Backpacking is a challenging, yet highly enjoyable experience that lets you immerse yourself in other places and cultures while gaining confidence in your ability to travel lightly, interact with other people and take care of yourself on the road. Russia is one of the top destinations backpackers go to because of its rich history and culture, amazing architecture and its proximity to other must-see countries in Europe and Asia.
If you’ve chosen Russia to be your next backpacking destination, here are some things you have to consider first so you can be sure to cover all your bases while travelling.
Getting a tourist visa
The first hurdle you have to address is getting permission to enter Russia. Make sure you visit your country’s Russian Embassy or travel bureau to get the details of getting a tourist visa.
It can be difficult to obtain a visa, even if you’re just passing through: you will need a letter of invitation from an authorized body and the letter has to be in Russian. This document consists of two parts, a reservation confirmation and a tourist voucher, and shows your accommodation details as well as the dates when you will be in Russia.
You can request an invitation letter from the hotel where you’ll be staying. If you haven’t made reservations yet, you can book a room at reduced rates via discount coupons available online. Ask the hotel if they can assist you in acquiring a visa. There will be a fee involved, but it’s the quickest and most hassle-free way to get what you need.
Cheap accommodation options are numerous as well, especially in St. Petersburg, with plenty of budget hotels offering visa validation when you arrive.
Once you have received your letter of invitation from the hotel, you can continue with the visa application process. It usually takes one working week for a single-entry visa.
You won’t need a big budget when backpacking around Russia. Food, accommodation, tours and transportation are all inexpensive. The average cost of a hostel stay is around €10-20 a night, even less when you book using discount coupons.
Getting around Russia
Russia’s transport system is very manageable, with trains and buses plying different routes. Language is strictly Russian however, so you have to have a guidebook or phrasebook at hand if you ever need to ask for directions. You must have your passport with you at all times even if you’re just going out for coffee or risk being fined.
When to go
The best time to go backpacking around Russia depends on where you want to go. Most of Russia’s cities have a continental climate, which means warm summer months. However, if you want to avoid crowds, visiting during early autumn or late spring would be best. If you’re going to northern Russia, be prepared for the extreme cold.
What do you plan to do in Russia once you get there? Many hostels in Russia organise activities for tourists and they also have plenty of information about events that may interest you. City tours also have English-speaking history students on board, so language barrier won’t be a problem. You can also see the country’s beautiful churches, watch a Russian ballet, learn a bit of the language and check out the underground metro in Moscow.