Featured, Inside My Head, Mongol Rally

Traveling with Strangers

18 Comments 25 October 2011

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Team camping is where much of the bonding took place

Before I departed on the Mongol Rally, when I told people about what I was doing this summer they were surprised, but consistently it was one topic about the epic road trip that fascinated people most. It wasn’t the inappropriate car or the length of the trip. It wasn’t the fact that my team had no mechanical knowledge. It was simply the team dynamics.

“You are going to ride for 5 weeks in a car with people you don’t know?!” said in an incredulous tone as if I had announced I was going to Mars to plant Christmas trees this summer.

So – here it is…what you’ve all been waiting for…the post on how 4 strangers drove 8500 miles in a car together…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

mongol rally

It's a long time to travel together...but this was about 3 1/2 weeks in..we hadn't killed each other yet!

Let me just start this by recanting what one participant on another team told me during the rally. She had actually done the rally with her husband 4 years prior and they were doing it again this year. She said,

“It’s not mechanical issues that normally trip up teams, it is the team relationships and dynamics.”

She told me this as one of their team members flew home that morning due to that precise issue. Quite frankly, hearing that made me feel better as our team dynamics certainly weren’t all chirping birds, butterflies, and wildflowers every day.

The Good

The best times were drinking wine, vodka, and beer (no surprise) and simply hanging out camping or in one of our apartment rentals talking about our parents and families. Since we were all about the same age, it was amazing how many things we had in common.

I remember one of my favorite nights was camping in Kazakhstan. The men retired early and Deb and I stayed up chatting and drinking beer underneath the expansive star display. I loved how open and honest we could be with each other.

When we clicked…we clicked; especially at border crossings. We did a good job of dividing responsibilities most days. Because we were pretty well traveled and independent already – we were efficient and generally we all had roles. Dave changed tires and managed the camp stove. Deb constantly was in charge of petrol and cooking meals. Rick provided humor and did dishes. And I worked on figuring out lodging in our next location most of the time.
We also were able to teach each other new things about blogging and tools we used. I think all of use came away with new tips and knowledge that we didn’t have before!


Deb and I partaking in two of our favorite things!

border crossing line

Dave and Deb wait patiently at a border crossing


Camping - everyone had their roles

The Bad

Rick, Dave, Deb and I didn’t really know each other very well at all, but we had all had little hints into our personalities during the course of planning over the last year via skype. However what we didn’t plan for is that those hints would turn out to be full blown issues when in a car with the same people day in and day out.

One of the biggest hurdles we had to deal with is that we all had very different travel styles. I came from a solo background where I controlled everything myself. I never have to ask anyone what I should do or where I should go – I just do what I want.
Dave and Deb travel as a couple normally. They know each other so well that they barely have to even ask one another what the other thinks! Rick hadn’t traveled extensively outside the US at all and he certainly hadn’t done much independent travel where roughing it and split second decisions were necessary.

And the biggest hurdle for us was the fact that for all of us – we had to constantly make decisions about our journey every day, hour, and sometimes minute. Those decisions would need to be discussed and scrutinized by the other teams members because they would affect all of us. The majority of our time when we travel many decisions are made for us – certainly when it comes to press trips or tours. But now we were faced with where to stay each night, how to get there, which road to take, who would drive, how much gas do we get, etc. And everyone’s personality and level of tolerance was different…this is a difficult recipe for success.

inside a car

It's a small space to spend 5 weeks!


Working at a campsite in Romania - just a few macbooks along...


The Ugly

From the beginning I had said I went on this trip because it scared me. I really didn’t know if I could do it. Driving in other countries has always intimidated me. More often than not my scaredy-cat personality would come out in the form of worry. I felt like my mother sometimes…but I couldn’t help it. Did it annoy and effect my teammates, yes. Did we argue about it…yes. Did we make up…yes.

Traveling with Rick was like traveling with Bill Clinton. I say that mainly because he sounds just like him! However I quickly realized that he was sort of like Clinton in other ways too – you could never really nail him down on anything! He was soooooo easy going that he didn’t really have an opinion. In this rally world where lots of decisions needed to be made, having one person opt out of the decisions made for a tense time. Did it annoy and effect the team…yes. Did we argue about it…yes. Did we make up…well…most of the time!

I learned midway through the rally that Dave and Deb had a big concern about team dynamics. They wanted to make sure they didn’t always appear ‘teamed up’ or on the same side. They didn’t want it to be the Dave/Deb show and overpower the team – especially when the majority of the time it was only the 3 of us making decisions. It was actually great to hear that they had put that much thought into it. However since they were trying so hard not to dominate the decisions, it sort of backfired as I never really knew what they wanted to do or when they were backing down because they didn’t want to appear too pushy. There were times when I needed them to be pushy and push me out of my scaredy-cat ways – but they backed down. Did we fight about it…yes. Did we resolve it…yes. Did we make up…yes.

The one thing that you could always count on is that Deb would speak her mind. I found it refreshing and challenging at the same time. Yet I know that I’d rather be around a person where I know exactly where I stand as opposed to being back-stabbed. It pushed me to stand up for myself and my opinion at times. And the best part is that she appreciated the push back.

I don’t think I need to get into all of the details of every bad moment…we certainly had some. There were tears, there was yelling, there was talk of quitting and going home. We were all frustrated with each other on some days; who wouldn’t be?!


Dave, Deb, and I walking to the car in Prague

border crossing

Waiting at the Mongolian border


One of my favorite pictures of the team - doing what we loved....camping!

Are we still friends?

Just like anything in life – there are ups and downs and you will be thrown challenges. Imagine being in a car with 3 of your work colleagues for 5 weeks – how do you think you’d fare?

The important thing is that we are all still friends and quite frankly I miss them!  It’s strange to go from every day together to nothing. I think it’s a testament to the type of people we are that we can go through such an adventure and still remain friends! Rick had to go home early to catch a flight, but Dave, Deb, and me ended up really bonding then; they felt like siblings by the time we got to Ulaanbaatar! I love them, yet we can all frustrate the hell out of each other too – just like any good sibling relationship! But I know that the bond we built together will last us a lifetime.

Would I travel with them again? Hell yes!

mongol rally

Dave, Deb, and I celebrating out last day!


Have you ever traveled with strangers?  What were the challenges?

Your Comments

18 Comments so far

  1. So glad you guys managed to tough out the situations though because I loved following your journey — there is a learning curve when you adjust your travel style so abruptly. I think it likely also helped that you had a clear focus to help you focus on decisions rather than the four of you ambling through a month long, undetermined adventure :) Glad the four of you made it to the end and as close friends! :)

  2. What a great article. Thank you for being so honest and transparent. This is certainly our biggest fear in doing a big adventure like this is the personal dynamics. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the good and bad sides as well as how you all dealt with the inevitable problems.

    Plus, now we know how you’ll summarize it when we do our big adventure together:)

  3. NLM says:

    I try to go into each situation remembering what is worth arguing about–in my case, nothing, really. I don’t always get my way, but it sure makes for a smoother day!

  4. A few times during our travels we will go on a multi day tour just to be able to relax and be around other people for a few days. It doesn’t take long for the issues you mentioned to start showing themselves but it’s only ever for a few days and then we’re on our way. I think what you did would be a ton of fun and I would love to team up with some fellow bloggers just to see what would happen!!

  5. Erik says:

    I appreciate the honesty, I’d wondered how it went. Nice to know you guys all still get a long.

    I’ve traveled solo for so long I doubt I could make it in a group setting like this.

  6. Deb says:

    Hey girlfriend. Excellent article, you captured the trip perfectly and I too think of you as a sister. My favourite time of the whole rally was the last week in Mongolia. You, Dave and I worked so well together and by then all the growing pains had worked themselves out. We were finally having fun! If we had another month together it would have been awesome! We miss you and love ya girl. So honoured to have been able to experience this trip together.

  7. Gray says:

    Great article, Sherry. I wondered how you would all feel about each other at the end of this….especially you, since I know how hard it is to go from being a solo traveler to traveling with a group. Sounds like it was a real learning and growth experience for everyone.

  8. Amylaurita says:

    Thanks for the interesting and very honest post, Sherry! I have had some good, bad and ugly “traveling with strangers” experiences myself.

    I met an American woman while in Rome and had a blast over the weekend we hung out. After a year of emails from separate sides of the States, we decided to travel together. Things went wrong from the moment we got on the plane. I was hyped up, she was exhausted. On the road, we could never coordinate our body clocks and never wanted to do the same thing. Many arguments ensued. To our mutual relief, we decided to part ways long in advance of when we’d planned.

    The flip side of this is when I was traveling in Mexico and met a British woman who had sailed there from Mjorca. She and I traveled together flawlessly for over a month, with nary a moment apart. We made a bunch of Mexican friends and really created a community in the time we spent together. It was wonderful!

    As someone who is also usually a solo traveler, I love the joy of being able to meet and travel with random people, and then go your own way when it’s time.

  9. Alisha says:

    It’s seems as though you had such an amazing trip even with the good, the bad, and the ugly! It’s so amazing how well travel can bond complete strangers and turn them into life long friends. I met sweet Helena from Norway in Ecuador and we traveled unexpectedly together for 14 days. My experience would not have been the same without her!

  10. Glad to hear you would still do it again.

    Love the pics, particularly the one with all the Macs!


    Nancy & Shawn

  11. Laurel says:

    What an amazing experience of traveling in such close quarters with strangers for 5 weeks. I’m thoroughly impressed, especially since you had limited opportunities for your own personal space.

  12. This is a nicely done post- I’m impressed by your balance of honesty and tact. It’s not often people feel comfortable writing about this side of travel, but these issues are more common than not.

    I think most of the time when I travel with someone, there’s been at least a moment or two of tension. Heck, sometimes I frustrate myself when I can’t figure out directions, etc., so of course things will come up if you throw in another person. But I think the nice thing about becoming a more seasoned traveler is that you slowly figure out what you personally need in order to work through issues and cope with these awkward and difficult situations.

  13. Maria says:

    Nice follow up on the adventure and frankness – no rose colored glasses.

    Since you miss them, I hope there’ll be another adventure around the corner where you kids combine forces to take the win. You do realized you won, right? *grin*

  14. Mark H says:

    With such an understanding of people’s dynamics, it is little surprise that you all got on so well. You show a tolerance that few solo travellers would have.

  15. Kurt W says:

    Great write up! Was it difficult to adjust to different driving norms as you went from country to country?

    • Sherry says:

      YES! It was really hard to know what to expect or how to interpret signs or driving rules/norms. Every day brought something new and many things we didn’t understand! The biggest thing I learned though was that the rest of the world does not drive by ‘lines’ which restrict them and tell them where to go – instead they drive by available space. If there is space and you are the first one to grab it – then it’s yours…it doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of the road or not!

  16. Mihaela says:

    it looks like you had a great time together and as for the bad moments they come anyway, friends, family, strangers.
    is nice of you that you shared your thoughts, we can always learn something from other people’s experiences. thanks.

  17. Nice trip report. Great to read an insider’s perspective.

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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