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Solo Female Travel: Traveling Alone in Russia as a Woman

Traveling alone in Russia as a woman

The following interview on solo female travel in Russia comes from Katie Aune.

Originally from Minnesota, I practiced law for six years before switching to a career in fundraising. I took a 13-month career break in 2011-12 to travel through all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union, a journey that included riding the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway, volunteering in Armenia, teaching English in Tajikistan, running a marathon in Estonia, camping in the desert in Turkmenistan and doing my best to speak Russian on a daily basis.

Since I returned to working full-time, I continue to travel as much as possible, usually to off the beaten path destinations like Mali, Burkina Faso, Bulgaria and Kosovo. Most recently, I relocated from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to start a new job in fundraising for the National Geographic Society.

Why did you decide to travel to Russia by yourself?

I majored in Russian & East European Studies in college and have pretty much been obsessed with Russian history since I was in high school. I always wanted to travel there, but felt like I needed to go for more than just 2 weeks that I could do as a vacation. So when I decided to take a year-long career break, Russia was central to my plans. I ended up spending 3 months there!

In Sergiev Posad, outside of Moscow
In Sergiev Posad, outside of Moscow

Did you have any trouble traveling solo there?

I didn’t. I had heard that I would need to be really careful in Moscow, looking out for pickpockets on the subway, etc. but I never had any issues. I am sure it helped that I blended in well while I was there – because I arrived as seasons were changing, I bought most of my outerwear in St Petersburg, as well as a new shoulder bag, so I looked like a local! I also speak some Russian so that helped too.

Did you ever feel unsafe?

Never.

Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from traveling solo in Russia.

I took the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way across the country from Vladivostok to Moscow and I had some great experiences along the way. In one instance, I shared a train compartment with a Russian teacher who helped me practice my Russian, even helping to translate my horoscope for me! Another time, I shared a compartment with a man who was trying to learn English – he was so excited to practice with me and used my Russian-English dictionary to ask me questions.

With my homestay host daughter's English class outside of St Petersburg
With my homestay host daughter’s English class outside of St Petersburg

Were there any special precautions you took to feel safer while traveling solo?

It wasn’t really on purpose to feel safe, but as I mentioned above, I think it helped that I was wearing the same clothing as the locals and didn’t stand out as a tourist. And of course speaking the language helps a lot. I also just used common sense, not wandering around by myself late at night and not drinking a lot – I always knew where I was and what I was doing.

Did you meet any other solo female travelers while you were there?

I can remember meeting one in St Petersburg. Otherwise, I met several couples, pairs of friends or solo males.

What luggage did you bring with you to Russia?

I carried an Eagle Creek backpack (I think 55L), a North Face daypack and a shoulder bag that I bought in St Petersburg after my original one broke. When traveling by train in Russia, backpacks are a lot more practical as you can easily fit them in luggage bins under the bunks – suitcases likely wouldn’t fit.

Hiking in Stolby Nature Reserve outside of Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Hiking in Stolby Nature Reserve outside of Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Were there any items you were glad you brought with you or that you wished you had brought?

I was very glad to have my Russian phrasebook and an unlocked cell phone (to get a local SIM card). Anything else I needed, I could find there.

What’s your number 1 tip for females traveling solo to Russia?

Learn to read the Cyrillic alphabet and learn at least a few basic phrases in Russian. It will make getting around so much easier and outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, there isn’t much English spoken, so knowing at least a little Russian will help a lot.

About the Author: Katie Aune is a thirty-something Minnesota native, long time Chicago resident & recent transplant to Washington, DC. She took a career break in 2011-12 to travel and volunteer throughout the former Soviet Union and, since returning to work full-time, continues to travel as much as possible, as far off the beaten path as possible. You can follow her adventures on katieaune.com, or by following @katieaune on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

Solo Female Travel in Russia

Written by Brooke

I run the show at Her Packing List and love packing ultralight. In fact, I once traveled for 3 entire weeks with just the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag. When I'm not obsessing over luggage weight, I'm planning adventures or just snuggling with my pet rabbit, Sherlock Bunz.

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Comments

  1. Josephine Pop says

    I lived in Moscow for about 6 months back in 2010 and would totally agree, I rode around the metro all the time and never had any issue with pickpockets, or any safety concerns.

  2. cortnie callahan says

    Finally!!!…now I can feed my love for Russia and I don’t need anyone to go with me!!! Thank you for the inspiration!!!!

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