Tips for Traveling to Moscow, Russia
Getting to Moscow from the US and Canada
Since politics can change the Russian atmosphere quickly, traveling with a travel agency, especially the first time that you visit Moscow, is preferable. Travel agencies cost a little more, but they know how to navigate the day to day Russian-ness of tourist situations, and if you book with a quality one tend to have 1-800 helplines and knowledgeable staff.
If you choose to book your trip yourself there are two main options. Fly directly from the US or Canada into Russia, or flying into a neighboring European country and taking a train into Moscow. Both have their pros and cons.
Flying to Moscow
The cheapest airplane tickets tend to be APEX, or Advance Purchase Excursion tickets. They require that you pay in full 21 days in advance, stay abroad for at least 7 days, and keep your stay under three months. Tickets from the US to Moscow are lowest from November to March (excluding Christmas/New Years Celebrations) during the tourist low tide and are highest from June to mid-September and during the Christmas/New Years celebrations.
Travel by Train in Europe
If you plan to see more of Europe and more of Russia than just Moscow, then traveling by train may be a better option. Simply travel by plane to a European country and take the train from there into Moscow. Know that although the Eurail pass for unlimited travel is valid is sixteen countries, that Russia is not one of them. A Eurail flexi-pass may be a better option. It allows a certain number of uses in a two-month time period.
A Note on Russian Medical Care
There are two options when it comes to medical emergencies in Russia for foreign nationals: going to a public hospital or seeking care in a private clinic. There are obviously two schools of thought when it comes to which to use as a foreigner.
In Russia, foreign nationals can obtain medical care in the public hospitals free of charge, with nominal charges for certain medications. Russian doctors tend to run a high number of tests, but since the life expectancy in Russia is falling instead of rising, many do not trust public health centers.
The other option is to seek care at a private clinic which charges US rates at full price (a broken leg can run about $10,000) but has arguably better medical facilities. If you have regular health problems, are at risk for specific health difficulties, or simply do not trust public healthcare then investing in traveler's health insurance may be a smart idea.
How can Americans Obtain Insurance while Traveling in Moscow?
It is generally considered a wise choice to invest in traveler's insurance when traveling in a foreign country. Generally, traveler's insurance covers theft, missing luggage, or having to cancel or reschedule the trip, however being a well-insured traveler can be more difficult than first thought Like most car insurance, house insurance, and health insurances, the coverage of traveler's insurance can vary greatly.
What to Consider When Comparing Travel Insurance
- how much does it cover with cash and checks
- what it covers medically (especially if you have a specific medical condition)
- does it include medical evacuation
- does your credit card already have similar benefits if you pay for the trip with the card
Where to Obtain Traveler's Insurance
If you travel through a travel agency, then extra insurance may be built into your final cost or it may be a mandatory add-on. Regardless your travel agency most likely offers insurance packages that can be altered to your personal needs, or you can choose to go with an external insurance company. Just remember to read the fine print, and only pay for what you need. If you're backpacking then you probably don't need thousands of dollars worth of coverage for personal belongings, since you're probably traveling light.
Handicap Travel in Russia
Russia has not been a country that traditionally has went out of the way to make things easier for disabled travelers, however slowly Russia is bringing its public facilities up to par.
Not all hotels are wheelchair accessible in Moscow, however, most international hotels are wheelchair capable. Before reserving a room, you might want to do a little extra research and contact the hotel directly to make sure they can accompany all of your needs. The metro is slightly better though.
Public transportation is also quite difficult since buses, trams, and trolleys are not set up to accommodate wheelchair passengers. The Kremlin, Red Square, and other major sites are wheelchair accessible, however, historical churches and museums tend to require navigating steps.
Mobility International USA and the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped can both help disabled travelers planning on visiting Moscow or other parts of Russia.
Insider's View of Moscow's Public Transportation
Know the Cyrillic Alphabet
There are a lot of signs that are printed in both Roman alphabet and the Cyrillic Alphabet (the alphabet that is used in the Russian language), but in many places, signs will just be Cyrillic. Knowing the Romanized name of attractions, restaurants, and streets will do you no good if you can't at least sound out the written name.
Plus, being able to read Russian words (and knowing basic phrases) can win you brownie points with the locals. Most locals like to see foreigners attempting to understand the Russian culture, and if they believe that you are trying, they are more likely to help you or give you a break.