When is Travel Too Dangerous?

November 11, 2010 24 Comments »

“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 in 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.

Learn about the culture of Mongolian nomads

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 they are more likely to get in an accident to/from their commute from work than 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, go to prison, be disfigured, or 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 for 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 Social Media Syndicate

All images from the Mongol Rally Website

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