Have you ever thought about traveling through Mexico when planning your next vacation?
Say what?…Mexico?…Obviously, I mean flying into Puerto Vallarta and staying at an all-inclusive resort, right?
Well, not exactly! Yes, Puerto Vallarta is part of Mexico, last I checked. But when I say Mexico, I am talking about all of Mexico, the entire mainland, which includes Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and many other big and small towns throughout the country. And Mexico doesn’t stop there. I’m also talking about Baja, and just like a middle child, it’s sometimes forgotten, as most people consider it just an extension of California. Not the middle child…Baja.
So, no doubt you’ve heard about “those crazy people” who have traveled through Mexico, and not by airplane, but full on driving across the border, into the unknown. But, did it ever cross your mind that you could be one of them? If so, you probably asked yourself if maybe, just maybe, you could do it too.
Will I Die…and Other Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Traveling Through Mexico
If you’ve ever considered a trip through Baja, mainland Mexico, and maybe even further south (Gasp!), the first question you probably asked yourself is “Will I die?”
My answer? Yes! But only if you’re going there with a fatal disease. The news certainly has many of us believing that the countries south of our border are full of drugs, crime and murder. And sure, those things happen. But if you focused on all the negatives about places you wanted to travel, you’d probably also never go to Vegas, Detroit, Miami, or Ozawkie, Kansas either. Bad stuff happens everywhere. Most of it just isn’t reported in our country. Also, it’s more a question of where you plan to go (and when) within those places. Would you walk alone downtown Detroit at 2am? I know I wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t do that in Mexico either.
It’s true, traveling through Mexico isn’t for everyone, but unless you’re heading across the border with that fatal disease, or intent on immersing yourself in the drug scene while you’re there, you’re going to survive, and create some amazing memories in the process.
Now, if you’re feeling a bit more comfortable with the above, there are some additional questions you might want to ask before taking that leap across the border.
Who is Traveling Through Mexico?
I think it’s worth mentioning who these crazy, death-defying characters are that have braved the trip across the border. I mean, they’re doing it, but is this trip really right for you? You might be thinking you couldn’t possibly do something like this. You’re not the type. It’s too wild. Too risky. Too Mexican. Heck, you probably don’t even speak Spanish, or like tacos. There’s no way you could do this.
Or could you?
When we came up with the crazy idea of traveling through Mexico, we felt like total spear headers, not unlike Lewis and Clark, heading out on a great expedition, intent on discovering new lands never seen by mankind. Ok, maybe not exactly like that. But what we didn’t expect was to be a mere drop in the bucket of travelers doing the same thing. Turns out, this route is not a secret. Not even close.
One of the most surprising things we learned along our journey was who was out there doing it. If you’re like me, you’re picturing a group of young vagabonds, living out of their vans, surviving on the tips they saved from last year’s part-time job while living in their parent’s basement. Yep! They’re out there. But sitting in the camp right next to them are the retirees, families with young children, couples working remotely, college students, single women, single men, single men looking for single women…you get the idea!
The point is, traveling to Mexico is not nearly as scary as it’s made out to be. First of all, traveling through Baja is like a bit like Mexico-practice. Up North, you might even wonder if you’ve really crossed the border as all the Gringos and Canadians have seemed to take over. But, once south of Ensenada, you’re going to want to get out that Spanish phrasebook you’ve been carrying and practice up. You’re definitely in a foreign land. And before getting here, you probably want to ask yourself the following questions to make sure you’re ready for it.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Traveling Through Mexico
- Will I Die?
Let’s just re-visit this one again and get it out of the way, shall we? When we reached Mexico, friends and family were scared for us, to put it lightly. They emailed us news articles about Americans murdered by the cartel or stopped and robbed along the highways. Again, I’ll reiterate the fact that bad stuff can happen anywhere. If you don’t drive at night or get drunk and wobble down back alleyways, flashing your diamonds, pearls or latest iPhone, the odds of survival are in your favor.
- Do I Speak Enough Spanish?
So, yes, there is a language barrier, especially once you get further away from the border. I mean, it’s Mexico. But don’t let your lack of Spanish palabras (words) stop you from experiencing this beautiful country and its even more beautiful people.
Although I speak a fair amount of Spanish, we met countless travelers who barely spoke a word and got along just fine. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a few key phrases in your back pocket, such as, ¿Dónde estoy? or ¿Los tacos son picantes? Or basically, “Where am I? “or “Are the tacos spicy?” Plus, Google Translate can get you through pretty much any interaction these days. That said, I’d suggest spending some time to learn the language. It’s not only courteous, it will make life easier, and give you a valuable skill back home in your own country.
