Traveling alone to a new place can be confusing under the best conditions. Traveling to Russia as a woman on your own can seem even more daunting. But don’t worry! Here are five simple tips you can follow to make sure you have the best experience in Russia.
1. Travel safely
Like most big cities, the most popular destinations in Russia– Moscow and St. Petersburg– are not always safe at night. When traveling late at night, particularly in an unknown area, remember that the metro in Moscow closes at 1am and the metro in St. Petersburg closes at around 12am. Buses stop running even earlier than that. If you’re going to be out later than that, or if your accommodations are far from a metro station, it might be safer to get a taxi.
Russia has two types of taxis. The first is the official yellow city taxi, that any hotel concierge can call up for you. The second and most common is “частное такси (chastnoye taksi)” or private taxi, also called “частники (chastniki)”. As the name implies, these are private companies or individuals who make a living driving people around. These will often still have a small “такси” triangle on their roof, but the car will not be yellow.
Although there’s a long tradition of their usage in Russia, it’s best just to avoid these. You never know who’s going to be behind the wheel, and it’s easy to get ripped off when negotiating rates, particularly if you don’t speak Russian.
2. Dress fashionably
Women in Russia are used to dressing fashionably. A fancy blouse, a knee-length skirt with tights, high heels, and an elegant amount of make-up is preferred. This goes for winter time as well… you’ll be surprised by the number of women you see striding confidently over ice and mud in stiletto heels!
If traveling to Russia during the winter, you will want a warm and waterproof coat. You will have to part with your coat at the coat check in every building, so you may want to wear a fashionable sweater or camisole if you get chilly easily.
- Travel Tip: Buildings are kept quite warm during the winter, so wear layers to adjust!
Finally, keep in mind that when entering a church, you will be expected to cover your head, so bring a fancy scarf or “касынка (kasynka).” A fancy scarf will not only allow you into churches, but can also be used to keep your head warm in the winter, or as a fashionable accessory in the fall and spring.
3. Carry a small or medium-sized purse
You will also want to carry a small purse with you. By law, you need to keep all your travel documents with you in case you are stopped on the street by a cop for a routine document check.
If your purse is too big, you may be asked to check it at the coat check when entering a building. Since you’ll never want to be apart from your passport and other important documents, make sure your purse is not too large, even when stuffed to the brim!
- Travel tip: Never leave your documents unattended, even at the coat check. Don’t put that purse down, even for a moment, and don’t keep your documents in a backpack that can be easily rifled through by pickpockets.
4. Use the pharmacy for health/hygiene
Feminine hygiene products cannot be bought at grocery stores or markets in Russia… they can only be found in the pharmacy. You’ll know a pharmacy when you see it, because it will have the word “аптека (apteka)” written on it (meaning pharmacy), and sometimes, but not always, a glowing green + sign.
Contrary to popular belief, tampons are readily available in Russia, as are thinner pads. If you don’t find the product you are used to using in one pharmacy, try another pharmacy. If you are on the contraceptive pill, you will want to bring a complete supply with you. Pills in Russia are different from those in America.
- Travel tip: Carry tissues! Many bathrooms outside of the city centers do not have toilet paper available, so you’ll never know when they will be of critical importance!
5. Avoid unwanted attention
Last but not least, if you are making your way through a crowded street, and someone seems to be particularly clingy (or drunk) do not humor them, don’t rise to any provocations, don’t make eye contact, don’t say anything, and don’t smile at them! Just look straight ahead and keep on walking.
[Pictures credited to Marc!o and Nickolai Kashirin]