A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!


Visit Expedia…

Expedia is my favorite place to book airfare, and they handle hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc. I like the organization of the site for figuring out what flights I want. Click on the suitcase to take a look.

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Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Traveling in Mexico by RV led us to wonderful experiences we could only have had that way. Camping by a remote ferry landing on the Gulf of Mexico, deepening our immersion in the ancient ruins of El Tajín by spending the night in the parking lot, having brunch in our motorhome with a taxi driver in Xalapa, watching an informal rodeo by a restaurant in Chihuahua – these are some of our treasured memories. Many other small moments of beauty or interest came from this way of traveling too.

There were drawbacks, though. Getting lost, having to maneuver the motorhome out of tight spots, the ever-present need to find a place for the RV for the night, the challenge of visiting cities while in an RV… it was rather like having a third person along with Kelly and me, one who needed regular meals of gasoline, water, and electricity and needed to dump the water frequently.

In the U.S., it’s easy. You just take off in your motorhome of any size or shape, and everywhere you go, you can find public or private campgrounds. There are huge national directories listing them. You can have a general idea what to expect wherever you go.

Mexico isn’t like that. Some parts of the country are more developed, most notably the Pacific coast beach towns where American and Canadian RVers have been going for years. But if you get off the beaten path, RV travel in Mexico is bound to be an adventure. Is it for you? These pages are written to help you decide that.

(I’ll talk about danger and crime on the next page.)

Why travel by RV?

We found it enjoyable, flexible, economical, and convenient.


We greatly enjoyed having a mini-home with us wherever we went. Having our own bed, kitchen, and bathroom gave the trip a kind of simplicity and stability that we liked. We were both writing a lot during the trip, and having a table for our two laptops was another benefit. We liked cooking most of our meals, only eating out when we wanted to rather than because it was the only choice other than snacking. It was worth something not to be living out of a suitcase – and for us, since the laptops and Kelly’s video equipment were necessary parts of our business reasons for the trip, it would have been several suitcases!


We treasured the flexibility too. Without plane tickets, we could go when and where we wanted spontaneously. And while it’s true that the outstanding bus system in Mexico does go everywhere, I doubt we would have gone to many of the more remote places we explored if we had had to do it by bus.


Our motorhome, nick-named Cando, was of this type.

RVing is an economical way of traveling, unless you are going long distances in a rig that gets poor gasoline mileage. Our Toyota Dolphin averaged 17 miles per gallon – we kept track. So even though gas prices were higher in Mexico than in the U.S. at that time, our transportation costs were not bad at all. You do have to buy Mexican car insurance – American insurance is not honored there – but with an older RV, that cost us under $200 for a year’s coverage, including legal help should it be needed. (A year’s coverage cost about the same as two months’ worth.)

Many of our campgrounds were free.

We averaged well under $10 a night for campgrounds, specially since many nights were free.

With grocery costs maybe 60% of U.S. prices (unless you favor a lot of processed foods), we ate avocados and mangos galore.  I’m not a big beef-eater at home, but I loved the more flavorful (though generally tougher) Mexican beef. Fresh bread and bakery goods were inexpensive, and I was pleased to see whole grain breads from time to time.


Taking care of the basics was generally convenient. Bottled water is sold in even the tiniest villages, and you can buy a large container full and then exchange the plastic bottle for another one elsewhere when you’re done. (Once in a while, you may not be able to exchange different brands of bottles if you have traveled some distance, but we never had that problem.) I was really pleased to see how widely available clean water was. It’s a terrific step forward in public health for Mexico. At just over a dollar for roughly five gallons, the cost was inconsequential for us though still a challenge for poor Mexicans.

Groceries and housewares are easy to come by – all the cities have chain-store supermarkets which also carry housewares and pharmacy items. The public markets offer a wide selection of produce and meats. Even in small towns, there are “mini-supers” (that’s what they call them) of varying sizes.

We remembered that in 1979, gas stations had been few and far between. We always filled up when we got about half empty. Now there are many gas stations practically everywhere, so we were comfortable not filling up till we got down near a quarter of a tank. We did notice that on the long toll roads in the north of the country, it could be further between stations. And you can still occasionally drive into a gas station only to discover that it is out of gas.

Of course, all this cost money, and we were pleased that the Mexican ATMs accepted both our credit cards and the debit card from our checking account at home. The receipts often told us how many pesos we had in the account, which made me feel rich indeed until I remembered the exchange rate. We did take more than one card with us, as we heard stories of ATM machines sometimes not giving back people’s cards. This was our first long trip outside the U.S. without travelers’ checks, and it worked fine. We did have a couple hundred dollars, in twenties and smaller bills, tucked into a secret place in the motor home, just in case.

