Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Touring Chernobyl

How I came about touring Chernobyl

Touring Churnobyl was not ever planned. While planning a trip to Turkey, I decided to travel solo to a different country before heading home. I went to Google Flights, searched one-way flights from Istanbul to any major city in Europe. I chose the least expensive one that didn’t have flight times in the middle of the night. That is when traveling to Kyiv, Ukraine, became part of my plans. When I mentioned to several people I was going to Ukraine, they all said, “you’re going to tour Chernobyl while you are there, aren’t you?”. I may have been one of the few not watching the HBO series Chernobyl. To be honestly hadn’t crossed my mind to take the tour.

Since I was solo with no set schedule, I thought ~ what the hell, I’ll check it out!

What is Chernobyl 

For those of you that don’t know, Chernobyl is a city located in the northern part of Ukraine close to the border of Belarus. In April of 1986, this was the location of the world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster. What was supposed to be a test of one of the reactors turned into a huge explosion/fire. This led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people from radiation exposure. 

The area is still contaminated with radiation and is considered somewhat dangerous. To this day, they sterilize the dogs in the area, and they discourage anyone from living in the area. The “somewhat” dangerous part led me to trust it was safe enough to take a guided tour to Chernobyl.

1 – booking the tour of Chernobyl 

Once I got settled in my Airbnb in Kyiv, I went online, googled Chernobyl tours. I found that many had no availability for my dates. Finally, I found one company that had an opening! I asked hardly any questions (really is not like me), I gave them my credit card, (which just so happened not to approve this charge for 2 days, which should have been my first red flag). 

After I booked my tour, and had two days to explore. The next day I explored Kyiv and not once thought to do a little more research about going to Chernobyl.

 – The Day of the tour

The tour company requested I arrive at a designated meeting place for the tour at 7 am. The bus was scheduled to leave at 7:30 am. I arrived right on time, climbed in the first row on the bus, and waited. About 12 more other people showed up, but we were still waiting for a few more to join. About 8:00 am, the other four arrived visibly hungover /still drunk, and stunk like a bar and stale cigarettes. They were reprimanded for being so late that the bus was on our way! 

That set the stage for the day. The tour guide went over the rules for the tour. On the two-hour bus ride, we had a presentation by our group leader and video presentations. I learned some things and didn’t learn some that I wish I’d known before booking the tour! 

2 – Clothing and bring your own masks while Touring Chernobyl

Speaking of rules ~ The guides suggested we wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, closed-toed shoes and aren’t allowed to eat anything outside while in Chernobyl. I did not realize there were no breathing masks or protective gear offered for the tour. So, in short, you can’t even eat a cookie outside due to your risk of radiation landing on it, yet we’re ok to breathe the air? I am not a scientist or doctor, but I am damn sure smart enough to know that if it’s in the air landing on my cookie, I will most definitely be ingesting it through my nose.

At this point, there was no turning around. I just hoped everyone else on the multiple bus tours made sure it was safe before touring. I trusted I was going to be alright. 

If you google “is it safe to tour Chernobyl,” it says, “yes! The areas you will visit are in restricted zones that don’t contain radiation levels high enough to impact human health”. I consider myself somewhat skeptical of what I read on the internet . I considered the fact that the Ukraine’s government is the employer of the employees at Chernobyl. Are they going to tell the truth considering the amount of money they bring in from the tours? In my opinion, they probably are not entirely forthcoming, but that’s just my skeptical opinion.

3 – Bring snacks and keep in mind your eating in a cafeteria 

I did not realize that I would be eating lunch in a very sterile, hospital feeling cafeteria. The tours include making a lunch stop at the onsite cafeteria. There is a parking lot full of buses; you walk down a path to a government looking building where you climb to the second floor of what felt like a grade school building. You line up with a tray to have a variety of foods dished on a plate, a juice handed to you then you sit at tables of four.

I should have taken my snacks in my backpack in hindsight, but it’s all about embracing the experience, right?. I won’t say the meal with bad; it was relatively tasty but given I ended up in the hospital just 24 hours later, I wondered if it played a role.

Check out my blog about the hospital trip in Ukraine.

4 – Keep track of your tour group; you can easily look track of your group 

The next thing I didn’t realize or didn’t think about ~ 

As a busy solo traveler on a tour touring Chernobyl or being any solo traveler, you will encounter many other groups with a large number of tourists. If you’re traveling solo, make sure to keep an eye on your group.

I noticed 3 guys in my group had black backpacks (3 of the hungover guys, I will add), so I would often glance to make sure I was with my group while I was busy snapping photos. At one point, I realized I was following the incorrect backpacks, so I had no idea which direction my group had gone ~; again, my mistake! 

I traced my steps back to where we had come from, to find the parking lot of buses. I checked a few of them, and realized none of them were my group. My advice, be sure and save the contact number of anyone with the tour company. You may need to call when you have no idea where your group is. If I hadn’t had that, I might still be aimlessly wandering around Chernobyl and making friends with those sterile dogs.

5 – Be aware of broken steps and unstable floors  

Maybe I did suspect this one. You will be wading through broken glass, using some broken, unstable steps to reach most of the building. The risk of tripping and/or falling is somewhat high. I witnessed 3 people trip and myself, so this is another reason to wear a mask for the dust that will get in your face if you do fall. I am glad it was not cleaned up and that I could witness it in the dilapidated state it remains. This adds to the eerie feeling of touring Chernobyl. I will say again, wearing a mask would’ve felt appropriate. Just be aware to watch your step, because you will undoubtedly be in awe of the eerie visions. It’s easy to miss a haphazard broken step.

One last thing while touring Chernobyl. I wan not aware you shouldn’t wear or take anything that can’t be tossed into the washing machine as soon as you get back “home”. I am sure it said somewhere in the fine print, and it wasn’t an issue for me. Just in case you are traveling as most people are that tour Chernobyl, make sure you don’t wear/take anything not easily washable. I went in October, and the weather was cool enough to wear a jacket or long sleeves outdoors then take off layers in the van. I heard by others that went in the summer months; it can get really hot during the tour, but long sleeves and long pants are still required. Given that, I’d probably skip the tour in the hottest months.

Over all my thoughts

Overall, my thought on touring Chernobyl is that it’s a very interesting, eerie tour. It is a good place to go at least once, but if I were to do it again, I would book a private tour of no more than 4 tourists and take a breathing mask. 

If you would like to read more about my trip to Chernobyl and how I ended up calling an ambulance to take me to the hospital in Kyiv the next day, click here to see my Instagram post.

Check out my packing list for Antactica

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