No Wrong Turns: How to Drive and Survive in Mexico

Traveling with a car has its advantages: we are free to roam all over, stop when we please and we don’t have to share a seat with any livestock. But, the car also becomes a bit of a burden — another thing we have to worry about; it’s like one gigantic backpack. Worries range from “Do we have enough gas?” and “Does this car look like it’s worth breaking into?” to “Is that semi going to slow down?”

After 6000km, a bit of wear on the tires, one missing bumper, and a new appreciation for four wheel drive, I offer up some initial advice on driving in Mexico:

  1. DON’T drive at night. Most of the car violence we have heard of occurs at night on the highways…even the Mexicans will tell you to ‘park it’ once the sun sets.
  2. Never, under any circumstances, hand over your passport to anyone. Some scams include people pretending to be police officers. They pull you over, demand your passport then expect you to cough up a huge sum of money in return for your passport.
  3. If you are pulled over by police, be calm and polite. Don’t speak Spanish. Someone mentioned this to us early on and being a ‘dumb’ tourist has proved to be advantageous for us. If the officer presses you, ask for information on the law you supposedly broke or ask to speak to a supervisor. If you do receive a fine, pay it at the police station and get a receipt.
  4. Mexicans drive fast and, though posted speed limits are usually 60 to 80km/hr, the locals usually drive around 120km/hr. Stick to the posted limits to avoid giving the police any reason to pull you over. Or, at the very least, follow the flow of traffic but make sure you aren’t leading the pack.
  5. Fill up your car every time you see a gas station (and there is only one to choose from in Mexico called Pemex). There are stretches of highway that run for over 400km without a gas station in sight. No signs are posted to warn you that you have just driven by the last station for the next 600 km.
  6. Carry a jerrycan with extra gas. (see above)
  7. Trucks will put on their left-hand signal light to let you know that it is safe to pass them on the highway.
  8. Keep small bills, both American and Mexican, for the toll roads. Change is often hard to come by in Mexico.
  9. Go for the filthy, hippy, garbage-y car vibe and leave your car dirty both inside and out. Tom and I splattered dirt on our license plate to make it less visible. I chucked empty water bottles and food wrappers on the floor and the backseat. If looks junky it might prevent any sort of curiosity about what is inside.
  10. And the piece de resistance: Hang a rosary off your rearview or better yet put a sticker of the Virgen de Guadalupe on you car.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.