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Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for the Trans-Mongolian Train

Rosanna in a train carriage.

This ultimate packing list is brought to you by Rosanna Bird. Affiliate links are denoted by an asterisk*.

The Trans-Mongolian Railway is one of those iconic train journeys that bring up images of a bygone era of luxurious travel. But as a frugal traveller, you’ll experience a different type of journey in the platskartny (3rd class open compartments, kind of like a hostel on wheels). The most popular route runs from Moscow through Mongolia (via the Trans-Mongolian) to Beijing. You could spend 6 days straight on the train, but it’s more worthwhile (and fun) to make several stops along the way.

Depending on how long you’re planning to spend in each country, you might need to pack for anything from a couple of weeks to a few months. I spent October and November of 2009 travelling west from Beijing to Moscow. The weather at this time can be changeable, so layers are the way to go. By November it is definitely “winter weather”’, with temperatures in southern Siberia dropping to an average of -15 Celsius/ 5 Fahrenheit.

Travelling at this time of year means there are relatively few tourists, but the down side is the short daylight hours and restricted winter opening hours of tourist attractions (some museums are closed for half the week). You’ll have a lot of free time when on the train, but also in the evenings when you don’t want to go out in the cold. Bring your own entertainment!

The most difficult thing I had to deal with was doing laundry. There is little budget accommodation between Irkutsk and Moscow, so finding a place to get laundry done was impossible (one place charged $4 per item of underwear!!). Instead, plan on washing your inner layers (underwear, t-shirts, socks) regularly and save up the rest for when you’re staying at a hostel. The more underwear you bring, the less hand-washing you’ll have to do.

Clothing:

1 winter coat
glovesIt’s a pain to take them on and off in the cold so I suggest the ones where you can flip back the top to free your finger tips for fiddly tasks.
hat and scarf or snoodgood for protecting the face from winter wind
1 micro-fleece
1 sweater/hoody
4 long-sleeve tops2 tees/2 warmer knits
4 vest tops/tees
1 pair of yoga pantsor sweat pants if you want to fit in with the Russians
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of cargo trousers or similar
2 pairs of leggings or 1 fleecy/insulated baselayereven though you’re layered up elsewhere, you’ll still be cold if you neglect your legs
5 pantiestry some ExOfficio
5 pairs of warm socksI’m prone to chill blains, so I took more and wore them doubled up
3 bras

Optional Clothing:

bikini/swimming costumejust in case – perhaps an icy dip in Lake Baikal?
skirt or dressif you plan on hitting up the clubs – just make sure you layer!

Shoes:

1 pair flipflops or pair slip-on shoesfor wandering around the train or hostel rooms
1 pair hiking shoes or 1 pair of winter bootswith good tread for icy paths

Rosie at Baikal
Rosie at Baikal

Toiletries:

The usual stuff you would take with you on any trip is what you should pack.

moisturizer and exfoliatorCold weather and dry heating will leave your skin looking grey and flaky. Use an exfoliating mitt for your whole body (a softer one for your face). You’ll probably want three types of moisturizer; body, face and lips.
razor/hair removalIt might be easier to save yourself for a salon wax at the end of your trip!

Other Stuff:

Camera, universal adapter, padlock, towel etc.Whatever you would travel with on a normal back-packing trip.

The following are more specific to train travel or staying in a ger in Mongolia.

Laundry:

travel clothes line
detergent or shampoo
travel sink plug

Logistics

Guide bookA good guidebook is essential if you plan on hopping on and off the train on the spur of the moment (Trans-Siberian Handbook* is very thorough)
phrase bookparticularly in Russia where people usually don’t speak English outside of the main tourist destinations
note book and penfor jotting notes and asking ticket sellers to write down information, such as train times and departure dates, when neither of you speak the same language

Entertainment:

This will depend on if you’re bringing a computer/smart phone etc, but I’d suggest several reading books, a deck of cards, travel chess/games compendium, sketch book… use your imagination!

