When I told my friends, family and co-workers that I had decided to travel to Mexico for 12 days on my own, I received mixed reactions. “You’re going to Mexico?!” said a lot of them, with a tone of disapproval and concern for my safety.
A lot of people thought I was crazy for traveling to Mexico, especially going solo, alluding to their perception of Mexico as a dangerous country for solo female travelers. One person even said to me, “I hope you come back home alive.” That was quite a shocking sentiment to hear! There were so many questions. What if I got kidnapped? Murdered? Caught in the crossfire of drug cartel violence or gang shootings? Everyone was worried about me. I told them I would be meeting fellow travelers along the way and would be staying in hostels, but in saying this, their list of fears only grew. Every time someone told me that they were concerned for my safety in Mexico, it created doubts in my mind about how safe I would really be traveling there and I questioned my decision to travel solo, so many times. I had conducted thorough and detailed research, spending countless hours browsing through travel blogs and forums, and there was a common theme of how safe people said they felt in the Yucatan. I was convinced that everything was going to be alright. But despite my research, I still had some doubts in the back of my mind. I thought that maybe I should just cancel my flights and stay at home in the safety and comfort of my own home. I had fears and anxieties too and so many questions ran through my mind like, “What if I don’t make friends?” “What if I get lost and can’t find my way back?” “What if I get murdered?” “What if I can’t speak the language or navigate the language barrier?” “What if I get robbed?”
When you do something against the expectations and the norms of the majority of society, people start to notice. Traveling solo is not considered “normal” by many people in the older generations. Society expects us to conform to the typical lifestyle of the majority, namely; going to university/college, getting a typical “real-world” career in the 9-5 world, climbing the corporate ladder, getting married, buying a house, having children, working your entire life while going on one short vacation every year, and finally, retiring and only then, pursuing your passions and traveling. If you stray too far from this life projectory and question the status quo, people will start to question your decisions and often disapprove. When people see others make the same choices as themselves, they find validation in their own choices. This helps to reinforce that their decisions were “good” and that they are “normal,” by following society’s expected life path. However, when they see someone who is choosing to make a different decision by going against the majority and doing something considered to be “unconventional,” they start to question the past decisions they have made and this brings about an insecurity about whether they have made the “right” ones.
When you tell people that are going to be traveling solo, they often impose their own insecurities onto you. Don’t let these impositions influence your decision of whether or not to go to Mexico.
Obviously, I didn’t cancel my plans and I did travel solo. I faced my fears, ventured into the great unknown and took a big step outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t let the opinions of other people influence my decision to go. I didn’t let other people impose their own insecurities onto me. I went against what the majority sees as “acceptable.” I learned a lot about myself in the process of solo traveling and about the world, the Mexican culture and other people. It was a life-changing experience and I would encourage all women to travel solo at least once in their lifetime.
The people I told about my upcoming solo travels, told me how brave they thought I was to be traveling alone to Mexico. They reiterated that was something they would never even consider doing. I felt like people thought I wasn’t capable and that made me want to prove it to them even more, that I could travel alone successfully and safely. I am tired of women being portrayed as weak and not as capable as men, of traveling solo. If a man informed his friends and family that he was traveling solo, he would likely not receive the same level of concerned reactions. Us women are just as strong and capable as men and we need to prove it!
The same people that were telling me how dangerous Mexico was as a travel destination, were most often also those who either: A. Had never been to Mexico but were basing their assumptions and knowledge of the country from media reports and things other people had told them, B. Had been to Mexico but not recently, and C. Had been to Mexico but only stayed at all-inclusive resorts while never venturing to see the “real” side of Mexico.
Take the advice and warnings that these kinds of people will give you, with a grain of salt, but definitely do some follow-up research on their concerns about the safety of Mexico. In addition, take the government travel advisories with a grain of salt as well. They want to cover their butts if anything happens to tourists there, so their reports about safety in a country are often very grim-sounding and negative. If travel advisories are your sole source of information, the doom and gloom writing of these advisories will have you start believing that the entire world is too dangerous to explore!
