Why Are So Many Millennials Going to Mongolia?

It was near midnight, in a storm, on a dirt road in the middle of Mongolia. Still, the river seemed manageable.

My cousin Cole Paullin and I were searching for a place to camp, and I was exhausted from a long day of fording streams in our rented four-by-four truck.

“Seems fine,” I said. “Go for it.”

Cole accelerated and the front tires plunged off an unseen embankment, slamming onto the rocks below. We were perched at a precarious angle, and the front half of the truck was submerged. Water intruded through a crack in the door, lapping onto my feet. I imagined our rental deposit draining downstream.

Drawn by the noise, two young men came over from a nearby tent camp. One waded toward the car into the waist-deep water with a message typed on Google Translate: “This is dangerous.” I was too embarrassed to be scared.

I lent him my rain jacket as he made some calls. Thankfully, there was cellular service. Within an hour, a man with a truck and a tow strap arrived. We reversed at full speed while he accelerated, extricating us from the river.

“That was Disneyland, dude,” said Cole, 27, channeling the slang of his native Los Angeles. “What a ride.”

Cole and I live on different continents — he’s in Philadelphia and I’m in London — but once a year, we convene somewhere new for an outdoors trip. This year, we decided to take a weeklong drive across Mongolia.

Over the past decade, millennials like me — those born between roughly 1981 and 1996 — have been seeking out remote places like Mongolia, while other tourists crowd Santorini, the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum. It may be a reaction to a world that’s increasingly condensed into our phones, where the same few destinations pop up again and again on Instagram grids and travel blogs. What we have gained in accessibility, we have lost in serendipity.

The Mongolian government has been trying to capitalize on this desire for less curated travel. It has invested in a digital marketing campaign targeting people ages 23 to 40. It has also invited social media influencers to come to Mongolia and post videos of the country’s verdant valleys, Caribbean-blue lakes and orange sand dunes. According to a 2019 survey cited by Mongolia’s tourism ministry, 49 percent of visitors to the country were under 40.

Cole and I hadn’t planned much. We arrived with only our backpacks and a rental car booking from Sixt — one we weren’t sure was real. Sixt’s Mongolian offices operate by bank transfer, and before we arrived, we had sent more than $2,000 to their account. I worried it could be a scam.

After nearly an hour on a dirt road, we pulled up to a small, dusty entrance gate. I asked the national park manager, Batzaya Batchuluun, if visitors ever had a hard time finding the place. “Most people come with a guide. But young people like you are starting to show up on their own,” he said. “They have phones. They get here eventually.”

Mongolia is surprisingly connected. Despite the long stretches between villages, we got cellular internet service on much of our drive (using a Mongolian SIM card). One day as I was watching camels in the desert, I was even able to do something absurd: Try my luck with Ticketmaster for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour tickets. (Like so many others, I was disappointed.)

“We didn’t want a trip where everything is organized for you,” Maria Galí Reniu, a 31-year-old from Spain, said. Hanna Winkler, a 30-year-old from Austria, chimed in: “On our own, we can just pull off anywhere we decide is a nice camp spot.”

Cole and I also pulled off where we liked. At night, we camped under the Milky Way, arching bright above our rooftop tent. During the day, we made lunch in golden canola fields or next to winding rivers. In Elsen Tasarkhai, a long stretch of sand known as the mini-Gobi Desert, we rode two-humped Bactrian camels.

Halfway through our trip, I persuaded Cole to detour to Tsenkher hot springs, a popular destination for Mongolians. Nearly an hour down a dirt road, we came across a crowd of children, bobbing on horses. Drawing closer, we saw they had numbers pinned to their shirts.

One girl and 41 boys, ages 8 and up, gathered for a race. The families used their cars and motorcycles to herd the horses to the starting line. Parents smiled and motioned for us to follow as they lined up their cars next to the horses. When the horses took off, we did too, speeding across the grass alongside the racers at nearly 50 miles per hour.

Just as the first horse crossed the finish line, it began to hail. What would have been a celebration turned into an exodus. Some of the riders crossed the finish line and then headed straight into the hills, braving pellets of ice.

As we drove on toward the hot springs, torrential rain overpowered the windshield wipers, and we began to slide. We passed Priuses, a favorite car in Mongolia, mired on the roadsides. Each time we forded a swollen river, the water rose closer to the cab, until we got stuck and it finally leaked in.

The storm had also flooded the hot springs. As we shivered in a tepid pool, one English-speaking boy commiserated: “Sorry you missed the hot water.”

Back in Ulaanbaatar, the wildflowers seemed far away as I stood with the Sixt agent and worried about the truck. Was there any damage from getting stuck in the river? The truck was so covered in mud and dust, it was hard to tell.

Sahred From Source link Travel

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