Rally survivor’s guide for solo travelers

A road rally, such as the Lemons Rally, often involves elements of deciphering clues and being aware of and constantly searching the surrounding areas to find checkpoints, in addition to several hours of driving. It is a good idea to have a co-pilot who can assist with some of those tasks.

Yet, many of us have to attend rallies alone. It is not impossible, but it requires a lot of advance planning, allocating resources, and being prepared for a day that promises to be both physically and mentally exhausting.

For this guide, I will use a Lemons Rally as an example of how a typical day is laid out, and how I have worked around the limitations of doing a rally solo.


Being prepared starts at home.  We’ll already consider that the vehicle is ready to go, and that we have already loaded tools we think we might need along the way…and hope that we never need to use them. We’ll also assume you can pack your own suitcase. (If not, make sure Mom packs your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, your Star Wars jammies and your teddy bear.)

The non-vehicle items I bring with me are important for being prepared for a busy day.

  • Two cell phones, ideally. A cell modem/hotspot also isn’t a bad idea for a backup. In my setup, I use the older phone connected continuously to the car, where Android Auto is fed via USB. The other phone is kept loose for taking pictures, posting checkpoints, and looking up further directions without having to constantly disconnect a phone.
  • Tablet.  Preferably inexpensive, with a windshield mount.  Good for travelers who don’t have Android Auto, but also good for running an alternate navigation system. (If you have an older phone and a windshield mount, that can work well also, leaving you with your primary phone for checkpoints and photos.)
  • Small laptop, or tablet with a keyboard. For your downtime. More on this below.
  • Plenty of USB cables for all of your devices. They’re cheap. Buy extras–assume they will all break. The braided cables seem to tangle the least.
  • Plenty of USB power outlets. You can buy 12 volt lighter socket USB adapters with as many as four outlets. You can also buy an adapter to add more 12 volt lighter sockets if you need them, or hardwire more into your car as needed.
  • Wireless phone charging pad, with rubber top and bottom, if your phone is capable of wireless charging. For your primary phone, it will save you plugging and unplugging your phone (and save wear on your USB port) as you stop at checkpoints.
  • Cooler or 12 volt refrigerator. You may only be near a larger town a few times during the day–keep beverages and food on hand for your day’s travels.
  • Water! Stay hydrated. Avoid the cheap water and get a brand with electrolytes (SmartWater, Essentia+, etc.), as it will hydrate you better and not pass right through. Buy some flavor packets if you need to.
  • Snacks. I tend to take the better granola bars, and some pretzels.
  • A Stupid Car Tray.  Not a necessity, but for a solo traveler, it provides a flat surface on your passenger’s seat with places to put items so they are not constantly falling around your car’s interior.
  • Pens and a small notepad.
  • Rain gear–I keep umbrellas and rain ponchos in the car.
  • Dry weather gear–I carry a couple of Mission hats which have headbands you can soak with water to keep you cool.
  • Cold weather outfitting–for rallies in winter weather, keep a blanket or two in the car, a shovel, even a bag of kitty litter in case you get stuck in snow or ice.
  • Over-the-counter medications and first aid.  Keep pain relievers, eye drops, bandages, etc. easily at hand.

Should you use a radar detector? I recommended it, but not because I want to travel at a blistering pace through the rally.  In fact, rallies like the Lemons Rally encourage following posted speeds–we’re not “Cannonballing” across the country.

But given how attention on a rally is often split between watching the road and traffic, looking for checkpoints, glancing at the navigation screen out of the corner of the eye, I’ve found myself not paying as much attention to speed, especially while closing in on a small town. And some small towns or rural areas are known for police departments or sheriff deputies watching for tourists they can make a few dollars from.  Why risk it?

Just be aware that some states (like Virginia) do not allow the use of radar detectors–unplug it and move it out of sight if you need to while traveling through those states.

Very important navigation tip!

You will travel through areas that have no cell signal.  In Google Maps, you will want to download offline maps. It is a matter of selecting an area to save a map for, then downloading it.  You can download as many as you need, or as much as your phone storage space will allow.

Do it right now. Before you forget. Even if you aren’t traveling anywhere.

You would also do well to buy a second navigation app that uses offline maps.  I have tried Sygic, and only give it an average rating.  (It did well on more common routes, but in the hills of West Virginia, it was wildly all over the place trying to figure out a route, or my location.)  Yet it still came in handy when the signal was lost, and I knew a general direction I wanted to head in.  When the signal was restored, I went right back to Google Maps, since its road and highway descriptions are much better.

Finally, get yourself a set of paper maps, and/or a road atlas. If you have a AAA membership, you can order maps for free–they have state, regional and city maps available.  Keep them handy.  They live in my passenger door pocket.

