Mongolia adventure vacation

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2017: 3 Jun, 17 Jun, 22 Jul
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Mongolia adventure vacation

Environment

Always a tricky one this. We can promise you the world but how do we prove it? Responsible, sustainable or ethical travel - in recent years, it has developed many labels and is now a widely-used selling tool in the tourism industry. But, what does it mean? Although there is no real clear definition, it has to be more than ensuring that we collect all of our rubbish, asking before taking a photograph or being aware of the cultural norms. That’s what we should be automatically doing anyway.

Below are some of the elements of my responsible travel philosophy for our Untamed Mongolia itinerary where we can show real evidence of our practise.

Taking A Road Trip

A majority of visitors who visit Mongolia fly down to either the Gobi or north to Khovsgol. However, most of the guests have heard my philosophy behind our 'road trips' - that flying from place to place gives you no context of location, no real experience of the country or the lives of the people in-between. Taking a domestic flight also adds significantly to your carbon footprint (which will be big enough having flown to Mongolia!). That’s why my Untamed Mongolia focuses on traveling across country - it slows you down and gives you time to experience the ‘places in between’, the places and communities not actually mentioned in the guidebooks.

Group Size

Unlike a majority of the larger tour companies, where small group travel can mean being in a group of up to 12-18 people, when I say small group travel this is what I mean. Our group size on this trip has been kept small - a maximum of six. This means that experiences during this itinerary become more personal and authentic for you. We are not an overwhelming presence - on the local communities or the local environment.

Camping

During this experience you will at certain locations camp in tents. When we camp, where possible, we use only existing campsites, keep them small and, if required, we always ask permission of local families or park rangers. We carry all litter with us until we can dispose of it in a responsible manner, removing any litter left by others (to the best of our ability). We ensure that we leave our campsites in a better condition than we found them. Always.

Our itineraries and departures

My philosophy is to have a limited amount of departures for each of our itineraries. We also do not concentrate specifically on one area.

Mongolia is a country of incredibly diverse yet fragile ecosystems. By limiting our presence in certain areas, we help to preserve and protect and help to avoid the area changing environmentally due to repeated and extended exposure to tourism.

Yes we visit areas such as Lake Khovsgol on this trip where tourism has become more concentrated in Mongolia but this itinerary also incorporates areas that are not necessarily considered ‘highlights’ by other tour companies or the guidebooks such as the community of Jargalant on this trip. Wherever we visit, supporting local is at the heart of what we do and at the centre of each experience we offer. By not focusing on one area, it also means that we help to support communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism industry.

Our trips also focus on 21st Century Mongolia - yes, you’ll get to experience the traditional way of life but at the same time gain an overview as what it means to be Mongolian in 21st Century Mongolia.

The people we work with are ‘real’ people. Not tourism professionals. You’ll meet people from Ulaanbaatar, you’ll meet herders, you’ll meet Mongolians that live in the provincial centres as well as the smaller town and rural communities. They are all Mongolians. Take time out to meet them.

Waste

The disposal of rubbish is a major issue in Mongolia - especially with plastic. As part of my Responsible Travel ethos I pay a local Mongolian NGO (Mongolian Quilting Centre) to make fabric tote bags for our guests which we hand out for free as a welcome pack at the start of each trip. This is a souvenir for our guests but it also helps to support the project and helps us to cut down on the waste we produce. As part of your Mongolia experience, you will also receive such a tote bag.

Also, you can book knowing that we finance our own three-day rubbish collection at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park where you will stay for three nights as part of this itinerary. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been organising this event for the previous two years.

Community

Ulaanbaatar

You’ll start off in Mongolia’s capital city. Read a guidebook or a travel forum and frequently Ulaanbaatar is overlooked. But, it's home to roughly 45% of Mongolia's population and this alone means that it should be experienced. We don't offer a tour of museums or souvenir shops but a day spent walking through the local areas of the city. What’s it like to live there? What kind of communities exist? What are the challenges? My aim is that you experience all aspects of Mongolian culture - rather than just those highlighted by guidebooks.

Cultural Impact

My small company is not a ‘world specialist’; we concentrate on the country we know and love – Mongolia. We research, design and operate each itinerary ourselves and do not source our itineraries from other agents.

Supporting local is at the heart of what we do. Part of this philosophy is that we used ger accommodation provided by the Mongolian families. At no point have we ever rocked up and demanded accommodation. Our relationships with the families we work with are genuine - forged over time and with plenty of tea.

Families offer ger accommodation to help supplement their income. Most are small rural businesses providing extra accommodation. Some accommodation is offered by herders, some is offered by ‘retired’ herders who no longer migrate, some by families that live in small town communities and some by families that own small ger camp businesses. By using this form of accommodation it provides you with a more genuine insight in to the real way of life in Mongolia and it benefits the local communities through which we are traveling.

However, these are real people with real lives to lead and at no point do we ask the families to change their way of life for our/your own benefit or comfort. If they don’t have a shower, neither will you! (Don’t panic!…see below!). We ask our guests to try and embrace (!) and enjoy any differences that they come across in Mongolia. Experiencing the differences is all part of any trip and makes it a more authentic and positive vacation for you and a more respectful and enjoyable experience for the locals as well.

One example of this is our use of the local town shower houses. Very few families have access to running water from a tap. We do as the locals do and use the local town shower houses such as the one in Mandalgobi. They’re a great way to meet members of the local community but it also means we do not put too much pressure on local resources. In the words of author Jack Weatherford in Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – ‘Compared to the difficulty of daily life for the herders, living permanently in those areas, ours were only the smallest of irritations.’

Reviews of Mongolia adventure vacation

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the vacations.

I am reborn! Simply the best vacation I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 27 Jul 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


The amazing landscapes were very memorable as were the Mongolian people and their culture. The wild camp sites were a huge highlight of the trip.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Mongolia can be a challenging country to really travel around and experience but the operator made the journey as easy, comfortable and enjoyable as possible. They are up front and honest about everything regarding this overland camping journey. Don't hesitate to contact Jess if you have any concerns or are unsure about what to expect. The trip info provided is excellent. The small max group sizes also made the operator stand out from other tour operators.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Local people definitely benefited through employment and training. The operator certainly aims to support local people and this ethos shines through.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Amazing. Trip of a life time.

Reviewed on 23 Jul 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Staying in family Ger Camps, especially the night that started with trying in Dellchs (the national coat/dress) and ended in a singsong, with songs from Mongolia, Ireland and Oz.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Be prepared for the hard Ger beds and as a person who needs to be Gluten free, bring your own stock of bread & snacks.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


All of the above - Jess is passionate about working at people and their communities level rather than using big business run camps, leading to more & More real contact with the people of the country.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


It was fantastic, with excellent local interaction with the families who owned the Ger Camps, fab views and an idea of the vastness of the country/ steppes.

Reviewed on 26 Aug 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


There was not one part of the vacation that stood out: the entire trip - all 23 days - made it amazing! The landscapes, the animals, the people, the small group we were traveling with: it all was just right and made for a mind-blowing vacation.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Come with an open mind and be flexible. Not everything goes according to plan, which is okay if you're open for it, as it provides you with new opportunities.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes -without a doubt. Only Mongol products were bought, Ger-camps were camps run by Mongolians, all employees are Mongolian. Camping spots were chosen in collaboration with rangers, and real efforts were made for waste reduction and cleanup. There was even a waste-clean up run!

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Very satisfied with this vacation

Reviewed on 20 Aug 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Impossible to answer - there were so many highlights: the vast landscapes, the variety of landscapes, the sunsets, the wilderness hikes, the wildflowers, the feeling of isolation, the fantastic campsites sourced by the team, the unexpected encounters with locals, sighting of birds and animals, just being immersed in the world of Mongolian herders and watching it unfold, the camaraderie and friendship of the team (trip advisors and drivers) and our fellow travelers, experiencing the day-to-day lives of Mongolians - traveling on their long, dusty, bumpy roads; showering in town showers; shopping in local markets; and eating their food (yes, even the mutton!).

