Trans-Siberian Railway: Trip Overview

Sara and I have just returned from our 36-day Trans-Siberia trip and we had planned on it being an epic adventure, so our expectations were high. The actual journey far surpassed anything I could have imagined. I had very high hopes and not only was I not let down, but my hopes were blown out of the water. Do you know how sometimes when you are doing something, it doesn't seem great at the time, but when you look back on it, you realize that it was, in fact, really cool? Well, this trip was not like that. It was really, really cool the entire time and we knew it.
  • Shanghai, China
  • Huangshan, China
  • Terracotta Warriors, Xian, China
  • Great Wall, Beijing, China
  • Yungung Caves, Datong, China
  • Charles & Vina, Dining Car, K3
  • East Gobi, Mongolia
  • Shambhala, East Gobi, Mongolia
  • Terelj National Park, Mongolia
  • Bath in a very cold river, Terelj, Mongolia
  • Vina & Sara with a drunk Russian Man
  • Phil in ice cold Lake Baikal, Listvyanka, Russia
  • Phil & Sara on a platform somewhere in Russia
  • Kungur Ice Cave, Russia
  • Tea at Alsu\'s, Kazan, Russia
  • Vina & Sara on the Ural Express, Russia
  • Red Square at night, Moscow, Russia
  • Run Moscow 2010, Russia
  • Catherine Palace, Tsarskoe Selo, Russia
Sara and I were joined by our two very good friends, Charles and Vina, whom we have camped with and even traveled to Hawaii with for a week several years ago. This trip was a bit longer than that, so I was nervous that we would be at each other's throats by the end. Over the next several months we will be posting about the trip, so we will have to wait to see how that all turned out. I will say that politically Sara and I lean to the left, while Charles leans to the right. Vina did not share her opinions until 15 days into the trip when she finally unleashed how she really thought. The trip began in Shanghai, China and through many trains, a few buses and one short airplane ride, we arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia a little over a month after we began. We climbed mountains, visited ancient burial and religious sites, attended a festival and a Buddhist religious ceremony, camped in the desert and the steppes, bathed in a very, very cold river, rode horses and camels, ate lots of sheep, mastered the squat toilet, put our feet in a very, very cold lake, visited an ice cave, stayed in a log cabin, stayed in a 4 star hotel, stayed in several youth hostels, the girls got kissed by several drunk Russian men, had tea with a real Russian family (friends of Vina) using their family heirloom Samovar, almost went to a Russian banya, saw Red Square at night and during the day, stumbled upon a 5K run which we tried to crash, and met many, many interesting locals and fellow travelers, including the writer of one of the guidebooks which we were using who gave us lots of tips and even translated the tour of the ice cave for us. Being gone for so long makes you change your habits and some of the things that I have noticed since our return include: 1) In public, I still scan the crowd, looking for someone who might speak English 2) I momentarily panic when I realize that I have put my toothbrush under running sink water when I am brushing my teeth 3) I still spit in the shower to avoid swallowing water 4) My bed no longer feels like my bed 5) I attempt to throw my toilet paper in the trash can rather than flush it 6) In public, I truly hope to find a squat toilet rather than the sit down variety (especially in that Taco Bell by LAX) These are all small things, which are slowly going away. However, this trip has changed me in some pretty major ways as well. I can honestly say that if Sara and I did not have two daughters, whom we missed terribly, waiting for us at home, we would have come home merely to sell everything so we could keep going. The American dream of home ownership, a BMW, and a week-long vacation at the beach no longer interests me. My home is where the majority of my underwear is. Please join us over the next several weeks and months as we try to recreate our adventure for everyone to share. If you are interested in duplicating all or part of this trip, we will be preparing a detailed itinerary with exactly where we stayed, what we did, etc. We will have tips all along the way, but if you would like a copy of the itinerary, please email us at YOLO
  • Beautiful pictures and a wonderful spirit you both share. Your adventurous spirit will be good for visiting South Africa with Sean and I someday. Thanks for sharing your trip, I wish I had done the same thing in South Africa but to me its so normal that I feel like documenting my life there is like documenting life in my apartment building in DC. I wonder if anyone would care but then when I came back everyone wanted to know EVERYTHING and I feel like I couldn’t remember it al.

    Can’t wait to finally meet you guys, my new cousins!!!!!

