Lessons learned from the Mongol Rally: Top tips

So you’re wondering what to do with your next summer holiday. You love cars, and driving, and you’re looking for a crazy adventure. The next thing you know you’ve signed up to take part in the Mongol Rally – the greatest motoring adventure of all time – and now you’re wondering what you’ve let yourself in for.

Having managed to complete the Mongol Rally without a single breakdown (marriage related or car related), Shane and I would like to share our top tips for a successful Mongol Rally:


  1. Choose your teammates carefully

The more people in your team, the cheaper it will be. You can share the cost of the entry fee, the deposit, the fuel and all car related costs. The downside of having a big team is that the car will be squashier and heavier – you can’t bring as much with you and the car will likely weigh more, putting more stress on the suspension and potentially causing more breakdowns and issues.

It’s not just the number of people in your team you have to consider… it’s also their personalities. Shane is the perfect Mongol Rally teammate. He is very good at driving (this is very important), he is always completely calm (even in the most stressful situations), he has infinite patience and he has a sense of humor. Plus he’s pretty cute too. These are all important characteristics to look out for when selecting your ideal teammates. Avoid the opposite at all costs.

I am happy to admit that I am not as calm, patient or even quite as good at driving as Shane (but not many people can fulfill this criteria as well as he does). I am, however, good at planning. Although this isn’t a trip that can be overplanned (there are too many unknowns, such as if and when the ferry will arrive, if and when the car will break down and if and when the roads will be so terrible that you can only manage 20 kilometers per hour), some planning is still very important to make sure you get the right visas for the right dates and end up in the right places at (roughly) the right times. Plenty of teams had to rush through Mongolia or miss it out completely because they hadn’t planned how they would spend their time, while other teams had to split up (with some members purchasing expensive flights to avoid countries because they didn’t have the right visas or the right dates).

You will be trapped in a confined space with your team mates for pretty much 24 hours a day for somewhere between six and eight weeks. Choosing who to spend that time with is the most important Rally related decision you will make. Don’t do this trip with people you find annoying, people you don’t know, or people you wouldn’t or couldn’t live with. Don’t do this trip with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.


2. Make sure you know your car

Take your own car if you can. We have driven Martha for years so we know what works, and what doesn’t work. We know which noises are just “her funny ways” and which noises mean trouble. We know that she is a good car.

Most people don’t drive rubbish one litre cars from 1996. They really should, but that is another story. If you haven’t got a car that fills the Adventurist’s criteria (small and rubbish), then at least make sure you give your car a proper check before you buy it, and drive it for as long as you can before you leave the U.K. or Europe so that you can get to know it.

We know teams that bought their car off someone on the internet, and it turned out fine. We know other teams that spent a lot of money buying a rubbish car, and then had to spend a lot more money getting that car into a road worthy condition. The Mongol Rally is all about driving a rubbish car, so most people don’t put too much thought into what sort of vehicle they end up with, but if you want to make it around the world without stopping at every single mechanic you see, it makes sense to put some effort into getting to know your car before you set off.


3. Never leave a man or woman behind

Stay together as a team. Even if you have a big row, or if Viktorya from the ferry ticket office in Azerbaijan tells the drivers and the passengers they should take separate ferries. They shouldn’t.

Turkmenistan is probably the worst place to get separated from your teammates – you have a maximum of five days to transit across the country, the authorities are watching you at all times and some of the roads are the worst we experienced across the whole of the Rally. Shane and I were nearly split up in Baku as I was told to take the ferry and he was told to wait for the next one. Miraculously another ticket appeared at the last minute and we stayed together, but other teams weren’t as lucky, and it didn’t end well.

You’re all in this together, so stay together.


4. Bring lots of US dollars

In some countries (particularly Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) it is impossible to find an ATM that will accept a foreign card. You need to bring cash, and you need to bring it in US dollars.

Sterling, euro, ruble are all next to useless in some places. You need US dollars. And you might need more of them than you think given the cost of taking a car into Turkmenistan. Just bring plenty of cash.


5. Don’t drive at night

Driving at night wasn’t problematic in Europe or Turkey, but once the roads start to deteriorate driving at night becomes a really bad idea. Mainly because you can’t see properly (say goodbye to street lights and road markings) and are likely to hit something that will damage your car (say hello to potholes, wild animals and traffic driving on either side of the road), but also because it’s hard to find somewhere to stay (or safe to camp) when you’re driving around in the dark.

Shane and I drove slowly, and we only drove during the day. Generally we would get up early (around 5 or 6am) to make sure we could cover plenty of ground, and then drive until it got dark. Then we would find somewhere to camp and stop. In places like the Pamir Highway and Mongolia we repeated this pattern every day, and it worked pretty well.

You might get overtaken by other Ralliers going further and faster, but we tended to find they would then manage to damage their car and would end up stopped at the next town getting it fixed. It might seem like you will make more progress if you drive 24 hours a day and go as fast as you can, but you will regret it if you end up killing your car. Take it slow, enjoy the views and look after your car!


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