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Budget Travel: Is It Worth It?

Polina Ivanova, an HSE student, talks about budget travel with friends around Russia.

Budget Travel: Is It Worth It?

Three girls Masha, Polina and Liza are fond of travelling, penetrating into Russian history and falling in love with the world having budget travel. Polina, who is a student of Moscow Higher School of Economics campus, talks to HSE Illuminated about travelling around Russia, existing difficulties and the spirit of adventure.

Hi, Polina! Will you, please, say some words about yourself.

Hi. I'm a second-year student of Urban Development and Spatial Planning MA at Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism.

I know that you have travelled with your friends a lot. Tell us about the idea of budget travel and how you came up with this idea.

The idea came as a result of an emerging desire to travel and lack of money to do so. In the past my friends and I studied to receive our bachelor's degree, we didn't have a steady job, but we wanted to have adventures.

In addition, the idea of budget travel came when you realize how expensive it can be to travel in Russia. I once searched for prices for a winter trip to Baikal, and the article said that the minimum price was 100,000 rubles. When you realize that you can't afford to pay that much, but you want to go, you start coming up with your own itineraries.

Can you explain the essence of budget travelling? What is its key features?

For me, the essence of budget travel is the maximum experience with a minimum of money spent. It's a real adventure that you can get.

Which destinations did you reach with friends? How did you choose them?

Initially, the idea of travelling was born with me and two of my friends. And almost immediately the three of us decided that we wanted to travel around Russia. Then gradually the wave of popularity of traveling to small towns, unknown and beautiful places in our country began. And we realized that, on the one hand, there were few places in Russia where we have been, but on the other hand, travelling could be easy, fast, and inexpensive. We didn't have any kind of travel plan or the to-do list. We made our choices based on whether it sounded cool or on the possible length of the trip.

Could you name one trip that you find an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience?

Probably, for me, it was a trip to Yaroslavl. The reason was the unfortunate choice of lodging. Some kind of mix-ups happened and we lived in very poor conditions, anti-hygienic. Since it was not originally planned, it turned out as a surprise for everyone. Then I took a lesson that it's always better to double-check everything.

What challenges of this kind of travel could you name?

Difficulties are everywhere and nowhere. If you start looking, the list is endless. Our principle was rather that we were ready for any difficulties. And if we decided to go somewhere, we had to do everything to make it go well, or at least to be funny.

Could you remember the harshest situations you had to face during the trips?

It's difficult to single out something to be the hardest. With friends everything is easier to go through. And in the end all situations were solved. It was hard, as I said, to live in uncomfortable conditions. Sometimes there were situations when it was urgent to change everything and look for new housing, change routes, buy new tickets. Sometimes we ran out of money, sometimes we were late for trains. In general, different things happened, but everything can be solved when there are people around who are willing to help.

Were people warm-hearted to you and willing to help you along the journeys?

Yes, in fact, the random strangers you meet along the way often turn out to be amazingly kind and unselfish people. We've had several instances where they've helped us to get to town. And once on Valaam we lost our way and realized we wouldn't make it back in time for the shuttle, and we were very helped by a monk who agreed to take us by boat to the neighboring shore. Along the way he told us stories. It was wonderful.

If we talk about the preparation for a journey, what should be considered (when choosing the place to go and collecting all the necessary things)?

The weather of the place you chose and the interests of all participants of the trip should be taken into account when preparing. This will give the understanding of the route and the things you need along the journey.

Do you have any division of responsibilities between you and your friends during the preparation?

We always had one participant of the trip engaged in buying tickets and booking an apartment, and the other participant in drawing up the itinerary for the trip.

For whom is this kind of travel? For which things should you be prepared, if you want to travel this way?

In fact, it's a journey for everyone. Everyone defines budget travel differently. Depending on the definition, you can distinguish the target audience. We happened to have a major phase of travel during our time as bachelor students. But you can find many stories of people dropping everything and going traveling at any age. There are no limits.

Which unique experience can tourists receive during budget travels unlike a so called package tours?

The uniqueness lies in the discovery of new places and new experiences. Sometimes the most vivid memories you get when you go off the beaten path. That's what happened on Valaam.

If the readers are thinking of setting off on such a journey, which tips would you name?

You have to be ready for anything and just enjoy every day. I would say: Never forget safety. It's being able to call in an emergency and having little money to spare. I also advise everyone to create their own survival kit, with all the necessary things for emergencies.

Are there any omissions in travelling through Russia? Which difficulties can foreigners face in Russia?

In recent years, Russia is quite actively developing in the field of tourism. And, of course, infrastructure for foreigners is being created in the largest cities. But one of the difficulties remains is the language barrier. And, of course, it is virtually impossible to travel around Russia budgetary without the knowledge of the Russian language. Because the benefit is very often the result of fortunate circumstances. Here you get lucky and someone agrees to give you a lift by car, for example.

Please, name top-5 destinations, which are worth seeing in Russia.

I would suggest these places to visit:
1. Republic of Karelia
2. The Murmansk Region
3. Lake Baikal
4. The Far East
5. The Urals

This is a fairly large area and the main criterion for their selection - Nature.

Summarizing, would you like to continue exploring the world? Which places are also on your list?

For me, being able to travel is one of my global goals. I understand that it is important for me to visit other cities, countries. Once I tried to make a list of desirable destinations, but I realized that it could be described in short - the whole world.

Interview by
Liubov Zaytseva