Consult non-biased (ie. not media reports) and recent sources. These can include travel forums like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum and Trip Advisor and travel blogs of bloggers who have been there recently. Get in touch with bloggers and ask them about their experiences, safety and how comfortable they felt in Mexico. Type into Google, “solo female safety in ____ (place).” Ask questions about safety on travel forums to other travelers who have been there.
But remember to keep in mind that everybody’s experience is subjective, not objective. You will have a different experience than other people and everyone has differing perceptions of a place. Don’t choose not to go to Mexico, just because one person you talked to or read about, got robbed there or had another bad experience.
When you come across people with negative experiences, look at the circumstances surrounding the experience to determine how likely you believe these types of experiences will happen in the future. Did the incident happen at night? Did it happen in a well-populated or isolated area? Was the individual involved behaving in a way that disregards typical safety precautions (ie. were they walking drunk, on a rural road, late at night?) or disrespects the local culture (ie. were they dressed in a way that the locals would perceive as inappropriate?)? Was this event perhaps provoked by the individual or someone else involved? Are there ways that this incident could have been prevented (maybe by choosing not to walk late at night on a rural road)? What can you do (steps to take) prevent incidents like this happening to yourself or anyone else?
Find out which areas of a city or place are not recommended as safe places to visit. Every city has a “ghetto” where bad things are more likely to happen. Find out where these areas are. Ask the locals or hostel staff when you arrive in your destination about the areas that you should avoid. Ask people on travel forums and read blogs to get an idea before you leave.
When a lot of people think of Mexico, they often picture a dangerous country with lots of drug and gang violence, murders and kidnappings. This type of image comes from the way the media portrays Mexico in the mainstream news. Whenever there is a headline story about Mexico, it almost always focuses on crime and violence, and often involving tourists. This kind of image sticks in peoples’ minds and the news is often the sole source where people get their information from. Often times, you will not find people doing further research with other sources, such as travel blogger websites and travel forums. The problem is that the media tends to sensationalize these stories and as a result, imply that the violence in Mexico is generalized and occurs everywhere in the country.
There is definitely crime and violence in Mexico, but not at the frequency that the media will have you believe and not all regions of Mexico are dangerous. Traveling to some of the northern and central states would present far more risks to travelers than going to the Yucatan, Campeche, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo or Chiapas. These states have the best safety record and the lowest crime statistics in the country. The occurrence of crime against tourists as well as locals, is very low.
There will be crime and violence in every city, and every country in the world. You can’t avoid it. However, in Mexico, the majority of crime is concentrated in the northern Mexican states that border the United States, or along the Pacific Coast.
The truth is that the Yucatan Peninsula is a very safe area of Mexico, safer than you might think. The peninsula is known to have the lowest crime rate of all the states in Mexico, with less crime than most major US cities. Visiting the Yucatan Peninsula (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) as a first-time solo female traveler, I felt completely safe walking in the towns and cities alone and with friends, during the day and at night, in all neighbourhoods and areas. I felt safe taking the public bus transportation (ADO company) alone. The ADO buses in Mexico are very safe, convenient, and comfortable. I also felt very safe staying in hostel dorms as a solo traveler. It was always easy to meet fellow travelers and the hostels I stayed at had very friendly and relaxed atmospheres, which I loved.
The key for solo female safety, is to use the same common sense that you would use anywhere in the world, even in your home city. Be aware of your surroundings and belongings, stay alert to what is happening around you, do your research and educate yourself about safety concerns and common scams in your destination, secure your valuables, blend in to the local life as much as possible, and walk with confidence.
