The best way to explore the vast country of Russia is by traveling with the Trans-Siberian Express, and discovering the cities along the railway.
Hence this question can be asked in two ways:
1. Is it safe to travel on the train on the Trans-Siberian railway?
2. Is it safe visiting the cities along the Trans-Siberian railway?
Even my parents, originally from an ex Eastern Bloc country, Hungary, had concerns about my Trans-Siberian travel plan. My dad warned me about the danger of getting robbed on the train. A friend in London told me about a guy who was beaten up while traveling in Russia.
When it comes to Russia, I always had vague preconceptions – a place which I heard a lot about, but could hardly picture. I needed first hand information to clear things up.
After doing some research myself, I have decided to buy the train tickets for the Trans-Siberian Express.
Is it safe to travel on the train on the Trans-Siberian railway?
The train has 1st class (spalny wagon – luxury 2 bed private compartments), 2nd class (Kupé – 4 bed private compartments), and 3rd class wagons (Platskartny – 6 bed open compartments). Traveling in a private compartment bears the danger of getting stuck with unpleasant company for days. Unless you are traveling with family, or spending your honeymoon with your loved one, I wouldn’t recommend 1st or 2nd class.
Traveling on the 3rd class open “Platskartny” wagon with the locals is the real Trans Siberian-experience.
Is it safe traveling on the 3rd class of the Trans-Siberian Express?
One of the myths is getting your valuables stolen.
Getting your stuff stolen on a train can happen anywhere in the world, but of course in certain places there is a higher chance for this. So what’s the case in Russia?
Such concern has its bases, from stories of tourists getting robbed on the Trans-Siberian Express in the past.
But things have changed. First of all, Russia is not as chaotic as it used to be for decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The terror threat has also forced public safety in Russia to be taken more seriously, especially on vehicles of public transportation.
Every wagon on the train has its own conductor who oversees and keeps the wagons tidy, as well as inspecting tickets and identification documents when you board. The conductors are mostly tough middle-aged women. They inspect not only the newly boarded passengers, but also people getting off the train. There is a police presence on the train as well. The journey between stops can sometimes last for almost half a day, so if valuables would go missing, the thief could not easily get away with it. The conductor could call the police any time if noticed. The conductors are helpful, and they take their job seriously.
Should you worry about theft on the Trans-Siberian Express?
Is there a risk of getting your belongings stolen when you are sleeping, and there had been a stop meanwhile?
There are 9 open compartments on 3rd class Platskartny wagons. Each compartment has 6 beds, two on each side, one above the other (see the picture below).
The lower bed has a storage place for luggage under it, which can only be accessed by lifting the bed up, so it is not easily accessible (there is either someone sleeping, or sitting on it). There is a storage place above the top bed as well, which is also impossible to access unnoticed. It is a common practice among travelers to chain their bags to the steel elements of the storage place, but a steel chain and a lock makes up a lot of extra weight to carry around when backpacking. Keeping your travel documents, cash & valuables with you at all times is still a good idea.
Don’t worry too much about theft on the Trans-Siberian Express. Usually you will be traveling with Russian families, old Babushkas with their grandchildren, and university students. People will gladly share their food and vodka with you, before the endless sign communication and the intense Google Translate sessions kick off.
Is it safe to travel to cities along the Trans-Siberian railway?
This is probably a bit harder to answer. I traveled on the Trans-Mongolian route, which diverges after Irkutsk towards Mongolia, and I’ve only been to a couple of bigger cities along the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia. These are Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk and Listvyanka. In short, my experience was absolutely positive. I was traveling as a solo male traveler, and I felt absolutely safe all the time, the people were all welcoming and friendly. Of course as in any other cities in the world, there are riskier areas, so always inform yourself before exploring deeper!