23 Essential Tips To Do The Mongol Rally; Plus Costs And Thoughts From My Experience

23 Essential Tips To Do The Mongol Rally; Plus Costs And Thoughts From My Experience

Updated: June 2019

Everything was dark. No life for miles ahead, no light except for ours. The stars shined bright on the moonless sky and the Milky Way glowed as strong as ever from horizon to horizon.

This place felt like it was ours, and at that moment the Kazakhstani desert belonged to us and no one else.

At that moment I realized I had made the right choice. I was glad I chose to do the Mongol Rally because I knew that the road ahead still had more moments like this in store.  Ulaanbaatar was still over 3,000 miles away.

Update: The rally now starts at a secret spot in the Czech Republic and ends at Ulan-Ude in Russia.

Before starting the rally I debated strongly whether to do it or not. I almost quit a few weeks before the start date due to visa problems, the planning ordeal, possible high costs, and the quitting of other teammates.

Still, I decided to move forward, even if I was a bit reluctant. But once I started the rally, I felt like I was bound to some great experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

The rally is not a cheap adventure, but it is doable with a moderate budget if you are conscious about your spending and do it on a shoestring – camping, cheap food, groceries, and cooking, etc.

I’ll share with you my rally spending in detail soon, but first, I want to share some general thoughts and lessons learned from the rally.

Driving in Mongolia

For any of you interested in doing the rally in the near future, here are some things you should know:

Essential tips to plan the rally

1. Plan your route, but be very flexible – It’s important to know where you want to go to plan for visas, know logistics of border crossings, ferries, and more.

But, be really flexible with the route and timing since you will be dealing with too many variables that are not under your control, are often unreliable, and are not easy to plan ahead (like the ferry from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan; it just leaves whenever it wants or gets full).

2. Know your dates and plan your visas together – Visas only give you a limited time in the country, so have an idea of how long you’ll need in each country, when should the visa start, and how many entries are needed. All teammates should apply with the same dates on each visa.

3. A team of 3 is perfect for sleeping in the car – We wanted to be a team of 4, but we discovered that a team of 3 was just as good, and even better to sleep more “comfortable” in the car.

Start line of the Mongol Rally

4. It is essential to have some form of communication – Have an international sim card or wifi provider to allow you to stay in touch with other teams, your own team members, or to call in case of emergency.

We used OneSimCard for our international sim cards and XCom Global for our international mobile wifi device. Both delivered excellent service (except in Mongolia).

5. Google maps and GPS are great but still carry printed maps, especially in Mongolia – GPS is not totally reliable in Mongolia (yet), and printed maps makes it easier to ask locals for directions.

6. Carry essentials, but don’t overpack – As the Drama of Llama team, we were under-packed (regarding car mechanic’s essentials), but as The Thunderyaks team, we were overpacked.

This made the ride low due to heavyweight. Potholes felt heavier and stronger since we hit them with more weight.  Plus, in the long run, you spend more money on gas.

7. Your teammates will have a huge influence on your experience – Choose them wisely. You will spend at least 4 weeks together; 24 hours a day and most of the time confined in the car.

Posing in Kazakhstan's deserts

Practical lessons from the road

8. Travel with enough US Dollars in hand – I guarantee you will use them for bribes and to get out of sticky situations like a car crash!  Still, you will use them for most common expenses like visas, hotels, and other daily purchases.

The US Dollar is king, and it is accepted pretty much everywhere in the world. Carry at least $500 per team member.

9. Turkey had the most expensive gas (petrol) of our entire route – I cringed when I learned that a liter costs almost $5!! We averaged $87 per tank in Turkey while in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia we averaged around $35!

If possible, fill the Jerry Cans before entering Turkey to save at least a few dollars in petrol while there.

10. Camp the most you can to save money – It’s part of the rally experience, also. Once out of Western Europe, it is much easier to camp anywhere. Just drive outside the city and find a random open field, and voila, you have a campsite!

11. Don’t be afraid to sleep in your car – We also did this to save money and to force ourselves to get on the road earlier than usual.

12. Carry at least one 20-liter Jerry Can – You will use it for sure… trust me.  If you can fit two 20-liter cans in your car, even better.

13. (At least) Two spare tires are a must! – We had 4 flat tires on the entire way (we were lucky), and two of them happened on the same day.  You can easily fix or buy cheap tires at local mechanic shops along the way.

14. Have some basic mechanic tools – These include a towrope, wrench, screwdrivers, hammer, and even duct tape, among others.

Towing the Thunderyaks car

15. Carrying spare suspension parts is smart – Besides flat tires, broken suspensions were the most common fixes I saw on the road; but more often than not, cars were fitted with the wrong suspension since the proper ones were not available in “the middle of nowhere”.

16. A sump guard will probably save your car’s engine in Mongolia – It definitely saved ours when we hit multiple rocks with the underside of the car.

17. Have decent cold weather gear – Russia and Mongolia were pretty cold, even in August (due to the altitude). My Exofficio jacket served me well on these cold desert nights.

18. Register in Kazakhstan’s Immigration Office within 5 days of entry – Avoid having to pay a fine, or a bribe.

19. Don’t forget to buy the highway vignettes in Europe and Turkey – Many European countries and Turkey require you to buy a vignette or “road tax”.  You buy it either at the border when you enter the country or at gas stations (depending on the country).

Sometimes you’ll be asked for proof of it when you leave each country.  Should you be caught without it, you might either pay a bribe, a fine or simply have to buy it upon exit (which is the least probable).

From our experience, all countries after the Czech Republic (until Turkey) required it, but check this website to see which in your route require the purchase of vignettes and how much it costs.

Mongol Rally Teams in Convoy

20. Convoy with other teams as much as you can – They will make the journey more enjoyable and help you when you need some rescuing (especially in Mongolia).