It shocks me when I hear people saying that all regions of Mexico are unsafe for travelers. If you take the time to read travel forums and blogs about traveler’s recent experiences traveling in Mexico, you will know that this is largely untrue and most people have positive experiences. What people don’t understand is that Mexico is a big country and there are some places where you are more likely to encounter dangerous situations than others. Just like the United States, there are cities and neighbourhoods in Mexico with more crime than others. You wouldn’t hear someone advising you not to visit the United States just because the city of Chicago has a high crime rate. It’s the same for Mexico. Some cities and regions have high crime rates but many don’t, and many are safer than you might think. Bad things can happen anywhere in the world, not just in Mexico. I believe that solo females traveling to Mexico are no more unsafe than they are in their own home countries and cities. There is always the chance that you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I you take the normal safety precautions and have some common sense, it is unlikely that you will encounter any trouble in Mexico.
Your safety in Mexico and in any country, depends on many factors. Thing like your behaviour and the general precautions that you take to protect yourself, are both areas that you have the power to control. Be aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times. Dress respectfully of the culture and place you are visiting. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t drink to excess and lose all inhibitions. Don’t start fights with people and provoke others. These are things that are all common sense and should be followed anywhere you go, even in your home city. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is something that you have no control over. Don’t stress yourself out thinking about all of the worst case scenarios that could happen to you in Mexico. Negative and harmful events and situations can happen anywhere you go, not just in Mexico. Do what you can to protect yourself and stay safe, and don’t worry about the rest.
As a society, we need to stop making excuses for not traveling to certain places and stop letting fear hold us back from exploring new territories. You can never be guaranteed of your safety, anywhere in the world, even in your own city. All you have to do is use common sense, listen to your gut instinct if you feel like something is “off,” and be assessing your level of risk in any situation or place.
Mexico is a country that is filled with diversity, from beautiful beaches to mountainous canyons to lush jungles to deserts to awe-inspiring ancient Mayan ruins to varieties of unique cenotes to small authentic villages to charming Spanish colonial cities and more. The food is also delicious. The Mexican people are very welcoming, friendly and helpful and I experienced this first-hand when I traveled in the Yucatan.
Mexico is an amazing country and is very easy to navigate for first-time solo female travelers and backpackers. The public bus transportation system (ADO) is convenient, safe, and comfortable and is better than the transportation systems in many Canadian and US cities. The first class ADO buses have air conditioning, luggage storage at the bottom of the bus, washrooms and Spanish movies playing on TVs at the front of the bus. Second class buses are often older first-class bus models but are still comfortable and safe. They do not have washrooms or movies, however. Colectivos are white 12-person shuttle vans that are a cheap, safe and convenient way of getting around in the Mayan Riviera area and in the Yucatan. They have no fixed schedule and leave from their destination when they have enough people to fill each seat in the shuttle van. I felt very safe taking colectivos. I took a few taxis with hostel friends and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe (except for some of the drivers who would speed down long stretches of highway!). There are hostels in pretty much every town and city and the ones I stayed at were charming, friendly, and relaxed and I had an overall wonderful experience. I never felt unsafe in the hostels I stayed at, they were located in quiet and safe neighbourhoods and I always felt like my valuables and belongings were secure in the hostel dorm lockers.
Tips for Solo Female Travelers to Mexico:
Use the same common sense that you would in your own city – Be aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times. Be cautious but not paranoid. Look around you, pay attention to what is going on and make observations.
Listen to and trust your gut instinct when a person, environment or situation doesn’t feel right or uncomfortable. Leave the environment or walk away from the person and don’t be afraid of offending anyone. Remember, your safety is your top priority.
Research your destination before you leave – Know the culture, customs, dress, safety issues and common scams. Know how the public transportation works. Research the safety of the neighbourhoods and destinations where you’re staying, by reading travel forums (Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and Trip Advisor), blogs and reviews of hostels. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for online, then post your own specific questions to travel forums and wait for other travelers to respond. Once you arrive at your destination, ask the locals, hostel staff or tourist information centre which areas, streets and neighbourhoods are safe for solo women.
