There are many variables when estimating the cost of travel to a foreign country especially one like Russia where the economic conditions are constantly changing. Below is just a general guideline on what you can expect to pay for your traveling related services.
The cost of your air transportation from your home city to your final destination will be determined by the following factors: City pairs (origination and destination cities), Time of year, Air Carrier, Class of service and the Travel Agency that you book through. You ticket could be nearly free if traveling on a Frequent Flier award (usually you only pay for taxes) or nearly $2500 for a first class seat. An economy class seat purchased in advance through a consolidator for travel from NYC to Moscow could be in the range of $400 - $800 depending on the time of year.
Be careful of hiding costs associated with your choose of air travel to Russia. Your choice of airline could require you to spend a night in their hub city on the return leg or they could land at an airport located a greater distance away from your lodging. In both of these cases there will be additional expenses associated with these inconveniences.
The cost of your lodging while in Russia will depend on the property’s caliber (budget, moderate or luxury), its location (the actual city and location within the city) and the time of year (warm/dry verses cold/wet months) you wish to stay. It can range from a budget rate of $10 per night for a small private Russian style apartment to a ridiculous $350 per night for a tourist hotel near Red Square, Moscow. Certainly these rates reflect two ends of an extreme spectrum. A more reasonable expectation would be around $50 per night for a one or two bedroom apartment remodeled to a western standard of fixtures and furnishings located in a major city near a Metro station.
Private Car rentals are possible in the major cities but it is not recommended for the casual Russian tourist since the risk of encountering a corrupt traffic officer will be an expensive interaction. Unless you are an experienced traveler to Russia with a reasonable grasp of the language and traffic laws it is prudent to use the public transportation.
There can be as many as 4 options for public transportation in the major cities. They are: Metro, Bus, Taxi Bus or Mini Bus, Taxi. Each is more expensive than the previous but from a western perspective they will be very affordable.
Major cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow offer an efficient and extensive public rail system referred to as the Metro. Buses along with the Metro are the most widely used public transportation systems by the local citizens. Each provides service to millions of riders every day. They are reasonably fast, very efficient and extremely economical. They are generally clean and safe even through they are old and extremely overcrowded during rush hour. Cost of a ride on the Metro or Bus is trivial, about 1/5 of $1.
Unless your lodging is within walking distance of a Metro station you can use a municipal Bus or private Taxi Bus to get from you lodging to the closest Metro station. Buses are predominant in all Russian cities so there should be bus stop within a short walking distance. They arrive every 15 – 30 minutes and make frequent stops along their route. Taxi Buses or Mini Buses usually travel the same route as the regular Bus but they are smaller and carry a smaller passenger load. Once they are full they don’t stop again until they get to their final destination which is usually the closest Metro station or designated community locations. Private Taxi Buses cost more than the municipal Buses but they offer a faster service when you are located a long distance away from a Metro station. Fares are paid per person and are about $1. Here are some tips on how to use the buses in Russia.
A private Taxi is always an option for your ground transportation needs. Fares are based on distance traveled but are usually negotiated before departure if you flag down a passing driver. The fare you pay as a western tourist will probably be much higher than those negotiated by a Russian speaking local.
Once you are in Russia you will certainly want to eat. The cost of food will depend mostly on how you obtain it. The range of options are probably the same as they are where you live. You can dine out in a variety of restaurants of all calibers or local cafes, you can cook your own meals if you are staying in an apartment with a kitchen, or you may be invited to someone else’s home for a truly authentic meal.
Dining out can be as simple as grabbing a ‘shishlik’ (barbequed pork on a skewer) from a vendor at the bus stop (< $2) to a sit down restaurant as elegant as you can afford. There is a full range in between to suit any taste and budget. If you are in one of the major cities you will find some recognizable places such as TGIF Friday’s, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Be certain to check these places out, not so much for the food but to see how American culture is portrayed in another country. Although these places may be common for you, they may be exotic for your Russian lady friends so ask if they are interested in trying some of this kind of food as a cultural experience. These are good choices for a simple lunch although you will find the prices a bit higher than you may be accustomed to. There are a few on-line restaurant guides you can review for the major cities unless you can obtain a local recommendation for a good restaurant, otherwise you will have to be adventurous and spontaneous on your selection of where to dine. You can have a nice dinner for 2 with a bottle of wine for around $30 most anywhere in Russia although you should plan for a bit more if you are dining in major tourist areas. Lunch cost would be about $15 for two.
