How to Spend One Week in Russia With Only P10,000 in Your Pocket
The Russian Empire was one of the world’s longest-reigning, beginning in 1701 and ending in 1917, after the assassination and fall of the Romanovs. Remnants of its grand history are well-preserved to this day, as seen in gold-plated statues, palatial complexes, and sophisticated architecture that belie a convoluted history of war and treachery, but also of chivalry and spirituality. Yet for all its rich heritage and historic sites, Russia remains an unconventional destination where expenses are affordable.
Russia isn’t an expensive country to travel around, since the Philippine peso is actually stronger than the Russian ruble. It is possible to stretch your budget, especially if you are traveling long term. If you plan to visit, here are some hacks that will allow you to save money, but still enjoy your trip.
1| Stay at Hostels
You don’t have to stay at fancy hotels to enjoy your trip. Since you’ll be out exploring for most of the day, all you need is a place to sleep and rest. There are many affordable hostels in cities all over Russia, especially in big cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Stay in dorm rooms and spend around P500 to P600 a night. These have a homey feel with a common area and a kitchen. These are also great places to meet local and foreign tourists. You can book through sites such as booking.com, hostelworld.com, or ostrovok.ru. Some of these accommodations are also at convenient locations such as near a subway station, an attraction, or restaurants.
Russian cities have extensive public transportation networks especially in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but one of the the best ways to explore the city is by walking. Saint Petersburg is a historic center that is like one big, open-air museum. The city has many beautiful buildings that date back to the time of Catherine the Great. You’ll also see statues and stunning palaces while exploring. Kazan Cathedral, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, and Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood are also fetching structures that are picture perfect.
The Winter Palace
The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg was the official residence of the Russian Emperors from 1732 to 1917. It is now one of the world's biggest art galleries with works by the old European masters. One of the most notable artworks displayed inside is Leonardo da Vinci's "Madonna and Child".
Moscow is also a beautiful city to walk around because of its wide streets, imposing Stalinist buildings, and the Kremlin. Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the GUM Department Store are the most recognizable structures in this area. It’s nice to weave in and out of the alleys in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Here, you can find quaint cafes with little to no tourists—the perfect atmosphere for walking.
St. Basil's Cathedral is the most iconic structure in Moscow. Its design mimics the appearance of a flame.
3| Use an Online Translator, and Know Basic Phrases
English is not widely spoken in Russia, but in the big cities such as in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, there are some who speak English, but they can be difficult to come by. If you don’t want the hassle of using sign language or miscommunication, download an offline translator. Google Translate was instrumental throughout my trip. It also helps to know a few Russian words or phrases such as hello, thank you, yes, no, where is x destination, and how much is x item, just to name a few.
4| Book Train Tickets Online
If you’re planning to visit multiple destinations in Russia, book train tickets online for convenience. It is likely that the person at the counter speaks little to no English when you book a train for your onward destinations. This site allows you to buy a ticket without the hassle of queuing and going to the counter. You have to register and create an account to make reservations. You don’t need to print out the ticket, you can show the e-ticket to the conductor before boarding.
Metro Station in Saint Petersburg
5| Choose the 3rd Class Cabin (It's Fine)
For those traveling overnight or for multiple days across the country, the third-class open sleeping cabin is affordable and comfortable for non-fussy travelers. This setup also provides you with opportunities to have conversations with locals. Some are friendly and open to small talk or discussing anything under the sun. Some might offer you a drink, play an instrument, or share a snack. Most of the time, I was the only foreigner in the cabin.
6| Take the Metro
The subway in Moscow and Saint Petersburg are like museums. These have chandeliers, intricate paintings, and statues. There are stops that remind you of the country’s Soviet past. Both cities also have deep stations that make you feel like you are entering a bomb shelter. If you have the time, you can go on a tour of the many subways in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Metro Station in Moscow
7| Don't Enter all the Attractions
There are many attractions and museums in many cities in Russia. Some are cheap while others are expensive. However, you don’t have to enter all of them. Many of the palaces in Saint Petersburg are near squares or along the main road where you can see their beautiful exteriors. The Red Square in Moscow is a popular spot for both locals and foreigners. You can hang out there and still see the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral without paying an entrance fee.
Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg is another palace that was turned into museum. Here, tourists can visit during the day. Its holdings include over 320,000 artwork, artefacts, and heritage pieces.
8| Eat at Local Restaurants
You don’t have to eat at fancy restaurants during your stay in Russia. There are many canteen-style restaurants that serve local cuisine at reasonable prices (from P150 to P200 per meal). Just point at what you want. There are also many shawarma stalls and small restaurants; these are cheap and filling. The servings are large and good value for money.
Getting a visa for Russia isn’t cheap, but is straightforward and easy to get compared to other countries. You can fill out the application form here. You’ll need an invitation letter from an accredited agency. I processed mine from Express to Russia (you can access it here). The letter of invitation costs about P3500 and the single-entry visa cost P3,920. Processing time takes two weeks, so plan your trip with time to spare for possible delays.
The following are required for a Russian visa application:
- Valid passport
- Passport-size photo pasted on the application form
- Invitation letter
- Accommodation reservations
- Return flight tickets
Budget for the Trip
Russia is an affordable country if you stay at hostels, take public transportation, and eat at local restaurants. You can do a lot with just P1,500 to P2,000 a day.