Traveling alone in Russia
Nowadays, more and more people embark on their travel adventures alone – and there are various reasons for that: some like the independence, some like to break out of their shells while on the road and some simply like to take a break from hanging out with their constant travel companions. Whatever the reason, Russia makes for a great destination for solo travel. This article will show you exactly the dos and don’ts of travelling alone in Russia.
First and foremost, we want to emphasize that traveling alone in Russia doesn’t mean being alone, not to mention feeling lonely. If anything, traveling alone in Russia should give you more opportunities to break out of your shell, get out of your comfort zone and talk to other people. You’ll thank us when you come back home and you have all those cool stories with awesome people to tell your friends!
Let’s start with the basics.
Learn the Russian alphabet and a few simple phrases. As of right now, many Russian people don’t speak English, which could make it a little bit more challenging to communicate. But as long as you’re making an effort to talk to locals in their local language, they will gladly help you out. It’s incredible by how much you can enrich your travel experience by simply learning a couple of sentences. The author Tim Ferriss came up with this: Learn a strangely random phrase that will leave the locals baffled – something like “I’m allergic to eggplant”. Obviously, they’re gonna think “Out of all the things you could have learned in Russian, THAT’S what you actually learned?”. As a matter of fact, this little travel hack works in all cultures around the world and is a guaranteed ice breaker. So don’t be afraid of messing up your grammar and speak!
On the same token, 99% of hotels and hostels have English speaking staff. Russia is slowly becoming a more international country with more and more people speaking English overall. Now, on some metro lines, there’s already announcements in English. Be patient, but for the time being, there’s no way around familiarizing yourself a little bit with the local language.
Know what you like
When traveling alone in Russia, obviously, there will be nobody to tell you what to do every day. That’s why it’s all the more important to do some research beforehand. Knowing what you like and dislike plays a huge role in that process. You’ve always been in love with history? Check out the local museums. Do you absolutely despise museums? No problem! Don’t pretend to like them and simply do something else.
There is plenty of opportunities to meet and mingle in Moscow – both with locals and international travelers. A great place to start would be LEM – Language Exchange Moscow. Those weekly meetings in Park Gorkogo are great fun and are guaranteed to make you find friends. English is the main language spoken there.
For people who want to improve their Russian there is the language meeting Davay po-russki, every Monday at 19:00 at the awesome bar Kvartira 44.
Secondly, the active Couchsurfing community is always keen to organize meet-ups. There is weekly meetings both in Moscow and St Petersburg, so don’t hesitate to check that out.
Getting around the city: taxis
Chances are, wherever you go, there will be somebody in a suspicious-looking car wanting to take you from A to B. Most of the time it is people who want to make an extra buck by giving people rides. This movement started in the nineties when some people were fired from their jobs. In order to survive they had to come up with a new way of making money.
In principle, those unofficial taxis are quite safe – just make sure to agree on a fare before getting in the car. For those of you who are not 100% comfortable with that option, there is still apps like Yandex Taxi or Uber. We advise to buy a local SIM card.
TRAINS! We already explained that there are three price categories to choose from. As a solo traveler, you’re probably best off in a platzcart (плацкарт). Why? Simple: There is an abundance of people to talk to, you are not restricted to three other people in your compartment, and it’s also the safest because there are many people around you. But traveling with 2nd class cupe is an ok idea too, as you can choose female or male cupe, when buying a ticket. So think twice what would be the best comfort for you, if taking just one overnight train or planning the whole Trans-Siberian railway adventure.
Just like anywhere in the world you have to be wary of pickpockets. Especially in the crowded metro during rush hour it’s recommended to wear your backpack in the front. Apart from that, there is the “Do you have a lighter?” scam. Typically, they will ask you for a light in English and then thank you with a hug. Not only is that an absolutely non-Russian thing to do, but they will also try to reach for your wallet.
Another thing con artists do is the “dropping money” scam. People will purposely drop money, later come as a “police officer” (who is actually not police), ask you for your ID, search you and, eventually, when checking your wallet, take your money. So simply keep on walking when somebody drops something, even if it seems like a counterintuitive thing to do.
Those things, however, should not discourage you to come to Russia. In fact, those things could (and actually do) happen all over the world very frequently. We just wanted to prepare you in the best way possible for the unlikely event that this happens to you.
And, of course, use common sense
Duh. Don’t wander around by yourself late at night, don’t get too wasted so that your senses are not impaired.
On top of everything we have already mentioned, we highly recommend getting a local SIM card. They are very affordable and allow you to access the internet on the go which makes life a whole lot easier.
In conclusion, traveling alone in Russia surely has its challenges but also allows you to fully embrace self-reliance, independence, and initiative. Sometimes, you’ll even feel like a child, not understanding what is written on signs around you and not being able to flawlessly communicate. But that’s okay, it’s even awesome. Because now you have created a situation for yourself to grow that not many people have the courage to do.
Do you want to come to Russia and don’t know where to start? We are always here for you!
Check one of our tours and contact us!
Read more articles about tips and tricks on how to travel to Russia and Safety and Security in Russia.