When you think about what you should do and not do while traveling, some things may seem obvious, but sometimes the smallest mishaps can set your vacation off on a rocky start.
Whether it's your first trip to Mexico or your 51st, here are a few tips to consider when planning and packing for your trip.
Do Research Your Destination, But Don't Over-Plan
You want to know about things to do while you're there and if there are any particular concerns related to your destination, but part of the fun is letting things unfold and being open to opportunities that come up. Sometimes the best vacation memories come from aspects of a trip that weren't planned in advance. That said, do inform yourself about some Mexico basics that will give you some general knowledge of the country, check out our Mexico Travel Planner for things to do before you go, and research the top Mexico destinations, so you can make an informed choice about where to go.
Do Learn a Few Phrases in Spanish Before You Go
In resort areas, you'll find most folks who work in the service industry speak at least some English, but you never know when you'll need to ask an important question like where a bathroom is ("¿Dónde está el baño?"), and the person you're asking only speaks Spanish. Outside of the major beach destinations, most Mexicans do not speak English, so carry a phrase book or keep your smartphone and translation app handy. And be prepared! Learn a few essential Spanish phrases in advance.
You can leave expensive jewelry and other valuables behind, and try to pack light—it makes things much easier at the airport and getting to your accommodations once you've reached your destination. Check out the weather in Mexico for a general idea on what you can expect for the time of year you're visiting, and do a search to see what weather you can expect, so you bring the appropriate clothing.
As a tourist, you may be seen as an easy target for thieves and pickpockets. There are a few simple steps you can take that will greatly increase your safety. Firstly, leave expensive watches, jewelry, and other flashy valuables at home, try not to look too much like a tourist, and follow other simple safety tips. Women may want to read our tips for women travelers, especially if traveling solo. Spring breakers like to leave all their cares behind and party hard, but it is a good idea to give a thought to spring break safety to make sure everyone has a good time without any mishaps.
Unless there's a sign over the sink in your hotel room proclaiming that the tap water is purified (it would say "agua potable"), don't drink it. You should buy bottled purified water to drink—it's inexpensive and available on virtually every street corner. Most hotels provide bottles of water for your consumption in the hotel. Or if you want to reduce your consumption of plastic, bring a water purifier so you can easily filter your tap water. It's not difficult to avoid Montezuma's Revenge in Mexico, but it does take some awareness about choosing foods and drinking the water.
Do Use Sunscreen
A bad sunburn early in your trip can make you uncomfortable for the duration. The sun is very strong in Mexico, so use sunscreen on any exposed skin, even if you're not on the beach, and wear a hat during visits to archaeological sites and other outdoor activities. Remember, you can get a sunburn even on an overcast day.
Do Beware of Scams
In beach resort areas, you may be approached with offers of attending a timeshare presentation. Some of these are legitimate and others may not be. Unless you are really interested in a timeshare, skip the free meal or excursion offered along with a timeshare presentation. The freebie isn't worth the time and annoyance of dealing with high-pressure sales tactics. If you're really interested in a timeshare, do your research online ahead of time, and use the presentation as an opportunity to confirm what you want. This isn't the only type of scam but is one that is geared specifically to tourists. You should also beware of people who tell sob stories and check some more tips for staying safe in Cancun.
It's always best to think about what to wear in Mexico before your trip. In many cases, it will be obvious that you're a foreigner, but it's best to downplay that effect and try to blend in as much as possible. One of the easiest ways to do this is by dressing appropriately for your destination. In coastal areas, people tend to dress more casually and scantily, but in Mexico's inland colonial cities, the majority of people dress more conservatively and usually don't wear shorts, miniskirts or skimpy tops, and they wear sandals or shoes but not flip-flops. If you're going to be participating in any special activities, such as adventure activities like zip lining or riding an ATV, you want to be sure you have the right clothes for safety and comfort. And if you'll be visiting churches and other religious sites, it's important to dress appropriately to not cause offense.
Do Adjust Your Meal Schedule
Mealtimes in Mexico may not be the same as what you're used to. While you're traveling, it's a good idea to try to adjust your schedule, particularly as it relates to mealtimes, to that of your host country. In Mexico, this means having a big breakfast, waiting past your usual lunchtime to have the main meal of the day in the afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m., and then having a smaller meal at night.
Do Keep an Open Mind and Go With the Flow
One of the joys of traveling to a different country is seeing how things are done differently—in some cases, these may seem positive and in other situations, they may annoy you and drive you up the wall. The important thing is to take it all as an adventure and learning experience. Enjoy yourself and have a good time.