Russia holiday advice

RUSSIA HOLIDAY ADVICE


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN RUSSIA

Visas & permits


Most travellers to Russia require a valid visa covering the period of travel in Russia. In order to obtain a visa for Russia, it is essential to have a letter of invitation. Double check whether you or your tour company will apply for the letter of invitation for your tourist visa. In order to apply for the invitation, your tour guides will need an electronic scan of the photo page of your passport, and an indication of your travel plans within Russia by 120 days prior to the start of your trip.

Additionally, Chukotka is considered a ‘frontier zone’ within Russia so you will need a special permit to visit. On entry, a guard will want to check your passport and documents and possibly take you aside for questioning. Don’t be daunted by this, it’s normal, so just be polite and patient.

Olga Sitnik, from our local supplier ExploRussia, has advice on safety, seeing Lake Baikal and shopping:

SEEING THE BEST
OF LAKE BAIKAL


“Lake Baikal is the pearl of Trans Siberian Railway. If someone wants to go off the beaten track when visiting the lake we recommend to get to it not from the west, getting off at nearby Irkutsk, but from the East, getting off in Ulan Ude. This is the capital of the Republic Buryatia, so native people to this region are Buryats, they are Buddhists and along with Russian they speak the Buryat language.”

Staying safe


“The same rules apply for Russian cities as they do for anywhere else in the world: keep your bags close by, particularly on public transport, and avoid areas with few or no people, especially after dark.”

TIPS ON
SOUVENIR SHOPPING


“Buy some local honey or jam! Often they are sold at local markets. Also, Russia is famous for tea, so go for herbal teas, made with local herbs.”

Cassia Jackson, from our expert supplier Heritage Expeditions, shares her experience of visiting the Russian Far East by small expedition ship:

ADVICE ON WHAT TO EXPECT


“The wildlife and landscapes of the Russian Far East are like nowhere else on earth. This part of Russia was closed off to the rest of the world for many years and tourism is still very limited. A small ship is the perfect way to explore coastlines that would be otherwise inaccessible. This is a wilderness on a grand scale: uninhabited beaches where brown bears roam, gigantic Steller’s sea eagles cast a watchful eye, Arctic foxes play, many species of whales cruise and of course this is where polar bears reign supreme. The warmth of the local people you will meet will stay with you; whether they’re a salmon farmer on the Kamchatka coast, a Chukchi school kid eager to share their world with us or a park ranger at Wrangel Island who lets us into what it is like to live in polar bear country.”

PACKING TIPS FOR THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST


“The temperature can be variable, so the key really is to make sure that you bring layers. A wet weather layer is essential to ensure that you keep warm and dry on landings and Zodiac cruises. While it is technically summer when trips run, temperatures can be cool. Generally earlier on in the season, in Kamchatka in May and June, there may still be low lying snow around. The maximum daytime temperature in the Kuril Islands in May and June is 16°C, Kamchatka is 10-14°C in July and August and in Chukotka it ranges between 7-14°C maximum."
The weather can be changeable and it can drop in the Arctic particularly, so it is a good idea to bring warm layers. Do bear in mind that the ship is heated to a comfortable 18-20°C inside so it’s good to make sure that you have a pair of jeans or track pants, a couple of T-shirts and a longer layer to wear over the top. It’s important to ensure that you have all the camera gear that you need including spare batteries, chargers and memory cards. A neck gator (wraparound scarf) is perfect for plugging any draughty gaps. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a lip balm will protect your skin.”

HEALTH & SAFETY IN RUSSIA


TRAVEL SAFELY IN RUSSIA

Health


Visit your GP or travel clinic at least four to six weeks before departure to check whether you are up to date with necessary vaccinations.

Since June 2016, foreign citizens can bring personal medication into Russia, as long as they don’t contain narcotic or psychoactive substances.

112 is the single number for any emergency service in Russia.

Brushing your teeth with tap water is OK, but it’s not generally recommended to drink it, although some travellers rate Moscow’s tap water as safe. Use water purification tablets or a LifeStraw.

Air quality in Moscow varies and can worsen in certain weather conditions. You should monitor local media for more information and be sure to bring asthma inhalers with you if needed.

Seasickness can be a factor when travelling on an expedition vessel in the Russian Far East, so bring seasickness medication as a precaution.

