After a 9 day tour in Mongolia through the Central and Gobi region, I developed a serious list of things I wish I’d brought, things I’m thankful I had, and things I didn’t need to have stuffed in my bag. This tour was totally unlike any other travel I’d done, so it was a bit of a learning curve packing-wise. If you’re considering your own Mongolia travel adventure, here’s my list of what to pack for Mongolia so you’re totally prepared.
Special Notes About Typical Mongolia Travel
- Make sure to tell your tour guides (several times and way in advance) if you have dietary restrictions. There aren’t typically a lot of fruits and vegetables, but they go heavy on the mutton, potatoes, onions, rice, and noodles. Also on the milk tea. Most of the people on my trip experienced upset stomach or diarrhea at some points if not all, probably because our stomachs are unaccustomed to the fatty mutton meats, and there isn’t great access to cleaning yourself (no running water or flushing toilets).
- While there are some paved roads near the big cities in Mongolia, most of the roads are dirt or aren’t really roads at all. You’ll be spending a lot of time in a van which doesn’t have seatbelt, so prepare to do a lot of bouncing around. Make sure to face forward if you get motion-sick easily.
- You’ll make stops at grocery stores or markets nearly every day, so don’t worry about running out of snacks or supplies.
- While there isn’t wifi anywhere on most tours, and there is very limited access to outlets/electricity to charge your devices, you will find some service in certain spots if you have a SIM card or data plan.
- You’ll more than likely stay in ger camps each night, which is sort of like camping but with a hard bed and and much better-insulated tent.
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What to Pack for Mongolia
*Most of these items are purchasable in the markets, but my DIY febreeze bottle & solution should be make before-hand. The torch might be worth purchasing beforehand too.
Toilet Paper – this is self explanatory enough, there isn’t any TP anywhere once you’re out at the ger camps. A few western-style toilets exist in tourist attractions for a low cost and sometimes these have TP but you’ll 100% need this along the way. If you don’t like to use TP as tissues for blowing your nose then bring some of those too.
Baby wipes – these serve a dual purpose. The first is to clean your entire body as a shower-replacement because you’ll likely only get 1 chance on a week-long tour to shower at a campsite, maybe 2 if you’re lucky. I went through 2 packages of 70, but I also fell in the mud at one point and had to use a bunch of wipes to get clean then. You might be okay with one pack, and you can also buy more at the daily market stops just about anywhere.
Febreeze spray – to freshen up your clothes after you’ve worn them for the 4th day in a row. I prefer to use my own DIY febreeze – just get a spray bottle and fill it with water, 10 drops of essential lavender oil and 10 drops of essential tea tree oil. Then it’s also safe to use on your face and body to freshen up as well!
Lantern/flashlight – the toilets at the ger camps are usually 100-200 paces away from the gers, with no additional lighting. As you can imagine, it can get quite difficult to find your way to the toilet in the middle of the night. Your iPhone light will probably suffice if you have one, but if you don’t want to risk dropping your phone down the potty pit, a cheap flashlight isn’t a bad idea. There are sometimes lights in the gers but not always. And not always very strong. A flashlight or lantern can help for that as well, especially if you want to read before bed.
Hand sanitizer – there is no running water so you’ll need to use this early and often after each bathroom break, and whenever you’re getting ready to eat. Or whenever you feel less than clean.
Headphones – if you think you’ll get tired of listening to the same 40 Mongolian songs (or whatever playlist your driver has curated) after a week, you’re probably right. Bring some headphones.
Power bank – there are no outlets in the gers, and minimal chance to charge items in the restaurant that might have one or two outlets. A power bank will ensure your phone, electronics, and photography gear stay charged for the whole trip.
(If you have a SIM card or international data plan, you’ll find you have signal on several of the days of a typical weeklong tour. I encourage trying to stay off the grid though as much as possible to enjoy your trip – it quickly makes people anxious or irritable when there is signal but it’s slow or weak, even more so than when there isn’t any at all. Just enjoy your time away from social media and emails for a bit!)
Book(s) – if you get motion sickness easily it may not be as necessary to bring a book as you’ll spend a lot of time in the van bouncing around. It can make it terribly difficult to read. Still I got through a whole book and a half in the van and during downtime in the camps so it can provide some needed entertainment!
Cards – pass the time when you arrive at your ger camps with some poker, or whatever card games you know. You’re likely to have people from around the world on your tours so you’ll have a good chance to learn some new card games too!
Glow in the dark frisbee – this is a random one, but we had one on our trip and it was great for playing with the kids at the camps when the sun went down! No language skills or lanterns required with a frisbee.
Case to protect camera in sand – I’m not including cameras on this list because each person has their own array of technology they prefer to capture their travels. Whatever you bring, the sand on the dunes can ruin it, especially if you’re caught in a mini-sandstorm like we were. If the Gobi Desert or mini-Gobi is on your itinerary, make sure you have some sort of protection for your technology.
Camera tripod – if you want to get some good shots of the Milky Way while you’re on your trip, you’ll need tripod or other sturdy device to keep your camera steady. The torch or flashlight will come in handy here too. The tripod I’ve listed here is the one I purchased to go along with my camera, the Canon Rebel T3i.
Earplugs – the gers don’t always have great insulation and sometimes you can hear the people outside quite well. If you’re an early or light sleeper, I’d recommend bringing a pair to ensure you get good rest.
Eye mask – same goes for the eye mask. Though it’s quite dark out once the sun is down and it generally isn’t an issue, it can be nice if you want to head to sleep before the rest of the people in your ger.
Sleeping pad – the beds in the gers are typically a blanket or thin pad thrown over the wooden planks that make up the “mattress” of the bed. While your sleeping bag provides a little coverage, it’s very little. If you have any sort of camping sleeping pad that you can fit in your luggage I’d highly recommend it for some better sleep.
Inflatable pillow – sometimes the beds provide pillows but sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they hardly qualify as pillows. An inflatable pillow will come in handy in either case and might make napping possible on the bumpy van rides too.
Sleeping bag liner – These are not provided on the tour but a liner is nice to have so you’re not sharing whoever’s germs had your sleeping bag before you. Or sweating into your own bag!
Rain jacket – one that blocks the wind is essential. Because you know, it rains and gets really wjndy in Mongolia sometimes and there isn’t a lot of protection from the elements in some of the wide open fields and plains. Or when your pants are down and you’re squatting over a hole to use the bathroom.
Warm wool layers – it gets really cold at night in Mongolia, especially during the fall and winter seasons, even though it can be super warm during the day. Wool layers (hats and socks especially) were great for sleeping in and keeping in the heat when the fire in your ger goes out at night. I stopped at Mary and Martha‘s before I left (a fair trade store in Ulan Bator) to pick up what I needed.
Flip Flops – it can be difficult to get your hiking shoes all tied properly in the dark of night, so flip flops are nice for trips to the bathroom. They’re also nice to have in the van so you’re not trapped in your bulky shoes for hours on end.
Colorful skirt/dress – if you like to take fancy photos, bring a colorful skirt or dress. You normally hike short distances if at all and bright colors can really stand out on the dunes and other desert-y landscapes.
Sunglasses – it’s sunny out, and you spend most of the time in the van or outdoors. Enough said.
Good hiking shoes – on many stops on your tour you’ll be doing some short hikes through very rocky and slippery terrain. Flip flops will not suffice here so bring some good climbing/hiking shoes.
I would bring these from home, though most/all are available in the markets as well.
Tummy meds – for when you inevitably get an upset stomach from all the new foods and germs.
Motion sickness meds – if you’re prone to motion sickness, you’ll really appreciate these meds on days with heavy driving and unpaved roads. Which is most of them.
Ibuprofen – for all your sore muscles, aches, and pains – a few of which you’re almost guaranteed to have by the end of the week.
Bandages/plasters – in case of falling during hikes or horse-back riding. One guy in my group went through quite a lot of plasters in our 9 days and was grateful to have brought them along.
Ointment – for the aforementioned scrapes and bruises that require bandages.
SNACKS & MISCELLANEOUS GOODS
While I’d purchase a few staples before you leave for the tour, don’t worry about getting enough for the week because you’ll definitely make stops and want to purchase more later.
Candy – bring more than you’d eat alone so you can always offer your van-mates some candies too. Chocolates and sour candies are always a big hit.
Snacks – you don’t have to go overboard because you stop by shops almost every day to restock, and the tours generally provide you with plenty to eat. Still, some snacks are always nice for the long van rides. I recommend a bag of clementines for some extra fresh fruit, and some chips for fun. I smashed two cans of pringles during my week in Mongolia.
Alcohol – a little vodka or beer always makes for a fun night and quick way to make friends with the other tourists on your trip. Careful though – bouncing around for 6 hours in a van does NOT make for a fun hangover. Plus the bathrooms are really far when you have to get up three times in the night to pee.
Thermos – there is hot water for every breakfast and dinner, with tea and coffee. I prefer to drink my coffee slowly during the morning though so I would fill up my thermos and drink it throughout the van ride to our first destination rather than drink my coffee super fast during breakfast. At night, sometimes I’d fill up my thermos with hot water to have something to warm me up in the middle of the night when I got thirsty.
What you DON’T need on a typical Mongolian tour:
Sleeping bag – you can always bring your own but most tours will provide these.
Food – again, your tour guides will have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I gained a few pounds between the meals and all the snacks, but if you’re a picky eater or vegetarian (especially if you’re vegan) you might want to bring some of your own food as there is lots of mutton and animal products.
Water – your tour will provide this too. I generally try to avoid plastic water bottles at all costs, but didn’t see a great way around it on this trip.
Tea/coffee – this was provided at breakfast, and tea was available for dinner. Black tea and/or milk tea was generally provided for every meal or when arriving at a ger camp.
So now you know what to pack for Mongolia and what you can leave behind. If you’re traveling with a friend, divide and conquer this list. You don’t need to all pack a deck of cards, and you can share snacks and a large bottle of hand sanitizer. Remember you can always restock at the markets if you run out of something or left something behind. I’d also advise that you stay in different places every night so while these are all great items to have, the more you pack the more you have to carry.
Let me know if there’s anything I missed that you’ve found helpful on your Mongolia travel tours, and feel free to send me a message if you have any questions!