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Russia is the largest country on Earth, and is a fantastic country for hitch hiking. It is well ingrained within the country's culture, and it is a much more comfortable way to see the country, compared to taking the train. Despite the popularity of hitch hiking compared to other countries, people will still be surprised by what you are doing.
It is possible to cover vast distances per day when hitching, greater than 1000 km if you are lucky, but generally only when using major M roads in Western Russia or Siberia through Trans-siberian railway mainline.
Do not expect all M roads to be dual carriageways – sometimes even a major road is a narrow, unpaved muddy patch. Generally speaking, the further East you go, the worse the road condition gets. But even on main connections in less remote areas, for example from Moscow to Kazan, the road is not always in good shape in connection with the huge traffic, travelling will take much more time than in Western Europe. There are real motorways, though, marked with a green sign of an autobahn same as in Europe. Standards are improving too; there is an ongoing policy of funding the rebuilding many roads in Russia, which will bring standards to a much higher level.
In spite of the country's size, there are very few roads, there is little ambiguity in where you could be going, when hitching from a given location. In areas about 50 km from cities you may just stay on the road and you will get rides with high success which other cities the roads go to.
In mostly all bigger book stores in Russia one can find the Автоатлас России (Auto Atlas Russia) which is perfect for hitchhiking Russia. Including gas stations, DPS stations, even traffic lights along main roads. The atlas also includes city maps and maps of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Baltic states as well. Price is 377 RUB (July 2009).
Also, there are maps almost completely presenting full infrastructure of some cities including public transportation system at 2gis.ru. November, 1st 2009 there were 22 cities: Астрахань, Барнаул, Бийск, Екатеринбург, Иркутск, Казань, Кемерово ,Красноярск ,Курган, Нижневартовск, Нижний Новгород, Новокузнецк, Новосибирск, Одесса, Омск, Пермь, Самара, Тольятти, Томск, Тюмень, Уфа, Челябинск. U can use on-line version or download installer and use maps off-line. Also there is opportunity to use 2gis on Windows Mobile platform and even on usual cellphone with Java MIDP-2 engine (needs internet access).
Also, there is a possibility to get a lift by talking to drivers on gas stations. You will not be misunderstood but since there are almost no highways and you can point your thumb anywhere, wasting time on a gas station waiting for cars is not preferred unless there is heavy raining, or the spot is bad etc. If there are two of you one can hitch on the road and the other one ask people on nearby gas station; that really might bring you a lift faster. But the “default” method of hitchhiking in Russia is still thumbing on the roadside ;)
Do not write places names on cardboards – nobody in this country cares to read them. Or, if you still want to use the paper, write a region number instead of the name (see below for a list of reg numbers). Because you can get dropped off and immediately hitch onwards on nearly all roads in Russia, using a sign is never necessary and in fact the community recommends against it. Again, in spite of the country's size, there are very few roads, there is little ambiguity in where you could be going, when hitching from a given location.
You must take a raincoat (it sometimes rains in summer and very often in autumn), good shoes, a warm jumper for summer (the winter starts in October), some cash (and not credit cards or cheques), perhaps a tent with a sleeping bag.
Trains, Boats, etc
taken from a post on squattheplanet forum:
"In Siberia, it is apparently common and easy (and ALLOWED) to hitch-hiking on cargo ships and freight trains, in the unit. Trains are not manifested ahead of time, but instead are done on a day-to-day basis (CHAOS?!). This means that you show up at the 'yard' (really only a load/unload with a siding or two), and ask the workers or security for the engineer/brakeman lounge. Sometmes the security will hassle you, but if you simply explain that you are a traveler, it's totally allowed! So, ask around, find a train going your way, find out when it leaves, and ask if you can hop on. You ride in the unit, which while heated (Siberia is fucking cold), has no toilet, so don't drink too much, and take a pregame dump. Ride to where you're going, simple as that! Also, every yard has a cafe for the workers, and food is apparently wicked cheap. Boat-hitching is apparently similar. Ask around, get permission, get on, and go! The only significant problem would be the language barrier, but people are absolutely THRILLED to meet travelers, especially ones from foreign lands (remember, Russia is HUGE). Additionally, it's possible to stay for a night at monasteries all over Russia. If you want to stay longer, they will usually ask you to help out with chores. I REALLY want to try this!"
Hitchhiking in Russian is called автостоп (avtostop). It literally means “car stopping”, and is basically the only word understood as hitching (i.e. travelling by getting lifts for free). A more colloquial word for it is "попутка" (poputka). When people ask you anywhere in Russia: "куда ты едешь?" (where are you going to?) you should answer: "я еду автостопом" (ya yedu avtostopom), then they will ask you another question and this time you say the name of the city. It might be better and more polite to ask "Вы могли бы подкинуть меня в направлении ..." (Vy mogli by podkinut menya v napravlenii ...), which means "Could you give me a lift in the direction of ...".
Level of speaking English is rather low especially among people older than 40 and even not all young people speak it with a sufficient level. You might ought to learn Cyrillic script for your own convenience. It is quite simple for a person familiar with English or Greek alphabet and is learnable in 2-3 days. People, their friendliness and mentality differ much from part of Russia they are from (there are many national republics and indigenous nations), and also from the type of town (for example, notorious "monogorod" - monotowns) and by their social status.
In spite of popular belief about the dangers of Russia, and perceived problems with the police, as a hitch hiker you will more than likely have no problems in the country. Police will usually not bother you at all, especially when they know you are a foreigner (except at the border - that is another matter). You should also avoid drunk people and people who look aпgressive or look like "gopniks". and as long as you take the usual precautions, you will not find yourself in danger from any person - the cold however, in winter time, is a much bigger issue. Being offered copious amounts of alcohol can also be a problem!
Some consider Russian roads are not among the safest on Earth; this might or might not be true. The concentrartion of dashing driving is higher than in Europe. Many drivers and their passengers do not fasten their belts outside cities, but you always may do it for yourself.
Its common knowledge Russians like to drink vodka, but you will unlikely meet a drunken driver unless you go deep into some village area; driving drunk is heavily penalized in Russia so majority of people don't want to run the risk if there is at least a single police checkpoint on the road (on all the major roads, there are many). But, just in case you encounter a car with a drunken driver inside – wave him away and wait for a sober one.
If the area feels unsafe you might want to hitchhike from police post to police post. The police posts situated on all highways with intervals of about 100 km. These posts, commonly called "ДПС" (Post DPS), are good places to hitchhike since cars will drive by slowly, and police is always close. You can also ask the police officers to help you get a ride which really might work. Be prepared to be asked for your ID or even run a cell-phone check (verification that your cell is not in the stolen cells database), though.
The southern provinces of Russian Caucasus like Dagestan, Chechnya (worldwide most victims), Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria have problems with terrorists and land-mines and it could be very dangerous for travelling there for both foreigner and for Russian from Central Russia. These areas better be avoided.
Small towns might have a small chance of being a little dangerous if the person differs much from locals, especially in the night. Villages and big town are completely safe.
Girls and solo-hitching
Many Russian girls do hitch alone, and still scary stories seldom hit the news lines. It does not at all mean that the country is free of perverts, and almost all of the solo-travelers (not necessarily girls) will tell you accounts of some sexual harassment they have encountered while hitching. 99% of such encounters end OK with nothing more serious then words but if you do not want to be asked for sex – or to hold a camera while somebody is masturbating – consider finding a travel buddy. Somehow, Russians are still very amused by foreigners, and many report that solo traveling even extremely long distances, like Central and Eastern Russia, for a foreign girl who speaks some Russian is absolutely safe since she is treated like someone ‘from the outside’ by virtually everyone. Keep in mind that being a foreigner you are somewhat protected from some issues that Russian hitchhikers face on the roads.