Miscellaneous:

train lunch
train lunch

torch/headlightfor finding your way from ger to toilet in the dark Mongolian night
toilet paper, wet wipesespecially in Mongolia
thermos with cup lidyou can borrow cute glass tea cups on the train in Russia, but you might also want your own for different drinks or snacks
instant oatmeal or cup-a-soup packetsan easy, warm snack for the train – hence the cup
water canteenyou can get hot water on the train, but when you’re stuck for hours at the Russian-Mongolian border and can’t get off the train, you’ll want cold water, too
penknife, spoon, forkfor picnics on the train (maybe even a lunchbox or reusable bags if you want to cut down on plastic)
sleep mask, ear plugs, sleeping pillsI actually found it really easy to sleep on the train, but if you’re a light sleeper, or bothered by the rocking motion you might need help to get a good night’s sleep
sarongmulti-use; if the person above you doesn’t mind, you can hang it from the top bunk to create privacy on the bottom bunk
sleep sackfor extra piece of mind, although sheets on the train are freshly-laundered

A note about money:

Since you won’t always be able to pay by credit/debit card, try to have enough cash to cover your costs for at least a few days (obviously take safety precautions with how you carry it). ATMs are not hard to find in Russia, but they may not always accept your card. In Mongolia, the ATMs in Ulan Bator had a limit on how much you could take out each day. Also, make sure you change all your Mongolian tugrik into Russian ruble (or dollars) before you leave the country because banks won’t exchange tugrik outside of Mongolia.

If you want to match the elegance of the Russian ladies, you could pick up a fur coat or hat and team it with high heel boots (yes, even on icy pavements). Or perhaps you’d rather save your money for more practical Mongolian boots, which you can buy at the Naran Tuul (black market) in Ulan Bator.


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TRANS-MONGOLIAN TRAIN packing list for women

——
About the author: Born in Spain but brought up in the UK, Rosanna enjoys vivid colours, ghost stories and archaeology. Having spent the last four years in Asia, she is now on her way to exploring South America. Follow her on twitter @RosannaBird and her blog Awaiting A Name.

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Travel Resources

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Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)


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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Mary says

    Ahh, wish I would have had this list before taking the Trans-Siberian a month ago (I went the opposite direction, though)…I did not pack nearly enough clothes and ended up being quite stinky when I got off the train in Irkutsk. And freezing cold in Ulaanbaatar. Also, I did not pack any food but fortunately ended up getting fed by two Russian guys and a grandmother for the first 5 days on the train! Platskartny is definitely the way to go.

    I think having your own thermos/cup is especially good for when you’re stuck on the train for multiple days – you can’t take a shower, but with the cup, you can mostly wash your hair in the sink.The borrowed glass cups are a bit large to fit under the sink spout but I had a smaller plastic cup that worked very well.

    • Rachel Vagabond Baker says

      great tip about the cup re washing hair Mary! I don’t care if I smell a bit but my hair gets nasty and greasy after a couple of days {esp with little fresh air}. I’ve been debating taking {my beloved} Batiste dry shampoo but it takes up valuable space, unlike my even more beloved Lush solid shampoo. I’m definitely going to get my longish hair cut to a short bob to make this easier too.

  2. Rachel Vagabond Baker says

    This is such a great post, and perfect for me. We’re travelling west to east this October and I’ve been pondering clothing/ temperatures etc. I’m packing light but I’ll probably end up shipping stuff home from China or Vietnam {such as my snow jacket, fleece, wooly socks etc}. I love the sarong curtain tip, I can’t believe this has never occurred to me before, I’ve done heaps of overnight trains! Maybe I just don’t care!

  3. Jamee says

    Might I add/reinforce the idea of packing lightly weight-wise. I went to Mongolia in the summer, lugging a near-50lb. suitcase on the train. My suitcase was not all clothes, and I am not an overpacker–I just needed supplies for teaching English. Thankfully, I was with many strong men who were more than willing to help lift my suitcase and put it in the high (and depending on your height, hard-to-reach) luggage racks.
    Also, in the summer with crowded trains, you may not be as privileged to have air conditioning. It may be cool where you board or get off of the train, but consider layering long sleeves, short sleeves, hoodies, or whatever you feel most comfortable in for traveling.
    One last thing: if you get on or off the train at a small village in Mongolia (i.e. not Ulaanbaatar), you will have very limited time…my fellow English teachers and I were told 2 minutes. Of course train officials will keep the train at the station until they see that you have gotten yourself and all of your belongings on/off the train, but just another emphasis on packing as lightly and as consolidated as possible! Just keep track of where you need to depart the train and be ready to move quickly at the train door when the train stops!

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