Adventure Travel, Mongol Rally

When is Travel Too Dangerous?

24 Comments 11 November 2010

“Is this a good idea?”

This is what I kept asking myself as I went through the online signup for the Mongol Rally. What started out as sounding like a really fun, crazy adventure was now sounding like a death march with every additional legal paragraph I read.

When I first heard of the rally about a year ago, I went to the site and was immediately hooked with messages like this:

“10 000 miles of bad roads, no roads, bandits, deserts, mountains and other adventuresome stuff…”
“The Mongol Rally is supposed to be an adventure not a guided tour. It’s about getting out into the world and discovering it for yourself, so we resolutely refuse to give you a route. Think how much of a second rate adventure it would be if we all followed the same route, like a traffic jam all the way to Mongolia.”

Of course the charity aspect was also a big factor for my interest. When you can intersect your own interests (travel and adventure) with that of a cause you support (helping homeless kids in Mongolia get housing/education/food) then it’s the perfect marriage!

I followed the 2010 Mongol Rally this summer online and read stories of teams having the adventure of a lifetime as well as some really, really low points (there was a fatal accident). But when you watch from the distant comfort of your laptop, it’s pretty easy to think everything looks peaches and cream.

I had wrangled up my teammates and we were all ready to sign up. (see the video of how it all started here) I went to the site with my credit card in hand excited for this crazy adventure and then the tidal wave of legalese hit me. For the next 2 hours I read through everything that could go wrong, and had gone wrong in the past; and ultimately how if anything went wrong – it would be our own damn fault.

This was the first warning for website visitors:

These adventures are genuinely dangerous things to do. The website is written in a light-hearted fashion but you cannot underestimate the risks involved in undertaking this kind of adventure.

Your chances of being seriously injured or dying as a result of your participation are high. Individuals who have taken part in past Adventurists’ adventures have been permanently disfigured, permanently disabled or even lost their life.

These adventures are not glorified holidays. They are unsupported adventures and so by their very nature extremely risky. You really are on your own.

Then as you moved deeper through the registration process you were hit with this:

The Mongol Rally is dangerous!
The Mongol Rally is NOT an organised tour. You may end up stuck at the borders of any of the countries you choose to travel through for days or even weeks. You are completely at the mercy of those countries’ authorities. You may miss your flights home, you may not get even half way to Mongolia. You will likely find yourself in situations that were not foreseen and which pose you some degree of danger. And you will receive no support should such a scenario occur.
The Mongol Rally poses risks to your health and your life. You will be driving for many thousands of miles in parts of the world that are unfamiliar to you, which means your chances of being involved in a road accident or in any number of other health and life-threatening situations is significantly increased from your day to day life.
Road traffic in many of the regions you might encounter can be hectic, chaotic and dangerous.
Should you be injured or harmed in some way, medical help might be hours from where you are. Even then, the kind of medical help you may receive may differ vastly from the quality of medical care you would expect to find at home. By way of example, Mongolia itself has no centre of excellence in which you could be adequately treated for serious injuries.
If you are unfortunate enough to become involved in an accident it is quite likely you will be blamed by local authorities for the accident regardless of whose fault it was. At this point you may end up in prison for several years or face very large fines.
This adventure is not a glorified holiday. It is an unsupported adventure and so by it’s very nature extremely risky. You really are on your own and you really are putting both your short term and long term health and even your life at risk.

Ouch. The fun meter is quickly fading.

However as I sat back and thought about this barrage of ‘danger and death’, I thought about how people I meet are always afraid to travel for some reason or another. I always tell them, you are more likely to get in an accident to/from your commute from work then traveling to x. I honestly mean this. Sure, the Mongol Rally may be a little different as it’s one thing to travel and another to put yourself into a really stupid, dangerous situation.

I do have limits – I don’t need to go downhill skiing if I don’t know how to ski. If I don’t have the skill or ability to do something, then I will probably choose not to do it. However I know how to drive a car. I know how to travel . And I want to have the adventure of driving across 15 countries I haven’t been to in less than perfect conditions; I want a travel challenge. Granted – I don’t want to die, nor go to prison, nor be disfigured, nor get in an accident…but in some weird way all of those things could potentially happen to me sitting in the US working 9 to 5.

If any of you readers out there think that I’m brave and fearless – well, you are wrong. Dead wrong. I get scared and have second thoughts just like anyone else. However, I never want to let fear be something that dictates my life. A weird thing happens when I’m back in the US for a while. That fear starts to build again…it’s like a weed that grows here. You can kill it, but if the roots are still there, it will come back. When I come back to my roots in the US, the fears gradually start to come back again. Maybe that’s why I don’t like to stay in the US very long anymore!

So it’s all about what’s important to me. Only I can make these decisions. I guess that’s what the ‘non-organizers’ of the Mongol Rally want you to understand after reading through hours of legal disclaimers – you have to really want to do this – and I do.

Am I scared? Yes
Am I excited? Yes
The perfect ingredients for an adventure.

In July 2011 Dave, Deb, Rick, and I will be participating in the Mongol Rally raising money for charity. Thanks to our readers, we have chosen a name!  Stay tuned on how you can contribute towards our adventure and the charity!

4 Bloggers
2 Continents
15 Countries
9000 miles (14,500 km)
Countless Flat Tires
1,000 Wrong Turns
Hundreds of Dollars in Bribes
Thousands of Dollars in Equipment and Travel

One Giant Adventure

Meet the The Social Media Syndicate

All images from Mongol Rally Website

Your Comments

24 Comments so far

  1. Anil says:

    This question has been floating around my mind as well a bit based on a few places I have coming up. I suppose that’s what peaks out interests.

    I’m genuinely excited for you and the team – seems like one hell of an adventure :)

  2. Amy says:

    Really interesting point Sherry about the fear building while you are here in the US. It is so true. I am really looking forward to following you all on the Mongol Rally. It is going to be amazing. Will make a great book at the end!

  3. Gillian says:

    I can’t wait to follow along!

  4. RickGriffin says:

    Thanks a lot Sherry for reminding me of the risks and hazards we might encounter along the way… … … (dripping sarcasm). I was trying really hard not to think about those things.

    Nevertheless, the opportunity to participate in an adventure of these proportions far outweighs any risk… I hope.


    P.S. There’s no way I’m letting my wife read this blog post:)

  5. Mark H says:

    Like in all travel, the only person who can truly judge the risk and danger is you. You can read books and websites and talk to others but it is your call at the end of the day. I have always worked on the “gut feeling” rule that if a place felt or appeared to be too dangerous for any value I got from going there, then I avoided it. It hasn’t yet stopped me from travelling through any countries but I have avoided certain locations at night and skirted certain tense situations (police and locals) in Africa. The sense of the unknown is what makes the Mongol Rally look so good and exciting and I am sure that deep down, that is what attracted you to it as well. Best of luck – looks superb. Like Anil, I have a sense of excitement for you.

  6. Dave and Deb says:

    Reading your post, I am just getting even more excited! It is going to be such a blast. We cycled Africa in 2008 and it had dangerous waivers also. A person has died on the Tour d’Afrique and there have been many severe injuries on the cycling race through Africa that we went on. During our own tour there was a dislocated shoulder, concussion and many stitches and infections. I myself had a serious blood infection from a fall. After cycling through crazy traffic and no roads in Africa we totally cannot wait to driving in the same conditions. We are so excited to be doing it with you and Rick too! The four of us love an adventure and we are all definitely up for the challenge. Bring it on, we’re ready and counting the days!

  7. Audrey says:

    We ran into quite a few Mongol Rally folks when we were in Uzbekistan a few years ago. Their stories from break downs & drinking vodka with mechanics, playing ukeleles for corrupt border police, having Iranians give up their gas coupons to help them get out of the country, being led to brothels instead of hotels, difficult roads and so much more were crazy, fun, whacky and just great. True, there is always an element of danger in road trips, but so much potential for experiences that you’ll never have again. Enjoy!!

