Keeping well on the Trans-Siberian Railway

Matthew Woodward shares his experiences of how to ensure you have a trouble free trip and stay feeling good on your Trans-Siberian adventure.

Most people take feeling well on holiday for granted, and it can be pretty rotten to be at less than your best, especially when travelling by train. With a few sensible precautions you can stay at the top of your game.

The fresh air routine

A few years ago I met young man from London on his way to Singapore who insisted on stripping off and performing aerobics up and down the corridor of our Trans-Mongolian train. It looked pretty mad, but he had the right idea. Depending on the length of your journey, it is worth stretching your legs at every opportunity. Some fresh Siberian air (very fresh in winter) and a walk up to the front of the train and back can be a great tonic and also a routine as you pass time on the train. I have also made many friends walking to the front of the train four times a day – and that is actually about an hour of exercise!

Eating well

I have never met anyone who claims to have become ill as a result of poor hygiene on a Russian or Chinese train. The food is mainly fresh (or well frozen) and prepared in a reasonable kitchen. This year on my way to Beijing I was taken on a tour of the kitchen, which contained huge shiny industrial freezers and well arranged food preparation areas. Try and balance your diet. Bring with you a supply of cereal bars, fruit and even instant porridge. Its okay to eat platform food too, but consider how well kept it looks and follow what the locals are buying and eating.

Click here for more on ‘How to eat well on the Trans-Siberian’

Food vendors on the Trans-Siberian railway

Food vendors on the Trans-Siberian railway

Stay hydrated

You may find you are drinking less than you normally do. Try and take advantage of the constant supply of hot water from the samovar – tea, coffee, and instant soups will help you stay fully hydrated. If you want drinking water, bring a metal bottle that you can put boiling water into and let it cool. It might not taste too good, but it is safe. You can add powdered flavouring to hide the taste if you like.

The perils of vodka

Part of the fun of life on board the train can be the social atmosphere of the restaurant carriage. Russians love to drink vodka with some snacks, and will be very keen to ask you to join them for a few toasts. Do be aware that it is impolite to leave before the bottle is finished, and never before you have made your toast. If you are not used to drinking vodka in this manner, do be careful.

Keeping clean

With no shower on board most of the trains you will travel on, you need to think a little laterally. Bring plenty of wet wipes with you and also a travel towel (trains in Russia and China provide bedding, but no towels). There will be soap in the toilets, but you may wish to treat yourself to some liquid scented soap to stay feeling fresh on a long journey. I also use tea tree oil and lavender spray to keep my compartment (and its occupants!) smelling pleasant.

The value of a well stocked first aid kit

It’s a good idea to bring a first aid kit from home. Drugs will have different brand names and may not be available in the countries you are travelling through. If you have any prescription drugs, make sure you have enough and be sure to bring copies of prescriptions or a letter signed by your doctor.

My general medicine kit includes:

  • Dyoralyte (rehydration salts)
  • Antihistamine (hay fever, swelling)
  • Ibuprofen (non prescription pain relief)
  • Paracetamol & codeine (works on top of Ibuprofen)
  • Sore throat lozenges
  • Sudafed (decongestant)
  • Stugeron (travel sickness)
  • Senokot (constipation)
  • Imodium (diarrhea)
  • Entrocalm (stomach cramps)
  • Surgical wipes
  • Plasters and dressings
  • Antiseptic cream
  • After bite pen (soothes insect bites)

Prescription drugs:

  • Doxycycline (broad spectrum antibiotic)
  • Ciprofloxacin (broad spectrum antibiotic)
  • Diamox (for high altitude sickness)

(Please consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have never taken, or do not completely understand how and when to use any of these medications).

Hopefully you will not need much of this, but you never know when you will. My one experience of being really ill on a train was due to food poisoning from a seafood meal before I got on board. I was able to stabilize my condition, and recover faster, by being able to get straight onto the right treatment – rehydration, stomach stabilisation, and pain relief. My ribs ached for while from all the vomiting, but three days later I was fully recovered.

Be mindful

It might sound strange to say it, but being happy on a long journey is as much a mind game as something to do with your physical wellbeing. Things will never go completely to plan, so try not to get too upset about this. It is far better to focus on the things in your own control and be grateful for them, rather than to dwell on any negative aspects of what might be going on around you.


Matthew Woodward is a rail adventurer, and the author a number of books about travelling from Europe to Asia along the Trans-Siberian railway. His books are available now in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.