It’s time for the quick-fire round on good advices. Well, kind-of. There are so many potential tips and cautions that short-form is the only way to cram them in. If that makes it sound daunting: don’t despair – it’s not insurmountable, as you can largely break everything down to a mere 3 ports of call.
Taking advice from the (reputable) tour company that is organising your trip is a good first step. Again, it is their business (literally) to know. I’ve got a copy of the Russia Experience travel guide, and it’s jam packed with useful stuff. But I always would say that, right? Not necessarily, but either way that doesn’t stop it from being true.
The second step is to research the travel advice provided by your government. That’s assuming that your government is reputable (if not; find one that is). There should be travel advice and cautions pertaining to travel from your country to Russia, Mongolia, China – all on your government’s site. Warnings may differ depending upon your particular race, nation and even sexual orientation, so relevance is key.
Thirdly there’s the messy bulk of ‘everything else’, which boils down to travel-site anecdotes gleaned from web searches, Trip Adviser, Lonely Planet etc, written first-hand accounts and, if you are lucky, a Q&A session with someone who has actually been. In other words, other people (not me).
Do we have to say: “don’t exchange currency with random strangers in the street?” I’m afraid we do. If you can imagine something foolish; someone’s bound to have tried it. I was approached in the Czech Republic by someone offering his unofficial ‘bureau de change’ services for – no doubt – decidedly non-altruistic rates. In both countries it is not only illegal but potentially dangerous. You could be dealing with anyone, with any motive. There’s no need to be antagonistic or offensive (again, dangerous). I suggest a polite but firm “no thanks” and move-on. Don’t be drawn in.
Do we still have to say: “keep your hand/shoulder bag close and closed?”. Well apparently so. In my extended circle of connections someone got her iPhone lifted from her bag – on home turf too, where she should ‘know the ropes’. Visible ‘goodies’ attract magpies; don’t make yourself a target.
With sanctions biting at the Russian economy, the value of the ruble has slumped dramatically. At the time of writing you can get 68 of theirs to one of ours (UK pound). This of course makes the acquisition of your cash extra appealing to the wrong kind of native. Are you likely to be targeted/resented for being one of those rich foreigners who are “starving out Russia” in the current climate? Well I haven’t heard of any specific examples, but there’s bound to be someone who thinks in those kind of terms. There are enough minds for anything to be possible, especially with the rise of the current Nationalist movement.
Make sure that your travel documents are in order: passport, migration card (filled in on arrival in Russia) and visa. The “reputable travel company” should have given you the low-down well in advance and guided you through the bureaucratic paper-trail. Wait; you weren’t thinking of trying it yourself were you? You should be wise to registering your documents with the hotel/s at a parallel to your movements throughout Russia, and as a priority. Prepare to be tracked and registered throughout your trip.
It’s an easy pick-up for bored/zealous police officer:s to pull you up and demand to see your papers. You’d better have them in good shape, otherwise a fine and possible detention awaits.
Speaking of money, I keep repeatedly hearing that credit cards are not universally accepted in Russia, and travelers cheques even less so. Travelers are virtually obligated to carry a cash reserve – always a liability, but potentially a life saver. Whilst ATMs are relatively common, there is no guarantee that they will be stocked with cash as readily as we are used to back home.
You are also on ‘tourist-rates’ throughout your stay. As a “rich foreigner”, this essentially means paying double on entrance fees and more if they “see you coming”. And from what I hear: they almost invariably do.
[Photo by kolobsek]