How to ACTUALLY do Vanlife Mexico

Travel

I was, and still am, completely clueless about most of this stuff – but I write this from my bed, which happens to be parked a la playa in Mexico. So, there’s that. We made it! Here’s how we did it – and how we didn’t do it, but definitely should have.

Step 1: Get your FMM Tourist Card

If you’re going to be in Mexico you have to have a tourist card. For this, you’ll have to fill out an online form (here) and give your passport information, dates you’ll be there, where you’re going and pay a fee of about $24. I’ve heard of it not being checked at the border, but ours were. That’s where we ran into issue #1: we didn’t have all the forms we needed. When you complete the FMM application online, you’ll submit it and then it will take you to another website where you pay your fee. Make sure you do it all at the same time, because as far as I can tell you can’t access your application again and will have to resubmit a new one. Happened to me. Once you complete the application you’ll get an email with a link to your tourist card, which you won’t be able to access until you pay. We didn’t realize that, and had unknowingly just printed the receipts from our payment.  Luckily, we were allowed to fill the form out by hand and our online fee was accepted that way… but not without a little bit of confusion and trouble. Make sure to click the email link and print your tourist card to bring to the border with you!

Step 2: Get your Temporary Vehicle Import Permit

I honestly researched this so much, and still didn’t get it right on the first try. I don’t think that it’s because I necessarily did anything wrong, but that it’s not exactly standard across the board. AKA – depending on who is giving you the permit, they may want different documents than what we needed. Also, keep in mind you won’t need a vehicle permit if you’re only going to Baja, and you’ll need something different if you’re only going to Sonora. The first thing I would do is gather ORIGINAL VERSIONS of everything listed below, and make 2 copies of each of them:

  1. FMM Tourist Card
  2. Passport
  3. Driver’s License
  4. Original Title or Valid Registration (if the vehicle is not in your name this gets a little tricky. You may need a birth or marriage certificate as well as the title)
  5. Proof of Mexican Insurance
  6. Electronic Pre-Authorization (this is what we didn’t have, and had to go back and get)

We were able to get our permit ahead of time in Austin, which saved us a lot of trouble because if we had tried to do it at the Banjercito (over the border) we wouldn’t have had everything we needed and probably would have been sent back to Texas. It is important to note that if you do make an appointment with a Mexican Consulate in the states there is a link in the email you’ll receive to a form you’ll need to print and bring with you to the appointment. Forms on forms on forms!!!

For us, they took a copy of my passport, driver’s license, registration, and the pre-auth form. Didn’t check if I had a tourist card or insurance, but who knows if someone else might find those things to be more important.

You CAN also do this online 10-60 days before you plan to enter Mexico, but you’ll have to have it mailed to you, which as we all know, if you’re living in a van gets complicated.

The permit costs around $52, but you’ll also have to put a deposit down on a credit card, which you’ll get back when you cancel your vehicle permit at the Banjercito upon exiting the country.

Step 3: Bringing a Dog

This is something we actually did good with! We waited until we were in Texas to get our dog papers figured out. We just looked up a USDA Certified Veterinarian, and for around $150 they will check your pup out and give you all the paperwork you need. Not that anyone will check it, but again better safe than sorry.

Things We Wish we Knew before Heading South:

Don’t plan to be able to drive at night. At all. Not only are the roads absolutely terrifying on their own, but the trucks are absolute maniacs. Passing is a death wish, but necessary at times. I would just avoid it completely if possible.

Add about 2-3 hours to any GPS estimation of how long it will take you to get somewhere. We definitely did not realize this and what we *thought* was a 13 hour drive turned into a 2 day fiasco. Don’t try to rush things if you’re driving through Mexico. Keep stress levels low by planning to take your time and make a few days of 4-5 hour drives if at all possible. Our biggest regret is trying to make long ass miserable drives across the country.

If you’re going to take toll roads, make sure you have Pesos, and lots of them. In short, the toll roads are expensive AF. I’m talking 300-400 Pesos for some of them, and you pay all. the. time. Some of them take cards, but most don’t. Also, some of them are taken over by locals and you definitely don’t want those guys after you. The toll roads were honestly more stressful for us than taking the free roads, just because we never knew when a toll would pop up, how much it would be, if we would have enough money or if we would have to beg someone to exchange dollars for us. On that note…

We had a lot more fun and enjoyable time staying on the free roads (for the most part). We were able to see really cool towns and had a lot more viable options for passing a night. That being said, we also were stuck on extremely questionable roads (Proof Here) that I would never ever recommend to anyone in a Sprinter or RV. So, be wary. Check your route beforehand and if it looks like it’s taking you into the literal middle of nowhere – chances are it probably is.

We would recommend having some sort of back up light for if you get stuck driving at night. The speed bumps, pot holes, and stray animals are really hard to see with your regular headlights. Having something like an LED bar would have been a huge help for when we were forced to drive at night.

Get your GPS going on more than one device, if possible. There were times when one of our phones would randomly drop navigation and we would have been totally screwed if we didn’t have both our phones GPS going because the service is extremely spotty during the long drives cross-country.

No matter how safe an area you think you’re in, don’t leave anything you want to keep outside of your van. We left our surfboards strategically hidden and shoved under our van one night while in a very nice neighborhood and still had it stolen. We got it back, so it’s all good, but don’t leave your stuff out people!

Talk to people, wave at people, say Hola! We noticed that a lot of people would stare at us when we drove by. For a while we thought they had angry faces, but turns out a lot of Mexicans just kind of have RBF (like me). We started waving at people and they all always waved back and got super stoked! We met so many super nice people just being parked somewhere. Way more than you could ever hope to meet here in America. Don’t be scared to say hi! In general, we found that Mexicans were very very friendly!

ENJOY! RELAX! Please, don’t rush Mexico. One thing I wish we had in Mexico was more TIME. If we didn’t have to force long drives, wait in places for car repairs, etc. we would have had so much more fun. If we could do it again, I would go into Mexico with no hard end date and just take our sweet, sweet time exploring.

I would love to keep this blog post ever-evolving. If you have any questions about an upcoming trip into Mexico we would absolutely love to help! Shoot us a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

Deconstruction

Life, Travel

The middle of the Forest. Birds singing, the smell of earth, crisp fall air, the faint sound of water gushing through a creek in the distance. Not another human soul for miles. Exactly where I’d dreamt of being for the past 3 months. I should be ecstatic but instead I feel… disheveled, stressed, definitely not carefree and adventurous as I’d imagined I would be. I got sick, basically the day I lost the health insurance through my work. Our renters were giving us problems we weren’t anticipating. Driving the van on curving mountain roads was more nerve-racking than I thought it would be. My thoughts were constantly racing… Is this not all that it’s cracked up to be? Should we have just sold the house instead of dealing with tenants? How am I going to pay to see a doctor?

September Van Update: We live here now

Life, Travel, Van Conversion

What an absolute whirlwind August has been. If you don’t follow us on Instagram or YouTube it might come as a surprise that we are currently fully living out of the van. Yeah, that escalated quickly. Allow me to try to wrap up this insane month for you in as short of a time as possible.

At the beginning of August we were starting to get a little concerned about getting the house rented in time. I had already given my notice to work that I would be leaving the last day of the month, and getting the house occupied was the only thing keeping us from experiencing, as my dad said, “failure to launch.” After debating for a few weeks we finally decided to allow the rental company to put the house up for a year lease instead of the 9 months we had originally planned. That meant we were fully committing to 1 year in the van. THE NEXT DAY, I got a call that the house was rented. We were completely blown away, grateful, jumping for joy, ecstatic. Also, pretty much panicked to get the van and house ready in time. In short: Shit just got real.

6 Things We Learned Our First Weekend in the Van

Travel, Van Conversion

Having a toilet in your van is a game changer. We brought our Nature’s Head with us since we weren’t sure where we would be sleeping overnight and wanted to have a place to pee just in case it ended up being some random parking lot. It was amazing. We didn’t have to look for a bathroom all weekend, and could even just stop on the side of the road and go to the back to pee if we had to. I honestly don’t know how people van life without a toilet at all. I’m already spoiled and don’t even live in it full-time yet.

Am I Dreaming?

Life, Travel

Remember how I was posting all kinds of stuff about signs, and focusing on things you love to do no matter how good or bad you are at them? Of course you do, they’re right down there. Well, I wrote all that stuff fully believing in it and the power of manifestation but now I am here to tell you to KEEP BELIEVING, and as Ben Gravy would say KEEP PUSHING FOR THE DREAM. 

A Week in Mammoth

Travel

There’s something about a small town in the mountains. How the snow-covered peaks can somehow make you feel like such a small speck but simultaneously so on top of the world. How the whole town being buried in snow can make everything that much more cozy. Coffee tastes better, blankets are more comfy, and fireplaces are actually being used for warmth and not just aesthetics. The crunch of the snow beneath your feet, but also the amazing silence of cruising through a deep patch of powder in the woods.

We decided to go to Mammoth Lakes, California for this trip because we know we want to spend next winter in the mountains somewhere. California was a no-brainer because we are still able to make trips and drive to surf, so we took this opportunity to go out and ride an awesome mountain while also scoping it out for next winter season.

Weekend at the Hobbit House

Travel

Have I mentioned lately how lucky I am to have a boyfriend who is not only super patient with me when I’m having a hard time but will also literally do anything to make me happy? Well, I am. I’m so super thankful for him, too. Last Sunday after spending every weekend of the new year at home either working on the van or working on the house I started to feel really… worn out and restless.