San Diego to Tijuana might be one of the busiest land border crossings in the world, but mention a road trip through the country of Mexico and chances are you’ll be berated with concerns for your safety. After all, turn to the media and you’ll hear only about dangerous drug traffickers and heinous highway robberies.
While there are certain precautions you should most definitely take, a road trip through Mexico can be an exciting journey full of authentic cultural experiences and unique off-the-beaten-path places. Just use these top tips and resources to stay safe and travel responsibly:
Avoid Driving At Night
When at all possible, plan to arrive at your destination before nightfall. This is not only because nighttime tends to be when there is more crime, but also just because of general poor driving conditions. Mexican roads are often pot-holed, and not all drivers turn on their lights at night, making it difficult to see and evaluate your surroundings. Should you not see that bump in the road and end up with a flat tire, you could wind up finding yourself in a sticky situation.
While I love to throw caution to the wind and just get lost, Mexico is not necessarily the best place to abandon your itinerary or sense of direction. The majority of the country if full of warm and friendly people, but remember that some areas are still prone to violence and not necessarily welcoming to foreigners. These areas are few and far between, so typically a bit of research and knowledge of travel advisories is sufficient. Additionally, travel with a spare tire and always try to leave a few hours of buffer time in your itinerary in case something happens.
It’s always best to drive with insurance, and it is mandatory to have Mexican insurance if you are driving your own car across the border. Adventure Mexican Insurance Services is a popular option based out of the U.S. with an English speaking staff.
Bring A Dog?
Okay, so not everyone can just throw a canine companion in the car and call it a day. That said, I had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring couple from Canada that chose to bring their dog with them on their Mexican road trip. Not only did they get to share their memories with a furry friend, they said they had less trouble from officials and the occasional shady character.
To Toll or Not To Toll
If you have the money, you might consider taking the Mexican Toll Roads. These roads are often exorbitantly expensive and typically bypass the colorful Mexican villages you’d likely want to see, but they are also well paved and typically twice as fast. Don’t feel like you always have to take the toll road though; driving on the non-toll roads is an experience to say the least.
Know the Bribe System
Ahh the Mexican bribe system. Like it or not, chances are high that you will find yourself being pulled over by a police officer at least once—even if you have done nothing wrong. It is illegal for the police to extort bribes, but it happens all the same. If you don’t pay the bribe, the officer will give you a ticket and confiscate your driver’s license—which you cannot get back until you pay the ticket (which is of course more expensive than the original bribe). As a foreigner, typically you can get out of the situation by playing the dumb and clueless tourist.
Utilize These Awesome Resources:
On The Road In: This blog and facebook group has virtually everything you would ever want or need to know about driving in Mexico. There is also a great community on the facebook page that matches up solo drivers so that they can road trip together.
The Green Angels: Seriously, these guys are like angels. The Mexican version of AAA, these green trucks patrol the pay highways and come to the rescue whenever your car needs repair. You can also dial 078 and the Green Angels will fly to you.
Trans-Americas: After driving through nearly every state in Mexico, this blog shares all the tips and tricks you need to execute a successful Mexican road trip yourself.
Driving in Mexico can certainly be a safe and rewarding experience. However, accidents do happen, as the tragic death of Harry Devert showed us earlier this year. Just remember to act responsibly, do your research and follow these tips, and you’ll be well prepped for what should be a safe and memorable journey.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a vocho and get ready for the trip of a lifetime!