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Border Crossing in a Camper: San Diego to Baja and Back

Truck Camper in Baja

Southbound Crossing

Crossing into Mexico through the San Ysidro (Chula Vista/Tijuana) border with an RV is fairly simple. We haven’t experienced any traffic as the border is electronic. This means they take a picture of your vehicle when you pass, and you get a green light or red light for further inspection. However, there is a border agent after this process that will always (in our experience) pull over campers into secondary. This is quick and painless for the most part. The first time we crossed with Rocky LeBlanc, we went through a manual inspection. A couple agents came over, we opened up the camper, they went inside, opened up a few cabinets and we were on our way. It took about 5 minutes.

This last time started out the same, but instead of a manual inspection, we were directed to another area to await x-ray scanning of our rig. You would think this would be even quicker than a manual inspection. You would be wrong to think that. They take 3 cars at a time in the scanning area. When it’s your turn, you pull up to the area and get out of your car. They do the scanning, then you wait for the info to be sent to Mexico City (why?!) for analysis. Some guy or gal sitting at a computer in Mexico City checks the scan out then lets the border agents know if you’re cool. Then an agent had us open up the camper. He took a quick look inside and we were done. All in all, it took about 20 minutes. It took longer than the other time, but I’m not complaining. Borders often take much longer than that.


Camping with friends in Baja.

Camping with friends in Baja.

Northbound Crossing

Coming back to San Diego from Baja gives you three border crossing options. The first is the San Ysidro border. We have gone through this border maybe 20 times, but never with a camper. Why? Because this is one of the busiest borders in the world. It averages 70,000 northbound vehicle and 20,000 northbound pedestrian crossings every day. If you have been to this border, you know that it is crowded, not only with vehicles, but with vendors between each lane. Sure, I’d love to buy some churros or a puppy while waiting, but not with our camper. You can barely squeeze through with a normal sized car. I can’t imagine trying it with a camper. I wish you good luck if you’re going to try it. As far as I know, there isn’t a separate lane for campers. Please let me know if you have info that there is. And here’s the other thing: I’ve waited as long as 7 hours at this border. It really depends on the day and time you show up as I’ve also waited like 15 minutes before. If you’re there on a Sunday night, you’re in for the long haul. Seriously, don’t ever go on a Sunday night. Just. Don’t.

Before I get into the two better crossings for campers, let me tell you about the app CBP Border Wait Times. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you downloading this app before deciding which border to cross. What we did this last trip was open up the app, see the wait times at each border, add that to the time it would take to get to each border, and pick the shortest one. The most east of the three borders, Tecate, had the shortest wait time, but would take an hour longer to get to than the others. San Ysidro had a 40 minute wait time and Otay Mesa had a 15 minute wait time on the Thursday night that we were crossing. San Ysidro and Otay Mesa are about 8 miles apart. Although San Ysidro was slightly closer, it would be faster and less stressful to go through Otay Mesa.

Both San Ysidro and Otay Mesa can be confusing as far as knowing which lane to get into. If you don’t have a sentri pass, make sure you don’t accidentally get in the sentri lane. You won’t be able to change lanes and get out. There are barriers preventing that at both borders. At Otay, there is an “all vehicles” lane that you should be in. Side note: signs for where the border lanes are and which lane is which are super confusing at San Ysidro. It’s not just you, it’s frustrating for everyone. I still don’t know where to go and I’ve been to that border many times. IMPORTANT: don’t ever follow a guy who says he can take you to the border or through a short cut. There’s a chance he’s going to lead you somewhere away from the crowds so he and/or his friends can rob you. Don’t let that scare you from going to Mexico. It’s rare, but we have been approached by a guy offering us a shortcut at the border before. Say “no gracias” and stay in your crazy long line. A shortcut can be tempting, but just doesn’t exist at border crossings.

Okay back to our regularly scheduled programming. At Otay Mesa, there are a few lanes, maybe 2-4 for “all vehicles”. The lanes are wide enough for campers and I don’t remember any vendors being in our way. The line moves moderately quickly. It took us about 15 minutes like the app said. When we got to the border agent, we gave her our passports. She looked at them then asked us to open the camper. She took a peek inside and we were done in about 5 minutes.

Driving through Santo Tomas.

Driving through Santo Tomas, near Ensenada.

We took the Tecate border two months ago with the camper. It was a little confusing to get to. We were pulled over by cops in the process of finding where we needed to be. The cops said we ran a stop sign, which we hadn’t, but we weren’t going to argue with them. They tried to have us pay a fine directly to them now and in cash only. That made is super obvious that they were extorting money from us. We told them that we didn’t have any cash (it helps that Pedro speaks Spanish pretty well). We had spent all our pesos on purpose in anticipation of getting to the border. It’s best not to pay bribes because giving in will just make it harder for the next foreigner they pull over. They will not throw you in Mexican jail for refusing to pay them. These shady cops will threaten to take you to the station, but they will not go through with it. They are asking for an illegal bribe so they don’t want to draw too much attention. The situation usually just wastes some of your time which is annoying.

After 5-10 minutes of back in forth, they realized that they weren’t going to get any money out of us. They then became very helpful and showed us to the border entrance. Again, don’t let this scare you away from visiting Mexico. We recommend having two wallets, and hiding the one with most of your money just in case you get a hard headed cop who just won’t let you go without some money. If you must, give them the equivalent of 5 US dollars that you keep in your special wallet. They will eventually let you go, even if you don’t pay them.

Back to border talk: the Tecate border is one lane. This is awesome because you can’t get in the wrong lane. It splits into two when you get closer, but both lanes take all cars. The lane is nice and wide; perfect for crossing with a camper. There are no vendors taking up driving space. We waited about 20 minutes in line. Once you do the whole passport thing with the border agent, they will direct you to drive to another area where you meet a customs agent. He or she will ask you if you have any meat, cheese, fresh fruit or veggies. In our case, the agent asked to see our fridge. This process took maybe 5 minutes when we were there on a Thursday around 3:00PM.

Moral of the long story: don’t be afraid, download the app, don’t use the northbound San Ysidro border with a camper, especially on a Sunday night.

DIY Packing List Sustainability Travel Tips

5 Reasons Every Traveler (and other person) Should Use Shampoo Bars

Zolo using shampoo bar

If you’re not using shampoo bars, or you haven’t heard of them, let me blow your mind.


They have pretty much changed my life. At first, I was skeptical, as I have thick hair, and wasn’t sure if it would work well for me. All of my worries subsided after my first wash, and now I’m a raving fan.


If you’re a traveler, you’ll never go back once you’ve tried a shampoo bar. Here are some reasons why:


1. They are compact and save space.


Lathering shampoo bar

Most shampoo bars lather up nicely.

Liquid shampoo is typically made up of 70-80% water. Bars are a more concentrated form of your shampoo: just add water. I like to lather the bar up with some water in my hands, then run the suds through my hair and scalp as I would any other shampoo. You can also rub the bar directly into your hair.


The best part: a 1.9 ounce bar lasts about 70 washes. If you don’t want to take a whole bar, you can figure out almost exactly how much you’ll need for your specific trip with some simple math. It’s super easy to cut off the chunk you need with a knife.


Important: make sure you allow your bar to air dry after each use for the maximum shelf life of 1 year. I recommend putting the bar on its side inside its tin for the quickest drying. If it’s round and keeps falling back flat, push it into the tin with a bit of force right after the shower when it’s a little soft. That should give it a flat part to stand on.


2. They are better for the environment.


All the plastic shampoo bottles you’ll use throughout your lifetime leave a significant footprint. If sustainability is important to you, there’s another choice. You can be plastic free if you switch to shampoo in solid form. A shampoo bar in a reusable container is a better option for the environmentally conscious.


I have a tin from Lush Cosmetics. You can also get any number of sizes and designs from amazon, or recycle an old Altoid tin. Look around your home and I’m sure you can find something that could be reused as a holder for your shampoo bar. This makes your shampoo so portable that you could put it in your pocket.


My bar and tin go from shower to gym bag to overnight bag to full luggage in a snap. No mess, no fuss. It can’t get any better than that.


3. They are spill proof.


The worst thing is opening up your luggage after a long flight and finding out that your shampoo has spilled all over your clothes.


When you’ve switched over to the bar life, all you have to do before a flight is make sure the lid on your tin is tight and won’t pop off if your luggage is tossed around. Even if it does, it wont be nearly as bad as if you had liquid shampoo everywhere. You can always tape 2 sides if you want to be sure your bar stays in its tin.


4. They are flight approved.


For my warrior travelers who get through airports with only a carry-on, shampoo bars come in clutch. No longer do you have to squeeze your liquid shampoo into tiny containers, only to run out on a long trip and have to buy some random (probably chemical laden) shampoo later. And then forget that bottle isn’t cool with TSA and have to throw it away at the dreaded “throw your noncompliant stuff in this trash can” trash can. You know what I mean?


With a shampoo bar, you can bring as much as you need on your carry-on… or cut off as little as you need to save weight on a short trip.


5. They are natural.


Essential Oils and herbs for different hair needs including hair growth, dandruff, normal, dry, oily, brittle.

The various essential oils and herbs useful for each hair type.

Shampoo bars are often free of chemicals that can damage your hair such as sulfites and parabins. Many are instead made with natural ingredients that nourish your hair instead of stripping it then wrapping it in chemicals.


You can even make your own shampoo bar if you’re feeling ambitious. There’s a nice basic recipe made with coconut oil at Wellness Mama and another at Mommypotamus. Spruce up a basic recipe by adding 1 oz of essential oils and/or herbs. You can choose the type according to your hair and scalp needs.


Essential Oils and Herbs for Hair

My favorite shampoo bar is “Honey I Washed my Hair” is from Lush Cosmetics. It is really moisturizing and smells like a dream. Surprisingly, I haven’t had to use conditioner after using it. I also love “Brazilliant” which is only available online. They have about a dozen different options depending on your hair type. One bar is less than $10 at my local Lush store and lasts 70 washes. What a great value! I really love going to my local store. I think half the fun is going there and trying on their products, smelling everything, and getting recommendations for your skin and hair type from the awesome people who work there. You’ll enjoy the experience, and a huge bonus is they’ll give you a sample of anything you want. If you don’t have a brick and mortar Lush near you, you can buy a bar from their website. Another option is buying their products off amazon. It’s not typically the cheapest option, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Shampoo bar drying out in its tin.

Montalbano shampoo bar from Lush standing up to dry out.

Bonus: leaving your bar out to dry, which you should do after each use, deodorizes and leaves an amazing scent in your bathroom.


I’m going to say it again, because it’s really important: allowing your shampoo bar to dry after each use keeps away germs and gives you the full shelf life of 1 year per bar!


Also, if you leave it moist inside its closed tin, it will melt into the container and you’ll have a heck of a time trying to get it back out.


Tip: don’t forget the conditioner bar, facial soap bar, shave bar and lotion bar. The same benefits apply. Go bar crazy!