Five Things I Was Glad to Have on the Trans-Siberian Express

transsiberian rail lines

I am writing this from Train #075, which travels from Nerungeri (in north-east Russia, the last major stop on the line towards Yakutsk) all the way to Moscow, over the course of about six days. I will only be on this train for part of the journey: about thirty hours from Tynda (in the middle of nowhere, really) to Severobaikalsk (at the north end of Lake Baikal). I’m still new enough to this whole “Trans-Siberian” thing to get to the station an hour early and take a photo of every on-board samovar, but I also feel like after four pretty significant legs of my journey so far I have some insight into what products I’ve been really, really glad to have with me.

Must-Haves on the Transsiberian Express

(In the photo above, my stuff is on the right side of the table, while the stuff on the left belonged to the person I was sharing the wagon with.  That’s not my salami!)

A travel cutlery set. I used this set on every trip that was more than about twelve hours or so, whether it was using the fork to eat instant noodles, the knife to cut fresh tomatoes, or the spoon to scoop up instant soup. The locals also traveled with cutlery, but I didn’t see anyone else with such a small, convenient case.

A huge travel mug. Having a large travel mug means that you can stay well-hydrated without needing to carry around large amounts of bottled water. With a good travel mug you can get all the safely-boiled water you need from the samovar on board the train. You can use the travel mug to brew tea (use two tea bags to better mask the taste of the local water). Leave the lid on for at least fifteen minutes to let it steep (again, to mask the taste of the local water) and then let it cool to the desired temperature. Locals tended to travel with small glass mugs (without lids) but I was very glad to have a big mug.

Carabiners. I tend to be a bit of an over-packer, so there was never going to be enough room in either my big pack or my daypack for the food I needed for long rail journeys. Here’s (one place) where having a variety of carabiners came in handy: I could just clip a plastic grocery bag onto my pack to easily get my food and beverages to the train. I also used them to clip grocery bags closed when I stored food in the hostel fridge; they reminded me which bag of food was my own, and they kept other guests from “accidentally” taking the wrong food.

Protein / energy / granola bars. In general, it was not exceptionally difficult to travel across Russia as a vegetarian. However, some of the smaller trains that I took through more rural areas did not have a restaurant cart. Some other trains have exorbitant pricing (I paid R400 on one train for a vegetable dish that turned out to be half a cucumber, half a tomato and a quarter of a red pepper!). Having some bars with me ensured that I could get at least a little bit of healthy vegetarian protein, and while you might find some local variations in major cities, it looked to me like the ones I’d brought were the more balanced option.

Baby wipes. Even if you’re making lots of stops along your Trans-Siberian tour, you will inevitably find yourself on board trains for much longer than you would normally go without showering (I hope). Some stations actually have showers that you can use (we had a forty-five minute stop in a village today where the station had a shower; it looked quite clean and cost R100), but it’s easier just to take care of your personal hygiene on the train. I used the provided hand towel, along with hot water from the samovar, to wash my face during the ride. I stuck with baby wipes for other parts of my body, doing a quick wipe before bed and again in the morning. My guilt about being wasteful was slightly offset by choosing a brand of baby wipe that claims to biodegrade in twenty-one days.

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