    • Flip

      Hi Thendo. I’m sure you can come up with some pretty amazing stories from South Africa. We cannot wait to get there to visit!

    • Sara

      Hi Thendo! Glad you liked our blog! When will you guys be back in SA? We would love to go visit! We have a timeshare in Durban that we bought on eBay 10 years ago (for $600!). So we have a week there every year… It’s very pathetic that we never actually went, just always traded for somewhere close… But when we do go visit, we will definitely take Mackenzie & Ender. And Ender can be Funi’s live-size doll! 🙂

  • Sophia

    It is great! Can’t wait to

    • Flip

      But, Sophia, you lived it…at least part of it. Without you we would have been lost in China! Thanks again for all of your help!!

  • What amazing pictures! I especially like the ones of Yungung Caves, You and Sara at Red Square at night, and the Great Wall. I enjoy reading about your guys’ adventures and realize that there are indeed so many things that Americans take for granted, such as something so insignificant to us like having clean running water to brush our teeth with or the ability to toss toilet paper in the toilet. Wow! I will definitely be checking back to read more about your trip. Thank you for sharing the story…I live vicariously through your travels and hope to one day make some travels of my own. Oh, and you look good with the beard, Phil!

    Take care,


    • Flip

      Thanks, Bobby! A little travel definitely opens one’s eyes to how lucky we are here in the States.

    • Sara

      Hi Bobby! Thanks for liking the pics! You and Perry should join us on one of our trips… If you can convince him to “Fly Coach” and stay in hotels with less than 4 stars (or no stars)… Haha! 🙂

  • Renata

    I loved your pictures and really enjoyed reading about your trip!

    I would like to ask you for some tips and opinions about the Transib!

    I am planning to do this journey myself and I want to enjoy it the most! Luckly, time is not a problem (I could dedicate up to 5 months just to the Transib) but I have no idea of how much time should I take for this trip…what is your opinion?

    Another thing…do you think I will face too much trouble being a solo young female traveller?

    Thanks a lot!!!

    • Flip

      Hi Renata:
      Thank you for your kind words. I can just say that if I had 5 months to do this trip, I would take the full amount. We really had that much fun. That being said, we planned the trip carefully as to time of year because we read that Siberia in the summer has mosquitoes worse than you can ever imagine, but if you wait too late in the year, it is really, really cold (something like -20 C is normal). Also, during the winter, the days are very short that far north. If you are ok with all of that, then do it.

      As far as safety goes, we never really felt unsafe, but there were four of us. There were several drunk Russian guys on the trains, but most of the trains that we ended up taking were local Russian trains, not the official Trans-Siberian ones, which have a lot of backpackers and fellow travelers. The local trains are all local Russians, which makes it very interesting, but you might find fewer individuals with which to bond long-term.

      If you keep reading, we will reveal more about the trip in much greater detail. Just a hint at what is to come, we ran into a female travel writer, who had been all over Russia by herself within the previous few months updating a travel guidebook and she had had no problems at all. Maybe we can convince her to give us a guest post.

      Take care and be sure to keep in touch and let us know if/when you make your journey.

    • Sara

      Hi Renata,

      I am glad you like our post! I did a lot of research in planning the trip. There were definitely a lot more I would have loved to squeeze in our itinerary. But we only had 5 weeks, so we had to cut out a lot from our wish list.

      In China, We would have liked to see Guilin, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hungzhou, Xingjiang. In Mongolia, we would have liked to see the South Gobi and taken a long horseback trip (7 to 15 days) to White Lake. And in Russia, we had to give up so much… 🙁 On the actual Trans-Siberia route, we would have loved to see Tomsk, taken an excursion into Kazakhstan, spent some time in Yekaterinburg and visited every one of the Golden Ring cities. Past the Trans-Sibe route, I really wanted to go to Kizhi Island, or maybe go to the Black Sea. So if I had 5 months, I would do all of the above, and go into Scandinavia, or Eastern Europe… So much to see, so little time! 🙂

      As to being a solo female traveler, it really depends on what your personality is, and luck. There are bad people everywhere… There was only one incident on the train where I felt uncomfortable (Flip and others were not nearby). We will have more details about the incident later in the blog. But not everyone’s experience is the same. Sticking to the official Trans-Sibe trains would probably minimize the hassle factor. But again, you never know… Gotta be ready to stand up for yourself!


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