Planning the day

Planning a day’s rally route is the key to successfully finding most, if not all, of the checkpoints, and keeping your time in the car focused on the tasks at hand.

For a Lemons Rally, we are only given the starting point, recommended overnight destinations, and the finish line.  We learn nothing about the route until we are handed the route booklet after registration.

For the first day of a rally, this can stretch your resources thin. You find you have to look up each checkpoint before leaving the parking lot at the starting line, or at the current checkpoint before departing to the next one. I am not in the “typing-with-my-thumbs” generation, so using a phone for anything text-related is an exercise in frustration.  Hate it, in fact.  But I have to do it on the first rally day regardless. And aside from that, it also eats into your day as you are having to look up everything while you are on the road.

For a Lemons Rally, sometimes the clues they give are obvious, and easier to find. Others require some detective work and digging around the Internet to get an idea of what we’re supposed to be looking for. (This is one of the highlights of the rally for me.)  We also get one “Find It” mystery location that requires even more digging to find the location, and that could be anywhere along the route, or scattered in various places along the day’s route

Yet as you can imagine, having to do all of this in between driving eats up valuable time, and can make things frustrating when you feel as though you are searching for these checkpoints under pressure.

To throw another problem out there, what happens if you can’t reach a cell tower, and need to look something up? Your choices are to skip the checkpoint, or try driving around to locate a strong signal so you can look it up.

This is where your laptop or larger tablet with keyboard comes in handy. You could stay put and plan your route at the starting line, although I would suggest winging it for the first few stops and then find a restaurant or rest area with WiFi and look up the rest of the day’s routes.

When you stay overnight at a hotel, or stop for the night at a restaurant, you can likewise look up the next day’s checkpoints and plan your route.  It could take an hour, more or less, to set everything up, but the time spent planning this while you are more relaxed is easier than stuffing it all into your day en route.

How do I plan a route?

  • I look up the next day’s checkpoints, first using Google, then Google Maps.
  • I enter each location into a saved list in Google Maps.  (Find the Save icon to access your lists.)  You can save all the rally checkpoints into a list, or create a list for each day, which is easier to organize.
  • I will also get directions to each checkpoint–I find this often helps Google Maps better trigger each checkpoint in my location history, listing it among upcoming destinations in the list.  (Sometimes this does not transfer well from saved lists. Google quirk.) If I use my overnight stay as my starting point, I can add each destination to get a visual overview of my route beforehand, and make adjustments to the order of the checkpoints if I feel the need.  (Google has a limit of, I think, 12 destinations, so I sometimes have to split it up into two routes.)
  • For a Lemons Rally, we are given a list of hashtags to use on Instagram. As I mentioned, I hate tapping on a phone.  What I do the night before is put a sequential list of all the checkpoints and their hashtags in the OneNote app (you can use any app that lets you make notes to yourself), so all I need to do is copy and paste a block of hashtags into an Instagram post and then continue on my way.  These don’t take long to prepare a day ahead of time.
  • I also make certain I have offline maps downloaded for all areas I will be traveling through.  (Repeating my tip above!)
A day of traveling

With the prep work done, navigating from one checkpoint to the next is less stressful, and easier to follow. Using Google Maps navigation through Android Auto, my next checkpoints are often in my location history, so it’s a matter of tapping that as my next destination and continuing ahead.

It is tempting to wake up at the crack of dawn and get out there before everyone else, but I would recommend leaving when you are comfortable. I’m not a morning eater, so I don’t need to wait around for a hotel’s breakfast room to open up. But, I would prefer to sleep in if I need to–it’s too easy to get mentally fatigued, and dangerous to start nodding off at the wheel as you’re driving.

Having driven out in Colorado and the Southwest, I know full well to make sure my gas tank is topped off at all times.  A rally is no exception–I’ll try to top off when I’m in a larger town or city, as the cost is often lower and I’ll get a better choice of brands.  If I know I’m in for a long stretch of rural driving, I will top off the tank regardless of where I’m at.

For meals, I cannot tolerate most fast food, so I have to be careful where I eat. In the back of my mind as I pass through any populated area is to find somewhere that has healthy take-out options, as I can take it with me in the refrigerator and eat it when I need to take a break. Ultimately I prefer to stop somewhere that has lighter food options so I can get a break from riding in the car.

For overnight accommodations, I generally choose a location that is removed from the downtown area, but near restaurants and gas station. This allows me to check in quickly, grab dinner, fill up the tank, and head back to the room to get the next day’s checkpoints ready to go.


My tips will not help you win a rally, but it can help you more successfully navigate your daily rally routine by being prepared and keeping stress and frustration as low as possible if you are a solo traveler.  Traveling alone, your days will be full, much more so than anyone traveling with at least one co-pilot.  Ultimately you are on a rally to enjoy it, so give yourself as much of a personal advantage as you can.


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