There are several miscellaneous pragmatic logistics that a Westerner, and especially an American, should be aware of when traveling to Russia in general and Nizhny Novgorod in particular. Below is an organized list of the remaining ones that haven’t been covered in other articles I’ve written.
Always carry a copy of your passport with you when traveling around Russia. It’s best to leave your original in a safe place at the hotel at which you are staying. Be aware that you may need your passport, or at least a copy of it, for many things, such as exchanging money or purchasing a cell phone plan. Also, the police may stop you on the street and ask to see your passport at any time, so it is important to have.
Beware of pickpockets! Even in Nizhni Novgorod there are experienced pickpockets who would be happy to relieve you of your wallet or other valuables. Especially when walking in crowded places protect your belongings, such as by keeping your own hands in your pockets. Avoid keeping valuables in your back pockets or backpack if possible. If someone ever bumps into you, seemingly on accident or not, immediately check to make sure you have your wallet and passport/passport copy. When walking through an open-air market or getting on or off the metro, bus, tramvai, or marshrutka be wary as well, as this is the time when many valuables are stolen.
There are even some pickpocket-proof pants available for purchase online. Such pants have zipper pockets and button straps that make it virtually impossible for someone to remove something from your pocket without you knowing about it. Alternatively, you could keep your money and passport/passport copy in a pouch strapped around your waist under your shirt. Some airports have these pouches available for purchase.
When traveling in Russia, don’t drink the tap water. Showering and brushing your teeth are okay (providing you don’t swallow the water when doing so), but it is not safe to actually drink the tap water. Instead, buy bottled water to drink.
Making international calls can be quite expensive, even when not including data fees for using smartphones, and so the best way to go is Skype or another free video chat service on the Internet. In terms of making calls within the Nizhny Novgorod region or within Russia, buying a cheap disposable phone with a basic calling plan is the best way to go. For the equivalent of about $10 USD you can be equipped with a working, albeit basic, phone and calling plan.
Speaking Russian (or not)
While being about to speak Russian during your visit to Nizhny Novgorod would make your life a lot easier, it is not impossible to make your way around without Russian, even if it is much harder to do so. Unless you go out of your way to strike up conversations with strangers, there are two main ways in which you would use Russian as a cultural tourist: buying things (whether ordering in restaurants or purchasing items in stores) and asking for directions. In terms of ordering at a restaurant, you can point at the menu item(s) you want, and using hand gestures and body language cues can get you quite far. When buying things at a store, you can either look at the digital readout of the cash register when figuring out how much you need to pay. In the absence thereof, the Russian cashier may simply write out the amount you owe on a piece of paper. In terms of asking for directions, you can use a Russian phrasebook to make your way around or rely on a map of the city. Of course, English-speaking tour guides may also be available.
– David Pruden