The Road to Mongolia

I’ve been fascinated by Mongolia for years. I have no idea why. I’ve never been there, don’t know anybody who’s been there, and don’t really know much about the country, its history, or its people. Perhaps I’m drawn because, like my home state of Alaska, it’s vast and remote, with few roads. The human population is sparse, and much of the land is relatively untouched. I’ve been saving for years for a ten-day guided mountain biking trip, which costs about $3500, plus airfare and expenses. Not a lot of money, but I keep getting sidetracked by things such as medical bills, home or vehicle repairs, etc. You know–life stuff.

One late April day, I was sitting at my desk at work waiting for the person on the other end of the phone, idling surfing the Internet, as I often do when on ignore. Out of curiosity, I went to the Orbitz website and put in Ulaanbaatar, just to see how airfare prices were doing. They were the same–about $2000 roundtrip in the summer months. I started playing with the dates to see if that would affect prices.

And it did.

I know that airfare prices vary substantially for more touristy destinations, such as Paris and London and so forth. But nobody goes to Mongolia. Seriously, it’s not a vacation destination. How many people have you heard saying they were going to Mongolia for vacation? I can honestly say no one.

Airfare to Ulaanbaatar in October is half what it is in summer months.


OK, if I went to Mongolia in October, what would I do? Mongolia is a mile above sea level. Although Ulaanbaatar is roughly the same latitude of Seattle (actually, just slightly south), its climate is more like that of Alaska. Not a good time for a mountain biking trip.


I like October. It’s a good month. It’s one of my favorite months in Alaska. I love the crisp autumn air, the turning leaves, and the excitement of the first snowfall.

What if I just went for a week and stayed in the city?

I added hotels to my airfare.


Hotels are really cheap in Ulaanbaatar, at least in October. Airfare plus hotel packages started at just under a thousand dollars for a week.

Hostels were out; I was not interested in spending a week at a hostel. If I were just passing through the city, a hostel would be fine. But I wanted some place where I could unwind and relax at the end of the day without having to worry about the needs–or intrusions–of other people.

I found some adorable B&Bs not too far from the city center. But, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do a B&B for my first visit. I don’t know Mongolian or Russian, and I will be traveling by myself. It would be best if I stayed at a hotel where at least some of the staff spoke a little English.

A little more searching, and I found a four-star hotel in the center of Ulaanbaatar, within blocks of all the major cultural interests. It had lots of good reviews from people of all nationalities. Sounds perfect! Hotel selected.

I picked a reputable airline–Korean Air–and, because I want to spend as little time as possible on planes and in airports, I picked a flight with only one short layover and clicked submit. That upped the price a little, but it’s money well spent. Hotel and airfare for seven days/six nights–US$1,200. I added trip insurance for an additional $200. I’ve never added trip insurance before, but I thought it probably wise this time. My last trip had been canceled because of Snowmageddon, and because I did not have trip insurance and my tickets were non-refundable, I was SOL.

Total trip cost, including airfare, hotel, trip insurance, fees, and taxes: US$1,448.46.

Time off approved, passport application submitted, and purchase button clicked.

Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet! I’m going to Mongolia!

Stay tuned for this EPIC ADVENTURE!!!