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Traveling to Russia for Summer Vacation

As one of the baby boomer generation, Russia is not a place I thought I’d ever actually visit.  In fact, my first attempt to visit the then-USSR was unsuccessful in 1982 because of visa requirements. However, when my teenagers suggested St. Petersburg, Russia as our vacation destination, I decided to give it another try. This time I was more successful and as I sit on the plane back to the United States, my family can now say we’ve been to Russia.  Although political times have changed since 1982, traveling to Russia remains somewhat of a challenge both in entering and touring the country.  In order to help other families who perhaps will be convinced by their children to visit the home of the Kremlin, I’ve put together some tips to help you navigate the country.

A red shirt in Red Square

1) File for your Russian Visa early.  The paperwork will take you a full day to fill out, particularly if you are going with your family.  The Russian Embassy requires you to use one of a few Visa services that require you to file all papers online.  I used Travisa and they were very efficient and helpful.  It isn’t cheap to obtain visas so you should plan for this expense as well. All visas require Letters of Invitation that you can get from the major hotels in Russia or approved travel agencies.

2) Plan to go through passport control one at a time.  This was a shocker to me as a mother and something that made me extremely uncomfortable.  Passport agents in Russia require one person at a time enter the line for entry into the country. This means children as well.  If you are traveling with another adult, my suggestion is for one adult to go through first, then send the children through. The second adult should be the last in the line, so no child is alone on either side as was the case with us. My 11-year-old daughter entered first and it made me nervous to have one of my children alone on the other side of Passport entry.

3) Take a copy of your passport with you, including a copy of the page with your visa. Keep it on your person at all times. There are passport police who will stop you just to check and sometimes demand extra money from you. Never go out in Russia without your passport and visa or a copy of it.

4) Don’t expect to find people who speak English or people who want to attempt to communicate in anything other than Russia.  It may come off rude, even mean, but Russians expect you to speak Russian.

5) If your children are picky eaters, you may be eating a lot of McDonald’s or Italian. Typical meals include fish or game meats like bear, deer and elk. However, if you are a sushi lover, you are in luck. Russians LOVE sushi. It’s everywhere. Although most hotels will allow you to include breakfast in the price of the room, I recommend opting out of this expense.  Chances are you won’t wake up the first few days in time to eat breakfast because of the time change.  I often opt for visiting a grocery store and buying a few loaves of bread, lunchmeats and cheeses and keeping it cool in the hotel mini bar. For your sweet tooth, ice cream is available everywhere.

6) I always advise international travelers to exchange money before the trip…not so for Russia. You can only get Rubles once you land in Russia and ATM machines are few and far between. Take US Dollars to convert rather than depending on ATMS.  Most tourist sites will take Visa and MasterCard, but only a few take cash.

7) If you plan on visiting the Kremlin, it is closed on Thursdays so you might want to plan your trip accordingly. You can go see Lenin in his tomb right in the middle of the Red Square, but you can’t carry your cell phone or back pack inside. There is a bag check at the corner of the National Museum, which is right at the start of the line into the tomb but it is long.  Most families have one member hold bags and tag team going through the tomb with the kids. No photos are allowed and guards make sure you don’t break that law.

8. Russians overdress and shorts aren’t allowed in most Orthodox churches.  So pack a skirt or dress, however make sure the latter has sleeves.

9) Take your bathing suit even if it’s winter.  Kids love to swim and most Russian hotels have some sort of pool indoors for the enjoyment of guests.  A dip in the pool was a great way for my kids to relax and cool down in the afternoon.

10) For a great adventure, take the historical red train from Moscow overnight to St. Petersburg but make sure you reserve a first class cabin for your family.  It’s fun for kids to experience sleeping on a train.


2 Responses

  1. Wow!! I would love to go there to see all that history.. maybe on my way to Italy.. LOL.

    Looks like you had a great time.

  2. Looks like a lot of fun. I love the picture of the red shirt in Red Square. The background is pretty amazing.

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