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Top 10 Mexico Travel Myths

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Mexico is becoming a student travel mecca -- it's always registered high on the indie travel radar, but backpackers are flocking South now for cheap Mexico accommodations, colonial grandeur, and Mexico sun and sand. Many myths abound about Mexico travel, though, and some (Mexico is unsafe and scary) are off-putting or create false expectations (Mexico is super cheap) for first time travelers to Mexico. Let's debunk the top Mexico travel myths.

1. Mexico Means Super Cheap Travel

Great Guadalajara Hostel
Guadalajara Hostel - © Kathleen Crislip
Is Mexico cheaper than the US? It can be. Doing the resort thing in a Mexico resort like Cancun, for instance, can be as spendy as any high-end hot spot can be, but south of Cancun, Tulum is too cool *and* $25/day is doable. Learn about street food and more to do Mexico on $25 a day, but don't expect to get by on 100 pesos a day in Mexico, unless camping for close to free.

2. I'll Get Sick in Mexico (and the bathrooms are horrible)

Roasted Corn - Patzcuaro
Roasted Corn - Patzcuaro; © Kathleen Crislip
Drinking the water from the tap in Mexico is often asking for digestive trouble, but it's very easily avoided. I've eaten a ton of Mexico street tacos (which aren't made from dogs) and I've drunk from Mexico taps and I've lived to tell you about it. Don't eat fly-blown food at street stands. Wash your hands before you eat. Take sensible precautions, as you would anywhere in life, and you won't get sick from food or water in Mexico. Malaria is not a big threat in Mexico.

3. I Can't Go to Mexico Without a Passport

You do need a WHTI-compliant ID document to return to the US from Mexico by air, land or sea. If traveling by land or sea, you don't have to have a passport to return to the US from Mexico, but you do need one of some specific documents, like a PASS card (though a passport is definitely the best). You can no longer use the formerly acceptable combination of a birth certificate and driver's license or other state-issued photo id to visit Mexico after June 1, 2009.

4. I'll Have to Share the Bus With Chickens

Taxco Collectivos - © Kathleen Crislip
Taxco Collectivos - © Kathleen Crislip
Mexico has excellent safe and cheap long haul in-country buses, as well as a plethora of local buses ranging from not-so-converted school buses to beauty mini-vans and VW van collectivos, or shared taxis. "Chicken" buses are thus named because they head to and from rural locales and sometimes host an animal or two, but livestock-on-bus sightings are far less common than some travel guides would have you believe.

5. I Can't Drive to Mexico...

To drive your own car into Mexico, you'll just need a temporary vehicle importation permit, which you can get at the border. In some tourist border areas, you don't need this permit or a tourist card; for instance, I needed neither one when driving to Puerto Penasco, a tourist destination on the Gulf about 70 miles from the Arizona border. Just ask at the border. You should also buy Mexico car insurance at the border or online before you go.

6. ...and I'll Go To Jail and Never Get Out if I Have a Wreck in Mexico...

Well, the rumors about *possibly* going to jail if you have a car wreck in Mexico are true, but having Mexican car insurance helps alleviate that possibility hugely. The days of student travelers being stranded in a Mexican jail cell are long over and largely applied to drugggies to begin with. Don't buy, sell or carry illegal drugs and be careful at the border, as you would in any country.

7. ...and I'll Have a Wreck Because People Drive Like Maniacs in Mexico

The country's laid back attitude is evident in the citizens' casual driving habits and Mexican driving patterns are extremely logical -- the residents have devised ways to keep traffic moving that would be illegal in the U.S., but make perfect sense once you learn them. Wear a seat belt, drive defensively -- in short, follow the safety rules you would at home -- and learn the Mexico road rules; you'll be fine if you keep your cool and get casual.

8. Crime is Rampant and I'll Have to Bribe Cops

Yes, there are drug gangs in border towns. Are you going to Juarez? If so, you might see that. If you're going to Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Cancun, Guadalajara, or just about anywhere else in Mexico, you won't see it. Use basic travel precautions in Mexico and the same common sense in a Mexico city that you would in a US city and travel to Mexico will be as safe as you make it. Do read a little about taxi safety to avoid taxi scams or worse. And the whole cop-bribing thing is going away in Mexico -- the situation will probably never come up. Ask to see the jefe (chief) if you think a cop wants a bribe, and chances are it ends then and there.

9. I Can Buy Prescription Drugs in Mexico

True -- with a prescription. Some drugs that require a prescription in the US are available over the counter (without a prescription) in Mexico, but drugs like Xanax and Vicodin require your US prescription. It *is* true that prescription drugs are often much cheaper in Mexico. Remember to carry any prescription medicine into Mexico in its drugstore-labeled bottle bearing your name and your life will be easier if you are searched at Customs -- that's true for travel to and from any country.

10. I Will Love Mexico

Zihuatanejo Mercado
Zihuatanejo Mercado - © Kathleen Crislip
Oh, wait -- this is no myth. Mexico is a very fine place for student travelers. It's as cheap as you want to make it, it's safe, it's beautiful, its cultural heritage is deep and the folks are very friendly. Send us a postcard if you decide to stay forever.

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