13 Mar, 2010
Mongol Rally Prep Tips
Posted by: Scott In: Post-Rally
Below are some preparation tips for those of you that are considering doing the Mongol Rally in forthcoming years:
You’ll be doing a lot of promotion before the rally, trying to raise funds for charity and whatnot. The first thing you should do is get yourself a web site (GoDaddy sells domain names for about $10 and you can have it forwarded to anywhere) and print out some business cards. Amazingly, we were one of the only teams in the rally that had cards printed, and every other team thought it was a great idea but hadn’t thought of it themselves. Check out our cards, and then head on over to Prints Made Easy where you can get 100 full-color cards for $15! I would get more than that if you’re serious about fundraising though–I went through about 1500 myself.
Pick your car wisely! It pays to get *everything* checked by a professional mechanic before you leave. If it has a lot of rust on the underside, don’t take it (that was our big mistake).
Pick your teammate(s) wisely! It’ll suck if your teammate leaves you to do all the work, or chooses to fly back home and leave you stranded in the middle of the rally (not referring to my teammate Collin, as he had no choice at that point–we heard some pretty rough tales from other teams about teammate squabbles, money stolen, etc.–don’t let that be you!)
Don’t bother shipping a car overseas–it’s not worth the money and paperwork. We did it because I thought it’d be a good way to get a left-hand drive vehicle for the race and because we would be able to ship out stuff over to the U.K. in it. Don’t follow our example–just find some way to buy it in the U.K.
If you don’t take my advice and do end up shipping a U.S. car overseas make sure it has a front license plate. Some states don’t offer them, but do what you can to get one. If you don’t you will be pulled over dozens of times along your route.
Bring copies of every document you have along with the originals–the car title/deed, your passport, the car bill of sale, etc.
At the end of every day you will be exhausted. I started off thinking that every night your convoy members would gather around a fire, drinking booze and telling stories–nope, not most of the time. You’ll be lucky if you have the determination to heat up some water and eat an instant meal pouch.
Try as you might, your car will get filthy dirty, inside and out. I was all for making the car look pretty at the start, but after you hit the deserts it becomes a hopeless task. You and your car will get absolutely covered in sand and dirt every day, and it will penetrate every nook and cranny of your gear.
Bring a few economy size packs of baby wipes. They are indispensable cleaning and grooming tools when you go for days at a time without showers.
Bugs weren’t really a problem except for when we camped in a low lying piece of farmland just across the border into Kazakhstan, and once again when we got off of the desert plateau and into the lowlands around Qonghirat and Nukus, Uzbekistan. One bottle of spray should do.
Always act confident but play stupid when someone is trying to get a bribe out of you. It may take a while, but eventually they’re going to give up.
It is optimal to bring at least $1,500 cash per person in spending money (food, gas, hotels, bribes, etc.)–$2,000 is better though. Stick $500 wads in a few different locations in case of theft.
Setting up and taking down tents is a chore, so if you can grab one of the instant pop-up tents (such as the kind sold be Quechua) it’ll make your life that much easier. Nobody in the convoy wants to be waiting around for you to finish up packing.
It’s a bit of a pain in the ass, but you’ll be the favorite member of the group if you pack up a folding camping table. Sucks eating and setting stuff on your dirty car.
You won’t come across washing machines very often, so bring a collapsible vinyl tub and some liquid soap to do your laundry by hand when you check into a hotel.
Sunscreen is your friend–bring a couple bottles per person. Don’t forget to grease up your driving arm.
If you can, make sure you have ample time and money. Nothing is worse than having to penny-pinch the whole way or not being able to stop and check out cool sites because you have to be back within twenty days. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so do it right.
Bottled water is available everywhere, so don’t worry about bringing chlorine tablets and water purifiers. You’ll know when you are hitting a long stretch of road with nothing on it and can buy extra at that time. In some of the Central Asian countries (most notably Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), getting non-carbonated water is quite difficult.
Take two 20 liter jerry cans with you and try to never fill both up from the same source. We needed them in the Qaraqalpakstan Desert between Beyneu, Kazakhstan and Qonghirat, Uzbekistan; in the Pamir Mountains; and I’m sure we would of needed them in Mongolia as well.
Border guards always ask for American cigarettes, and it doesn’t hurt to give them some to make instant friends and speed things along. Sure, they have the same brands in Central Asia, but for some reason the American ones are very much preferred. We didn’t bring any, but we probably should have.
Get good wheels. Try to go for solid steel wheel and not the sporty cast metal type–they can crack and break. Try and go up an inch in size–you need all the ground clearance possible. Doing this can do away with any need of protector plates on the bottom of your car.
Get good tires, even if it means paying quite a bit for them. It sucks to keep changing tires in the middle of the journey, or trying to find the right size tires in some junkyard in the middle of Kazakhstan.
Try not to ever be the first one over a decent-size river crossing. Let someone else go first and learn from their mistakes.
Most people we met were very nice. Don’t go along the entire route thinking that every single person is trying to scam you, as a few teams we encountered did. Definitely be aware of airport taxis though (which shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t break down). Always negotiate a price first and ask if that is the full price, in the local currency (not dollars), for the entire trip–not per kilometer.
How did people react when they found out we were American? Usually with smiles. They don’t get very many tourists in general, and very few of those that make it to Central Asia are American, so we were somewhat of a novelty. The first thing people usually brought up was Obama, who seems to be universally adored. They would ask if we approved of Obama, and then usually ask what we thought of Bush. One thumb up followed by one thumb down usually got the message across pretty well.
Bring trash bags! People, please please please remove any garbage that you create. Yes, it is a huge pain in the ass, and yes, it is hard to find places to throw it away, and yes, it does take up room in the car and tend to get smelly after a while…but that’s no excuse to just throw your crap on the ground. I don’t care if no one is around, or if the place is already littered with refuse–don’t do it. We went through a few additional garbage bags ourselves just cleaning up the trash that fellow ralliers left in their wake. I think the event organizers should encourage this type of behavior more than they do presently.
Bring a spare key. Or two. Collin and I were constantly leaving our keys inside of the car, or misplacing them amongst our belongings. Make sure each team member has their own copy of the car key, and think about maybe even bringing along a spare one in a magnetic case and attaching it to the underside of the car somewhere. Getting locked out of your own car in the middle of the desert would be a real bummer.
Do some research. Yes, it’s sometimes fun to just go off with no plans and wing it for a while, but that gets old after a few days of being lost with no showers or warm meals. Take some time to roughly plan the route you are going to take, and maybe highlight a few sights you will be passing by in case you want to make a short detour. Remember, this isn’t a race! You may never pass by many of these places again, and wouldn’t it suck to know that you passed by something really cool and never even knew it was there? I know Lonely Planet guides sometimes get a bad rap, but if you are doing a route through Central Asia I highly recommend grabbing yourself a copy of Lonely Planet Central Asia. We didn’t take one with us and ended up having to try and buy one off of a traveling Danish couple once we found out how useful it was. Lucky for us they gave it to us for free.