Safety and security are on everyone’s minds, especially travelers thinking ahead to their first overland border crossing. We faced a barrage of fearmongering before the two months we spent overlanding through interior Mexico. If we had entertained every fearful thought, then we never would’ve gone.
You shouldn’t believe everything you hear about other countries, but that’s no reason to be underprepared. Like everything else in life, balance is important. We shouldn’t be motivated by fear, but by thorough research and common sense.
Eric spent 20 years in federal law enforcement with the United States Coast Guard before retiring in 2010. So he knows a little about “Semper Paratus,” which translates to “Always Ready.” Based on his extensive experience, as well as research and recommendations from seasoned overlanders, we’ve taken several safety and security measures for international overlanding. We began our first overlanding journey into another country when our son Caspian had just turned two years old.
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1/ Garmin inReach Explorer+
Let’s cut to the chase. The most valuable item we carry in our Jeep is our Garmin inReach Explorer+. With it, we have two-way communication anywhere in the world, provided we have a clear view of the sky.
Even when we don’t have cell service, our Garmin inReach Explorer+ allows us to have text conversations with loved ones or overlanders we’re trying to meet up with off-grid.
In an emergency, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ has an SOS feature. This button puts subscribers in touch with GEOS International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center. If you are physically able to communicate back and forth, they can either answer your questions or send the appropriate emergency responder to your area. If you are not able to respond, GEOS will attempt to reach you and your emergency contacts by phone, and will ultimately send help using your location.
I distinctly remember a moment in Mexico when Eric told me to “stuff the inReach in [my] pants” if we ever had to evacuate the Jeep in an emergency. In other words, it’s the one item we don’t want to lose.
2/ Fake Wallet
Eric’s real wallet doesn’t leave the Jeep safe when we’re out of the country. Instead, he uses a fake wallet holding a day’s worth of cash. This is where you could carry your International Driving Permit from AAA, while keeping your official state driver’s license tucked away.
I don’t take my wallet out of the Jeep, either. I use a simple coin purse with a medium-denomination bill for that day’s outing.
Cost: $1-8 (Dollar Tree, Walmart, etc.)
3/ Splitting Up Money
On both our overlanding trips to Mexico, we used approximately $1,000 USD in pesos each month. With that much cash on hand, we’re careful to split it up into various locations in our Jeep.
Cost: hopefully $0
Keep reading: Cost of Overlanding Through the Interior of Mexico
4/ Dash Camera
A dash camera was a last-minute purchase before our first overlanding border crossing. Initially, I thought it was overkill. But the more I read and watched others’ experiences, the more convinced I became that a dash cam could be a useful tool.
Here’s what has happened to other overlanders. They’re pulled over and told they did something wrong, when they didn’t. In response to the police officer, they respectfully offer to drive to the station to review the camera footage. Multiple times, this has immediately ended the confrontation.
We went with the Garmin Dash Cam 55. It has a parking feature which immediately turns on recording when the vehicle is parked, providing footage of anyone around your vehicle (at least, in the direction the camera is pointed) and their activities.
Now, we’ve never needed any of this. Four thousand miles throughout Mexico and we’ve never been pulled over by any law enforcement entity. But our dash cam is still a safety and security measure we feel good about, and who knows how it’ll come into play in the future.
5/ Roof Rack Bolts
Now let’s head outside of the Jeep. Our exterior setup has several understated security features to point out.
Altitude Industries, the Colorado-based company that designed and installed our roof top tent system, bolted our roof rack to the hard top of our Jeep. The roof rack can’t be removed without access to the inside of the Jeep, followed by some serious wrenching.
Note: our roof rack is the Rhino Rack Pioneer Platform with JK Backbone System.
Cost: Included in Rhino Rack Pioneer Platform
6/ Roof Top Tent Anti-Theft Mounting Brackets
The roof rack is bolted to the hard top, and the iKamper roof top tent is locked to the roof rack with anti-theft mounting brackets. This add-on by Altitude Industries gives us an extra layer of security for times when we might need to leave our Jeep unattended in less secure areas.
7/ Alarm System
When Eric first mentioned installing an alarm system, I immediately saw dollar signs. I was surprised to find out we could purchase and install a Viper Alarm System for a reasonable price.
The 5706V 2-Way Car Security system has several valuable features. First of all, the key fob can notify us within a mile’s range of our vehicle if the alarm is triggered. And on cold days, we can remote start our Jeep to get the engine warming up.
While Mopar does make a hood lock, we chose another solution: a mercury switch tied into the Viper Alarm System. The alarm will sound if the hood is opened while the alarm is armed.
8/ Wheel Locks
Let’s talk locks. Items mounted to the outside of your overlanding vehicle are vulnerable to crimes of opportunity, so a well-considered lock is a valuable investment.
We chose Gorilla Automotive Wheel Locks for all five of our tires, including the full-size spare we have on the tailgate.
It’s not that our wheels are anything spectacular–we’re still running stock. But we sure can’t go far without them.
9/ MaxTrax Lock
Our two MaxTrax traction boards are mounted to our spare on the tailgate. Because they aren’t cheap and are important safety features in themselves, we slapped a cable lock onto them as a deterrent to theft. The cable lock is run through the spare tire wheel, which is locked to the tire carrier with a Gorilla Wheel Lock.
Make sure you know where the cable lock key is at all times, so you don’t have to dig for it in an emergency.
10/ Common Sense
How you configure your safety and security features is up to you. There are some overlanders who have gone without any of these items, traveling more extensively than we have yet, and they’ve been fine. There have been some overlanders who have done much more. And there are some who have been targeted with extreme results, despite all the planning they did.
At the end of the day, there is no substitute for common sense.
We have one big rule when overlanding internationally: don’t drive in the dark; arrive at our destination by 3 p.m. each day. Three o’clock may seem early. But by aiming for that time, we allow ourselves a cushion if driving conditions are worse than expected, we get lost, we can’t stay at the place we intended to stay, etc.
Beyond that rule, we put a lot of stock in our gut feelings. If we don’t feel safe, then we leave. Eric has a lot of training in situational awareness, which I consider his spidey sense for knowing when something isn’t quite right.
We won’t get it right every time. We aren’t trying to create a cocoon for ourselves. But we’re trying to hit that middle ground where we can adventure responsibly. We hope you can find that space, too.
Until next time, keep it dirty and wheels side down.
~ Eric, Brittany, and #LittleNomad
This article was originally published on April 26, 2020.