Mexico or no Mexico? That is the question...

(Photo taken by myself in Cancun last year).

With the U.S. Department of State issuing a Travel Alert for tourists traveling to Mexico between now and August of this year, many vacationers are beginning to re-consider traveling to this popular destination. My fiance and I were two of them.

After putting the word out to family members that we'd be visiting Playa del Carmen this May, we received a flood of emails advising us against it. In fact, my father and I bounced some angry e-mails back and forth until I sat down with my fiance and told him "maybe we should just try a different destination". I will admit, the idea of compromising the in-room jacuzzi and Yucatan hammock on the balcony to keep the peace in my family (and my safety, of course) was a tough choice to make, but we finally decided to make the switch to Aruba.

I'm still a little sour over it all, especially considering I still dream at night that I'm sleeping in those amazingly comfortable hammocks. My question is, how horrible really is it down there? I've spoken with fellow travelers as well as read a lot of blogs and reviews and all have said the same thing, they felt completely safe and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. The travel and tourism industry is huge in Mexico. The country makes large amounts of money off of the millions of foreigners that pass through it's airports and ship ports yearly. Yes, drug trafficking has been an issue there for a long time, but it's a problem in every country, including our own.

Generally the people who become victims of violent crimes in Mexico, as well as any other country, are the ones who simply do not pay attention and do not respect the fact that when traveling to a foreign place, there are certain guidelines you should always follow. Sometimes we get so excited anticipating and enjoying our trips that we forget the little things that can go a long way. I've come up with a basic no-brainer list of Do's and Don't's for everyone to remember when traveling.

My Do'S & Don'ts Of Foreign Travel:

DON'T venture off from a populated area! Stick close to the major cities. If you choose to venture outside the cities then always go with large groups led by someone who not only knows the country well, but speaks the language fluently as well. It is best if this person is native to the land and is a paid professional who is able to take full responsibility for you and the other group members.

DON'T ever wander off with strangers, no matter how nice they seem. If you do decide to take that chance you are also taking a huge risk and should be fully aware of that when you make your decision. It is understandable that you may want to find a cheaper easier way to see the sights of your destination, but by traveling alone, in small groups or unsupervised, you are putting yourself and anyone accompanying you, in a potentially dangerous situation. No matter where you travel to you can never be sure who to trust and being ignorant to that fact could cost you in the end. It's best to stick to booking a tour with an established company when it comes to safe ways to sight see.

DON'T let your money be visable to others. When buying anything, like souvenirs, don't flaunt the huge wad of cash or traveler's checks in your wallet. It will attract attention to you. Remember your money is generally worth a lot more than theirs, so while $50 may seem like nothing to you, it could feed someone else for a month.

DO keep on alert at all times. If someone seems suspicious or something doesn't seem right, alert someone. If you can, go to your nearest us embassy or consulate. Or find the nearest resort to seek safety in until you can call a cab to safely return you to your own resort. Or, if all else fails, and you don't know where to go or what to do, contact your travel agent. He or she can direct you on the closest and safest place that you should go.

DO check the laws for that country before traveling there. They may have strict rules and regulations on certain behaviors, apparel, or anything else. You do not want to be stranded in a foreign prision. Not all countries are as relaxed as the USA.

DO try to learn the language before you go. Brush up on your Spanish of French, and bring a translation book with you. You never know if or when you may need it.

DON'T leave your valuable items outside of the safe in your room. Hotels give you a safe for a reason and while it may be a pain to remember to lock up your stuff, it will newell worth it. Many travelers have fallen victim to theft by their hotel's staff. Sometimes, staff can even get into the safe and steal from there. Its best not to carry expensive items like jewlery or lots of credit cards. You don't need your huge diamond engagement ring on vacation or the Amx you've been paying off and haven't used in months. Leave those things at home where they are safe and your home has insurance to cover them if they are stolen. Hotels are not liable for missing/stolen items and usually do not care how dear your grandmother's pearl earrings are to you.

DON'T leave you resort if you are worried for your safety. If you are traveling to a country, like Mexico, that is currently involved in any type of tension or violence, and you are worried that it will be unsafe for you, then choose a resort you will not have to leave. Most resorts have everything you need on the property and have security in place to protect you better than if you were out, alone on the streets. If you still plan on traveling to that country but want to take extra safety precautions, then you should find a resort that caters to your every need, like an all-inclusive, where you will not have to leave for food, entertainment, or activities. Also, choosing destinations like Cancun or Playa del Carmen will be safer for you because they are busy cities full of tourists. So enjoying Senior Frogs or Margaritaville in Cancun won't be as risky as enjoying dinner in the local fishing village fifteen miles out of town.

DO leave all your personal information with a trusted family member or friend back home. It is a good idea to make sure someone has information on your whereabouts in case anything is to happen to you while you are gone. If you don't want to give out all that personal information you can opt to leave your travel agent's contact information with your family or friends so they can get in touch with your agent if anything happens.

DON'T carry any illegal items or substances. While it is fun to try new, or even risky, things while vacationing, it is a stupid move to buy, sell, or try anything illegal. Even if you think you'll be lucky enough to make it through security in that country's airport, you definitely won't make it through security back home.

In conclusion, if you follow these simple suggestions and keep your eyes open and remain alert then there is no reason why you shouldn't travel to places like Mexico.

BE SAFE and enjoy.

Click Here for the complete Travel Alert issued by the U.S. Department of State.

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