Before you make the decision to jump on the Trans-Siberian train, you’ll definitely want to know everything about life on the train, the bedding facilities, the temperature, your private hygiene, and more! Through this article, I will try to share with you useful information I have collected from my personal experience, hoping to answer some (if not all) of your questions.
Railway Staff On Board
Each wagon is assigned to two train attendants who will be next to you throughout the whole journey. A male conductor (provodnik) and a female conductor (provodnitsa) are responsible for maintaining cleanliness in the wagon, serving pre-ordered meals, selling snacks, and overall making sure that you are all doing well!!!
Your provodnik / provodnitsa will welcome you on the train while inspecting your ticket and passport. Remember, you can only board the train through your assigned wagon.
Bedding is supplied in all classes. After boarding the train, you will get a sealed plastic pack with two sheets, one pillowcase, and a small towel. On your bed, you will also find a thin mattress, a pillow and a blanket that you can use for making your own bed. Before stepping off, you should undo your bed and hand over your bedding set to the train attendants.
The temperature on the train is set at a comfortable level (around 25° C) all year round, therefore you will feel neither hot nor cole while on board. Having said that, even if you are traveling during a colder period, remember to also bring some light clothes with you.
Needless to say that you will not have access to a shower for the entire duration of your journey. Only a few trains are equipped with a shower cabin for their 1st class passengers. When booking your tickets online, you will be able to see precisely the available facilities on each train / wagon and decide accordingly.
Toilets come with a sink that you can use for your basic hygiene (washing your hands, face, and teeth). The railway staff is responsible for their everyday maintenance to the best of their capacity. One thing you can be sure of; this is the place you will love the least while on rails…
As a heads up you should also remember that toilets are locked whenever the train approaches a station.
Depending on whether it is a big city or a small village, the trains make a stop for 1 to 40 minutes. At border crossings, the train usually remains still for over 2 hours. The precise arrival / departure timetable is available on each compartment yet in the Russian language! Alternatively, you can also find, download or print it through the official website of the Russian Railways while booking your tickets (seek the “Route” button next to train of your preference).
It comes without saying that knowing the duration at each stop is of utmost importance. You will find yourself quite frequently in need of getting off, to either stretch your legs or get some food supplies. At those times, I strongly recommend staying in close proximity from the platform because the train attendants cannot be held responsible for any passengers that are left back!
To be on the safe side, remember to also have your ticket, passport, and some money with you when getting off the train.
Food On Board
Long-distance trains come with a restaurant car that apart from the best place to socialize, it is also serving meals, snacks, and drinks to the passengers. Depending on the origin of the train you have boarded (Russian, Mongolian, Chinese), you should expect an alteration on the menu!
As far as the menu itself is concerned, it might seem extensive at first sight, but most of the times not all options are available. Interestingly, upon pre-ordering, you can get a standard train meal (similar to the airplane meal) straight to your bed. To benefit from this “luxury”, make sure to select a wagon that is offering this kind of service while booking your tickets.
If you are traveling on a budget, your alternative to dining at the restaurant car is getting food at the train stations. Apart from the small kiosks, you will also find various food vendors waiting patiently on the station platforms for the trains to make a short stop in their long journey. Your best shot is the sweetest Russian grannies (babushkas) that are selling everything from fruit, smoked fish, and delicious home-made piroshkies!
Another very common, and strongly advisable, approach is carrying some canned food and snacks with you before boarding the train. Of course, you can always buy such food supplies on the train or from the station kiosks, yet at a higher price.
On each wagon there is a samovar from where you can get unlimited warm water for making tea, coffee, hot chocolate or instant noodles. Trust me on this; the samovar will become your very best friend!
Must Haves on the Trans-Siberian Railway
If you decide to take the long Trans-Siberian ride, don’t forget to bring with you:
- Your pajamas / slippers: This will be your one and only attire for the entire duration of your journey.
- A book / notebook: Your companion for the long days and nights to come.
- A mug and a cutlery set.
- Canned food / snacks / bottled water / tea and instant coffee.
- A big pack of wet cleaning wipes: Your personal hygiene starts and ends here!
- A Russian SIM card to stay connected with your friends and also share your adventures on the go!!! You should not expect a 4G connection along the entire Trans-Siberian route, however, the signal is getting stronger as the train approaches the stations and cities.
- Earplugs (just in case…)
- A power bank (even if there are plenty of charging outlets in all compartments).
Myths and Reality
Alcohol is strictly forbidden on Russian Trains. Stories about people drinking unlimited vodka while traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway definitely date back to another decade! Nowadays, passengers are only allowed to drink beer or wine which is bought and consumed strictly in the restaurant car.
Rumors have it that you can always tip your providnik or provodnitsa for getting you some vodka on board! In reality, if you get drunk the train attendants have the right (and obligation) to kick you out of the train on the very next station! Play it safe and stay sober!