My One-Month Budget for the Trans-Siberian Railway
There are many ways to do the Trans-Siberian Railway, from a grueling one-week non-stop journey to a completely Russia journey stretching from the furthest eastern coast to Moscow. With time on my side, I opted for a slow, month-long journey beginning in China with a lengthy stop in Mongolia before making may way across Siberia and ending in St. Petersburg.
The journey was about 8,000 kilometers and took me 30 days. I’m fairly frugal, but the journey ended up costing me more than I planned. The total cost of the trip from the moment I stepped on the train in Beijing to when I left Russia and crossed into Estonia was $2,357. That comes to $76 a day.
The Trans-Siberian Railway technically ends (or begins) in Moscow, but I’m including the four nights I spent in St. Petersburg into this budget. This trip was done in August, which is considered one of the busier high-time of the year.
Day 1: Overnight train from Beijing, China to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Day 2-15: Mongolia
Day: 16-30: Russia (with stops at Lake Baikal, Krasnoyarsk, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Moscow and St. Petersburg)
Here’s the budget breakdown.
$559 for the Trains
You can’t really do the Trans-Siberian Railway without taking any trains, and I took plenty of them. Getting a non-stop ticket from Beijing to Moscow would have only ran several hundred dollars, but I stopped seven times along the way and never spent more than 30 hours on the train at once.
I took comfy second-class sleepers the entire way. The costliest ticket was the Beijing to Mongolia train, which is very comfortable but runs $200. A much cheaper way to have done that would be to have taken a combination of bus and train through the border, but I opted for the easier version. The second most expensive train was the high speed rail between Moscow and St. Petersburg for $88. The slower overnight train would have been half this price.
On average, a 30-hour train ride would cost about $65 for second class if you buy it at the train station (which is what I did). Using a travel company adds at least 50 percent to the total price of the ticket.
$190 to Get Into Russia Legally
Being an American in Russia can be expensive. The visa alone is $160, and then it’s another $30 to pay for a fraudulent (yet totally accepted) invitation/itinerary from a travel agency. The Mongolia visa was free and I already had the Chinese visa (about $140) from a previous trip.
$391 on Food and Drink
Most of this money was food in Russia, as most of my time in Mongolia was spent on a tour where the food was included. Thanks to the collapse of the Russian rouble, Russia is discounted nearly 50 percent since 2013 when compared to the dollar. This means nice lunches can be had for $4 and a Big Mac is a mere $1.50. My most expensive meals were a handful of dinners on the trains’ restaurant cars, which came to about $8 each. Partly because of the low prices, I ended up buying way more food than I needed.
$265 on Hotels
I stayed in hostels all but two nights. I also saved money by taking overnight trains for six nights. Decent hostels are less than $10 a night in both Russia and Mongolia.
$500 on a Tour
I took a weeklong tour in the Gobi Desert through Manlai’s Budget Tours. You can read about the experience here. It was an all right value and saved a lot of headache, as getting around Mongolia is incredibly time consuming.
$86 Public Transportation (Not Trains)
Getting around Russia was incredibly cheap, with most city buses costing about 30 cents. Most of this public transportation costs is what I paid to leave Russia and get into Estonia by bus.
$136 Arts and Entertainment
I went to lots and lots of museums, with the most expensive being the Kremlin in Moscow ($19.50) and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg ($10).
With the weather getting colder during my journey, I had to upgrade to warmer clothes. I also had some annoying cell phone trouble, which costs me about $50 for new parts.
In hindsight, I could have saved a lot of money by modifying my transportation and opted out of the pricey Beijing-Mongolia train and the high-speed rail between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Still, I’m fortunate that Russia’s currency is so low compared to 2013 or this trip would have easily cost $1,000 or $2,000 more.
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