21. Do not drive at night in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia – You will either get lost or damage your car with the millions, yes, millions of potholes and ditches you’ll fall into.

22. Do not stop your car to speak with any random stranger on the road in Kazakhstan and Mongolia – In Mongolia, people place their bikes in the middle of the road and pretend to either need help or have “essential information” for you (like, “the road is closed ahead”). Don’t stop!

Chances are these are mercenaries looking to rob you.  It also happens with people chasing you on motorbikes.  One time, two guys chased us side by side in Mongolia asking us to lower our windows.  We knew what they wanted, so we ignored them and accelerated.

23. Be risky, but be cautious – I know it is contradicting, but part of the great experience comes from stepping out of the comfort zone. You will drive through random unknown places, cross rivers, drive your car through massive ditches, or simply drive with no roads at all and no clear direction.

This happens, but this is part of what makes the rally a real adventure. Be cautious by taking “measured” risks consciously and knowing (or hoping you know) how to respond to any possible outcome.

Mongol Rally 2013

A Few Updates

While the rally still has the same spirit from its inception, a few details have changed:

The Mongol Rally no longer starts in the UK. Instead, it starts at a secret location in the Czech Republic – 30 minutes west of Prague.

Before, there was a launch party in the UK and a Czech-out party in the Czech Republic two days later. Now it’s just one two-days long party in the Czech Republic.

The finish line is no longer in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, but in Ulan-Ude, Russia – about 500 kilometers north of Ulaanbaatar.

This change comes from the fact that cars are no longer imported into Mongolia. Instead, cars are now shipped back to Europe, so finishing at Ulan-Ude helps you save over £1000 per team on shipping your car home.

Unlike before, cars no longer need to meet the up to 10 years old rule. Now your car can be of any age/year as long as it has an engine of 1.2 liters or less (preferably 1 liter). And this being the Mongol Rally, your car can be a beaten down glorified lawnmower from the ’80s.

Shitting Thunder's car in Mongolia

How much did the rally cost me?

Below I break down my expenses during the rally. The numbers below only reflect what I paid. For a total, multiply by 3 to know how much it could cost per team.

  1. Car:   $522.88
  2. Gas (petrol):   $595.22
  3. Car Insurance:   $109.70
  4. Team Branding:   $106.13
  5. Car Maintenance:   $9.84
  6. Car Supplies/Tools:   $130.72
  7. Food:   $420.19
  8. Groceries:   $71.40
  9. Accommodation:   $305.10
  10. Camping Gear:   $91.99
  11. Bus (post-crash):   $20.00
  12. Visas:   $702.68
  13. Driving Vignettes:   $10.26
  14. Bribes (w/ crash payment):   $186.33
  15. Ferry:   $16.34
  16. Sightseeing:   $118.00

TOTAL:   $3,416.83

Note: I did not include the flights since I had multi-city tickets to London and from Ulaanbaatar (including additional flights), nor the rally inscription fee since I did not pay it when I joined the team.

Mongol Rally Car Crash Drama of Llama

Quick random thoughts from my experience

Marihuana in Kazakhstan

  • I still think Russians are crazy, though less intimidating.
  • Driving in Kazakhstan can be painfully maddening.  Its long hours of very bad roads that seem to never end.  And so can be Mongolia (sometimes).
  • Mongolia is BEA-U-tiful!!
  • The rally doesn’t really start until you get to Mongolia.  That’s when your car will break down for sure (if it hadn’t yet).
  • There are boring days, amazing days, and frustrating days.  All worth having.
  • You will get lost. Just enjoy the journey.
  • Don’t take things too seriously. Relax.

In the end, was it all worth it? Hell yeah!

Watch this short clip of our Mongol Rally journey!

23 Essential Tips To Do The Mongol Rally

LET ME HELP YOU TRAVEL MORE BY GETTING ADDITIONAL TIPS AND INSPIRATION VIA THE MONTHLY NEWSLETTER.

Plus, receive a short e-book with 15 Beginner Tips and Tricks to Start Travel Hacking!​

17 thoughts on “23 Essential Tips To Do The Mongol Rally; Plus Costs And Thoughts From My Experience”

  1. Hi, this info has been really useful. My boyfriend and I are considering doing the rally but like the idea of taking it slow. Can I ask how long it took you to complete the rally?

    Thanks,

    J

  2. H i Jim here , i was wondering if any of the items / expenses listed might have been divided between the team . Thinking of following in your foot steps.

    Regards

  3. I would like to give it ago to be honest…. but from what I can see is that most cars are old and risky for such a rally lol I think buying a good car £4000 would be an optimal option.

  4. Rebecca Van Horn

    So I see your car broke down an you hitched a ride with other people to the finish line. What happened to your car after it was lifted onto the truck? Also I am from America an would be buying a car in England, can I sale it in Mongolia then fly back home?

    1. Hi Rebecca –

      Our car was impounded by the police so they would write it off and allow us to leave the country. Selling the car in Mongolia could be a bit of a pain in the ass as you will have to pay import taxes and take care of the selling. Since 2014 (the year after I did it) cars are no longer imported into Mongolia. Instead, you can either drive back to Europe, deliver the car back to Europe by train (and sell it in either case), or pay like $1000 to have it delivered to Europe and destroyed.

  5. Hi,

    We are driving from Europe to Mongolia and shipping our car back via freight train from Irkutsk / Ulan Ude to Lithuania. We plan to arrive there around 20 Aug 2017.

    We booked a freight contained that is large enough for 2 cars. Hence, if you need to transport your car back to Europe and are willing to share the costs, please let me know. The costs should be around 1150 EUR per car (incl. custom clearance, Tancy, etc).

    Kind regards,
    Paulius

    [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *