Route map to the Black Sea coast. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Yes, one could travel from foreign countries to the Soviet Union with private car, especially from the 1970s onward. There was a catch, though: only few main highways were allowed to auto tourists, and the Soviet traffic police GAI had checkpoints, where they monitored that cars continued the journey and didn’t deviate from the route. Moreover, the law allowed you to drive only 500 km. per day, and you had to book accommodation beforehand. So basically your road trip began to resemble a train journey with a private compartment. In this brochure one finds the routes availabe to Finnish tourists. Although there were not that many roads, the distances were huge. From the Finnish border to Crimea one had to drive 2500 km., and to Yerevan, Armenia, it’s over 3500 km. The worst thing was that you had to drive back home via the same road.

UdSSR Intourist. (Poster, 1930s.)

Soviet travel bureau for foreign tourists, Intourist, was established in 1929. In the 1930s it began extensive advertising campaign in many countries, especially in the United States. Intourist posters were designed by the best artists and influenced by the constuctivist aesthetics of the 1920s. In this poster, which is not promoting a single destination but the Intourist itself, one can see what the early Soviet Union wanted to highlight for travelers. Progress and modern things like power lines and high-rise buildings were important, and in the background there looms the long history with churches. In the forefront one can see mausoleum of Lenin and the globe indicating that the entire counrty is open to visitors.

Camping site Butovo. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Camping was a popular hobby in the Soviet Union. Early on, in 1930s, it meant mostly overnight hiking trips outside the buzzing industrial cities, but later, during the 1980s, trips got longer and reached further away. At that point some citizens already sported private cars, for example Lada or Mosckvich, and in there one could fit the family, a tent, and the necessary gear for a proper camping trip. Unfortunately, even roadtrippers were not free to go anywhere. The roads permitted to vacationers were clearly marked on the map, and the nights had to be spent in official camping sites, like the one here at Butovo, just outside Moscow.

Theatre named after Maxim Gorky, Rostov-on-Don. (Postcard, 1978.)

During the latter part of the 20th century Soviet tourism spread out to the roads. Train was the main means of transportation in the 1920s and 1930s, and remained important also after the war, but bus travel grew with the increase of tourism and improvement of roads. City tours with tourist buses were popular among Soviet tourists. Here are famous LAZ-buses, which were employed extensively in sightseeing trips (one can discern the word “TURIST” on the window), standing in front of the Maxim Gorky theatre at Rostov-on-Don.

Neptune Greets You. (Brochure, 1970s.)

During the 1950s Soviet tourism was still bit stiff and official, but in the 1970s it began to relax. People didn’t anymore go to Black Sea resorts to heal from sicknesses under surveillance of doctors, but to rest and have fun. This was reflected in the postcards and guide books. This photograph is from a 1970s brochure presenting Soviet Black Sea resorts to Finnish audience. Apparently, “Neptune parties” became a thing during that time. Intourist representative was dressed as God of the sea, Neptune, and he entertained Soviet and foreign tourists.

Welcome to the Soviet Union. (Brochure, 1963.)

It seems that the Soviet Union was a combination of Edward Hopper’s paintings and Aki Kaurismäki’s films, at least based on the cover image of the booklet here. This Intourist brochure was published in Finland in the early 1960s, when tourism from Finland to the Soviet Union was increasing. At this time, during the so called thaw era, the Soviet Union was represented to foreigners as an up-to-date but also serious country, which had all the advantages that the western world had, as the setting of the photograph and especially the red high-heeled shoes of the sitting woman propose, but without the frivolous traits of capitalist culture.

Moscow. Tours to the USSR arranged by Intourist. (Poster, 1930s.)

The Soviet travel agency Intourist was established in 1929. The main task was to promote the Soviet Union to foreigners, and at the same time control and surveil the visitors. During the 1930s Intourist organized a huge advertisement campaign in the United States to encourage western tourism in the Soviet Union. Moscow was depicted as the heart of the country, an age-old and hypermodern at the same time, as the poster’s combination of Kremlin towers, busy traffic and the brand new House of government at the background indicate.