Border Crossings, Police, Visas and formalities
The general consensus is that, providing your passport and visa are in order, you will have no problem entering Russia. Even hitching in at remote border crossings in the middle of the night is fine. However you are very likely to be held when leaving the country by a land crossing, particularly if hitching out. You will most likely be required to describe your trip in great detail, and explain other passport stamps. Do not worry if this happens, just answer their questions and you will be allowed to go. (eventually)
Whilst hitching in Russia, the police will occasionally stop the vehicle you are travelling in to check the driver's documents. There is a small possibility that your driver will be asked about you, the passenger. This is likely to be the only time your ID is likely to be checked when hitching in Russia, other than at the borders. The police will not ask for too much information usually; they will look at your passport, visa and immigration card, and they may take notes of your name and address. They will most likely not check your visa registration.
You do have to have your passport with the visa and other papers you get while crossing the border handy. A good idea is to put them in some transparent waterproof bag – the immigration card is absolutely soviet style, and will not survive even the light raining.
As a visitor to Russia, it is important to understand the registration rules. Officially, you must register your visa in Russia within 3 working days of arriving in the country, and also subsequently register again in any town or city you remain in for 3 days or longer though in 2011, the rules apparently changed: Now you only have to register if you stay somewhere for upwards from seven business days, i.e. nine "real" days. The registration upon arrival also isn't necessary any more. Furthermore, the new law clearly stipulates that it's your host's responsibility to register you (i.e. hotel, hostel, or potentially private host). To be sure, check with people who know what they're talking about such as the thorn tree forum.
Hotels are legally required to register foreign guests within 24 hours. Hostels are, too, but in practice often don't or only do for a fee. If you are being hosted by a private citizen then you can register at the post office. This process is complicated and time consuming unfortunately, but registration provides peace of mind that you will have no problems if the police or border police try to find any.
If you do not plan to stay for a long time just have some strong evidence that you have just arrived. Buy a vegan hamburger if you can find one and keep the receipt before leaving some nice town or city you pass by (make sure there is the place‘s name on it). The train or bus tickets are the best means to persuade cops you are not hanging around St. Petersburg for half a year already, so you might take a short ride on a local train from time to time to have a set of tickets marking your way. Alternatively, you might also get your visa registered the once for peace of mind.
The border police do not often check visa registration, particularly at non European borders, as it is too much hassle. Some regular tourists in Russia comment that the cost and time consumption of registering a visa is too great, and prefer to hope that they are not checked when leaving. However if you are caught with an unregistered visa, expect at least a 2000 Ruble fine (as of before 2011 -- we are not aware of how the situation is now).
If you are travelling anywhere North of St. Petersburg, particularly around Murmansk and towards Norway, it is highly recommended that you register your visa. In early 2011, user haggismn had registration and other documents checked three times at the various military check points. (not including the Norwegian border itself)
Citizens of most countries need a visa, the notable exceptions are most former Soviet states (apart from the Baltic states) and Israel. Most visa types require an invitation.
The border seems to be open only for holders of CIS passports.
Official sources (f.e. the German ministry of foreign affairs) say that this status changed and now it is possible also for Non CIS passport holder.
Please check the discussion about this. Before there is an confirmation by a traveller that crossed that border, the status will not be updated only to "open" instead of "disputed".
The border between Russia and Belarus is open. You will feel almost like in other parts of Europe, no border controls with an everlasting que at all. This is of course a nice time-saving fact, but it also means that you will recieve no entrance stamp to Russia. After the German embassy was creative enough to recommend to go to an airport and ask random police for an entrance stamp, the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow confirmed that this is no problem for an overland traveller on another border and at the crossing to Kazakhstan nobody asked about the missing stamp.
