5 Lessons Learned at the Russia World Cup

By On June 27, 2018

5 Lessons Learned at the Russia World Cup

Until two weeks ago, I had never been to Russia. I had also never traveled for a World Cup. But this year, Peru would be playingâ€"for the first time in 36 yearsâ€"and after having spent time living in the country, surrounded by the team's most loyal fans, I knew it was a moment not to be missed. I also knew Russia would be a challenge to visit (a notion quickly confirmed as I tried to plan my trip), but something about the world converging over soccer in an unlikely place beckoned me. After catching one big game (Peru vs. Denmark), hitting two cities (Saint Petersburg and Saransk), and taking a 30-hour train trip between them (that’s 30 hours thereâ€"and another 30 back), I’m finally back in New York with the stamp in my passport to prove I've been to Russia and the World Cup, and a few learnings under my belt that I think important to share with those of you who will be making the same tre k. The first? Once you get to Russia, it all gets easier.

BYO Wi-Fi

Before the start of the Cup, cybersecurity experts warned travelers that the event would be a prime target for data theft: Travelers were encouraged to use VPNs, avoid free public Wi-Fi, and sharpen up online passwords (among a handful of other tips). Heeding their advice, I took a few steps to stay safeâ€"and connectedâ€"while in Russia. I signed up for an international phone plan ($10/day), purchased one month of access to NordVPN ($10/month), and packed a Skyroam Solis portable Wi-Fi device ($9/day). It was...overkill.

By day two of the trip, I was using Skyroam and nothing else. The portable device kept me online everywhere my phone could, and because it connects to data networks, not public Wi-Fi, it lessened the security risks of not using a VPN. One $9 day pass let me connect up to five devices to the network at once, so the price is even more appealing for those traveling as a group. Whe n my friends’ mobile networks slowed, they’d hop on my Skyroam Wi-Fi and it’d continue to be the fastest connection in the room.

Whether or not you typically travel with a roaming plan or mobile Wi-Fi, I highly suggest doing so for events like the Russia World Cup. We were constantly online for directions, last minute changes to our itinerary, quick food recs, or, most often, translation help; I threw the hockey-puck sized Skyroam in my bag and we were set.

Google Translate Is Your Friend

Been sleeping on learning the Cyrillic alphabet? You’re not alone, but you are going to need some backup. Sure, many Petersburgers and Muscovites speak English, but the World Cup games are also taking place in nine other cities across the country where English isn't as widely spoken.

Almost every time I found myself at a loss for words (pointing and miming not sufficient for every need a traveler has), I spotted travelers around me working around the same comm unication issues by speaking into the Google Translate app on their phone, passing it to the person they were talking to, who would read the translation on-screen; they were having a much easier time than I was.

It works well, everybody’s using it, and with hordes of fans flooding every inch of Russia right now, nobody has time for you to thumb through your pocket dictionary.

No Tickets, No Problem

FIFA decided to crack down on unofficial ticket reselling and price gouging this year, and hey, we’re just glad they’re trying to keep some things above board. Even crazier, is thatâ€"dare I sayâ€"it kind of worked. In short, they set up a new system so every ticket sold would be connected to a FanID (a scannable document worn on a lanyard to games), and match attendees would supposedly need to show a matching ticket and FanID on game day. Reselling a ticket could only be done on FIFA’s platform so they could connect it to the new buyer’s FanID. The process t hey created, with it’s many hurdles, left people holding onto spare tickets until mere days (or hours) before games.

If you’re still trying to snag a ticket, keep checking online. I didn’t have a ticket when I landed in Russia, but I got one just a couple days before kick off when they began appearing on the FIFA website again. If you’re in Russia and still empty-handed on game day, ask around because, oh yeah, you actually can use tickets that don’t match your FanID (you must have a FanID and you must have a ticket, but the names don’t have to match; we tested itâ€"it worked). We met a ton of fans outside the stadium who were giving away extra ticketsâ€"those of friends and family who couldn’t make itâ€"because they had realized it was too late to sell them back to FIFA and simply didn’t want to waste them. If you have a ticket you know you won’t use, resell it to FIFA ASAP.

The FanID Is Actually Helpful

The FanID comes with perks beyo nd getting into the stadiums. A quick flash of your pass gets your free rides on public transportation in every cityâ€"including buses and the subwayâ€"and you can also use it to pre-book train rides between host cities (though many are booked up at this point, there is still some availability at time of writingâ€"check the official site for an up-to-date schedule).

You Should Shell Out for Reliable Accommodations

Over the last month, we’ve noticed an emerging trend on Twitter: World Cup travelers were having their home rental reservations (through Airbnb, VRBO, among others) canceled by hosts at the last minute, with some even claiming they saw the same listings crop up online again at a higher price. I heard this narrative echoed by half-a-dozen travelers I met in Russia, primarily in the smaller host citiesâ€"I met even more travelers who knew someone it had happened to.

Home rentals can be a great way for locals to tap into the cash flowing out of events li ke the World Cup, but many hosts are giving these platforms a spin for the first time. Our Airbnb in Saransk, for example, was a learning experience for everyone involvedâ€"during our one night stay a pipe burst, a cabinet door came off when opened, and the dish drying cabinet in the kitchen fell off the wall, inches from leaving me the Wicked Witch of the West beneath it. Our host was kind, but he hadn’t rented the apartment beforeâ€"and if we hadn’t been leaving the city the following day we would have been forced to live with the situation as there was nothing else available in town.

In Saint Petersburg, we took a more traditional route and stayed at Hotel Astoria (Rocco Forte Hotels), where our trip took a decidedly more comfortable turn. Surprisingly, itâ€"like most of the higher-end hotels in the cityâ€"had availability during the World Cup. If you can find a hotel in your price range, book it and don’t look back. Take advantage of the convenience a name-brand hote l provides and spend less time troubleshooting and more time watching soccer.

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