If you’re lucky enough to be travelling cross country from Moscow to Beijing, or on any long distance rail journey here a few things not to be forgotten before you embark.
Some of these suggestions are things that I have found really useful on my trip, or things that I wish I had whilst riding the rails.
The “Vodka Train” isn’t the Orient Express or the Royal Scotsman. During our trip, we traveled during the low season and were living it up in the third class, so these items will make your cross country journey a bit more bearable.
You’re on the train for sometimes up to four days, this long slog means you want to be comfortable.
Perhaps distance yourself from the cliche fluffy bunny rabbit variety, but slippers/indoor slip shoes/slipper socks/loafers…. what ever you want to call them will come in handy when walking through the carriages and when you don’t want to go barefoot.
During our journey from Moscow to Irkutsk. We endured a squeaking light cover, hanging off and squeaking from the ceiling of the train. The faster the train went, the louder the squeaking. As a light sleeper, this squeaking hell was something I was losing patience with. Until some glorious person suggested using their duct tape to stick the light box back on and voila!.. no more grumpy travelers, insomnia or SQUEAKING.
I also feel that if you’re travelling for an extensive time, you’ll come across some bizarre situation where you’ll need this again. Trust me.
Guidebook with Map
Now, what I mean by this is a book and a map of where you’re going on your journey on the train.
I was lucky enough to have a magazine cutting from an old Wanderlust issue which showed a map of Russia, Mongolia and China. I could use this map as conversation piece with locals who possibly can’t speak English or when you can’t speak Russian.
It’s good to have something to show your fellow passengers, they are just as interested in you as you are of them and it’s useful to have something that isn’t electronic.
I would ask where they were heading and one night 30 school children boarded our carriage and this old ragged magazine cutting helped to create light hearted chit chat.
Or a “Spork”, regardless of what specialty cutlery brand you go for you will need a utensil to eat food with. You will more than likely be dining on instant noodles,instant mash or even instant porridge oats. All these gourmet instant dishes need utensils. If you’re staying in a Yurt in Mongolia, something like this can become incredibly useful.
You can also get some stylish bamboo reusable cutlery here
To enjoy said delicacies above , it goes hand in hand to say that you’ll need a eating device unless you plan to eat from the dining cart everyday.
You can buy sustainable items made from rice husk or bamboo here
Yep, you’ll need this. It’s a long drop without it.
I also travel with some bar soap and hand sanitizer. The toilets aren’t too rough, very clinical stainless steal but it does the job.
Pens and Paper
This is something that I always bring on journeys. It can be used as a conversation piece or as a way to talk to children, and adults alike.
On my journey from Mongolia into China I used my drawing pad to create a small road map drawing as a small child had a toy car, we used the paper to create a “Race track”.
Miniature travel sized games are a great way to pass the time, and even a deck of cards can provide endless fun.
One other traveler opted to take a miniature version of Jenga. Which upon reflection, on a moving train, potentially not the best idea. However, to add a bit of sass to the game she marked each brick with a question, or game rule on it which if you’re drinking can be extremely fun! She kept hers in a handy zip-lock bag – ingenious!
A flexible, travel friendly tripod is a great way to catch a time lapse or two of your journey. Whether you are moving through a sunset over Siberia, or when you are off the train and want to catch an incredible sunset, or starry night in the Mongolian steppe. A tripod is useful and provides a sturdy base for your camera, or phone.
Amazon have a reasonable priced one here
I always try and take something from Scotland as a token of goodwill, I’ve taken Tunnocks tea cakes to Slovakia, Whisky to China (Miniature) and tinned Haggis to The Gambia. On this journey I opted for Edinburgh Rock, a hard boiled sweet and some Tunnocks Caramel wafers.
Another good shout is some postcards/pictures of your home country. The school children on the Russian leg of the journey benefited from the sweets and the Caramel wafers ended up in the hands of a lovely Mongolian lady who showed us around her Yurt.
Most of these items seem obvious, some are a no brainer. There is no WiFi on the train, so either purchase a Russian sim card for the first part of your journey or make do.
You can pass the time by pre-downloading films, podcasts, games and documentaries.
A favourite Podcast to get your teeth into is Serial.
I can also highly recommend Audio books, I have a monthly audible account and it definitely passes the time. My suggestion would be the British version of the Harry Potter series, they are read by legendary Stephen Fry.
It’s good to take a couple of portable battery chargers for electronic devices. When travelling by air, remember to always pack them in hand luggage.
Another useful app which may come in handy is “Here”, a offline map system which saves eating into your data package.
When you head into China it is essential to have VPN so that certain sites can still work.
It will help you get around the censorship and beat the great firewall, allowing you to access YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and Gmail in China with ease.
Depending on your travel plans post Trans-Siberian, it’s good to take a variety of clothing. The carriages can be unbelievably hot and stuffy, even in the depth of winter. Depending on how friendly your train guards are, you may be allowed to open a window. Maybe some light wear leggings and sweat pants would help with comfort.
Also bear in mind, holidaying in Siberia in winter time tends to be chilly, with balmy temperatures of -22 degrees when we visited. Thermal under layers are essential and hats, gloves and thick socks are a literal life saver! LAYER IT UP.
The journey across three countries is incredible and I wish I could do it all over again.
If you are tempted to embark on the longest rail journey and see more of Russia, Mongolia or China then check these guys out.
Vodka Train, booked via STA Travel