What should you pack for the world’s longest train journey? When you’re living out of a suitcase, spending a lot of time with your fellow passengers, and staying well fed and well entertained, packing becomes an art form. Here is our guide to what you should leave at home and what you can’t live without when travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Though this is an adventurous journey, leave your camping rucksack at home and choose a suitcase with wheels, which is much easier to manoeuvre through stations and narrow train corridors. Most Western passengers travel in second-class, also known as kupé: these compartments sleep four passengers and their luggage (not exceeding 36kg per person) must fit underneath the two bottom bunks – bringing more than one large suitcase each will leave no space for your neighbours. First-class passengers can take 50kg of luggage per person, and have room for more than one suitcase each in their compartment.
Organise your suitcase so that you can quickly and easily find your things – as suitcases are stored under the seats, your neighbours will not appreciate you rummaging through your cases day and night. So – a toiletry bag, bag with underwear and socks, bag with sleeping clothes, and bag with day clothes. Pack a rucksack for anything you’ll want access to throughout the day – chargers, tissues, books, refreshments etc. And bring a comfortable travel belt to keep your passport, phone, and other valuables.
No matter how icy the outside world is, the train carriage will certainly be toasty. And summer is no different – Russians believe that cold draughts can hurt even the sturdiest of immune systems, so your fellow passengers may object to cracking the window open or turning on the air conditioning. Bring comfortable, breathable layers for the daytime such as t-shirts, tracksuit bottoms, sports shorts and hoodies, and lightweight sleeping clothes. Remember to pack indoor shoes such as slippers, flip flops, or clean plimsolls – no one wants to visit the communal WC in their socks, and Russians will not appreciate you wearing your hiking boots inside.
Please note that fresh bedding is included in all classes.
It goes without saying that you should bring hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes, gloves and face masks. It is not mandatory to wear a mask in your compartment, but you should wear one when walking around the train or at the station. Remember your prescription medication, painkillers, anti-allergy medicine, and upset stomach tablets. Unless you’re breaking up the trip with a city break along the way, you may not be able to access a pharmacy.
Check which facilities are in your class and carriage – some offer communal or even private showers, but most will only have a shared WC in each carriage. Pack miniature shampoo and bodywash accordingly, or settle with deodorant and baby wipes. As well as a toothbrush and toothpaste, bring soap, a small towel and toilet paper. If you are a light sleeper, then earplugs and an eye mask can be very helpful.
Your compartment may or may not have plug sockets depending on how modern your train is. If it does, then it is a great idea to bring an extension lead and travel adaptors – you will certainly make friends this way! In case no sockets are available or they do not work, a couple of good-quality portable chargers will prove a lifesaver.
Wi-Fi or adequate phone signal in the depths of eastern Russia will be patchy, so offline entertainment is the best way to pass the time – and is there any better time for a tech detox than on a train journey through the world’s biggest country? Sit back, relax and read some interesting books, play card games, write in your journal, or just enjoy the view. Bring a phrase book or small dictionary to practice Russian with your fellow passengers (you can’t rely on Google Translate without Wi-Fi) as well as photographs of your family, friends, dog and cat. If you really must try to access the internet during your journey, then pick up a local SIM card.
There are four ways to acquire refreshments on your Trans-Siberian train trip:
As we’ve mentioned, the train carriages will be warm. So if you decide to pack a few days of snacks, avoid things that need refrigeration. Bring packaged goods such as granola bars, biscuits, crisps and sweets, as well as fruit to keep yourself feeling refreshed (though you can usually buy fresh fruit and vegetables from vendors at the station). At the end of each carriage you’ll find a samovar (a large kettle) where you can prepare coffee, tea, cuppa soups or instant noodles. As the only drinking water provided is hot water from the samovar, you should also bring a couple of big bottles of water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Remember to pack a thermos, cup, plate, fork, knife and spoon.
Bringing food to share with your fellow passengers will never go a miss – even better if it’s a snack or sweet treat from your home country. Russian people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners and may invite you to share some food or drinks with them, too! Although drinking alcohol on the train is banned, some people enjoy vodka or beer to while away the long Trans-Siberian days.
We recommend that you bring cash with you. Although bank cards are accepted in most places in major cities, rural train stations are not one of these places – and you’ll need cash to sample the local delicacies sold by platform vendors. What’s more, while the trains increasingly allow card payments, the card reader requires a good internet connection.
Please bear in mind that if you are travelling the Trans-Manchurian or Trans-Mongolian routes, the currency on the train will change once you cross the border.
If you plan to break your trip up with stops along the way, then pack suitably for the weather.
The Siberian and Far Eastern winter is significantly colder than in St Petersburg and Moscow. Pack a long, warm, waterproof coat, thick gloves, a fur or wool hat which covers your ears, a substantial scarf, waterproof boots with a grippy sole, and thick hiking socks. Thermal leggings or thick tights are a must, as jeans or trousers alone will be insufficient. That said, make sure you pack layers – as with the trains, Russian buildings are very warm as the heating is centrally controlled and permanently on from early autumn until late spring. So make sure to pack lighter layers for visiting museums, restaurants, or other indoor places.
Despite the bitterly cold winters, the Siberian summer can be hot and air conditioning is uncommon, so pack lightweight and breathable clothing. If travelling at beginning or end of summer the weather can be capricious, so do not forget layers and an umbrella. Russians dress modestly, especially outside of large cities, and women will not be permitted to visit churches in revealing or short clothes. Siberia is notorious for its mosquitoes during summer, so insect repellent is a must!
Get ready to be whisked along on a smooth and magical ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway.