Travel Influencer: Elina and Lily

September 10, 2015
Michelle Yang
7 min read

We at Wetravel love adventure and we’re always looking for suggestions on new and exciting trips. For this week’s installment of the Travel Influencer series, we talked with Elina and Lily, two Columbia Business School graduates. We discussed their recent trip with the Mongol Rally and the advice that they’d give on how to plan and participate in a group adventure!

We heard that you recently went on a trip called the Mongol Rally. Tell us a little bit more about that and your experience with it!

Lily: Mongol Rally is an event organized by the Adventurists that has been put on for about 11 years. There are a ton of teams that are involved and it’s a really awesome experience. Every year, they choose a charity and you have to raise 1000 pounds in order to participate (with 500 going to the charity and the rest going to whatever other charity you choose). It starts in London and then ends in Ulan Ude, which is in Russia. They set you up with some basic things and rules, like what kind of car you can buy and when the finish line closes, but what you do during the trip is totally up to you! You can take whatever route you choose. It’s crazy.

Elina: I actually had some friends who did it last year and Central Asia was such a foreign land to me, so this year, I was like I’m 100% in! We met so many different people and you’d know that they were a part of the Mongol Rally because all the participants decorated their cars with different things, like sponsor stickers. And when you saw one, you would honk your car or immediately pull over and chat. And you’d end up meeting them at checkpoints and sharing ideas, stories, and schedules, so it was a pretty unique experience. It was also really cool because less than 20% of the participants were female, so Lily and I felt pretty hard-core that we were going on this trip!

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Image source: Elina and Lily

Meeting other people from around the world and traveling with them makes the Mongol Rally seem like a group adventure. What do you enjoy about group travel?

Lily: I think group travel is awesome because you’re meeting people from all of these different places and you’re connecting with them. In fact, our car actually became a family at the end of the rally! When you’re on a trip, you get to know each other so well.

Elina: You experience everything together. The number one question that I got when I finished was “Did you ever get tired of it?” But it was actually very natural for us to work together, especially since we had done the MBA program together.

Lily: Yeah, it was, surprisingly, a very democratic process. We would work together to find out where to stay or what to do. It probably helped that we had known each other before, but not all of the teams were like us. There were some teams that didn’t really know each other before the start of it, but then by the end of it, they were super close!

Elina: That’s probably because you didn’t really know what was going to happen and you had to watch out for one another. Only a third of the cars actually finished, since you’re supposed to have a pretty old car and a lot of the roads that you face in Central Asia are rough. So because of this, you really had to work with other teams and pull each other out of difficult situations.

Image source: Elina and Lily

Sounds like an amazing experience! Another great experience that you’ve just had was your recent graduation from Columbia Business School! While you attended Columbia, were there any MBA trips that you organized or participated in?

Lily: Columbia offers so many programs, where you can travel and learn more about different industries and cultures. I actually applied to a program through the school that focuses on Korea, but because it’s extremely competitive, I wasn’t able to participate in it. So instead, a friend and I planned our own trip to Korea and we ended up staying in a Buddhist monastery for part of the trip. I thought it was really great because we incorporated some of the things that the school’s program offered, but we had a bit more leeway and freedom for other places and activities.

Elina: Along with the school’s programs, we also had a pre-MBA student-led spreadsheet, where people could sign up as ambassadors for a wide variety of locales. That way, you could go through so many different experiences together before school even started. For instance, I went on trips to India and Jordan with people who were actually from those places, which was really helpful because they were able to give us a local’s perspective. They showed us all the places that they go to and they often had relationships that allowed us to get discounts on things like lodging or food. While MBA trips weren’t too difficult to coordinate, we do think that using a platform like Wetravel would cut down on the time and resources it takes to plan these types of trips.

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Image source: Elina and Lily

Any tips for future MBA trip organizers?

Lily: Over time, I’d say we got better at figuring out costs. We found that paying up front with cards and then dividing it later through a spreadsheet was much easier and super effective. Another thing I’d suggest is don’t be afraid to do crazy stuff! One of our friends actually organized a snowmobile ride during the night to a natural hot springs, which was so much fun. Having a “yes” mentality is definitely important. There’s also something really eye-opening when you travel with people, who you’re not really close with – you make new friends and learn more about yourself.

Elina: I’d say don’t be afraid to take longer layovers or travel by yourself. And on the money side, it might seem expensive, but it’s now or never. I thought of it as, “I’m never going to have this kind of opportunity again. This ability to travel with someone who has the same free time as me, to immerse in the local culture, and to gain insight that I can’t get by staying at home.” Another thing, don’t do the usual trips. Try different ones. For example, I went to Tunisia and there are few programs that go there, but when I went with my MBA program, we had access to a ton of resources and we had the opportunity to meet with top economic, political, and business leaders.

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Image source: Elina and Lily

Along with your own personal trips, your professional lives also involve travel. How did you decide to pursue a career in this field?

Lily: I worked in retail previously through my family. Then I lived in Shanghai and did sourcing in Thailand. I travel pretty frequently for work and I just see it as a natural extension of consulting and my job, since I want to work with so many different facets of the retail industry.

Elina: I actually wrote my admissions essay on travel technology, so I love this question! I was working in finance before I applied to MBA programs. It was a good career, but it wasn’t really something I felt passionately about, so I started thinking about my favorite things to do and how I could incorporate them into my career. And I realized that travel was one of them, so I wrote my whole admissions essay about how I wanted to give input and be able to affect the travel industry’s changing landscape. The travel industry has changed drastically in the last couple of years, so I can only imagine what it will be like in a few years and I definitely want to be a part of it. We even saw these changes on our trip. We noticed how the roads in Mongolia are becoming more and more paved and how even rural areas have cell networks, enabling us to book hostels and homestays upon arrival through a number of booking platforms.

Lily: Yeah, we heard about a group of 60 year-olds, who actually tried to do a similar trip to the Mongol Rally when they were our age. During their first trip, their car broke down, so they weren’t able to finish. But now, they’re redoing this epic road trip as seniors. And it really put things into perspective. Can you imagine going on this trip 40 years ago without all of the technology that we have? It’s crazy! It made us realize how everything has changed and how different it could be in the next few decades.

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Image source: Elina and Lily

Lastly, if you could travel to any place in the world with anyone, where would you go and who would join you? (Don’t worry about the budget and feel free to take someone famous along with you!)

Elina: We’d probably take everyone in our Eleanor car to travel with us. (Eleanor is the name that we gave our car, which we painted like a tigress since the event benefited a charity dedicated to environmentalism. Lily and I also bought matching tiger onesies!) We’d take everyone in our Eleanor car and we’d probably go to Bhutan or the South Pacific Islands. Although, I don’t know how possible that is. Maybe we could add wings? (If you’re listening Redbull, feel free to sponsor us on this next journey!) But yeah, I definitely want to go to Bhutan next, since it seems like such an interesting and culturally rich place. Plus, visas aren’t that easy to come by!

We want to thank Lily and Elina for sharing their exciting adventures with us! For more on Elina and Lily’s driving journey, check out their blog,, and follow their Instagram account, @genghiskhantstopus.

Featured Image Source: Elina and Lily