Russia Safety

Safety is a relative term, not only between different countries of the world, but also between people. Clued-up travellers who use their common sense are likely to enjoy trouble-free trips to Russia. Bear in mind the following nuggets of advice.

• Be aware of your surroundings and acquire as much local knowledge as you can before (and during) your stay. Try not to go wandering around at night, especially if you look like a tourist (huge backpack = giveaway) and especially if you are a non-white. Regrettably, senseless racist attacks do occur in Russia. Read up on a destination before you arrive, and ask staff at your guesthouse or hotel (if they speak English) about unsafe areas. The more you know, the safer you will be.

• Keep an eye on your stuff and don't flash it about. Think before cracking out your laptop, iPhone and fancy SLR in a train carriage, especially in Platskart. The majority of Russians are good people, but don't tempt the dishonest or desperate. Stick to books unless you are happy with the company you are in, and keep your valuables with you at all times. In platskart consider sleep using your bag as a pillow (if it's small enough to do so) and try to book a lower bunk in kupe if you can, as below your bed there is an enclosed compartment to stash your stuff securely.

• Be friendly but cautious in who you speak to and who you trust. The majority of Russians are curious and friendly people, if a hard nut to crack at first, and you will enjoy engaging with them. However, keep your wits about you as there are a small minority who will look to take advantage. Don't get blind drunk on vodka and lose your sensibilities. Take drinks from a common bottle if others are drinking from it, but take note of what you you drink and where it comes from.

• Watch what you say! Don't be critical of Russia. Apart from being thoroughly impolite, it may aggravate people. Flatter the Russians you speak to with praise about their beautiful country and you will be welcomed into their hearts. If you can win over your fellow passengers there will be there for you if you ever need their help; Russians are loyal to kindred spirits.

• Learn some Russian. Polite phrases, niceities and other train-specific phrases and words are essential. A phrasebook (see Russian language) for a recommendation) is a great idea and will aid communication and help break the ice. More than likely, your fellow passengers will take it off you and be in fits of laughter reading the Russian and English phrases!

• Be careful what you take pictures of. Russians can be suspicious of Westerners with cameras - a paranoid hangover from the Cold War, perhaps - and people have been arrested for taking pictures of structures as innocent as train stations. Avoid taking pictures of police, military and any corresponding buildings, however beautiful they may look.

• Keep your train tickets in order, as well as photocopies of all your documents ready for presentation to the authorities if needed, keep your registration current and don't overstay your visa. Police shakedowns of tourists do occur in popular tourist areas, and sometimes they can confiscate your passport for a fine (read: bribe). If you are approached by anyone in uniform (whether geniune or impersonation - it happens, albeit rarely), show only photocopies. If you are suspicious about the identity of someone waving a badge or wearing a uniform, suggest you go to your embassy or the nearest police station.

• I don't mean to put the fear of God up you by this kind of advice. You're unlikely to run into any trouble at all during your time in Russia, but if you do, the above are practical, common sense steps based on my personal experience in the Motherland. For further excellent and up-to-date advice, check out the Know Before You Go page to read about the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Travel Advice campaign.

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