Travel In Latin-America In Your Own Vehicle
No, you don't need to be rich or win the lottery to make a 6 months trip in you own vehicle around Latin America. Also, you don't need to be Indiana Jones to discover yourself Central America or the incredible South America. Regular people, with run-of-the-mill jobs and real life expenses can save enough cash to buy themselves some freedom for a while.
If you are living in the USA, or perhaps other developed country, maybe you heard many times this; "Don't cross the border, It's not safe over there. My sister-in-law's uncle was just minding his own business and they stripped him naked and tied him to a donkey." We got tired of hearing stories like this before each one of our trips.
Although there are some dangers in pretty much everyplace and crime does happen virtually everywhere, including our own "safe" neighborhood, most people are afraid of the unfamiliar. Those who live close to a border look toward the other side as the great unknown, full of goblins and corrupt officials.
Having lived in one of those highly industrialized countries, we have heard every imaginable story about bandits, corruption and horrible situations in Latin America. We end in the conclusion that for most of these stories, the person telling it heard the story from someone else but not directly from the victim and/or the victim was doing something that you shouldn't do in a strange place where you do not know how things are or this person did not follow basic security rules.
Clear heads and common sense helped us to avoid trouble most of the time. It's not as scary over there as it may seem and you can obtain a rich and possibly life changing experience. We followed some simple rules and our common sense and we were mainly safe in most of our trips. The most important thing is to pay attention! There is no need to be paranoid, but you need to make sure you are not driving yourself into a situation it would be hard to get out of.
Particularly on the road, we avoided driving at night in most countries, not only because of the road conditions or bad drivers but because if something bad was to happen, it could be more difficult to solve it at nighttime than during the daylight. Also, after down you don't get to enjoy the landscape and there are many awesome things to see around.
Carrying traveler's guides is a good idea and reading travel books or checking websites of other travelers helps a lot. However, asking and asking and asking to local people gave us the richest and most up-to-date information about the present situation and how to take care of ourselves and our vehicle.
Unexpected things can happen even if you think you took all the necessary precautions, so you need to be prepared to the unplanned. Traveling with a vehicle can bring some extra risk of unexpected problems. It can be sometimes hard to get parts and stuff for your vehicle, so before starting your trip you might want to stock up with some "extra parts" that are most likely to break down during a long trip.
The vehicle can brake down and leave you on the road. Probably, there won't be a AAA office to call or not even a phone to call someone!! Our vehicle broke down a couple of times and the parts shops did not always have what we needed or the mechanics were not particularly skilled with the problem or they didn't have the right tools. However, with patience, we received help and advices from local people and we could solve all the problems. It could be easier if we were driving one of the several Japanese vehicles that are common in Latin-American but anyways we never had major difficulties to solve the mechanical issues we had, other than having to wait for a couple of days to get parts.....
One good piece of advice would be to carry with you the repair manual of you vehicle, one of those "do it yourself" manuals. There you can find all the specs of the parts for your vehicle and in case you do not find the original part you need, you will be sure able to get something similar that will work for your ride.
In our own personal opinion, we found that traveling in Latin-America is an enriching and fulfilling experience. We are glad we did not pay attention to those saying it was a crazy and dangerous thing to do, since we honestly did not feel at any point we were doing something to put ourselves at risk.
Daniela L. Eaton
Copyright Daniela Eaton. Daniela is a MD and her husband is a PhD who love to travel around the world. For travel stories, tips, tons of excellent photos and free information, visit: