Now you don’t need me to tell you that Mother Russia is one of the most fascinating countries on the planet. It is so huge that even the word ‘country’ somehow does not feel like a good enough description. If you start from Europe by land and travel through Russia, at its eastern end you can hop on a ferry and get to Japan. If that does not give an idea of how massive this empire of a country is then sample this, it has eleven time zones. Yes, you heard that right! Eleven!
That visiting Russia should be high on a traveler’s priority list is a given with its nature, weather, great architecture and world defining history. But allow me to focus on the financial side of traveling in Russia. If you want to know whether I have ever been to Russia, well the answer is ‘no’. Promise me that you won’t be envious when I tell you that very soon I will get there.
Since I have made most of the bookings – flights, hotels and the visa related documents included, I have a few suggestions on how to keep the costs as low as possible. You can share your tips in the comments and we will be happy to update the article with your tips of they are interesting.
For Indians and residents of many other countries, you need to have documents in order to get your visa and it all starts with flights. As always, my go to website was Skyscanner and despite living in Mumbai I searched with their country to country option(they also have anywhere to anywhere). This gave me the information that flights from Delhi are way cheaper for Moscow than Mumbai.
Voila! That is how I got a return ticket from New Delhi to Moscow for 25,000INR per ticket.
How do I get to Delhi, you ask? The good old trains, Rajdhani or Garib rath. I prefer Garib rath because it takes just an hour or so more than Rajdhani and costs an insanely reasonable 1000INR for a 3 tier AC compartment berth. So yes, I have combined flights with trains to get the best value quite a few times. Of course, it adds time to the trip so it needs to be evaluated basis how much time you have for the trip.
Flights within Russia can be done for quite cheap as well provided you look at budget airlines. The catch there is the baggage as always. And like any budget traveler or backpacker will tell you, having just one carry one luggage less than 10kgs in weight can save you quite a lot of flight ticket money.
The airlines which provide cheap domestic flights within Russia are Pobeda and S7. Read the fine print, plan your luggage and you could get return tickets from Moscow to Volgograd for as less as 8000INR and from Moscow to Irkutsk one way(base of Lake Baikal, check out our article about that place) for 18000INR. Irkutsk is in Siberia and a long way away from Moscow, in the train it takes over 4 days and we decided to take the train on the way back(I’ll talk about it later in the article).
Absolutely loving the curtains in this hotel I found on Booking.com
Since 1 Indian Rupee is equal to 0.93 Russian Rouble(which is almost the same), the stay and other expenses are not exorbitantly expensive. I have always preferred Airbnbs and will continue to do so even on this trip. 2000INR is a good enough budget to have for a double bed room in Airbnbs, and some of them even provide breakfast at this price.
Normal hotels can get quite expensive, though on Booking.com you can find quite a few cheap ones as well. Plus, the website’s zero cancellation policy helps you reserve the hotels and cancel them if you change your mind. The hotels there look quite quirky with green walls and kitsch decorative items in the rooms, but I guess that should just add to the experience.
So yes, budget 1000 INR for stay per person and use Airbnb or Booking.com and you should be fine.
This illustration of a Plazkart compartment on a Russian train is just so appealing(and no, not just because of the girl). Found this on warontherocks.com
I might be slightly partial when I say that trains are an essential part of the travel experience in Russia(because I am a mad train lover). But you would agree that the Trans-Siberian is one of the epic travel experiences on the planet(read our article about it, you will love it!)
So taking a train from Siberia to Moscow has been a part of my bucket list for ages. And now is my chance! A little bit of research showed me that most websites offering tickets on the train are not run by the railways themselves but by agencies. The best price for the train tickets are offered by the Russian railway website: http://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en
They have a decent English version of the site too. Booking a ticket here is not the easiest thing to do, but with a little help from the internet you will get by. The difficult part is when the transactions on credit or debit cards do not go through. Maybe the website does not accept international credit cards(which is weird because the website allows you to book a ticket using an international passport).
I was saved by a Russian friend, Alex Basalaev, who offered to purchase the tickets on my behalf and I need to repay him once I meet him in his country. So yes, the cheapest way is to buy off the government website, but you may need a Russian friend for that. Time to look for one 🙂
My train ticket from Irkutsk to Moscow which is a 4 night – 3 day journey cost me about 9000INR. It would have been close to 15000INR had I bought from an agent. I will be traveling in the ‘Plazkart’ on this train, which is like the sleeper class in Indian trains. They say like the Indian trains, Plazkart is the best way to make friends, have conversation, drink tea, beer and vodka with locals.
Food, glorious traditional Russian food(Source: pindaddy.com)
Again thanks to the similarity of the Rupee and Rouble’s value, 2000 INR per day per person is good enough if you do not indulge in luxury and extravagance on a daily basis. There are many museums, parks, bars and what not to keep you occupied in Russia. I am particularly looking forward to the world war II museum in Volgograd(formerly known as Leningrad) which has Vasily Zaystev’s rifle. He is the sniper who took the fight back to the Germans, and he was immortalised on the big screen in the movie ‘Enemy at the gates’.
Food and drinks cost as much as they do in Indian cities and apart from the pricey tours, Russia is a good place to be a budget traveler. There are restaurants in Moscow which serve fancy course meals for as less as 3000INR. I am ensuring that I have a good appetite while on this trip.
Applying for Russia visa isn’t the easiest of all. They need visa support documents(tourist authorisation letter and voucher) from a certified Russian agency. Now it may seem that you need to engage a travel agent to get this done, but it is possible to get this online much less and these agencies also courier the documents to you.
I used ivisa and found them to be pretty efficient. It cost me 2200INR per person to get the authorisation online and another 1000INR to get the document couriered to myself.
Tourist visa fees to Russia are around 2500INR per person. So just the visa process is going to cost you about 6000INR, but there is no way out of it.
Month long travel budget:
|Type of expense||Expense||Total|
|Flights(return flight from Delhi, one domestic return and one way from Moscow to Irkutsk)||25000 + 25000||50,000INR/ 775 USD|
|Stay(per person)||1200 x 30||36,000INR/ 560USD|
|Trains(1 trans-siberian, 1 return train from Moscow to St. Petersburg – first class)||9000 + 4000 + 4000||17,000INR/ 265USD|
|Daily expenses||2000 x 30||60,000INR/ 930USD|
|Visa process(support documents + visa fees)||3200 + 2500||5700INR/900USD|
|Miscellanous and buffer(travel insurance, for impulse shopping and other experiences)||30000||30000INR/ 465USD|
Approx 200000INR/ 3100USD
Keep this article handy when you are making Russia travel plans or share with friends who are thinking of visiting one of the most intriguing countries in the world. Or better still, if you have your own tips, share them in the comments and we will share it in the updated article!