4 Hurdles to Overcome When Planning a Trans-Mongolian Train Journey

by Brooke Schoenman on May 7, 2012 · 1 comment

Trans-Mongolian train car

A train car on the Trans-Mongolian. (photo by t-o-n-y)

In less than a month, the culmination of about 6 months of talking, emailing, planning, dreaming, and finalizing is about to occur: my boyfriend and I are meeting up with two other friends in Beijing where we will begin our Trans-Mongolian train journey.

This epic train journey is going to take us from China to Mongolia to Russia – and all the way from Beijing to Moscow (well St. Petersburg in our case).

Instead of going straight on it for 7 days, we will be getting off at key locations to explore a bit more of the countryside.

To me, it sounds like an amazing trip, but not that many people actually venture out to take it because of four main hurdles (that can be overcome):

language barrier

If you can't read this, you might get on the wrong train! (photo by t-o-n-y)

1. Language Barrier

Russian and Chinese (well, Mongolian, too!) are not the easiest of languages.

While an English speaker can simply waft through countries where Romance languages fill the air – sometimes just by adding an ending onto English words – that isn’t quite so in this part of the world.

Even worse is the idea not many people will know English along the way, which, fair enough, is probably true for much of the journey.

Break down the language barrier: Even in remote parts of the world, English is becoming a popular language for people to learn, so you might be surprised to find at least one person that knows bits and pieces.

And, if not, isn’t that all just part of the adventure?! Arm yourself with Google Translate, or just bring along a picture guide book so you can point when you need something.

visa hassles

Applying for visas is such a chore. (photo by maxbraun)

2. Visa Hassles

Tricky application wordings, letters of invitation that can only be received after booking with travel agents, and big bank checks are not the most appealing of tasks to undertake.

Visa hassles for countries like China and Russia almost immediately decrease the number of visitors by half (ok, so I drew that number out of thin air).

But, seriously, it’s no fun to have to deal with visa hassles for multiple countries at once, which you will have to do to ride the Trans-Mongolian rails.

Easing visa annoyance: Applying for visas is never fun, but don’t let that fill your travel life with regret.

Think about the travel glory that will come from this small hassle: a chance to ride on the Trans-Mongolian rails.

Other than that, read up on the visa rules and regulations and start putting your information in order early.

cost of train trip

The price can be steep for foreigners looking to ride the rails. (photo by breatheindigital)

3. Cost

When a train ticket alone costs you over a $1,000, combined with the cost of flights (flying in and out of different locations), accommodation, food, and those pesky expensive visas, you could say a ride on the Trans-Mongolian rails is not really for the budget traveler.

Bringing down the cost: If you have the time, you can avoid going through a travel agency for more than your train tickets (get in touch for more info and recommendations).

Hostels line the stops of the train line, and those can be easily booked through a website.

Start saving in advance, and if you can, extend your trip before or after the train ride to get the most for your money.

time to catch the train

Don't miss the trip of a lifetime. (photo by Sistak)

4. Time

Unless you’re doing the straight 7 day ride where you don’t get off the train, then the Trans-Mongolian train journey will more than likely take time – more time than someone might get on a standard holiday.

Are you wanting to stop off in China, Mongolia, and at various places in Russia?

We’re planning a 3 week journey for our trip, and even that is leaving stuff out.

Battling time: Save up holiday time (if possible!) so you can take an epic trip.

If there is no way to gain more travel time, research possible stop-offs along the route and choose the ones that seem most exciting and worthwhile to you.

So, what’s holding you back from riding the Trans-Mongolian rails, or just taking that dream trip. How would you overcome that barrier?

About the Author:

is the author of 40 posts on Go Backpacking.

Brooke lives a thrifty lifestyle so that she can travel the world at every possible opportunity. She shares her travel tales, including everything from sleeping in a yurt in Kyrgyzstan to becoming an expat in Australia, on her personal travel blog, Brooke vs. the World. Female travelers might enjoy the stories and tips of her monthly Female Travel Underground newsletter. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Categories: Adventures, China, Features, Mongolia, Russia
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