Family Trip With A Toddler (18 Months) To Mongolia
There are plenty of blogs on how to travel with a baby. In this blog, we are focusing on tips on how with them to travel to remote destinations. Traveling with a small child is always a bit of a challenge. Especially when you go to remote destinations with hardly any touristic infrastructure. Places that are really off the beaten track. Why go through that hassle with a child you ask? Well sometimes in life there is no time to wait and we suggest rather doing the trip of your life than missing out on the experience.
In our case, we wanted to visit the homeland of my husband’s ancestors including both our parents. Our trip led us to the area of western Mongolia more accurate to the Altai mountains. Our son was 18 months old at that time. We flew from Graz, Austria first to Istanbul, Turkey and had an overnight stay there. Then your trip continued via Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where we stayed another night. On the next day, we flew to our destination Ölgii, Western Mongolia. From there we spend two weeks traveling with cars all around the area sleeping in yurts, visiting eagle hunters and enjoying a fabulous time.
How to prepare the trip
We visited Mongolia in July. Summers here can be warm and nice but if you travel to the mountains you are never sure that it gets not cold and even snowy. We had some good but also pretty bad weather. Bring some warm clothes maybe even a winter jacket just in case. We bought special hiking clothes for our son which is light and easy to dry when it gets wet. Good and waterproof shoes are also necessary. Bring two pairs so that you can change. For the night, we had some merino wool ski underwear and cashmere socks. Even sometimes a light hat. A hat and sunglasses are also good to bring because the sun can be strong in the mountains.
We also recommend bringing some of their favorite food for the trip. Just in case they really don’t like the local food and want something familiar (e.g. fruit suckies, oats, cookies) But we get to that later (see daily life).
Here are some recommendations for medication and essentials but contact your pediatrician to check on that. We brought a good sunscreen, painkillers (e.g. Nureflex), mosquito spray, crème for mosquito bites and rashes, crème for burns, Electrolytes for diarrhea, Saline, Nasal spray, a first aid kit, and baby shampoo.
Bring also some of their favorite toys not only for the flight but also for the long car rides. Books and tablets are always good but also a football to play outside.
You don’t have to bring too many diapers. You can find Pampers in Ölgii, the capital of western Mongolia. Wet towels as well.
What seemed to prepare our son for the trip was a book about airplanes and airports. We looked at that book every now and then and talked about our trip. He really remembered some of that again and it made him feel secure.
Hire the right guide
We were travelling with three cars including two drivers and one guide/cook which was very comfortable. They provide you with all the gear you need and cannot bring from home. Our guides and drivers knew the area very well and always had an open ear for our wishes in advance and on the trip. But be aware, in Mongolia, you must be flexible, plans will certainly change.
Make long flights bearable
Until we arrived at our final destination we had to conquer five flights. Which is, of course, a long journey not only with a child. As mostly recommended we would plan enough time at the airport. Maybe the kids are suddenly hungry or you must change them and you don’t wont to do that in a hurry. For carrying around we liked a baby carrier but that depends on the age of the child. The carrier was also useful for hiking in the mountains later in the trip. Some airports also have a stroller rental which is awesome. In most Central Asian airports, they luckily have a playroom that is very advisable to use. The thing with the early boarding is, that it is a nice touch but you must entertain your child even longer in the tiny plane so stay as long as you can at the gate.
Make sure you book the row behind the business class because it has a larger leg space. When your child is under 12 kilos, you can use the baby bassinet which is sweet not only for sleeping but also for playing. These seats are sometimes hard to book online. We recommend calling the airline. If you can’t book it, try and ask the people if they may change their seats with you. Most of them agree even if they are maybe not so pleased about it but a happy baby that doesn’t cry in a plane makes up for it.
Having all the things you need for the kid in a bag ready to use is also a good tip. We packed a snack box with small treats (somethings that he usually doesn’t get), a tablet with short kid movies already downloaded, apps suitable for his age and even some small wrapped gifts with new toys when nothing else works.
Manage the daily life in Mongolia
We stayed most of the time with local families. That means sleeping in yurts. We wanted to camp but the weather was just not good enough and we were happy to have a warm oven in the yurt. Time works a bit different in Mongolia. Everything is later. Kids stay up till late and they wake up later. We adjusted our time schedule to that because it just made sense. It also made sense because of the jetlag. We normally had a very strict sleeping schedule but we knocked that over.
We brought a double sleeping bag with us which is very comfortable to share with a child. Make sure it is a warm one because as soon as the oven is out, it also gets cold in the yurt. If you have a good guide, he/she will provide you with a mattress or even a camp bed. For us, it was more suitable to sleep with mattresses on the floor because the beds in the yurts are very soft.
Be careful with the oven. It is in the center of the yurt and is most of the time hot. We were very scared in the beginning but after mentioning it a hundred times to our son he was very cautious with it.
Essentials for daily hygiene are wet towels and we mean lots of it. Also, a disinfectant cannot hurt. There is no running water in the yurts so there is no possibility for proper washing. If you need to give your child a bath, then do it in a bucket with some warm water from the oven.
Regarding the food, Mongols and Kazakhs have a special diet. They eat mostly dairy products and sheep meat. When you use the milk from local families, make sure it's cooked properly, actually, every food the kids eat should be cooked. And be careful with yak milk, it is very fat and should be watered down before you give it to children. If you book a guide with a cook, it makes your life easier. Then you can tell them your preferences. But in any case, you can buy nearly anything in Ölgii including veggies and fruits.
What to do with a kid in Mongolia
Now you ask yourself, what can I do with a kid in Mongolia. Mongolia is a lot of fun with children. Good thing is, the Mongols and Kazakhs have many children themselves so there is always somebody around to play with (in all age groups). And there is always something going on around the yurts. Animals like goats, yaks and sheep coming and going, being milked and shaved. There are horses to ride and to watch galloping around sometimes with babies. Some families even own golden eagles (Eagle Hunter families). Our son had lots of fun watching us fish. There are plenty of lakes and rivers with fish around. And in the evenings the locals like to sing and play instruments. I guess the whole camping feeling makes it a big hit with the kids.
Even though it is a very long journey to Mongolia we recommend doing it because it is worth it. The country and the people in Mongolia make it very special and our son still talks about his experiences in Mongolia until this day. He always asks us when we are going back there. It seems that he made memories for life.