  8. It’s going to be quite the adventure!! I’ll be watching from “Under the Stars” Five Stars!!!

  9. JoAnna says:

    I’ve researched the Mongol race before, and while it sounds like so much fun, I think it sounds a little scary too. When people tell me it’s dangerous to travel, I try to explain that it’s dangerous to wake up in the morning and just live. In any case, life is a calculated risk, but if we don’t live each day without any regrets, then why live at all?

    Enjoy the race! I can’t wait to follow along!

  10. Aly says:

    Wow, I’ve been to their site before and have been curious about it ever since! I’m sure it will be tough but between the four of you I know you’ll have a great adventure!!

  11. Steve B says:

    Yes, but come back in one piece, k? And remember my MOM reads your blog.

  12. Dan Wedgwood says:

    Over at Rally HQ we’re glad the warnings and the monster of a team entry agreement didn’t put you off!

    Sometimes people manage to misunderstand what the rally is and what a beast of an adventure it is – surprising but true – so we have to be sure that everyone understands that it’s possibly one of the greatest overland rallies on our fine planet, and therefore pretty risky…

    Let us know if you have any questions


  13. Dave says:

    This is my first time hearing about the Mangol Rally and damn it sounds AWESOME! Safety is boring. This will no doubt be an exciting adventure!

  14. Kirk Horsted says:

    Dear Sherry,

    I think you are brave and fearless. I hope I am not dead wrong. I hope you are neither dead nor wrong too! Carry on!

  15. islandmomma says:

    Your excitment is palpable, and I can’t wait for your first posts! Were I younger, and know what I know now, I wouldn’t hesitate to go – as you say, waking up in the morning can be dangerous! You’re all lucky to have discovered this while still young enough to do it!

  16. Great article about a topic I’ve faced quite often as a solo female traveler. Glad to hear you’re taking the plunge! Crossing 15 countries, at times with no roads, is going to be an incredible experience for your team. Best of luck on your road-warrior adventure to Mongolia.

    ~cheers, @hiptraveler

  17. Sweet!! I love it. I have to say their disclaimer was not holding back. I do think they made it as bad as possible to cover their ass!

    At least it’s been going on for years, right? So the locals will probably be expecting you! They are used to it now and are hopefully finding ways to fleece the crazy rally peeps!

    SO true about fear coming back here in the US. We are on some crazy parallel vibe. I just booked my trip to Colombia, which is so much safer nowadays, but a part of me, after reading many blogs, wonder if I will at least get robbed at knife point. And am wondering about my safety for the first time in a long time…at least since I was traveling.
    Keep it up Sherry! Life never has to be boring…you are proof of that!

  18. flip says:

    after Lauren had shared their story with me, I’ve dreamt of joining thie MOngol rally… im happy that you’re gonna participate for this one… goodluck and take good care on the road…

    im excited for you guys!!!

  19. Andi says:

    DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahhhh how freaking cool. Best luck and best wishes. :)

  20. Well Sherry, I can see that this is going to be another of those serial adventures where your posts leave me cliff-hanging, waiting for the next episode. It is SO true about the fear building each time you go back to the US. I’ve been on the road for most of this year so I’ve avoided the fear, but I remember when I went back to the States for a longer period and how I had to convince myself to get back out there in the world. How I wish I was going with you on this Mongol Rally adventure, but at least reading about it will be the next best thing.

  21. Jenneil says:

    I can’t wait to hear about you adventures. As long as you have a mature team of travelers, and not a bunch of adrenaline junkies you should be fine.

    May I ask how much it cost for a team?

    • admin says:

      You make a fabulous point – I don’t think any of us will do anything very crazy! The team cost is around $1200 to enter – however then we have to raise another $1000 for charity AND get a car to donate! Lot of other expenses associated with it!

  22. Following your tracks shortly.
    We too are heading to Mongolia this Summer.
    Wish us good luck

    Fred from the Adventourists

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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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Where am I and Where am I going?

Costa Brava Spain -> Barcelona

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