Wait, I need an invitation to visit Russia?

“Just take a solo trip to a foreign country”

“I should… I have so many vacation days!”

And so I shopped online for flight deals to the Middle East, as I had always wanted to visit the region but other destinations commanded my attention.  However, airfare to Syria and other ME areas was too cost-prohibitive (upwards of $2K).  Google Flights advertised flights to Moscow from NYC for under $600.  I had always wanted to visit Russia when I was younger (perhaps sparked by a middle school class lesson exploring the House of Romanov).

So, on August 13, 2012 at 2 in the morning, I booked a flight to Moscow for a September 4 – September 11 stay.  Then I scheduled an appointment to submit my visa application to Invisa Logistics Services LLC (outsourced by the Consulate General of the Russian Federation-NY) at 80 Maiden Lane… but alas, I was not ready!  While completing the online visa application, I learned that I needed an invitation to visit Russia too?!  Having no idea what process that entailed, I googled “Russian Invitation” and fortunately came upon a reputable site Russia Visa Online that offered same-day Russian tourist visa invitation services for $45.  I completed the application and really got my invitation within 24 hours!

I rescheduled my appointment to visit 80 Maiden Lane to August 14.  When I arrived at the center, I felt like I was in Little Russia – I heard only Russian and reminded myself that this is what I should be ready for… time to download those Learn Russian podcasts!  When it was my turn, I provided my completed application to the young gentleman, who attempted to sway me into paying a premium for expedited processing, but I declined and decided to go with economy style processing.  Though I was in a time crunch, frugal life still holds!  As I was travelling for work, I had dear friends who were able to pick up the visa (and rubles!) for me  – here’s a shout to Di* and Ma Chérie*!

So I had my invitation, visa, and rubles secured.  Now onto lodging!  I figured that I could use my hotel points accumulated from work travel.  But whoa – one night in Moscow would wipe out my points balance (and a week’s stay would be a bit much for a solo traveller)!  Unsure of what to do and not really keen on the hostel options, I reached out to another dear friend Mami* for advice.  Mami recommended that I check out couchsurfing, as she had had positive experiences CS’ing in Europe and hosting in Boston.  I thought, sure, why not!  I messaged several hosts, and on August 16, 2013, A&M* (couple) graciously agreed to host me!  I was so ecstatic – I was ready for Moscow!

*terms of endearment