MONGOLIA – It was near midnight, in a storm, on a dirt road in the middle of Mongolia. Still, the river seemed manageable.
My cousin Cole Paullin and I were searching for a place to camp and I was exhausted from a long day of fording streams in our rented truck. “Seems fine. Go for it,” I said.
Cole accelerated and the front tyres plunged off an embankment, slamming onto the rocks below.
We were perched at a precarious angle and the front half of the truck was submerged. Water intruded through a crack in the door, lapping onto my feet. I imagined our rental deposit draining downstream.
Drawn by the noise, two men came over from a nearby camp. One waded towards the car into the waist-deep water with a message typed on Google Translate: “This is dangerous.”
I was too embarrassed to be scared. I lent him my rain jacket as he made some calls. Thankfully, there was cellular service.
Within an hour, a man with a truck and a tow strap arrived. We reversed while he accelerated, extricating us from the river.
“That was Disneyland, dude,” said Cole, 27, channelling the slang of his native Los Angeles. “What a ride.”
Cole and I live on different continents – he is in Philadelphia and I am in London but once a year, we go somewhere new for an outdoors trip. This year, we decided to take a week-long drive across Mongolia.
Over the past decade, millennials – those born between roughly 1981 and 1996 – have been seeking out remote places like Mongolia, while other tourists crowd Santorini, the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum.
It may be a reaction to a world increasingly condensed into mobile phones, where the same few destinations pop up again and again on Instagram and travel blogs.
What we have gained in accessibility, we have lost in serendipity.
The Mongolian government has been trying to capitalise on the desire for less curated travel, investing in a digital campaign targeting people aged 23 to 40.
It has invited social media influence...