The crossing at Zabaykal'sk/Manzhouli requires that you are on board a vehicle. It is possible to get on board a Chinese tour bus for around 300 roubles. It is also ok to stand before the entrance to the border area and wait for a ride. As long as its not too cold, you shouldn't have any problem getting a ride. If you are not Chinese, Mongolian or Russian, prepare to be interrogated by the Russian border police about your journey. Coming from China is a similar process, however you will probably not be interrogated.
It is possible to cross the border by foot.
The Verkhny Lars - Darial Gorge crossing was reopened on March 1st, 2010 and since July 2011 is open for international travellers as well. Getting into Georgia via Abkhazia is not possible. For more specific information, check the Abkhazia article.
It's no problem to walk over the checkpoints between Latvia and Russia.
No border from Lithuania to the main land of Russia (so you have to go via Latvia), but there are several border crossings between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast
As there is currently no chance for independent travelling/hitch hiking in North Korea, there is also no possibility to cross the border by hitch hiking.
The high amount of security between Murmansk and the border with Norway is a relic of Soviet rule, when people could escape into Norway without fear of being deported, unlike Finland. You will find that it isn't possible to walk to the border. From about 5 km out you will need to be in a vehicle. However, hitching is no problem, provided your documents and registration are in order (they will be checked). The army may also assist you in getting a ride at the military check points. If you are leaving Russia, prepare to be interrogated at the Russian side of the border about your journey.
The country is Russia's eternal 'native brother' and, despite all the political mess that constantly happens between the two states, Ukraine is one of the countries that is very easy to enter from Russia (Russians do not even need a foreign passport to enter it, as well as for Belarus). Make sure that the border crossing is working before attempting to use it. The big gate on the M2/E95 road (Moscow to Kharkiv) can be crossed on foot, which is very convenient because you do not have to wait in the line of the cars and you wont make your driver wait for you in case you have any delays with your passport. You will have to leave the car before all the checkpoints begin, though, or you will be considered a car passenger by the border police.
Russian number plates contain a region code, that indicates the origin of the car and possibly the drivers destination. You can write it on a cardboard instead of a place name and use while thumbing. See Russian plate numbers for a list.
As for 2014, a traveller may find at least 2 or 3 hostels in any city with population higher than 400k population. The average price is about 500 rubles (in some towns it may go as low as 300 RUR). Quality and amount of hostels in Moscow and St. Perersburg are renown for bad quality and high prices. Hostel network is gradually spreading over the country. To find both accommodation and company, you can also use Hospitality Club, CouchSurfing and Russian+Ukranian+Belorussian Livejournal community Vpiska. The official language of the latter is Russian but you can use English as well (ask other members to translate your post to Russian in the end of your message if you like). Just post the name of the locations you are planning to stay in, or your route, the dates of your possible arrival, the number of your party, some information about you and your mobile number.
If travelling long distances through the country, it is advisable to bring a sleeping bag and tent. If sleeping by the side of the road, try to find a place obscured by trees, and avoid places with stray dogs. Sleeping by the road is usually very safe, provided you are not visible. Security guards and police will usually not bother you even if they see you, since nature-tourism is still quite popular in Russia.
Long-distance truck drivers are often very hospitable, and many will allow you to sleep in the second bunk of their cab.
There are many transit drivers taking cars across the country to and from Vladivostok. You may find yourself with one of these drivers for a number of days. There have been isolated incidents where people sleeping in these transit cars have been attacked and had their car stolen, and so the drivers may want you to stay with them for their own safety.
- Story about hitchhiking from Rotterdam to Vladivostok (English)
- Story about hitchhiking from Hamburg to Lake Baikal (English)
- Stories about hitchhiking around remote Siberian regions (English)
- Russian hitchhiking website (Russian)
- Russian backpacker & hitchhiker's forum (Russian)
- Academy of Free Travel, Moscow based hitchhiking club (Russian)
- Livejournal 'Vpiska' community, mostly (Russian) but (English) speakers are also welcome
- Russian hitchhiking communities. (Russian), but you can ask questions and get replies in (English)
- Hitchhiking in the Russian far east (English)
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