ANTON  KROTOV Practice of Free Travels or Free Travels in Practice (In English) : , 1995-2007
: (), () ., 2007-08.
11.11.2008 . 93.000.













Free travel always implies contacting people. Success or failure of your trip depends heavily on how you behave, on your attitude to people and life incidents. Of the most vital importance to you is the issue of contacting local people, police and state officers and your parents. It will be dealt with in this chapter.

I've often been told that remote small towns present great danger to travellers since there live many criminally minded people, so-called "gopnik", whose primary objective is to assault you, batter and rob you of your money and other valuables. However, even if these criminals really exist you shouldn't be a bait for them: don't wear unusual haircuts, don't look neither like beggar in rags nor fashion model, better refrain from badges and pictures of any singers and musicians, as well as political symbols. All this stuff can attract a lot of trouble during your trip. Take with you only things you won't be regret for afterwards, and the best practice is to have no regrets for the things at all.

You shouldn't behave provokingly: sing or cry loudly, be drunk or in a state of intoxication.

If while walking the street in the evening you suddenly notice a strange company going to meet you, forestall their interest and ask your question first: "Tell me please, where is the road to Chelyabinsk?" or "Could you tell me please where can I spend the night here?", or "Is there a point of Internet access nearby?"

Having put the gopniks out of their standard pattern, you'll become the master of the situation. Make them wonder and say: "Where did you come from?"

Realize that natives are simply bored and want to beat you only because they can't find any other way to spend the time. Arouse curiosity to your person and distract them by talking.

If you got outstripped and natives have picked on you - keep calm, don't swear, don't get frightened, don't start a fight. Instead, try to clarify their needs calmly. It's wise to have a small amount of money in your outside pocket and let it be taken away, and hide other money (if any). If gopniks try to take away any of your things or posessions, give it to them of your own accord.

I'll remind you of one old truth: in any situation, even if it seems as bad as it can be, there is a correct behaviour and correct attitude. If correct behaviour doesn't help you, correct attitude will do anyway. One example:

Once I rode the local train Luga-Pskov. I took off my shoes, left them on the floor, climbed the upper berth and fell asleep. When train came to Pskov, I woke up but my shoes were gone forever. I went to town barefoot (it was summer), some time later found a second-hand shop and bought myself another pair of shoes. "Well, what you'd do if you hadn't money for another pair?" a slow-witted reader can ask. Of course, I'd finish my business in Pskov and ride to Moscow barefoot. By the way, there are people who always go barefoot, such as great traveller, the Citizen of the World Vladimir Nesin.

If you are a girl, watch your appearance. The things you might use for attraction of males, such as cosmetics, perfumes, short skirts and slinky clothes are very inappropriate during travel.

In general, however, the native inhabitants tend to communicate with traveller in a favorable way. The local people usually know the schedules of local trains, buses, can inform you of the location of train stations, local points of interest, cheap canteens, highways, monasteries etc. Small towns and country people often hitch-hike when moving to nearby locations and they can supply necessary information. Sometimes you may get strange and wrong information though, so take it critically.

Such contacts happen quite often during travel, as well as in ordinary russian life. It can be militia (police), different controllers, conductors, guards, special forces. If you're doing something bad at the moment of contact (stealing food from a shop or transferring drugs), then you got yourself in a mess and in that case I won't give you any advice. But ordinary traveller usually don't get caught for such serious crimes, his or her fault is quite common and negligible.

To cross the street on red light, to ask for permission to get into train or locomotive, to have no local registration or permit, to sleep in tent or on a roof, to speak loudly, to walk with backpack in public place, to look like Caucasian (and on the contrary, to differ from the locals in Caucasus), to ask for road to Omsk... there are so many ways to attract attention of arm of the law, our post-soviet law!

The first thing that the arm of the law will do - it will ask for your documents. It's very recommended to have your passport with you. Show it now.

After that you may be asked several questions and then usually let alone. Answer the questions honestly! If you're from Moscow (London, Madrid, Chicago), say it clearly. If you're going to Magadan (Singapore, Delhi), make it clear too. Don't keep to yourself the hitch-hiking way of your travel. Remember that your goal is great enough for you to be asked about it and fed.

In some places you may still be asked for your "registration". Explain the nature of your hitch-hike travel, make clear that this city is just a transit place for you and soon (today or tomorrow) you will leave it. The registration is usually necessary only after stay of 3-5 days.

Remember that a clever tongue will take you anywhere.

The truth is the engine of wise man. Do not lie even on trifles.

Do not avoid talking. The more interesting information they learn from you, the better. To one word answer with two words. A good thing is "road credentials", some officially-looking paper with seal or stamp showing that you are the member of "important expedition" and are sent by someone on a mission. Such paper can help you to avoid being detained for a long time. But if you don't have one, don't worry.

You may be searched - don't get offended by it. The search is just another occasion to talk.

