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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. 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 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.
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. In spite of the country's size, there are very few roads, here there is little ambiguity in where you could be going, when hitching from a given location. 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). 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.
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 problem in the country. Police will usually not bother you at all, even if they know you are a foreigner (except at the border - that is another matter), 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!
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).
Some consider Russian roads are not among the safest on Earth; this might or might not be true.
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 never wants 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 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.
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).
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. It is very important to understand these rules, particularly the former. Many Russians are also not aware of these rules, and may give wrong advice. If you are staying in a hotel or hostel, they will usually register you, often for free; even if you are staying at some friend's you might ask their staff for help too. 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 hamburger 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.
Whilst it is not recommended, you may be able to risk not registering your visa. 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.
If you are travelling anywhere North of St. Petersburg, particularly around Murmansk and towards Norway, it is highly recommended that you register your visa. User haggismn had registration and other documents checked three times at the various military check points. (not including the Norwegian border itself)
- St. Petersburg
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.
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.
Unfortunately, Russia still lacks a large hostel network. You can find several hostels in Moscow and in St. Perersburg, and they are gradually spreading over the country; but as for now, in almost any city nothing of the kind is available. To find both accommodation and company, you can 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 if they see you.
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)
- 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)
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