Real Russia Review
I first came across Real Russia when looking at the best way to get Trans-siberian Express tickets. Their name had cropped up time after time on blogs and travel sites so I thought I'd have a look what all of the hype was about (I'm very glad I did!). Its safe to say that without them, I probably wouldn't have been able to have the confidence to do this mammoth trip on my own. The thought of getting tickets, numerous visas and traveling around the largest country in the world seemed too complex to manage.
I originally just used the site to get get Trans-monglian Express train tickets. However, I ended up using Real Russia for my visas (Russian, Mongolian & Chinese) too due to me being so impressed with their services.
Their website makes applying for tickets very easy. The two main problems for attempting to buy the tickets on your own are that you can't buy all parts of your journey form the same provider, and that tickets don't actually go on sale until a few months before departure. When tickets do eventually go on sale, a very large majority of them are snapped up by tour companies which makes it hard to get your hands on them. The application process on the site deals with both of these. All you have to do is select a rough itinerary. You place which cities you want to begin and end in, as well as which cities you wish to stop off at along the way and for how long. You then get a list of all available trains that fit that itinerary and choose which ever ones suit you best. A small, but great help that I found was that all train times on their site are local times, where as if you are to book them on your own, they come up in Moscow time. This might not seem like a major issue but when you're trying to plan an itinerary though seven or eight cities on the biggest country on Earth its a major help. Once you've selected your tickets, all you have to do is pay. Now the tickets are slightly more expensive than face value (around 10%) however, i really think for all the hassle and worry they save you this is definitely worth it.
Tickets for each part of your journey are released at different times and Real Russia books them on behalf of you as soon as this happens. Once your tickets are all booked, they send them off to you first class next day delivery, complete with a guide to registering your visas in Russia and a guide telling you how to read the tickets (which are completely in Russian!)
For me, applying and sorting visa applications seemed even more of a mammoth task than getting the tickets. Once again, Real Russia made the process stunningly simple. I had opted to do the Trans-mongolian route which meant getting a Russian, Chinese and Mongolian visa. They do an all in service for round £400 where all you need to do is send all the relevant information off to them and they do all the sorting and sending off for you, then just return your passport when everything is done. You can read about the process and what you need to send off on my other post here. Again, they charge slightly more for the service than what it would cost to do it on your own but its definitely worth it. When you've chosen them, you get your own personal assistant to deal with your application. They can be contacted at any time and help you along the way. They update you when they're sending applications off and when they return as well sorting the letter of invitation out for you for the Russian visa. Another massive help is sorting out the biometrics process out for you, also for the Russian visa. You get to select a date and time and they book it for you. They then have a courier that meets you outside the embassy with all the documents that you will need.