So, the main components of correct behaviour are the following: 1) to be calm, 2) to have document/passport, 3) to profusely provide information. Do not run away from the cop and make no resistance to him. Naturally, do not be drunk and do not carry any drugs. Study the civil and criminal codes beforehand, when you're at home, in order to be on equal terms with a policeman.

Going back from Magadan to Moscow, A. Vinokurov and I were detained by armed guards on Chara station (Transsiberian railway) for attempts to negotiate with the locomotive engineer. We readily obeyed and told them the story of our travel, whereupon they fed us and gave us some bread, lard, onion, sugar and other food. Then we were delivered to local police. The result was that we made friends with them too, had supper and bath, then spent the night at chief policeman's home. The next day we were given the special escort which accompanied us 300km towards Moscow in sleeping car to Taksimo station, where it left the train and we continued to travel.

A traffic policeman is usually so much preoccupied with fining the drivers that sometimes he can show a bit of concern to our pedestrian life. If traffic is low and he can't find anything to busy himself, he can ask for your documents (passport). Occasionally he may try to fine you for crossing the road in unauthorized place or walking the wrong side of the highway (according to road laws, a pedestrian may walk only on the left side of the road, in the opposite direction to moving cars). Don't give him cash, let him better write out a fine receipt.

Sometimes you can ask him to stop you a car, but you should do it only as a last resort since drivers usually have no respect for policemen. Remember - if you can avoid using dark forces, don't seek help from them! It may be useful, however, to spend the night at police outpost (in some god-forsaken place).


The communications play vital role in information transmission. Most likely, you'll want to let your parents and friends know of your movements during travel or get the latest information from them.

The previous editions of this book (1995-2002) mentioned some primitive methods such as trunk call freaking, "yes-yes-no-yes" method and like. Fortunately, the technical progress nowadays allows us to leave these out-of-date methods behind. You can send sms message from your mobile phone, as well as the phone of your driver, fellow traveller or friend. You can make calls from any organization or house where there is a telephone.

But the best you can do is to master the art of the Internet. Learn your parents how to use e-mail. Being in any city of the world, come to any rich firm or public office, library or Internet-cafe and having explained your "traveling entity", ask for permission to send e-mail for free if you haven't enough money. If you are turned down, come to other place. In Russia, CIS and all civilized world Internet access can be found not only in offices, but also in many residential areas. When you stay with a host, ask permission to use his or her computer to check your e-mail. The only request - don't sit at the computer all night long!

Excessive computer addiction is certainly bad habit.

For many people of different ages their own parents may become the greatest obstacle while preparing a long journey. Unfortunately there's no universal method to accustom the parents to the free travels of the offspring. So I'll give only a few advices:

1) Awareness. Don't put on a mask! If I try to conceal my trips by saying to everybody that I go to a girlfriend's villa while actually I'm going to leave for Murmansk, thereby I subconsciously acknowledge that my trip is "bad" (since it has to be concealed), and girlfriend's villa is "good". When the lies are discovered, a great problems can arise. It's much more better to notify the people in advance by telling them the purpose and duration of your planned trip. Inform them of your moves by phone, sms, Internet and through other means. They will be glad. Acquaint your parents with another free travellers, bring them to your home to make your parents believe they really do exist. Give your parents some books about hitch-hiking, show them our website (

2) Healthy life-style. When you return home your appearance shouldn't be worse than it was when you left home, otherwise your parents may think you damage your health by doing something bad. Avoid vodka, "grass" and similar recreational activities. If when going back home you feel tired and have obnoxious smell, stay in a daylong distance from your parents' place, eat your fill, wash yourself well, make yourself presentable and only then show up to your parents. Re-read the chapter on "Life Support" once more in your spare time.

3) Safety. Many parents think travel necessarily implies great danger (especially nowadays). It means that though Moscow, St.Petersburg or any other particular place in Russia are relatively safe, nevertheless a man visiting these points in series jeopardizes himself. Hitching a local car to nearby place is quite safe, but taking a trip from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk is very dangerous. In fact, the real dangers can be easily avoided - if you're not inclined to make foolish things like start fights, lose your documents, sleep in a car rushing at full speed etc. Never forget that your safety is the result of your correct behaviour. The dangers live in the brain of a man who fears them. I have been travelling for fifteen years so far, and hundreds of respected people warned and frightened me at all this time. These imaginary dangers waited for me in Moscow and Caucasus, in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Angola and even in Latvia and Ukraine! However, none of them have materialized so far in my life. Look at the world with courage, and don't be afraid of outer world! And be your own master! And the last piece of advice: change your pace gradually. "Shock therapy" ("What do you do this evening?" - "Well, I'm going to Khabarovsk tonight") doesn't always lead to desired result. Develop your traveling abilities gradually, and your parents will mature along with you.

line1.gif (4491 bytes)

You read the English version of the book A. Krotov Practice of Free Travels or Free Travels in Practice
on the site