‘Dining In’ or cooking at your apartment is certainly more cost effective than dining out. Food is usually obtained from open markets located at the Metro stations or neighborhood communities. Food acquisition is more akin to a European style of small market vendors than to the one-stop mega food stores common in America. Typically Russians buy their food fresh to be used with in a couple of days. They also buy smaller quantities per purchase but more frequently than do Americans. The reason is simple, what you buy you have to carry home. This along with smaller kitchen storage areas means you may have to limit what you purchase your first time at the market. This is usually not a problem since you will probably pass by a market or two every time you return home. You will find the markets busiest in the early evening hours (5 - 7pm) as people leave work and pick up fresh food on the way home.
If you are a typical urban American then you will experience a new way of doing things when you visit the local Russian food markets. Bigger cities will have more familiar style of food stores that carry an assortment of fresh and packaged foods. Usually prices are clearly marked on the item. Food is usually priced by the piece or by weight in Kilograms (1 Kilogram = 2.2 Pounds). Liquid products such as milk or juice are sold in 1 liter cartons. You will see some familiar brands such as Nestle but more often most brands will be Russian. Near most Metro stations there will be a market of food stores or small vendors. Each vendor in the market is an independent business and sells there product to you through a window or from behind a counter. They each tend to specialize but some sell the same products as other vendors in the market. They can have different prices on the same product so shop around to familiar yourself with what each vendor sells and what their prices are. Don’t be too shocked if you are charged a few rubles for a bag to carry your purchase in. If you are planning on using the markets frequently consider bringing or purchasing a light weight but strong shoulder bag to carry home your purchases. If you are doing your shopping with your lady then it is customary that the man carries the load. Make sure you take the initiative to do this to avoid creating an offense.
The major cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow have the most diversity of cultural attractions to offer but there is something to be found in other cities as well. The cost of entertainment will certainly depend on what you want and can do while you are visiting a Russian city. Depending on the city you’re in you may be able to visit various cultural attractions such as palaces, cathedrals, museums and theater. Certainly this will be an ideal way for you to enjoy the local and historical culture of Russia while spending some quality time with your lady. Costs for most cultural attractions are nominal usually less than $10 for you and far less for Russian citizens. You should be aware that there is usually a two tier price scale for admission to most of the major cultural attractions, one for tourist and one for Russians. For example the admission for famous sites like the Kremlin in Moscow or Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg will be about $.50 for citizens and $10 for non citizens. Similar differences will usually occur at the major palaces, cathedrals and theater performances. Your lady will probably know this and may offer to purchase your admission for you at the Russian rate. Regardless of the admission you pay you will enjoy one of the most incredible cultural experiences imaginable and your admission will be used appreciatively by the facility for its on-going maintenance and restoration.
If you are visiting during a warm and dry time of year you will be fortunate to be able to explore the free open public spaces to enjoy a rich variety of architecture, statues, monuments, public parks, gardens, churches and open markets. Just walking around can be a great way to spend time talking with your lady while soaking up the cultural differences between your home town and the Russian city you are visiting.
Don’t overlook the opportunity to leave the city and travel by train or bus to see the nearby natural beauty that abounds throughout Russia. There maybe lakes, rivers, mountains and seas to visit and relax at with your lady. It will be a small cost to use public transportation if a private car is not available to take you where you wish to go.
Regardless of what you can do while in Russia keep in mind that your primary purpose is to spend time with the lady or ladies you came to visit. Be certain that your choices for activities together support this goal and enhance, not inhibit, your opportunities for communication and interaction. For example, seeing a play or ballet together may be a wonderful cultural experience for you, it will be time spent together that has minimal personal interaction.