WHAT TO PACK

This section will help you make sure that you are well packed and ready for your trip to Russia.

Money, Rubles and Credit Cards

For your trip, you do not need to bring all of your credit/debit cards. Bring a bit of cash (we will explain below how much you need) and a few of your cards.

You will have no problem finding an ATM in or near your hotel. When you use an American (British, Canadian, Australian and so on) card in a Russian ATM, you will be given the option to withdraw cash in US dollars, Russian rubles, or Euros. We recommend making withdrawals in Russian rubles to avoid the hassles of exchanging currency. Don’t worry – ATMs use a favorable exchange rate.

As for credit cards, you may bring one or two if you prefer to make purchases this way, but some smaller stores only accept cash. It’s a good idea to have a bit of cash with you for emergencies as well. Most restaurants accept credit cards, but we recommend that you ask them in advance so there are no surprises.

So how much cash do you need to carry? You cannot exchange your currency to Russian rubles in your homeland due to the unpopularity of rubles abroad. You can exchange money at the airport, but we advise against this as airport exchange rates are usually high. Using an ATM at the airport in Russia when you arrive is the best options or, if you have someone meeting you at the airport and can afford to wait, you can use the ATM at the hotel. Banks are also available to exchange currency.

The rate of the Russian ruble today (Nov 11, 2010) is 30 rubles for 1 US dollar. We recommend that you have anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 rubles (approximately $100-$300) on you at any time.

Important: Call your bank before you depart and let them know that you will be traveling so they do not block your cards while you are in Russia (not all banks do this, but we recommend that you look into it). We also recommend that you bring more than one card should one of the cards get locked. If you do encounter a situation where all of your cards are blocked, please call Travel All Russia’s emergency number and we will organize cash delivery to you.

Important: Carry your money and cards in a pocket that is not easily reached from the outside to prevent any pick-pocketing. We also recommend that you keep your cards and cash in separate pockets. You can learn more about recommended precautions in our Safety Tips below.

Clothing

What clothes should you pack? Depending on the time of the year, your options will vary. If you are traveling during the summer, bring the same things you would wear in a summer at home, plus a warm sweater and/or a light jacket for the evenings. The hot summer season is a little shorter than you might expect and by August will have already begun to cool down.

If you have booked one of our guided tours, please bring comfortable walking shoes. Sneakers will be perfect (that is one of the ways Americans are spotted in a crowd as Russians tend to prefer casual leather shoes).

If your program includes a visit to an opera or theater, we recommend a jacket and dark shoes for men and nice clothes for women. Black tie and fancy gowns are unnecessary.

If you are traveling for a week, pack enough clothes for the entire visit so you won’t have to worry about laundry. If your trip is longer, laundry service will be available at your hotel or cruise ship.

Since airlines baggage restrictions are getting tighter, we recommend one bag per traveler and a smaller carry on. If you bring more, you might be required to pay airline luggage fees. Having one bag per traveler also helps you get through airport lines faster.

Documents

You should check your documents before departure to make sure they are valid for the length of your trip. Please inspect your Russian visa to ensure that it is valid beginning on the day you arrive in Russia. If you arrive a day or two earlier than the date on your visa, you will be required to pay a fine at customs up to $300.

Tourist visas are valid for 30 days, so please make sure that your departure date is before your visa expiration date. If you plan to enter, leave, and reenter Russia in one trip, you will need a multi-entry visa. You cannot enter Russia twice on a single entry visa.

If you notice any irregularities in your visa, please contact your travel specialist and let them know about the potential problems so they can be fixed as soon as possible.

We also have tips for keeping and storing your documents when you arrive in Russia. Please make two copies of your passport and visa before your departure to keep a copy of your important documents at the hotel as well as with you.

Important: If you lose your documents, notify us and receive the number of your embassy in Russia.

Electric plugs and mobile phones

Russia uses 220 volt electricity the same as Australia but different electric plug. To use your cell phone while in Russia you will need to either activate international roaming with your service provider or unlock your phone. The first is easier but more expensive. Unlocking your phone through your provider allows you to use local Russian calling services and plans. A phone call made this way from Russia to the US will cost about $1, which is far more economical. To unlock your phone you will need to call your service provider and receive the special unlocking code and instructions. As for obtaining a Russian SIM card, they can be bought on every corner in Russia (but you will be required to show your passport when making a purchase).

Tip: If you don’t want to do either of these, you can buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone in Russia for around $20.

Great reading for your trip

Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
A masterpiece by Bulgakov, it was banned by the Soviet authorities. It contrasts the human and soviet nature of the 1930s Moscow. This mystical novel is one of the best pieces of satire in Russian literature and provides an amazingly fun read.

Journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg – Alexander Radishev
One of the first intellectual attacks on the czarist regime, this book inspired an entire generation of Russian authors.

Hero of Our Time – Michail Lermontov
The Napoleonic Wars sent many Russian troops across Europe, a trek that introduced them to a vastly different array of liberal traditions and ideas. The Russian soldiers became inspired to change their society when they returned home, a revolution known as the Decembrist Movement. Their ideals were defeated and a period of intellectual crisis followed. The hero of this book is trapped in this time.

War and Peace – Lev Tolstoi
War and Peace is the saga of the Russian empire, nobles, and peasants during the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoi originally wanted to write about the Decembrists, but as he sought answers to his questions, he found that he had to look 40 years prior to their radical movement.

Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev
This highly-acclaimed work focuses on intergenerational issues. The story takes place in the country estate of a Russian noble. When the noble’s son returns home with a friend, the views of the three men clash as they represent the different epochs and classes of society. Turgenev masterfully explores the causes of the conflict.

Eugeniy Onegin – Alexander Pushkin
This is the most well-known piece of Russia’s famous poet. He skillfully shows the life of St. Petersburg’s nobility two centuries ago and foretells his own death. Pushkin developed so many rhyming techniques that he is considered the father of modern Russian poetic rules.

Ward No. 6 – Anton Chekhov

Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak won a noble prize in literature for this piece, but was banned from receiving it by the Soviets. The movie based on this novel is fantastic, but nothing compares to the original.

Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
A master of allegories, Bulgakov argues that you cannot put a dog in a human body and hope that it becomes human. This book was also banned in the Soviet Union.

Medicine

You do not need shots before you visit Russia – it is a civilized European country that is safe for foreigners. Tap water is avoided even by Russians, who don’t drink it unless it is boiled. If you are taking prescription medication, we recommend that you bring enough to last your entire trip. Even if you find the same medicine in Russia, you will need a prescription from a Russian doctor.