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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

The survival guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway

October 14, 2015
Samantha Hayward proves that even the sun-worshipper can brave a different type of holiday by breaking the mould and swapping beaches for trains, snow and a lack of showers. The Trans-Siberian railway is not something that automatically springs to mind for most people when they’re planning a holiday – and that is with good reason.…

Samantha Hayward proves that even the sun-worshipper can brave a different type of holiday by breaking the mould and swapping beaches for trains, snow and a lack of showers.

The Trans-Siberian railway is not something that automatically springs to mind for most people when they’re planning a holiday – and that is with good reason. There’s no sun, no beaches, no cocktails and it involves sitting on a train for long periods of time in close proximity to people you would instinctively move away from in other circumstances. However, it is a unique experience that is definitely worth doing.

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I am a sun worshipper. A holiday to me should always be hot. I hate snow. I complain mercilessly about the cold, but when my now ex-boyfriend suggested we start off our travelling adventure with this trip, I agreed, thinking that I might just enjoy it. Maybe.

Below are some things that are compulsory to bring along with you:

  • WARM, COMFORTABLE SHOES WITH GRIP. My trip includes walking across a frozen lake in Irkutsk and trust me, the shitty cheap trainers you bought in H&M will not suffice when you are teetering across the ice like a terrified new-born penguin.
  • Your comfiest PJ’s. This is what you will wear the whole time you are on the train(s) and you will not give a shit.
  • Packet soup/noodles/anything you can add hot water to and eat. The food car on the train is expensive and you will definitely not have enough time to buy snacks on the platforms. Plus boiling hot water is free on board; an easy way to lose those annoying few pounds, no diet needed.
  • A Russian-English dictionary. Believe it or not, not every country has a natural grasp on the English language and this will save you from looking like an ignorant buffoon desperately trying to convey your meaning with hand signals and weird faces.

Now for a little more about the trip itself: the route I chose was the ‘Budgeting Bolshevik’, which is probably best if you’re a little tight for cash. It takes 12 days start to finish, starting in Moscow and ending in Beijing. You also travel through Mongolia, so get your visas for all countries you intend to visit before you go. As there are three destinations, there are also three trains: Moscow to Irkutsk, Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar and Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. This actually works to your advantage as the trains get a lot nicer as you progress and travelling across time zones makes the journey feel shorter.

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A benefit to this kind of travelling is the incredible scenery – it really does make you appreciate the vastness of the landscape and a totally different way of life. In Mongolia you experience life in a traditional Gher camp – easily the most amazing place I’ve ever stayed. Dog sledging in Irkutsk was another list-topping activity.

Surprisingly, the cons of this tip were few, although they can dramatically swing you either way. The most obvious negative is being on a train for four long days without a shower (unless you can afford first class), made worse with a lot of other unwashed bodies in the same carriage, in the next seat. Although, the great thing about that is you all smell as bad as each other so no one particularly minds.

Succeeding and enjoying a trip like this definitely does depend on the person, but I think that I’ve proven that even a sun worshipping beach babe can (occasionally) step out of their comfort zone and enjoy a different but a very mind-opening experience.