Frequently Asked Questions
How does it work?
We combine travellers coming and going in all directions - so you could be with the same people from start to finish, or meeting new people in every city. We don't think you need your hand held on a train (how hard can it be right?), so we provide a Honcho in each city. After meeting your travel companions on day 1, your Honcho will give you a run down of what to expect (a pre-departure meeting) and assist the group with whatever they need - local transport directions to the Kremlin, translation of chat up lines in a café, an impromptu city tour taking in the best sites, internet cafes and cheap supermarkets, advice on phoning home… whatever. They will also have a stack of great ideas about what you can get up to during your stay. As there are no set activities, you can choose to do your own thing, or hang out with the Honcho and go on their recommended excursions - paying local transport and your own entrance fees all the way.
When its time to move on your Honcho will let you know what time the transfer from the accommodation to the station is and assist the group getting settled on the train… a few tears are shed and you roll off into the sunset/sunrise! When you arrive at your next city, there's a smiling Honcho waiting for you with a transfer to the accommodation & another city to explore! Too easy…
When to travel?
We're really not fussed. The departures run all year round, so plan one to fit with your round-the-world trip, a full moon party in Thailand, the next solar eclipse in South America… whatever works for you. Go in summer - hot (more beer please!) or winter - cold (more vodka please!). The train schedules may change a little bit, but that's all part of the fun - 2.30am departure to Vladivostok anyone?
What's the difference?
In case you haven't figured it out yet - this is travel no-frills style! We know that independent travellers are perfectly able to look after themselves and don't want to pay through the nose for bus sightseeing tours, and all the other things that bump up the costs. What you DO want is basic accommodation, the opportunity to meet other travellers and some good solid advice on getting about from a local who doesn't get paid on commission.
We also avoid the usual pretty documents/vouchers/maps/luggage tags - all of which end up in the bin and kill a few trees along the way. Buy your own choice of guidebook if you want one, or get whatever info is relevant to your trip from the web.
Why 18-35? Is this just a big piss-up tour?
We aren't interested in selling drinking tours - there are plenty of people out there who do that well. Basically, Vodkatrain is what you make it - we have no agenda… so if you want to drink your way to next Sunday - that's your choice, but most of our travellers enjoy the sort of balance that comes with an appreciation for the destinations you're in.
We run the classic 18-35 age group because lets face it - no one wants to share their room with an intrepid grandma… don't get us wrong, we love our grandmas but when you're travelling in a group, you don't want to be dragging your heels while Aunt Helda catches up, or sheepishly sneaking in to your room at 4am! Young travellers have different expectations and different views on how a destination should be experienced. With Vodkatrain you're sure to travel with some like-minded people from across the world… we like it that way.
So, why did you call it Vodkatrain?
Vodkatrain is a revolution born out of the bureaucracy and beauty of Russian travel - and there is nothing more Russian than Vodka, and nothing more local than trains… so for us it was an easy decision. And the logo just looks good. It has meant an uphill battle to get over that initial perception - but then again, Vodkatrain is aimed at young, intelligent people who are seeking the freedom to experience each destination with local knowledge and on their own terms… so if you're a bit hung-up on the name, it might not be your thing.
So how much money will I need to bring with me?
How long is a piece of string? Our recommended budget varies depending on where you are going and how much you want to do when you are there. As a general guide, St Petersburg and Moscow are of similar cost to major European cities for meals and sightseeing. Siberia and Mongolia are considerably less expensive, but you should still allow US$5-$10 per meal (not including any alcohol you might want to drink), and US$2-$5 for most sightseeing entrances. China is still cheap for eats, but the sightseeing can get more pricey with so many major attractions to see in Beijing - US$5-$10 for entrances, but plenty of other fun things to do for less. On the train, you can spend US$3-$8 on meals in the dining car, or stock up before you leave. If we had to give an overall opinion, budget US$30-$40 per day, not including souvenirs.
With our 'no inclusions' policy it is up to you to decide what to do and see, as suits your budget. Our Honchos are there to help you stretch your money with advice on public transport, cheap places to eat and fun things to do that aren't necessarily aimed at tourists and don't cost the earth.
Who are you anyway?
Behind this 'oh-so-funky' exterior beats the heart of Sundowners, a very sensible company with 30+ years experience of running trips in Asia and the former Soviet Union. Since the average age of the staff is 25 (not including some of the management who have been doing this since Brezhnev was in power), we thought it was about time we started offering the kind of journeys that we ourselves would want to go on.
How to book?
Just get a hold of your travel agent and ask them for a booking form, or get in contact with us through the contact page. There is a bit of paperwork required to get the visas organised, but this will all be covered when you book. Since you will need to obtain a number of visas before you travel, we recommend that you book at least 6 weeks in advance of your planned departure date. Our consultants are available by email if you have any questions - between us we've been to every single destination, traveled every train, and sampled every local brew! Too easy. The cost to obtain these visas will vary according to nationality, the Consulate or Embassy the application is made at, and the length of time you allow for the application process. Please note that requirements can vary greatly depending where you make your application, and you should check what paperwork and fees will be necessary before you apply. On booking, we will advise what visas are necessary, the minimum time required to obtain the right documents, and the order in which to apply for them.