The Mongol Rally Checklist
The Mongol Rally is a type of over landing expedition challenge, and one of the most famous at that, involving a huge expanse of land (Europe to Mongolia) and one old and rubbish motor vehicle. There are many wild trips like this, and rallying (raiding/questing/odyssey) is one of the best ways to ensure a chaos filled adventure.
The first step with any rally, adventure or expedition is to get your house in order. Choosing team mates, lining up a vehicle, getting time off work (and convincing your boss to be flexible on the return date), and all the usual stuff like arranging a cat sitter. Here is our advice to get this done effectively.
Choose team mates
Firstly, choose team mates that you wont absolutely hate after 4-6 weeks in a hot car. This sounds obvious but trust us, even your best friend could seem like your worst enemy at times, especially after a long or challenging period. Temperatures rise quickly under pressure. A general rule of thumb, we’d suggest, would be to go with people that you know very well, or people that you don’t know at all. Strange, right? Here’s the logic. People that you know very well, like your two best friends, are more likely to weather stress and strains better than people you ‘kinda-know’. Similarly, going with people that you don’t know at all means you can easily distance yourself, and be more selfish, but also, new people tend to deliberately overcompensate, meaning everyone will more likely be their best behaviour at least for the first few weeks. Going with people that you used to be friends with, or you ‘kinda know’ is a bit risky as you’ll naturally have less tolerance, as will they. But ultimately, your choice shouldn’t affect the trip too much, so do what you want!
Set expectations at work
Secondly, you should set realistic expectations with your work. You might get 4 weeks off for the challenge with some persuading, but be under no illusion that there will be no delays- so make sure your employer is okay with last minute extensions. A good way to rally them behind you is to press home the reason for the trip, get them involved in raising money for charity- ask them to sponsor the event, which will make it something that they can promote themselves.
Learn basic skills
Thirdly, you should make sure you have at least some very basic skills for life on the road. Driving is the obvious one, but after that, take note of some basic mechanics like changing tires or adding oil, and some basic ‘health and safety’ knowledge- a good one would be “what to do if your car breaks down in the desert?”… You don’t want to end up like the final scene in The Inbetweeners Movie 2…
2. Route planning
The beauty with rallies, raids and expedition challenges is that you’re conveniently provided with a start and finish point- meaning the route is at least bracketed to the countries within these two points. Choosing a route comes down to 3 things:
- Time you have to complete
- Your appetite for challenge
- How much money you have
You should start by making a list of all the available countries, and a ‘top 3’ destinations to visit. From here you can start to form a route that make logical sense and includes these destinations, slowly adjusting it as you do more research. The next step is to work out how far you can drive in a single day, considering things like road quality, altitude and heat (which will effect fuel efficiency and your tolerance for long journeys), as well as pit stops to refuel.
If you’re in a country with a well developed road network, you might average on a good run, say 60mph in your 1.0 fiat cinquecento. So, you can simply multiply the hours you think you can handle behind the wheel (as a team) by the average speed and voila, you have your projected distance. However, when you factor in dodgy dirt roads with 2 foot potholes, blistering heat, potential (likely) breakdowns and damage, high altitude- this average speed could drop down to 10, or 15mph. You’ve only got to watch a Top Gear special to know how these things turn out. Ultimately, the average speed on the Mongol Rally is 23mph.
“We had to drive at 60mph to keep enough air flowing through the engine and keep it cool as we’d busted our radiator. Unfortunately, we hit a mound… The car took flight and landed with an almighty crash. Within a few minutes we noticed we were soaked- the fuel cans on the roof had burst, soaking the entire interior of the car”- Barrie and Joe
This will give you a pretty good idea of how long it will take to complete the route, and you should budget an additional 3-7 days for delays as a contingency.
If you have a particularly low tolerance for challenge (and remember increasing challenge will also increase time), then you should opt for the more northerly routes through Russia, where roads are much smoother and there are fewer border crossings. Fewer border crossings, also means less money.
Saving money on the Mongol Rally basically comes down to fuel, breakdowns/repairs, visas and accommodation/food. Here are steps to control spending on each:
The majority of fuel costs will be in Europe where fuel is expensive, along with toll roads. After that point fuel gets more reasonably priced, but will continue to rise along with distance driven (of course). So Longer routes in general = more fuel cost.
Breakdowns and repairs can be anything for a flat tyre (basically free to fix) to a new head gasket (write off). The only way to limit damage and breakdowns is to take a less challenging route. The northern routes through Russia have better roads and more regular mechanics/proper shops.Visas can be the most expensive part of the trip.
More visas = more money, but also some visas are harder to acquire than others. There’s a trade off to be made here. Spend more time and money seeing countries you might not get a chance to visit again Vs saving money and time and increasing chances of completion. Your choice.
Accommodation and food is your choice, and an easy problem to tackle: camp more and eat from markets/tinned food etc = lower cost.
In summary, planning your Mongol Rally route comes down to this- take the shorter easier routes to save time, money and reduce challenge/stress. If not, be prepared to spend more on all these things (but probably have more fun).
3. Visas and paperwork
Once you’ve mapped out your intended route, you should be able to plot all the border crossings and start applying for Visas. Visas can be expensive, and certainly can be complicated- especially in places like Tajikistan. There are some tools that can help you, for a fee, such as The Visa Machine– you’ll need to surrender your passport to them for a few months while they do the leg work. Alternatively, you can file your own paperwork with each country’s embassy. Visas must be gotten in advance, and you should also obtain translated copies, so you know exactly what they say.
In addition to Visas, there are plenty of other bits of niggly paperwork you need. It is compulsory for you to have:
- An international driving permit
- The original V5 document for your vehicle (contact the DVLA or governing body of motor vehicles and try to obtain a back up copy also)
- Insurance for your car throughout Europe (outside of Europe, you can buy car insurance at the border for about £20-50)
- Your car decals for European driving
You should also strongly consider ample travel insurance cover, don’t skimp out on this.
Equipment for the Mongol Rally should be kept to a minimum. Every item you take is space and weight for your car to carry, and most items you won’t need. Parts for your car should be kept to the basics:
- 2 spare wheels and tires, max
- Spark plugs
- Car jack
- Spanner kit
- Headlight bulbs
- Fencing wire
- Duct Tape
- Metal jerry cans (2x25l) and funnel
- Fire Extinguisher (a mini one)
You’ll be surprised at how resourceful the locals can be in these remote places, as they often have to repair their own vehicles without access to knew parts. Plus, this all adds to the adventure and the stories you’ll remember fondly.
“This massive Kazak guy was just blowing cigar smoke into our radiator with his fingers plugging the holes, welding up where the smoke came out. Then he gave it to us to try…”
For your own sorry selves, aside from your clothes, you’ll need a tent (go for 1 man tents if possible, you’ll appreciate the alone time), sleeping bag, large water containers (10l each), inflatable pillow, some cooking equipment (stove, pans etc) and that’s pretty much it. Everything else is somewhat of a luxury and can almost certainly be bought on location if required.
Here’s a handy step-by-step to decide what to take on the Mongol Rally:
- Make a list of all the things you want to take
- Organise into Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won’t have (this is called MoSCoW prioritisation)
- Must haves are just that- if you don’t have these, the trip won’t happen. A car would be a must have, as would visas, fuel and some money
- Should haves are things that if you didn’t take them, your trip would be considerably harder, or unbearable. A tent, jerry cans, water bottles would be should haves
- Could Haves are things that would make the trip comfortable, but won’t impact massively the success rate. A full size pillow, your DSLR, a Drone would be could haves
- Won’t Haves are all things that don’t fit into the previous three.
5. Getting home
The Mongol Rally in particular ends in Ulan Ude, on the Russian side of the Russo-Mongol border. Now, you could drive your car home along the smooth Russian roads, but for most people that have just spent 5-7 weeks off work, this is not remotely possible. So you have some other options:
- You can pay a company to take your car into Europe and scrap it
- You can pay a company to take your car to Europe, where you collect it and bring it back to your home country.
You cannot set fire to, destroy or abandon your car in Ulan Ude, your visa will be stamped on entry to say that you have a car, and if you don’t have it when you attempt to leave, you will incur a huge fine (rumoured to be as high as £3,000 per person). You could attempt to sell your car locally, but the chances of this happening are remote, and even if you can it will be a lot of hassle. Best bet, do the proper thing and dispose of it properly.
For other rallies, or self driven expeditions not part of an organised event, it’s most common that you’ll complete a circular route, ending where you started from. If not, you’ll need to research how to properly dispose of your vehicle in your finishing country.