What to bring with you
Pack light, comfortable clothes for the train, even in winter (the carriages are heated sauna-hot). Tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts are the go — this isn’t the Orient Express. Hard-soled, slip-on shoes come in handy for trips to the loo, where the plastic matting doesn’t always rise above the floodwaters.
Baby wipes are essential, and a torch and penknife will come in handy. A good guidebook that counts down the kilometre markers and points of interest, and which contains useful phrases, is a must — Trailblazer and Lonely Planet’s Trans-Siberian guides are recommended.
Whatever you bring, make sure it fits in a squashable rucksack. The cabins have storage only under the bottom bunks and above the doorways, and it has to be shared equally among the occupants.
Food and drink
There’s a samovar (kettle) in each carriage, providing a constant supply of hot water for instant noodles, tea, coffee and packet soups. There’s usually a dining car operated by the country you’re travelling in, but don’t rely on it — what food is actually available and when is fairly arbitrary. You can pick up snacks and drinks from platform sellers, and it’s standard practice to share any food you have with your cabin mates.
Vegetarians will need to keep an open mind — if Russians and Mongols can’t feed you meat, chances are you’ll get eggs and fish. Vegans need not apply.
Toilets and showering
There’s a toilet at each end of each carriage, equipped with a sink and hot and cold (though not drinkable) running water. They’re kept clean, functioning and topped up with toilet paper by the provodnitsa. She’s also responsible for locking them at stations, border crossings and in built-up areas, and will show no mercy — so make sure you go in advance.
There’s a shower attachment that can be fixed to the taps, though good luck trying to use it.
For convenience, take a stash of US dollars and exchange what you need along the way. You can’t buy Russian rubles, Mongolian tugriks or Chinese yuan in the UK, though it’s easy enough to get them en route. Don’t get more of the currency than you’re likely to need, as it’s equally difficult to convert back into a useful currency once you’ve left.
Outside of Moscow and Beijing, it’s actually quite difficult to spend your money. Mongolia, especially, is a cheap destination.