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Tips for Single Girls Traveling in Russia
March 27, 2009 18:38


Russia’s vast expanse of untamed wilderness and grand cities teeming with historical sights make it a tempting choice for the backpacker and solo traveler. There’s something romantic about stepping out alone on the stark Russian plains, or exploring the museums and famous city squares with no-one to tear you away.

But like all countries, there are certain risks when traveling solo, especially if you are female. Although the cities of Russia are as dangerous as any other European cities, female travelers are still more vulnerable when on their own. Factor in the loneliness of staying in a big country, with a language that is nearly impossible to understand, and a Russian escapade can seem unappealing to some single girls.

Luckily it’s easier to be single in the big cities, where thousands of Russians go about their everyday life eating, shopping and living alone. It’s also easier to meet other travelers in hostels and budget accommodation, where you end up sharing rooms, bathrooms and kitchen facilities with other backpackers in the same situation, who are happy to make friends and traveling companions, if only for one leg of the journey.

Even if you befriend the savviest of backpackers, there are still several things that you need to be aware of when setting out alone. Here are some tips for solo female travelers:

The Language

Unless you’re fluent, Russian is a difficult language to pick up, and looks and sounds almost incomprehensible to untrained eyes and ears. Although people do speak English in the main cities, don’t rely on every local being able to understand you if you get lost or need help. Bring a phrase book, and learn a few stock phrases, even the basics for polite conversation such as ‘hello’ ‘goodbye’ ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’. Russians will be able to tell you’re not Russian, but an attempt to speak the language always goes appreciated.

Get a Visa

Getting through Russian immigration can seem like a minefield unless you come prepared. All foreign visitors must obtain a visa before travelling to Russia, and passports must be valid for a minimum of 6 months after the expiry date. Visa applications can be submitted in person at a Russian consulate, by a travel agent or by mail, but many Moscow and St Petersburg hostels now offer help with this before you travel.

Independent travelers also need to provide proof of their hostel reservation. Detailed information on how to make a visa application depending on your nationality can be found at www.rusemblon.org.

Immigration Cards

All visitors are given an immigration card upon arrival, which you have to keep with you for the duration of your visit, and show to the police upon request. Photocopies are usually not accepted. You are required to carry your passport at all times, too.

Your Wardrobe

Traveling in winter? Then forget your fashion credentials and pack very thick, warm clothes, and waterproof boots for the snow. Russian women wear furs for a reason!

Although culturally Russia is not too strict about how women dress, (especially in the cosmopolitan cities), it is wise to dress respectfully so as not to draw attention to yourself if you’re out alone at night, or visiting a traditional town. If you enter a Russian Orthodox Church, women must cover their heads.

Male Attention

Just use your common sense and you should be fine in Russia. There is a Russian macho culture which can lead to unwanted male attention, but the best way to deal with it is to just ignore it or smile politely and turn away.

Often female travelers are advised that flirty behaviour in foreign countries is a bad idea, as this could be misinterpreted and attract a come-on. But again, just be sensible as you would at home; avoid wandering around alone after dark in unlit areas and going home with men you don’t know.

Pack a pepper spray or personal alarm, so that if you are being hassled and there is no-one else around, you can defend yourself. If you are in a threatening situation, it is always better to drop your bag and run – possessions can always be replaced! If you are worried about being harassed, make friends with fellow travelers so you can hang around in larger groups at night.

Make Friends

Even if you want the independence of traveling solo, it doesn’t hurt to make a few friends on your trip, so that if you need some company, any travel advice or help, or even a translator, you have someone to turn to.

Traveling in an unknown country can feel lonely, but you are never really ‘alone’. One in ten travelers now hit the road by themselves, so you are bound to meet like-minded people when you reach hostels or backpacking hot spots like the major cities.

Choosing your Hostel

Book your hostel online before you travel, so you know exactly what to expect upon arrival. Look for places geared towards independent travelers, with communal areas, safe lockers for your personal belongings, and a helpful and friendly reception (English-speaking is a big help!).

Look at what other visitors have said and whether they were solo female travelers. Does the hostel give travel tips, maps and guides when you check in? Are there organized events and tours, or notice boards where you can find out what social events are going on in the hostel?

Most of the hostels in Moscow and St Petersberg are well-equipped with large communal kitchens and lounge areas, and big dorms where it’s easy to meet people. Some even have their own bar and restaurant, and female-only dorms.

All the little extras the hostels provide are usually a good indicator of how much they will look after you, and smaller independent hostels are often far homelier places to stay when traveling alone. Also make sure you are central, and in a well-lit area, so you feel safe getting home after dark.

Eating

Mealtimes can often feel lonely, so try to prepare food in the communal kitchen, and make friends with fellow backpackers. Failing that, look for cafés where you can sit and people watch. Luckily the big cities are full of young singles, so you won’t feel out of place eating alone.

Getting Around

Public Transport is cheap and efficient in Moscow and St Petersberg, but it’s far more pleasant to wander the city centers in the day. If you are flying into Russia, avoid getting a cab alone from the airport, and if you do, agree on a fare beforehand – taxi drivers know if you’re foreign and will charge much higher fares as a result. It’s much cheaper to mingle with the locals and get a bus to the city center.

When in St Petersberg, the tram and metro is a cheap way to get around, and a much safer option than the Chastniki, unlicensed cabs driven by anyone from the unemployed to students. The rates may be cheaper than a regular cab, but take them at your own risk.

If you fancy traveling by train between the two cities, the Moscow and St Petersberg route is the most popular in Russia. There are a few daytime trips taking between 5 and 7 hours, or overnight on a sleeper train, and the carriages are safe, with many female members of staff patrolling the carriages.

Lauren Smith


Tags: Russia Travel Tips     

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