Going It Alone: A User's Guide

The best advice? Read up, arm yourself with patience, and never, ever try to match your hosts' vodka intake.

Mar 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

PRE-TRIP PLANNING First, get your head around Russia's size. International Travel Maps & Books ($11; 604-879-3621, www.itmb.com) sells the best overall map, while Omni Resources Map Catalog ($50; 800-742-2677, www.omnimap.com) has excellent topo maps. Next, gauge your tolerance for bureaucracy. Type A's should sign on with a Western outfitter. Otherwise, get Lonely Planet: Russia and Belarus (Lonely Planet, $30), which outlines the elaborate visa procedures, and Frith Maier's Trekking in Russia and Central Asia (The Mountaineers Books, $17). The Russian National Tourist Office (www.russia-travel.com) can also help with trip planning. When contacting Russia, e-mail is the best method.
LANGUAGE Unless you go with a Western outfitter, the barrier is high. Learn the Cyrillic alphabet and consider a two-week language course. The Center of Russian Language and Culture (www.crlc.pu.ru) offers classes at St. Petersburg State University for $90 a week.
SAFETY Areas like the Caucasus are volatile: Check the U.S. State Department's Web site, www.travel.state.gov/russia.

GETTING THERE Russia's Aeroflot (www.aeroflot.com) offers round-trip fares starting at $520 from New York to Moscow.
GETTING AROUND RUSSIA The St. Petersburg-based Dialog ([email protected]) and Moscow-based Primorsky AirAgency (www.airagency.ru) book internal flights on Siberia Airlines (english.s7.ru), Pulkovo Aviation (eng.pulkovo.ru), and Aeroflot, as well as train tickets on the reliable national rail system. Bouncy rides are typical on the cheaper buses. (For info, go to www.waytorussia.net.)
CHOOSING AN OUTFITTER You can save big on trips catering to Russians, but standards vary. Ask plenty of questions. For example: Will the guides speak English?
GEARING UP Most equipment, including the Russian brand Red Fox, is available in major cities, but for sports like diving and mountaineering, BYOG is the safest policy.
BOOKING IT Anna Reid's journey through Siberia, The Shaman's Coat (Walker & Co., $13); Ben Kozel's Yenisey River adventure, Five Months in a Leaky Boat (Pan Macmillan, $30); and Mark Jenkins's Off the Map: Bicycling Across Siberia (Morrow, $13).

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