Walk with confidence and always look like you know where you’re going – Even if you are lost, don’t pull out your map or guidebook in public and trying to figure out where you are or where you need to go. You instantly become a target and can be easily taken advantage of because you are a lost tourist. If you need to consult your map, go into a restaurant or store to do so, or ask the staff at a local shop or restaurant to give you directions to your destination, and to show you on the map. You want to avoid looking like a naive tourist, if you can. When you’re exploring a new city, look straight ahead when you’re walking, look like you’re on a mission and know where you’re going. Study your map before you leave and plan your route, if it makes you feel more comfortable. Give off the vibe that you’re not someone to be messed with.
Don’t get drunk and don’t walk back to your accommodation alone at night – This should be very common sense. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re traveling. You are a prime target when you’re drunk and when you’re walking alone and you can easily be taken advantage of or harmed.
Safeguard your valuables – Cash, credit and debit cards, your VISA or tourist card and your passport and other identification should be kept either on your person (in a locked compartment in your daypack or in a money belt) or locked away in a hostel safe or secure locker in your hostel dorm at all times.
Blend in as much as possible – Don’t wear expensive jewelry or clothing, and don’t publicly advertise your wealth (ie. Don’t be pulling out your expensive camera or iPhone while walking down the street all the time).
Ignore catcalls and potential street harassment – You may experience some street harassment from local men, usually in the form of stares, whistles, or shouts from cars or trucks driving by. During the day, this is generally harmless and these people will likely not going to cause you harm. There is usually a lot of people during the day on the streets and it’s unlikely that someone would take a chance on making too much of a scene. Just ignore it and keep walking with confidence. Don’t respond to it. Don’t turn and look at them and don’t make eye contact. I only experienced this once in Valladolid, Mexico, when a group of friends and I were walking in the evening back to our hostel from a restaurant. A truck with Mexican men sitting in the back, whistled as they drove by us. It was harmless and although this is always a slightly uncomfortable experience for most women, I did not feel scared or concerned in any way.
Dress respectfully of the culture – The Mexican culture is very conservative and they tend to dress as such. The locals do not wear shorts (unless they’re visiting the beach) and the women do not wear revealing clothing.
Try to plan it so your flight arrives in your destination during the day – It would make me nervous to be arriving in a new city in a foreign country in the middle of the night. It is more difficult to locate transportation to your accommodation and you have to be more aware of everything around you at night, especially as a solo female. If you arrive during the day, you have time to get oriented in your destination and explore your surroundings a little.
Safety before budget – Choose hostels or other accommodations in areas that feel safe to you, even it costs a little more than you would like to pay. Choose transportation that has a better safety record than taking chicken bus type of transportation, if you feel uncomfortable. Always put your own safety first, even if you’re on a budget. Your life is worth more than saving a few dollars.
Learn some of the language – Bring a phrasebook with you and learn some basic phrases and sentences before leaving home. Know how to order food, buy a bus ticket, and how to ask for help and directions.
When taking taxis, ask the price before getting into the vehicle and negotiate if you do not feel that the price is fair. Whenever I took taxis in Mexico, I was always with hostel friends. I felt completely safe taking taxis and I would have no hesitation in taking them even if I were alone.
These safety tips apply to anywhere you go, not just Mexico. They are universal.
So is it safe to travel to Mexico alone? Absolutely. Through my 12 days in Mexico, I took public buses, colectivos and taxis, rode bicycles, stayed at hostels, walked alone during the day, walked with friends during the evening and at night and traveled independently to ruins and cenotes.
I never felt like I was in danger and always felt safe through all of these experiences and situations. I never heard about any crimes against tourists occurring in the areas I was traveling through (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) or against any fellow travelers. I met many other solo female travelers who were doing the same thing as I was and none of them had experienced any troubles along their journeys.
Just trust your instincts, use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times, and blend in as much as possible. Take the same safety precautions you should always take when traveling anywhere, or even in your home city.
Here are some more resources about solo female safety in Mexico:
Have you traveled in Mexico as a solo female traveler? Do you have any safety tips or advice that I missed? What was your experience like traveling in Mexico?
Let me know in the comments!