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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Expenses and Advice for Future Ralliers

The Adventurists recently emailed to ask for some figures on how much the Rally really costs, so I figured now was as good a time as any to get around to writing our expenses/lessons learned post! So, here it is from Team Canuck the Dots.

Overall expense: $12,000 for 2 people (this doesn't include the car - we fundraised money to cover that)

Gear/kit we had to buy before we left: Multi-fuel stove (used) $40, Pop-up tent $100, random junk from Halfords (folding chairs, camping mats, etc) $200

Accommodation:  Most expensive Ashgabat/Cappadocia $100, cheapest accommodation random storage shed in Mongolia $2. Lots of free places camping.

Fuel cost: I have no idea, I meant to calculate the receipts when we got home but they got soaked during a Mongolian river fording.

Car fixing: We got a sump guard installed in the UK for about 200 pounds, off-road tires in Turkmenistan for $200 and paid $3 in Uzbekistan to fix some flat tires

Unexpected Costs: The ferry to Azerbaijan - We didn't realize quite how expensive it would be. I thought it was $100/person, but it ended up being that plus $70 per metre of the car (over $500). Also, we were stuck in Baku for 3 days, where accommodation was more expensive.  Another thing we didn't expect was having to pay more money in Turkmenistan to get into the country - I think it was around $200, so make sure you always have cash! 

Car cost: 1600 pounds for a 2007 Perodua Kenari with 19,000 miles on it. Great!

Visas: $1000/person

Plane tickets:  $1200 for two people

Our advice to future Ralliers:

New stuff: You really don't need to buy that much stuff. Really. There's no need to buy a whole bunch of new, shiny gear for the rally because it's going to be dirty, smelly, and likely destroyed by the end. You don't need fancy hiking boots, jackets, etc. Just use what you have. I think I actually wore Hawaianas 90% of the time. Do make sure you take a warm jacket, Mongolia is REALLY cold the first few days of driving. We are Canadian and we still froze our butts off because we underestimated how cold it would be, especially at night.

I would recommend a multi-fuel stove (awesome!) and a pop-up tent because it saves so much time and you have the glorious feeling of moral superiority when you are done setting up camp while everyone is still trying to string poles through their tents. One thing that I would advise that another team had was a kettle that you could plug into the cigarette lighter, perfect for making tea/coffee/oatmeal/noodle soups without unpacking everything. I would also recommend a few plastic tote bins to put your food and other stuff in so it is easy to organize and keep dust out. There will be inches of dust in your car by the end. We had a ton of junk in the car that we didn't even use because it was impossible to find quickly when you needed it. I lost my main camera lens inside the vehicle for the last week driving through Mongolia and had to back up 100 meters to take a picture of anything. I didn't find it until we emptied the car at the finish line. 

One thing that you should do is buy or bring  a few random trinkets from your home country. I had made earrings as part of my fundraising efforts and gave those along the way when we met new people, camped at service stations, etc. People loved them - I even bartered a few pairs for water bottles and ice cream near the ferry terminal in Baku. Perhaps more impressively, our friends the Mongol Rally Roos got out of a number of police incidents by paying police officers with tiny stuffed koalas. That definitely saved money! 

Accommodation: On accommodation, we stayed with friends/family the first week of the trip. The Mongol Rally is a GREAT time to use your connections - call up your cousins, friends from exchange, anyone and try to crash at their place for a while. This will save you some cold-hard cash (especially in Europe) as well as allow you the opportunity to chill with locals. Another awesome thing that one of our friends did was book us a few nights of hotel in Istanbul on his travel rewards points. If you, or anyone you know, travel a lot (for work or play) they likely have points that they can put towards hotels (Sheraton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, etc) for you. Especially because you are doing this for charity. Emphasize that aspect and not just the fact that you are cheap. Do this earlier in the trip because there are less accommodation options the further east that you go. And the rooms are probably nicer than anything you would actually pay for yourself.

Fuel: We drove A LOT in Turkey, which was super expensive. The rest of the way was pretty standard, although Europe is more expensive than Canada. If you want to save money, drive more in the countries with cheaper gas. Your car will probably have excellent fuel economy since it is tiny.

Car: Get your car fixed along the way, but definitely put on off-road tires somewhere in Central Asia. Don't do everything in the UK, it will cost you more and the roads are actually quite good until Georgia so the likelihood of you need the spares is very low. There is no need to have 4 spare tires. Make sure to get tires with steel rims so they can be pounded back into shape if you do happen to get a flat in Central Asia.  Make sure that you do have tools (jack, tire iron, pump). When we got our first flat tires we found out that we didn't even have a tire iron. This was on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere Uzbekistan. We relied on the kindness of locals, but a tire iron is definitely a good thing to have!

