Packing for Travel to Mongolia is a bit intimidating, especially when attending a 480km endurance horse race with the Gobi Desert Cup.
The quiet encompasses me like a blanket, comforting in its embrace. Here, I will have no internet, no connection to the outside world I’ve relied on so long. Instead, I have the stars shining brightly above me, beckoning me with their winking glow. In the distance, a wolf howls, while the Mongolian horses wander off in search of grass. There has been a massive drought and food is scarce. But the people are welcoming and invite us to share in their culture and their hospitality.
This is what I imagine the evenings will bring at the Gobi Desert Cup this August. After the nightly rider’s briefing and all have gone to bed, there remains only a few to look at the vast world around them and realize here is where the great Genghis Khan built an empire that still stands today.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the outdoors! I’ll be outside all day long (if the temperature is between 40 degrees and 80 degrees, of course). But when it comes to sleeping I prefer a cushioned mattress as opposed to the hard ground. Call me high maintenance if you will, it doesn’t bother me at all.
That being said, I’m all for pushing myself especially if I get to be around horses. That’s why despite the fact I’ll be roughing it for two weeks, I’ll be having the adventure of a lifetime at the Gobi Desert Cup. If you are wondering why I am going in the first place when I’m a self-confessed timid rider, you can read my initial announcement here.
Confession: I’m not exactly a camper, so this will be a very adventurous trip.
But first thing’s first, I have to pack! My travels to Mongolia are only a few weeks away. I’ve been diligently preparing but as I profess I am not a camper by any means. However, what I am good at is research.
Some handy facts about Mongolia:
- You will need vaccinations. Plan at least four weeks out. Because I will be drinking well water, eating unpasteurized food, and encountering wild animals I require the following: Tetanus, Hepatitis A; Rabies (three separate vaccinations); and Typhoid.
- Ulanbataar, Mongolia is relatively easy to travel to. Connecting flights from China are especially easy, as is riding the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I just wish I had the time. However, Ulanbataar is crowded and it can be slow moving. Traveling into the outskirts is by motorcycle, horse, or car and there are no paved roads to speak of. Rugged, bouncy, and no signs!
- Once you leave the city you will have limited access to phone service and very likely, electricity.
Excited yet? I am. I’ve put together a rather detailed packing list. Keep in mind that while I’m not riding the semi-wild Mongolian horses, I will be actively photographing the race and running around in the heat, or cold, depending on the time of day and the cold desert’s inclination.
- Suitcase. I’ll be traveling a total of two weeks. However, I’m allowed only one soft-sided suitcase. The horror! Just kidding, I’ll survive it. I have a little plan. As I obtain my objects I am squirreling away for my trip in a corner of my room to organize later. My poor husband. But he is the best and supported me in traveling to Mongolia in the first place. I plan on bringing my large luggage with me to Ulanbataar with my tote bag carry-on and camera bag. In the checked luggage I will be packing my Eagle Creek 120L collapsible rolling duffel bag. This bag is the one I will be taking with me on the challenge, while the others remain behind at the hotel awaiting my return. I travel with one large suitcase and come back with two fully-extended suitcases. One filled with necessities, while the other is filled with black market yummies.
- Medication. Once you leave the city you won’t have any handy pharmacies available. Make sure to bring ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal tablets, and anything else you will need on the journey. Chances are you won’t find them in the desert.
- Water Filter/ Purifier. You will most likely be drinking well water. The safest option is to boil it, but in a pinch, a water filter and/ or water purifier may be necessary to protect you from harmful viruses and bacteria. Camping stores sell different options and you can find some also on Amazon. Do your research and find what is best for your needs.
- Water Bottles. I am a big fan of collapsible water bottles. They take up little space when unused, and are easy to pack and store.
- Sun Protection. Protect your delicate skin. Wear sun-shirts and make sure to lather exposed skin with a high SPF. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and bring a hat as well as additional protection. It blocks the sun and also creates warmth on those cold desert nights.
- Insect Repellent. While Malaria isn’t a huge problem in Mongolia, mosquitos are and there are other insects and insect-borne illnesses. Before you leave on your trip spray your clothes and sleeping gear in Permethrin. Make sure to bring an insect repellent for yourself as well for wet and humid days.
- Head Lamp. Gers do not have electricity and neither do the Gobi Desert Cup tents. A headlamp makes it easy to find your way to the bathroom aka hole in the ground, and perhaps read a book before drifting off to sleep.
- Baby Wipes. I know the benefits of baby wipes, after all, I’m a mom. I keep them in the tack barn as well. They are all-purpose and can be used for almost anything. Bring them to wash your hands, your face, your body when it’s covered in dust and grime and you cannot shower (no plumbing). They are also handy for those bathroom breaks.
- Sleeping Bag and Mattress Pad. When attending the Gobi Desert Cup I will have a tent, but it is up to me to bring a sleeping bag and mattress pad. I need something with good compression that can pack up quickly and easily fit into the single bag I’m bringing with me. That’s right, ONE bag. Because evenings can get very cold in the desert, I must have at least a three-season bag.
- Compression Pants/ Hiking Pants. Running around all day I don’t want to be hiking up my jeans, especially while lugging a very large camera. I will likely bring at least one pair with a belt, which is apparently prized by Mongolian men. However, I will most likely be in a pair of compression pants, Athleta pants; and my new favorite: the Kerrits Trekker breech. Sturdy, comfortable for the temperatures and all day wear, and yet still stylish.
- Comfortable Shoes. I will travel in sneakers but I am a boot girl. My rather large collection is a testament to that. My favorite Ovation Rhona Country Boots are a few years old and while I love them and they show no loss of function, I fear that they will give out from the demands of Mongolia. With limited packing ability, I made the hard decision to buy a pair of Toggi Boots. I’m currently breaking them in and since they are leather with adjustable calf and cushioned foot, I’m hoping these will do the trick.
- Layers, Layers, Layers. Temperatures fluctuate widely in Mongolia and can vary from moment to moment. Rain one second, sun the next. Hot and dusty by day, and cold and windy by night. The only way to pack is to bring layers. Short sleeves, sun shirts, a vest, and a rain jacket. I’m hedging my bets and planning to bring fingerless gloves and a knit hat just in case. I sleep well at night but not when freezing.
- Sports Bra. I’m a curvy girl. Regardless, most women have breasts. Those dusty tracks they call roads in Mongolia are hard on a truck’s shocks, and riding horses is no real difference. So I plan to bring quite a few full support sports bras to keep me comfortable.
And now for the photography tools that I must bring to Mongolia. While riders must bring their own essentials, I must plan for every eventuality. And still, have limited baggage options.
- Durable Camera Bag. I need a good camera bag that is comfortable, able to hold everything I need and be water-resistant. I’ll primarily be taking photos but I will be filming as well so I have to prepare all my tools. I found the Everyday Backpack by Peak Design and am absolutely in love (in theory). If all goes well, it will perfectly fit my needs. I plan to take it on a trial run at the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Racetrack and see how we do for the day before I pack it for Mongolia.
- Camera and Lenses. The good stuff. I love my Nikon D7200 and 70-200 F/2.8 lens. But it certainly takes up room. I’m aware that I’ll need my small lens so I’ll be bringing that as well of course.
- Monopod or Tripod. Large lenses mean a heavy camera, especially using it 12 hours a day. A monopod is my favorite option for ease of use and to still let me adjust easily. However, the tripod is perfect for those short video interviews and image stabilization.
- Memory Cards. I recently spoke with equine photographer S. Sylvester about her trip to South Africa. Her biggest suggestion? About 10 SD cards in smaller sizes. The reason is simple. If something happens to the SD card, it gets cracked, broken, or is just unusable- then I didn’t lose a huge amount of photos. Pretty smart. So I’ve opted to bring mostly 64GB cards with a few 128 GB and 32GBs thrown in.
- External Hard Drive. At the end of the day, I’ll be downloading my photos and those of my lovely assistants to an external backup source. One can never be too careful. Plus, it makes it easier to travel with and easier to keep track of than a small SD card.
- Batteries and Chargers. I’m bringing four batteries and a universal charger. Overkill? I don’t think so. My camera battery lasts a long time, but I have to take turns in the truck to use the 12v charger.
- Adaptors. I will be in a hotel in Ulanbataar for three nights, but I will also need a USB adaptor to charge my phone and camera batteries. Lots of fun technology for a country that is still in the dark ages in the best way.
- Weather Protector. I didn’t mention this earlier but it should be a staple in your camera bag regardless. Protect your equipment!
Optional: Solar Charger. I found a solar charger on Amazon that was well-recommended by hikers, campers, and travel photographers. I did a little research and decided to try it out. The carabiner clips it onto my camera bag and it charges during the day so that I may use it to charge my phone, laptop, and camera should I need to.
I’ll be writing about the experience and interviewing the riders as well as team members throughout our journey. Inspiration strikes at the drop of a hat and writing about my experiences as they happen are the best way to keep them fresh and full of life. Which, of course, means that I must have access to my writing materials. Not always easy especially with that pesky single-bag thing.
- Laptop. I hope this doesn’t come to bite me. I plan to bring my laptop to help the image transfer as well as write down my thoughts quickly and easily. I can also schedule social media posts offline that will send when we hit a hotspot. But I need to make sure that I have a shockproof and dustproof case to protect my sweet baby.
- Journal. There is nothing quite like writing down your thoughts in a journal. Plus, you don’t have to wait for the internet or worry about the power going out on you. I love to keep a travel journal to keep the memories alive.
- Pens. You cannot have a journal without plenty of pens to write with. Besides, I may have a little surprise in store for the riders that I will need to use the pen.
- Riding Equipment. While I’m not a rider in this year’s race, the Gobi Desert Cup riders are expected to bring some safety items, including but not limited to helmets among other things that I’m not at liberty to share.
- Treats for the Kids. We’ll be traveling to local nomads and gers each evening. The nomadic Mongolians are quite friendly and hospitable. A good visitor always brings a gift. I’m told that the children love little surprises like candies.
- Snacks. Breakfast and lunch will be eaten each day in camp but lunch will be on the run as it were. I plan on bringing protein bars to eat during our days, and hopefully, that will be enough!
- Extra suitcase for all those lovely Black Market items and cashmere for your friends and family at home.
And being an overachiever by nature, I of course made a handy little infographic for our riders to use. Handy isn’t it?