A solo female traveller on the Trans-Siberian Railway
While most people tend to travel in groups, increasingly many people are travelling solo, men and women alike. Some people find this, understandably, intimidating, but not Jessica of the travel blog How Dare She.
From the perspective of a solo female traveller, here she passes on her tips for safe solo travelling, and how solo travel can be one of the most fun ways to travel!
Is it safe to travel the Trans-Siberian Railways as a solo female? Is it fun to travel the Trans-Siberian Railways as a solo female? What should I be prepared for? These are the questions that any woman has in mind before she starts planning any trip.
Lady on the train?
As I prepared for the Trans-Siberian railway, I was doing research on what to expect in terms of beds and cabins, and making friends. I got a bit wary when I read people’s concerns that in first and second class cabins the door closes, and wondered what if a woman traveling alone found herself in less than ideal company, stuck in a cabin with a door that closes? What if she ends up with three rowdy Russians, a bottle of vodka and a game of cards? What if worse? What if I really have to pee and the bathrooms are super gross? What if all Russians really are spies and Bond villains?
Those pesky “what ifs” are why many women hesitate to travel solo, and why we even have to talk about it.
Russia was the 55th country I visited, most of which have been on my own, so I am happy to share my experiences to help others with their planning. Of course, I can only address these concerns based on my personal experience and those with whom I have swapped stories.
To get straight to it, I had a fantastic time on every leg of my trip. Neither I, nor any of the women I have spoken with, had any questionable moments along the way. That isn’t to say that there is no risk involved, or that worries are unfounded.
Alleviating your worries
Cabins (with doors that close): Yes, in first and second class cabins, you will share the cabin with strangers and the door can be locked. Because I had read about it online prior to my trip, I had this worry in my head, but I’m not so sure it would have even been a thought otherwise. I shared cabins with every combination of passengers you can think of – one man, a group of men, a mother and her toddler, a couple, other travellers and locals, just myself. It’s just the luck of the draw.
Personally, I felt more exposed in third class where everything is open, so it’s really a matter of personal preference.
Drinking and rowdiness: For the most part, every train I was on was quite calm. All of the drinking and partying took place in the dining car and didn’t follow me back to the cabins. Many people (myself included) travelled with a bottle of local vodka to share. In fact, everyone pretty much offers to share anything they have with them: vodka, beer, cookies, chips, candy, etc. As you would anywhere else, be sure to use your best judgment and trust your instinct when in these situations.
Language barrier: Nothing is more isolating than feeling like you can’t communicate; you will feel much more confident entering the situation knowing you can. The language barrier between rail staff and locals is quite high. If you don’t speak Russian at all, I would definitely recommend downloading Google Translate AND the Russian offline package before you start your journey. By downloading the offline package, you will be assured that you can use it whether you have data or not (you need to do this when connected to Wi-Fi as, frustratingly, the app will not download it over cellular connection).
Alternatively, you can buy a phrasebook before leaving, so that you do not have to worry about your device battery letting you down.
General cleanliness: Traveling with a bunch of dudes on a five-day journey in an enclosed cabin sounds like a recipe for disgusting.
I was pleasantly surprised though. The quality of the facilities on the train will vary depending on how new the train is, however they were all very clean and well stocked. There are sinks so you can wash your face and brush your teeth. The train attendants come by and pick up after any meals and there are bins at the end of each carriage so that you can clean up after yourself.
I also stopped in a lot of cities along the way, so my longest leg was 29 hours, meaning I always felt showered and clean, not like I had been stuck on a train for five days.
What are the people like? Some people are talkative, some are not. Most were very friendly and polite, and almost everyone shares what supplies they have brought. It is a very nice, community vibe.
More tips for first-timers
While we’re at it, you probably have some other questions about travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway, particularly if it will be your first time taking a long-distance train, so let’s hit those too.
Must pack items: There are a few items that you want to have with you, just in case:
- Tissues/toilet paper (the toilets were usually stocked, but just in case)
- A small cup (especially if you bring that bottle of vodka)
- Cutlery (I definitely used my toothbrush handle to mix instant potatoes)
- Cash (they accept several currencies, but if you can have the local currency on hand, that’s best)
- Something to share (making friends is significantly easier when you give them candy or gifts)
- Different layers of clothing (some trains are hot; some are cold – be prepared)
- Slippers (snag some super cheap slippers so you can walk around, especially to and from the bathroom, without having to put your shoes back on)
Power: Yes, there were outlets on all trains. Depending on which train and class of travel you are, you might find them in each cabin, along corridors, or simply by the bathrooms. So you aren’t totally out of luck when it comes to keeping yourself charged, particularly since you have to share power points with other travellers, it’s best to have a back-up plan (such as a power bank) and an offline alternative (hit the magazine rack).
Connection: Nope, no Wi-Fi (though I hear they’re installing it on select trains). But! Sim cards are pretty cheap, so pick one up so you’ll be able to connect along the journey. Keep in mind though that when you’re between cities, you’ll have trouble connecting, so put your phone on airplane mode when you aren’t actively connecting to save your battery.
Food: Yes, there’s food. Yes, it’s delicious. No, it isn’t expensive. If you are taking the full Trans-Siberian, you will even be treated with different dining cars based on which country you are in.
Sleep: Yes, you will get sleep. Now, I’m a good sleeper, but I found the beds beyond sufficient and the linens clean. And especially compared to trains in other countries, the cars and cabins rather quiet.
In summary, Russia was outstanding and I cannot imagine trying to cover the whole country by any means other than by train. The Trans-Siberian railway is such a legendary trip and now I see why.
While its history harkens back to a time when trains were the only means of travel, it now has a modern feel, but remains a social and fun way to see the country. It is a prime example of travel not being about the destination, but the journey – and I can’t think of a solo journey that’s more social.
Thank you, Jessica for your insights into the Tran-Siberian as a solo female traveller. Read Making the most of your Trans-Siberian trip on our website to find out more invaluable tips from Jessica.
Jessica has travelled to 95 countries so far, and is visiting more all the time. She kindly agreed to answer our questions about her incredible adventures; read the interview with Jessica and find out what was her favourite travel experience.
Make sure to follow her inspiring adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, and her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at jess_ismore
Home: Trans-Siberian guides