell of 60 people in an overheated ‘hostel’ that will overwhelm you as soon as you get into the train. But you get used to that. In the ‘coupe’ (a compartment) you have a little more space, which was good for Sam with his 1,86m. But it is less cosy and of course, more expensive.
    Third class
    Third class travelling. A train like a hostel!


  8. Make sure all your electronic devices are charged. Not only because it is hard to find a plug (but if you are really desperate, you can charge in the bad-smelling toilet), you will really like to use this time in the train to listen to music, organise photos, write some stories (or in my case my blog) or watch a movie. (photo me and my blog).

    Blogging in the train
  9. Don’t plan to do something that makes some noise too late in the evening, like eating or having discussions… or something you need some light for, like writing in your journal… They dim the lights pretty early and people go to bed pretty early. And some people just sleep all day. But don’t worry about them.
  10. Some people go for the full package of a 7-day-long during train ride from Moscow to Beijing. But I would definitely not recommend that. We’ve met people who did a 3 or 4 day ride, and even they regret this decision. You get a pretty good catch of the train experience with the 30+ hour rides, believe me. There is enough to see on the way, so better buy single tickets between two destinations along the road. This is way cheaper and a lot more pleasant since it breaks up the journey into manageable parts. Which cities you stop, is totally up to you, there is something to say for a lot of places. We made the decision to stop in 3 cities between Moscow and Ulan-Ude: Kazan, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk. I will write a few sentences on these cities under the pictures below.
Trans-Siberian Railway: Check!

In total, I’ve spent almost 100 hours in trains that took me all the way to East Russia, covering around 6400 kilometres. Along the way, I’ve seen the different Siberian landscapes, in two different seasons. Sometimes there were plain and flat fields with a couple of trees. Then there were villages with wooden houses and smoking chimneys, or bigger cities with dirty industrial sites and soviet style block buildings. Then there were forests, which only consist of birch trees… later there would be more and more conifers. I’ve seen the coloured, golden autumn passing by, but also the Siberian winter. We’ve been travelling through snowfall and landscapes covered in white, where working man with orange big suits were working along the tracks and warming themselves at a fire. But one hour later we would see the sun come out again and the snow would totally disappear, like we travelled through time. I’ve been very lucky to travel in a period where the two seasons meet.
And moreover, now I can finally check the box of ‘Trans-Siberian Railway’ from my bucketlist!

You’ll find the photos of the train ride below!

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4 Replies to “How to survive the Transsib”

  1. Leuk verhaal weer ! Is het al helemaal gedaan met de Transsib? Dacht dat de tocht naar Beijing er ook nog min of meer bijhoorde.. hoe dan ook, je bent al een aardig eind van huis en op weg ???????????????…..

    1. Ja min of meer, ik ben nog niet zeker hoe ik naar China ga, maar in elk geval niet met de directe naar Beijing πŸ˜‰ Jaa ver he! Het is al 7 uur tijdsverschil inmiddels! Klein detail pap, rood-wit-rood is d eoostenrijkse vlag, niet die van Letland haha! πŸ˜€

  2. wim van vierssen says: Reply

    Dag Hannah,
    Wat mooi weer om mee te lezen. Als water man ben ik jaloers op je Baikal en Wolga kennismaking. Beroemd water. Beide ken ik alleen uit de lucht. Prachtige foto’s heb je gemaakt zoals die van de houten verweerde huizen in Irkutsk. Prachtig! Wim

    1. Wat leuk om zo’n trouwe lezer te hebben die altijd reageert op mijn verhalen! πŸ™‚ Dank je wel Wim!

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