Medical care is readily available across Russia but the quality varies hugely. Moscow and St Petersburg boast sparkling international-style clinics that charge handsomely but provide excellent, professional service. In remote areas doctors won’t usually charge travellers, although it’s recommended to give them a gift – such as chocolate, alcohol or just money. In small hospitals, nursing care may be limited and you may need to supply the hospital with any necessary medical supplies, buying them from a pharmacy. There is an increased risk of hepatitis B and HIV transmission via poorly sterilised equipment; some travellers may choose to bring sterile syringes if spending extended periods of time here.

Good emergency medical treatment is not cheap in Russia, so take out comprehensive travel insurance that also covers you for emergency repatriation and medical evacuation, and be aware that you may need to pay up front medical costs before being reimbursed.

Safety


Russia is generally safe, but petty crime does happen in the larger cities. Organised gangs of pickpockets sometimes target tourists so take extra care in busy tourist areas and railway stations and don’t carry anything valuable with you. In St Petersburg, bogus police officers have harassed and robbed tourists. If you are stopped, always insist on seeing identification.

Racially motivated attacks have happened, and anyone of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent may attract unwanted attention in public places and should take care, particularly at night.

Official looking taxis may actually be unlicensed, so beware of flagging one down. Ideally, get your hotel to order a taxi for you, or ask your holiday company for the telephone number of a reputable taxi company. Agree the fare before getting in.

If you’re taking a sleeper train, store valuables in the container under the bed or seat and carry important items with you when leaving the sleeper carriage as it’s not usually possible to lock the door while you’re away.

You must carry your original passport at all times – a copy isn’t enough. If you can’t show it when asked by an official, you’ll be fined. Look after it carefully though, especially around busy tourist and transport hubs.

Homosexuality is legal in Russia, but not always tolerated, so same sex couples should be careful about public displays of affection.

Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan are beginning to open up to tourists, and trips do run throughout these regions of the North Caucasus. Be aware that currently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK is advising against all travel here, so be sure to discuss safety with your travel supplier and check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Russia page for up to date safety advice. Your holiday company can also offer advice on purchasing travel insurance for areas not recommended by the FCO, as different rules will apply.
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If you'd like to chat about Russia or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Rosy & team.

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TIPS FROM OUR TRAVELLERS IN RUSSIA


TRAVEL LIKE A LOCAL!

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Russia travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
“Prepare well for the cold, minus 30, having said that they provide extra appropriate clothing. And be fit!” – Brett Murray on a Siberian tiger and Amur leopard tour

“Knowing a small amount of Russian goes a long way – might be worth making a handy guide to Cyrillic phonetics before you go.” – Owen Cawley

“Go with an open mind. Take cards and make sure you buy some vodka before you get on as you won’t have another chance. I think it is the people that make it, so chat to as many people as you can! Don’t be scared of buying food on the platform... It is so worth it!” – Heidi Hosgood on the Trans Mongolian Express

“Take warm clothes if you are going in the autumn and a mug and spoon for the train. Learn some Russian before you go and take maps of the train journey as these are a great way to start conversations.” – Sally Foote on the Trans Mongolian Express

“Be prepared for lots of walking on the tundra. Also understand that the ship does not have stabilisers so even a mild swell rocks the ship. Bring a good layering system as temperatures and ice conditions can vary greatly.” – Marian Herz on a Kamchatka wildlife and bird watching cruise

“Read some online information on travelling the Trans Siberian Express. I got some good tips on what to take, what to eat, what type of bags to take – wheelie suitcase actually, plus small rucksack as train corridors are tight and steps to platforms steep, so you need to be able to manage your own stuff. Be prepared for some hard beds, but all linen and bedding was lovely. Be prepared for the toilets in China and along the way. They are not pretty, but you’ll manage and it’s all part of a real adventure.” – Rachel Guinee
Photo credits: [Seeing the best of Lake Baikal: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov] [Tips on souvenir shopping: Anton Novoselov] [What to expect - Stellers sea eagle: Jambomambo13 ] [Packing tips: Vladimir Gavrilov] [Review 1 - Esther Horner: Larry Koester] [Review 2 - Samantha Thomas: Jorge Láscar]

Written by: Joanna Simmons
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