If you’re going on a long-haul Russian train ride, there are a few things you need to know. I’ve spent the last few days reading up in preparation for my first longer-than-overnight ride, so here’s the information I’ve gathered.

First of all, the times on your ticket are always Moscow time, regardless of where you are. If you’re lucky, you’ll learn this the same way I did: by arriving in a non-MST city and being surprised that business are opened hours before their scheduled opening times. If you’re unlucky, well… make sure you buy insurance for your ticket.

Speaking of insurance, tickets bought from actual humans with disapproving glares are automatically insured (as far as I can tell). It only costs about 100 rubles (less than $1.50), and if you don’t have it, you can’t rebook or modify your ticket in any way. Buy your ticket from a human–unlike bus station personnel, the Russian Rails representatives range from not-so-scary to downright friendly.

What to bring on your trip? The same thing that my Asian friends all used to joke that their parents made them pack on road trips: boiled/baked chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and apples. Also candy. And Big Lanch, the most common Ramen-in-a-disposable-bowl. And because everything on the trains is germs germs germs, get yourself some wet wipes. Russians won’t be caught dead without them, trains or no. You can bring your own teabags, but you can also buy tea for 8-10 rubles a packet (black is slightly cheaper than green), so that’s really up to you.

If your chicken, apples, and big lanchi don’t suffice, there’s a restaurant car. But if you can find it, please tell me where it is–I’ve always wondered.

If you stay in a kupe (2nd class–four-person compartment), it is standard practice to offer to leave when newcomers arrive in order to give them a chance to change into their train clothes. If you are all women, you do not have to leave. If you’re in platzkartnyy (3rd class), you’re kind of out of luck as far as privacy goes. You can change in the bathroom, but that’s pretty gross. If you decide to do that anyway, bring your wet wipes. If you’re in lyux (1st class), you wasted your money. Do better next time. Other than that, proceed as with kupe.

If it’s winter, the train is going to be HOT. You might think you are going to die. You probably won’t.

The provodnitsa will come by before your station to wake you up. Better to already be awake, as she doesn’t know how much time you need to collect your stuff. Wash your face with water from the tea boiler–not from the nasty bathroom–and, if you are smart like me, use the tea water that you collected the night before so it could cool to brush your teeth. You may think that the washcloth (provided with your sheets) looks mighty handy, and you may consider swiping it to use on future journeys. Don’t bother. The provodnitsa will notice, and she will find you, and she will make you give it back.