Skip to Content

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

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

In less than a month, the culmination of about six 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 from Beijing to Moscow (well St. Petersburg in our case).

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

To me, it sounds like a fantastic trip, but not that many people 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: 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 that 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: 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: breatheindigital)

3. Cost

When a train ticket alone costs you over $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 quickly 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: Sistak)

4. Time

Unless you're doing the straight seven-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.

Do you want to stop off in China, Mongolia, and various places in Russia?

We're planning a three-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.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Joanne Rich

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

I am planning a trip by train from Shanghai to Kashgar (or somewhere in far western China). But how do I book the train journey from Australia?. I may also want to stop off at various spots along the way. Is it easy to do a hop on hop off train journey like this across China?

Nomadic Boys

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

Hello - my partner and I are planning our Trans Mongolian trip in June (stopping off in Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk along the way). What are your tips please for booking the train tickets? Did you use an agency? Ideally we want to book tickets in person when we arrive at each destination - is this what you did? The Chinese Visa - AAAAARGHHHH......!

Comments are closed.