Staying in touch with family, friends, and our business was easy with the internet. Everywhere in Mexico, we found nice little internet cafes. Once in a while the connect speed was prehistoric, but usually it was okay and sometimes very good. It tended to cost between one and two dollars an hour. We were online about twice a week. A couple of times, we left idyllic spots because they didn’t have connections there, but we never had far to go to find them. Mexicans are embracing the internet, and few of them can afford computers at home – and many of them have cellphones because the regular phone service can be hard to get and expensive – so the cafes meet a real need and are far more numerous than in the U.S.

Other Ways of Traveling in Mexico

RV travel is far from the most popular choice.

You can hop a plane from home and be at your destination in Mexico quickly. This is especially appealing if you are heading to the Yucatan or some other location quite far south. Package rates to Cancun, for example, can be good bargains.

You can drive a car, which gives you many of the benefits of an RV along with greater ease of navigating. Throw a tent and some bedding in the trunk, and you will be camping like the Mexicans do.

You can catch a bus. It’s hard to imagine the Mexican bus system until you see numerous luxury and first-class buses frequently going between the cities, with second-class buses going to every hamlet and wide spot in the road. The better buses have movies (not necessarily an advantage if you don’t care for violence) and bathrooms. Intercity bus travel is so common that you have your choice of time of day on most routes. If you decide to have a longer lunch, there will be more buses leaving soon. The prices are very reasonable. In a country that doesn’t have all that many passenger cars or minor airline routes, and that has essentially ended its passenger train service, the buses are at the heart of the Mexican travel system. It’s a great way to meet people, too.

How much Spanish should you know?

The further off the beaten tourist path you go, the fewer Mexicans who speak English will you meet – though we did notice that in the northern state of Chihuahua, far more people spoke English than further south. However, we found that even when Mexicans spoke English, we often relied on our Spanish to verify that we had understood them correctly. In many cases, their accents in English  are quite thick (which I find charming). Like us with Spanish, they had learned more in school about reading and writing than about speaking clearly.

It’s really a personal thing. If your Spanish is minimal or nonexistent, are you comfortable communicating with gestures and a few words, even if you should have some health or vehicle problems? Despite being able to handle daily chores with ease, Kelly and I found ourselves constantly challenged by the limits of our Spanish. With my chatty personality, I found it frustrating to think of some little thing I wanted to say to someone and not quite know how to do it. If we end up spending a considerable amount of time south of the border, I will probably take an immersion Spanish course somewhere, to move to a higher level.

What’s it like to drive in Mexico?

Kelly did all the Mexican driving on our trip, as I tend to be a klutz with motorhomes. He realized immediately, and I did a bit later, that even though Mexicans drive quite differently from Americans, they are no less interested in staying alive. We noticed that just as Mexicans make more eye contact and relate to each other more in public places than Americans do, so too in their driving habits, they expect each other to be alert to what they are doing. Someone may pass in a situation that would be madness in the U.S., knowing that both the people that they are passing and any oncoming traffic will be alert if things get tight.

Once, after a hair-raising taxi ride in Guadalajara, I came to the conclusion that our driver had mastered the underlying principle of the universe, that matter and energy are the same. I decided he had changed our taxi into energy at several crucial moments!

Mexican accident rates are reported to be somewhat higher than American. The evidence of my eyes bore this out. In about 3000 miles in Mexico, we saw one totaled small car, two different places where accidents had happened and huge trucks were burning, and one flipped pickup where the ambulances were on their way. That seemed like a lot to me – I am grateful that we didn’t see any accidents occur. These were all daytime events; the standard advice for traveling at night is DON’T. Livestock like to sleep on the warm pavements, all the busyness that you see during the day is still going on but you can’t see it so well, and there is probably a higher risk of being robbed. (Though not as high as most Americans seem to imagine.) In my reading on Mexico, I did take comfort that Carl Franz and John Howell – who have both traveled extensively in Mexico and written a lot about the country – have gone many thousands of miles. Each can tell some hair-raising tales, but neither has ever suffered a serious accident.

Another feature of driving in Mexico is getting lost. Kelly and I don’t get lost at home, but we frequently found ourselves missing poorly marked turnoffs or having to guess at intersections. We had the best maps available, but they were not always correct either. It seems to me that since relatively few Mexicans travel long distances by car to unfamiliar destinations, putting up good road signs for travelers hasn’t been a governmental priority. We found that when we were on the main touristic routes, the road signs were better. For example, the northbound bypass road around the city of Chihuahua could not have been better. Well, except for that one corner where we did guess right!

Throughout Mexico, especially at state lines, you will come up to army checkpoints. They are looking for drugs and guns. We were pulled over and checked several times, and it was never a problem. The young men were unfailingly courteous, and the searches were minimal. One soldier did find some white powder among our nutritional supplements, but he had no problem believing us that it was vitamin C. We did not crack inappropriate jokes that might have triggered more searching, nor were we transporting anything questionable. We did think that we were pulled over more often than other vehicles, but chalked it up to their being curious about us and our rig.

[Next: more tips on RV travel in Mexico]

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