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


You need to be open to whatever happens (and not tied to an itinerary), prepared to go without a shower every day, be happy to wash your clothes in a stream or wherever you can (certainly without a washing machine), be happy to enjoy what's happening right in front of you - the scenery, the changing landscapes, the passing flocks of sheep and goats, herds of horses, yaks and cattle - and not worrying about what time it is or what's happening on-line. You need to be comfortable going to the toilet behind a sand-dune or a tree, you need to care for the environment by responsibly disposing of toilet paper, drinking the local water (it's clean and safe) and you need to accept and enjoy the accommodation for what it is - not for what you might expect 'back home'. If you can do all that, you will be rewarded with amazing scenery and experiences, places and people.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Absolutely. Jess and the team practice what they preach. Shopping for food and other supplies is done locally, at markets and in small shops, spread amongst different suppliers. The small group size (four guests on our trip) meant
that we had little impact when we arrived at an isolated camp-site or in a small community. We stayed with local families, sometimes ate in local restaurants, bought ice-creams in tiny shops in isolated communities - all payments going directly to local people. Good quality water was collected from wells and springs so as we could replenish our water bottles (no mountains of empty plastic bottles on this trip), and the team made it easy for us to act responsibly with toilet
paper and waste, leaving no trace on the landscape. The operator also supports local environmental and social initiatives, both financially and practically.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Our vacation in Mongolia was outstanding. We've been lucky to travel lots - to many different countries, many different styles of travel - and this was by far the best we have experienced. Jess, Turuu, and the whole team are committed to offering a real taste of Mongolia, in a responsible and environmentally-friendly way that benefits local people and communities. This vacation was my 60th birthday celebration and gift to myself. It exceeded my expectations on every count.

Reviewed on 20 Jul 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Everything. We had an excellent group. The tour leader and drivers were wonderful. We felt like a group of friends enjoying the vast expanses of Mongolia with lots of positive energy. We were well taken care of - the company, the food, the blend of travel and time to just enjoy were all perfect.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Just go with the flow. Have no particular expectations and be delighted with Mongolia and the vacation company.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Definitely. From shopping in little shops that gave some money to the local areas, picking up rubbish and leaving no garbage of our own behind anywhere. Also the vacation operator supports some very valuable projects for Mongolia.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


10 out of 10. I have been an independent traveler for more than 40 years, but would have wanted nothing different on this trip.

Reviewed on 10 Jul 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


The most meaningful moments were interacting with locals and the land in an authentic way. We stayed with our driver's friends, learned first hand on the herder's way of life,camped off the beaten path, washed in streams, made dung fires, identifyed birds and plants.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Set realistic expectations. Mongolia is a beautiful but harsh environment. Be prepared to enjoy the moments as they come... Versus holding on to western standards.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Absolutely. The travel company works directly with locals to support their income. All trip assistants are women whom get to practice their English. Any add on tours support charity organizations.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Authentic. Poignant. Challenging but very genuine.

Reviewed on 03 Jul 2014 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Staying with families rather than at ger camps and being able to interact with
them during their regular routines. The scenery. Driving from place to place
rather than flying to see the country and take advantage of ad hoc opportunities
like shear shearing, horse mane cutting and Nadam horse race practice.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Be prepared for rough roads. I've traveled all over the world and Mongolia does
win the prize for the most consistent bumpy roads. That's part of the experience, though. If you truly want to see the real Mongolia you need to drive from place to place. Eternal Landscapes fully delivered on what was promised - the real Mongolia with no contrived experiences. They also took better care of their vehicles than some of the other companies.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. We stayed with local families who could use the extra income. EL hires
local drivers and guides and pays them fair wages. Groceries were purchased from local stores and we were given the opportunity to visit local markets and buy local products. El also supports Mongolians through support of various projects throughout the country.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Excellent. The operator delivered on what was promised. They are
knowledgeable and experienced. I feel I experienced most of the various
Mongolian climatic areas, from the desert to the mountains and northern lakes.
We experienced local food and traditions and were able to build relationships
with the local people. Staying at tourist ger camps would not have allowed us
to do this. EL is flexible and will adjust the vacation to meet the various
needs of their clients.

Reviewed on 05 Aug 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Meeting the local Mongolian people.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


To prepare physically more for the trip as the trekking was quite challenging.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Excellent. It had a good mix of tourist activities with more non-touristy things.

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