Ultimate Train Challenge: Planning for the Trans-Siberian Railway

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Planning for the Ultimate Train Challenge has been a monumental effort, and a team effort at that. Our motley crew of three travel bloggers have been hard at work in coordinating schedules, attaining visas, planning our routes, coordinating charity fundraising efforts…the list goes on.

To make it manageable, we’ve broken down the journey into chunks. The most formidable chunk we’re planning around is our journey on the Trans-Siberian railway.

(Note: This post was originally published in 2011, as the Ultimate Train Challenge took place in September 2011. The content and links here have since been updated for accuracy).

Want to cut to the chase? Here’s my diary of the Trans-Siberian railway experience, and here’s the video!

The Trans-Siberian Railway

The Trans-Siberian railway actually runs a number of routes, but the basic geography ranges from Moscow to East Asia. It’s the longest railway in the world.

We’ll be taking the route that runs from Moscow through Manchuria, ending in Beijing. It spans 8,986km (5,623 miles), and will involve 145 hours and 37 minutes of straight train travel (just over 6 days).

Yes, we are suckers for punishment.

I’m actually quite looking forward to this leg of the journey. It will likely be our first chance to spend some time together after we scatter through Europe from Lisbon on September 1st, and I love meeting and sharing ideas with other travel bloggers and location independent entrepreneurs.

And to experience such an epic journey in the company of three other awesome people? No better way to do it.

(I just hope nobody has any obscenely bad habits or irrational body odours; we’ll be sharing a relatively small compartment for the trip. I can just see the twitter stream now, god help us all).

Getting to Moscow

Real Russia

We’ve partnered with Real Russia for our Trans-Siberian journey. But their help has extended far beyond just getting us train tickets. Both Jeannie and I ran into some complications with our Russian visas and the logistics of getting to Moscow in time to board the Trans-Siberian, and the folks at Real Russia provided invaluable information and advice.

Basically we both have just one day to enter the country and get to Moscow in time to meet up with our other Ultimate Train Challenge compadres and board the Trans-Siberian. Moscow isn’t exactly a border town, and Russia is known to be pretty sticky about adhering to visa start dates – to the minute.

Luckily, through the Real Russia website, I found a train that leaves Kiev (Ukraine) in the evening, and crosses the Russian border just after midnight – on the day our Russian visas commence.

Whew – let’s hope this train doesn’t run early.

Real Russia

I don’t have to say this (!), but I’ve got good things to say about Real Russia. They’re a specialist travel agency based in London with offices in Moscow and Volgograd. But no matter where you are, they’ll help out with booking travel, tours, and accommodation in Russia, as well as applying for visas.

I particularly enjoyed searching train timetables and travel options through their website, which was easy to navigate and provided me with exact arrival times to locations (like the Russian border) throughout trips.

(Here are my other favourite travel websites for researching and booking stuff).

And they’ve been very helpful to all of us in providing information and tips for our visa applications and specific questions.

Next Task

With the Trans-Siberian being the longest and most pivotal part of our trip nailed down, it’s time to work out the rest of this mammoth journey. I have to figure out how to get from Lisbon to Kiev (more on that soon), and from Beijing to Saigon (in record time).

Any suggestions for my European part of the journey are welcome at this time – I’m pretty much wide open.

As train enthusiasts, and as one of the largest providers of Russian train travel and Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian tours, Real Russia saw the Ultimate Train Challenge as an important event to be involved in; and provided the bloggers’ tickets from Moscow to Beijing, as well as offering visa support documentation and advice throughout the whole application and booking process.

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14 thoughts on “Ultimate Train Challenge: Planning for the Trans-Siberian Railway”

  1. Yay! Trans-Sib is my favourite trip ever!! I’m sorry you’re not being purist and making it to Vladivostok (a city well worth seeing – just to dislike, even!) but I’m also envious that you’re getting down to Beijing. I will be so much looking forward to vicariously Trans-Sibbing with you.

  2. A female friend took that trip a couple of years ago and said it was the best thing she’d ever done! Get your papers sorted, then lay back and enjoy the adventure!

    As far as the european part of the journey goes, i’ll probably sound like a broken record but you and your friends are always welcome my side of the mediterranean. (Fear not, we locals know how to avoid street riots -either way you won’t get bored heh 😉

  3. @Amanda – We originally wanted to do the route that goes through Mongolia (instead of Manchuria), and I even have the Mongolian transit visa to prove it! But due to time restrictions, we realized the only train that arrives in Beijing with enough time to give us a fighting chance of arriving in Saigon by the 30th goes around Mongolia. Sigh.

    @Despina – Be careful what you offer…you just might have (at least one) Ultimate Train Challenge participant on your doorstep! 🙂

  4. yeah I really want to do this type of trip. My wife and I have discussed it, but still no dice. It’s on the list though…

  5. Sounds like a mad lot of work. It’s more expensive, but you can always use specialists such as The advantage with someone like them as well is that they have loads of unique stuff you can do along the way…

  6. @Matt – As long as it’s on the list, it’s a possibility! Maybe you can glean some tips from my experiences/mistakes! 🙂

    @Rob – Real Russia also offers tours and activities along the way. But since the object of the game is to get from Lisbon to Saigon in 30 days by train, that doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing tours enroute! Yes, it’s a lot of work planning (more on that in my next post!), but it also comes with the territory when traveling full-time.

  7. @Michael – No, YOU rock! Hey wait a minute…you’re not buttering me up as a cover-up for some horrible body odour or bad habit of yours I’ll discover in Russia, are you? Hmm…. 🙂

    (Then again, maybe it’s you who should be nervous…..bwwwaaahahahaha).

  8. @Scott – Considering the 6-day stint is only a fraction of a larger 30 day trip (granted not 30 days solid, but 30 days on trains nonetheless), that we’ll be seasoned pros by the time we reach Moscow. Heh heh….famous last words…stay tuned.

  9. It was the building of the TSR that broke the bank of the Csar and contributed to Lenin’s advance during the first world war…

  10. Oh goodness, the Siberian journey, what a wild ride! Wish I was on it! You should be making a documentary of all your travels as you go along, or a reality show or something!

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