Getting a car that is not a complete piece of junk will help you in the long run. We highly recommend Peroduas.

Unexpected costs - things don't really go according to plan on the Rally, so while it is important to try to budget, make sure you have a bit of a reserve fund so you don't miss out on the experience. You don't want to drive through Turkmenistan to see the Darvaza gas craters and then not go because you find out you need to pay a local $10 to take you up there in a 4-wheel-drive. That being said, we definitely could have cut a few costs, but felt they were worth it for the experience i.e. partying with friends in London and going for a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia (the two of those combined probably put us back $1000). YOLO!

Visas - you should start getting your visas ASAP. With the amount of bureaucracy necessary for the visas for Central Asia you can be assured that nothing will go smoothly. It took us ages longer than anticipated to get our invite letters, and some of them were incorrect when we received them so we had to wait another few weeks to get those back before we could get our actual visas. We then had to rush our last visa, which added another $200 to the total cost. Because Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan don't have representation in Canada, we had to courier our passports to the US, which was more expensive. We also didn't end up going to Tajikistan (civil unrest) and by the time we had gotten to Kyrgyzstan they had announced there were no more visa requirements! If we had known that, we would have saved a few hundred dollars each on visas. I recommend VisaHQ if you need help processing your visas, but they don't do invite letters. StanTours is really good for invite letters, the only annoying thing is that you have to do a wire transfer since they don't take PayPal. You'll need to use the Adventurists Visa Machine for your Turkmenistan visa/letter but I wouldn't recommend them for anything else. And make sure you check your visas when they are issued and ensure your name, passport number etc. are correct, otherwise you'll be kind of screwed like the random rally dudes we met at the Turkmenistan embassy in Istanbul who had to change their rally route because the Visa Machine people had typed one guy's passport number incorrectly and the Turkmen embassy wouldn't issue their visa.

Plane tickets: Here is another time where you should look into rewards/points programs available to you. We checked the price for our two one-way plane tickets Ottawa-London and London-Ulaanbaatar and the total was around $4000 (high London flight prices due to the Olympics). Instead of paying this out of pocket, we sent in an application for Aeroplan Charitable Pooling. This sets up an account where people can donate you Aeroplan miles to cover the cost of your flight. We managed to get enough points donated that we only had to pay the taxes on our flights, which was $600/person. It takes 6 weeks to process these applications, so the sooner you look into something like this, the better.

Fundraising Tips - In total we raised $4000 to buy our car, and then a total of $9000ish at the end of the day for our charities (donations + car sale after import taxes were paid)

  • Pick a local charity in addition to the Mongol Rally official charity - one of the most common reasons we got turned down when we were requesting sponsorship was because companies have a "give where you live" motto for charitable donations. If you can demonstrate that you going on the rally can benefit the community, you are more likely to get in-kind donations, as well as local press coverage.
  • Use your connections - All of the sponsorship money we got for our car was from people we knew. Try people like your dentist, real estate agent, etc. They make a lot of money so they are more likely to give it to you. Also, if you recommend even one person to them, they've made their investment back.

  • Do something that has a silent auction component - just canvas local restaurants, shops, etc. They'll usually give you gift certificates, which is basically like free money when you auction it off. Some kind of evening event where people can mingle and mill around the auction table is usually good. For our event, we made the mistake of paying to rent a nicer space when we should have just gone with a space that had a lower overhead cost to maximize funds raised. Many community centres will give you a discount or waive the rental fee if you are holding a charitable event. 
  • Be creative - we weren't that creative although we did a variety of fundraising events (speed-dating, evening of dinner and entertainment, selling jewelry etc), but something along the lines of what Team Cookbook Adventure did might be a good idea!
Other: Make sure that you have cash for Central Asia, and make sure that you have small denominations of USD that you can convert. Some places will not take even $20s and the smaller denominations trade at a higher exchange rate in the 'stans. You need local currency in most of the 'stans. You can't use your bank cards to take out money in Turkmenistan and your cell phone won't work there. Just adds to the fun! You'll also start talking Rally speak and saying things like "kit" and "tarmac" by the end. Just embrace it.

Also, by the last few days in Mongolia you'll be so hell-bent on getting to Ulaanbaatar that you just want to drive, drive, drive and not stop and appreciate what's around you. Take the time to take that awesome car picture, stop at a Mongolian wrestling event (we drove by this and wish we had stopped for 15 minutes!), hold an eagle or do whatever. You'll still make it, and in the end it won't really matter if it was an hour earlier or later and your experience will be better for it. It's definitely a lot of work and planning to get everything done before you leave, but if you do decide to do the rally, you won't regret it!

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