Being raised in the south, I sometimes forget that sports other than (American) football exist.
Therefore, when I woke up that morning on the floor of my friend’s finished basement to the sound of heavily accented commentators and cheering, chanting fans after a sleepover one hot summer night, I was confused.
It wasn’t so much that a sporting event was on TV in the summertime, it was that someone I knew was watching it. What would be on that anyone I knew, a fellow football loving Southerner, would have any interest in?
I opened my eyes to see my friend’s older brother focused on the screen where lean men in tall socks were running across a huge, bright green field.
Which made sense. Her older brother was on the high school soccer team. I rolled my eyes. The summer of 2002 was a brief period in between middle school and high school for my friends and me, and we thought soccer was gay (everything was “gay” in the late 90s/early 00s).
However, as my friends stirred and began chatting about their upcoming days, I found myself being sucked in by the energy of the crowd and overall atmosphere of the game in front of me. A few minutes into it, I learned that I was watching a game in the FIFA World Cup being hosted by South Korea and Japan.
FIFA World Cup
Often simply called the World Cup, the FIFA World Cup is an international association football (soccer) competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body. – Wikipedia
I went home that afternoon and turned on another game in my bedroom, now watching two other countries go head-to-head (or toe-to-toe).
The rest of my summer was spent this way as I woke up at odd hours to watch these live games. Brazil beat Germany in the final match, bringing a sudden end to my newfound interest that I was sad to discover only happens every four years.
To this day, I don’t know the reason why I became so instantly hooked. Perhaps it’s the enjoyment of watching the best of the best play a game that is easy to watch and follow, or maybe it’s just the excitement of the fans from all over the world coming together to enjoy their favorite sport. Either way, I envisioned myself in the stands and dreamed of going to another country one day to experience the event first hand.
Four years passed quickly by, and I returned from my high school senior trip to watch as Germany hosted the World Cup, where Italy later defeated France.
Another four years later, I sipped a strawberry daiquiri to the buzzing sound of vuvuzelas as Spain beat the Netherlands in South Africa in 2010.
And just a few months after meeting my future husband in 2014, I bought a cable package for the first time solely for the purpose of watching the FIFA World Cup Brazil. I asked him during a game to promise me that we would go to Russia in four years to attend the World Cup, and we laughed.
In less than 100 days, it will have been four years since I semi-jokingly asked for that promise, and my middle school dream is coming true.
We are going to the World Cup in Russia!
As we became closer to paying off our home and becoming completely debt free, we decided there was no better way to celebrate than to take advantage of the timing and attend one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
This will be the first time either of us has traveled outside of the country, and it will be our first big trip together. Wanting to pay off our home as fast as we could, we didn’t have a honeymoon and didn’t go anywhere for our one year anniversary, so this vacation is a huge deal for us.
FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia: Fast Facts
- The 21st FIFA World Cup
- June 14-July 15, 2018
- 32 national teams
- 64 matches
- 12 venues
- 11 cities
After applying for and receiving our passports in October 2017, we applied for tickets during the Random Selection Draw stage to attend three games of the US national team, only to be extremely let down days later when the US failed to qualify for the first time in my lifetime.
We decided to wait a month for the First Come First Serve stage to begin, enabling us to see which teams still had available tickets after the aforementioned stage was over. We decided to apply for team-specific tickets for Denmark, reasoning that we wanted to blend in physically and culturally while being surrounded by people who generally speak English as a second language. We were pleased to receive an email from FIFA a few hours later confirming that our application was successful.
The final draw was held on December 1, determining the teams that Denmark would play against, as well as the dates, venues and cities of the three group stage games we will be attending.
- Game 1: Denmark vs. Peru – June 16, Mordovia Arena, Saransk
- Game 2: Denmark vs. Australia – June 21, Cosmos Arena, Samara
- Game 3: Denmark vs. France – June 26, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
We immediately put in vacation requests with our employers for the last three weeks of June, and after our requests were granted, we sat back for the rest of December to research and prepare for the logistics of our trip.
Thankfully, Russia is providing free transit between the host cities for those of us visiting their country with Fan IDs to attend the World Cup. This allowed us to book four overnight trains that not only give us free transportation to and from the host cities but also save us hotel costs for those four nights.
An obligatory visitor card mandatory for all FIFA World Cup Russia ticketholders, including children and Russian residents. It is to be applied for after receiving confirmation of purchased tickets and is received weeks later by mail, attached to a lanyard. The Fan ID gives a right to visa-free entrance for all foreign visitors, as well as access to free inter-city trains and public transport in the host cities.
Desiring to visit St. Petersburg while we have the chance, we booked two additional overnight sleeper trains. These trains are less expensive than the fast trains that are available and keep us from having to book hotels those two nights.
The first half of our trip is very busy with seven trains in the first nine days we’re in Russia. We will be able to relax more after the second game when we return to Moscow for a four-night stay.
Below is the itinerary of our trip showing our planes, trains and hotels. We may schedule a couple tourist activities in advance, such as a ballet or opera, but for the most part, my husband and I prefer to wing it while we’re on vacation.
Wednesday, June 13
- ✈️Depart Nashville (4:30 PM)
- ✈️Arrive in Toronto (7:29 PM)
- ✈️Depart Toronto (10:30 PM)
Thursday, June 14
- ✈️Arrive in Istanbul (3:15 PM)
- ✈️Depart Istanbul (4:15 PM)
- ✈️Arrive in Moscow (7:10 PM)
- 🏨Check into hotel in Vnukovo, Russia
Friday, June 15
- 🏨Check out (12:00 PM)
Saturday, June 16
- 🚅Depart Moscow (12:50 AM)
- 🚅Arrive in Saransk (11:00 AM)
- ⚽Game 1: Mordovia Arena, Saransk (7:00 PM)
Sunday, June 17
- 🚅Depart Saransk (2:00 AM)
- 🚅Arrive in Moscow (11:42 AM)
- 🚅Depart Moscow (11:55 PM)
Monday, June 18
- 🚅Arrive in St. Petersburg (7:55 AM)
- 🏨Check into hotel in St. Petersburg (2:00 PM)
Tuesday, June 19
- 🏨Check out (12:00 PM)
- 🚅Depart St. Petersburg (11:36 PM)
Wednesday, June 20
- 🚅Arrive in Moscow (7:19 AM)
- 🚅Depart Moscow (6:08 PM)
Thursday, June 21
- 🚅Arrive in Samara (8:47 AM)
- 🏡Check into Airbnb in Samara (Flexible)
- ⚽Game 2: Cosmos Arena (4:00 PM)
Friday, June 22
- 🏡Checkout (Flexible)
- 🚅Depart Samara (4:00 PM)
Saturday, June 23
- 🚅Arrive in Moscow (9:00 AM)
- 🏨Check into hotel in Moscow (2:00 PM)
Sunday, June 24
- 🇷🇺”Day at Sea” (This is what my husband responded with when I asked what I should list on the itinerary for the two days that we’re not traveling.)
Monday, June 25
- 🇷🇺”Day at Sea”
Tuesday, June 26
- ⚽Game 3: Luzhniki Stadium (5:00 PM)
Wednesday, June 27
- 🏨Check out
- ✈️Depart Moscow (4:20 AM)
- ✈️Arrive in Istanbul (7:15 AM)
- ✈️Depart Istanbul (2:15 PM)
- ✈️Arrive in Toronto (6:00 PM)
- ✈️Depart Toronto (8:55 PM)
- ✈️Arrive in Nashville (9:59 PM)
To take advantage of the costs of the large purchases associated with our trip, we decided to open our first (and later our second) credit card to earn sign up bonus points to use toward a future trip.
Now that our largest costs are out of the way, we are buying the smaller things we’ll need (luggage, voltage adapters, etc.), and I will post later on to provide costs of those purchases. For now, below are the costs of the major purchases we have made for the trip.
- World Cup Tickets: $1,386.00
- International Purchase Fee: $11.09
- Flights: $2,293.22
- Trip Protection: $148.00
- Airbnb: $164.36
- Overnight trains to and from St. Petersburg and Moscow: $665.00
- Hotels: $969.75
This brings our total costs so far to $5,637.42.
It’s an expensive trip, but for us, it’s completely worth it. How many chances does one get to attend the FIFA World Cup in Russia?!
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding traveling to Russia, comment below to let me know. And if you’re attending this exciting event, especially if you’re supporting Denmark, I would love to hear from you!
Special thanks to Daniil Timin at russianblogger.me for answering every question I posted on his site and for making this entire process – from ticket stages to what we can bring to the stadium – so much more manageable. If anyone is interested in visiting Russia at some point, please check out his website!