3. Will I Like the Food?
The food in Mexico is not only different, it’s freaking amazing! But it’s still probably different than what you’re used to. But isn’t that why you travel in the first place? If you wanted everything to be the same, you could just crank the heat at home, get a spray tan, and save a lot of money in the process. Be prepared to live outside your comfort zone a little and spice things up!
One of the biggest differences you’ll find in Mexico, besides the language and extreme amount of Styrofoam products, are the foods and the markets where you can buy food. In the larger cities, you’ll find larger supermarkets, sometimes even a Walmart, and can get most of your typical items. But in all the other small towns in between, the corner tiendas and municipal markets will have a much different selection than you’re probably used to seeing. Well, unless you’re used to seeing your dinner hanging from hooks in a hot, fly-infested warehouse, or like buying hot dog singles from the same cooler where you choose your beer.
4. Am I Willing to be Eco UN-friendly?
Like most developing countries, Mexico has a trash problem and almost non-existent recycling program. If you’re one to recycle everything back home, you might lose your mind a little in Mexico. Without the funds, a real system, or means to create a real system, trash is tossed about everywhere. And apparently, the best place to toss it is along the windy mountain roads, right next to the signs that clearly read “Don’t Throw Your Trash!” And if it isn’t being dumped, it’s being burned, along roadsides, in front of people’s homes or in the middle of town. This took some time for me to adjust to. After weeks of stockpiling cardboard, plastic bottles and beer cans inside our RV, I finally gave in and threw it all away, which still makes me a little nauseous just thinking about it.
5. Is Mexico Expensive to Travel Through?
My answer to this is absolutely, positively, 100% “it depends.” Just like everything you do, you can choose to do it first class all the way down to on a shoestring. Mexico is no different. And depending on where you travel, you can find high-end resorts that are happy to take all of your money, and deserted beaches where you can camp under the stars for free. It is all about comfort level and your willingness to immerse yourself into a different culture.
6. Do I Need a Ton of Documents to Travel Through Mexico?
Well, I wouldn’t say a ton, but yes, there are quite a few things you’ll want to get in order before you cross the border, such as passports, vehicle titles, and registration to name a few. And be sure to plan ahead. Some of these things can take a little time to arrange. Luckily, we’ve done this trip a few times and have even written the following article about it where you can get all the requirements and tips for driving from the US into Mexico. We named it “Tips for Driving From the US into Mexico.” Catchy title, right? Hopefully, it will save you hours of research and pain. Here it is again below:
7. What happens if I Get Sick While Traveling Through Mexico?
Have you ever sipped on a Mexican cocktail from a road-side taco stand and started to feel a bit “off” a short time later? Well, depending on how much sipping you did, it could be your first Mexican hangover, or it could be the ice. Unless you’re in a resort or larger, touristy town, you can bet the water being used isn’t purified, and can make you feel downright miserable for a few days. And that’s sissy stuff compared to things like malaria or dengue. Anytime you’re planning to travel to a foreign country, you should always research what the health risks and requirements are. The best information I’ve found is on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website:
Now, don’t let the fact that you could die a slow death from a disease scare you away from traveling through Mexico. We just spent the last year between Mexico and Guatemala and caught nothing more than a few common colds…oh, and some tasty grouper while in Baja! Just take the necessary steps ahead of time and you’ll greatly reduce the risks.
However, in the event you do get sick, rest assured, there is real healthcare in Mexico, not just the village healers you may have read stories about. You might have to travel to a larger city to get the care you need, but it is out there, and for a fraction of the price. Then there’s the dentists. Every gringo we met raved about the dental services in Mexico, even crossing the border for the sole purpose of their oral hygiene. They always had a positive story to share and a mouth full of (new) pearly whites to go with it.
8. How Should I Travel Through Mexico?
OK, this is a biggie. The mode of transportation you choose can literally make or break your trip, or for a family, determine whether you’re still a family when you arrive back home. Question is, should you just pack up the car you already own and head out? Or maybe run off and buy the latest mac-daddy Sprinter van, decked out with all the bells and whistles? Or better yet, jump on your skateboard and push a baby stroller with all your belongings in it. Yes, if you can imagine it, it’s been done! You think I’m teasing about the skateboard and bay stroller, don’t you?
So, with so many different options out there, how do you choose the right method for you?
Well, I’m so glad you asked!
What it really comes down to is taste, comfort level, budget, and desire to return home with all your sanity. This topic is so important, it really deserves a post of it’s own, so if you’ve made it through all the questions above and have decided traveling through Mexico is right for you, congratulations!
Welcome to the club! You’re now one of “those crazy people.”
Before shopping for that rig to carry you through Mexico, it’s important to first figure out what kind of traveler you really are. Answer these 7 questions to find out:
The 7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing the Right Vehicle to Travel through Mexico