Ditch The Tourist Badge & Explore Mexico Like A Local

It is the go to destination and staple vacation spot for epic annual university spring breaks, weddings and parties, and its resort locations attract thousands of global visitors every year. Mexico is a fun place to be, especially if you need to relax and let loose without restrictions. But these are some of the reasons why so many visitors stand out and walk around with the proverbial ?bullseye? target on their backs. There is so much more to Mexico?than dainty taquitos and a margarita or two by the pool. There are sights and sounds that are so native to the country that you will probably need to step out of your comfort zone to discover them. Now if you really want to do this and burst out of the bubble, I challenge you to forget everything you?ve heard about Mexico, take off your tourist hat and travel like a local. Here are a few key things to consider when trying to blend in and make the most of your trip.

What you wear
This may seem very straight forward, but you?ll be surprised by how many people draw attention to themselves, simply because of what they put on. If you truly want to blend in and enjoy yourself in your environment, you will want your dress code to be as relaxed as possible. One recommendation is to observe the local area you are in, and dress accordingly. One mistake I?constantly see visitors make, particularly those who visit Southern Mexico, is that they go crazy and buy these really colorful shirts and dresses from indigenous dressmakers as souvenirs. This is great, and supports the local economy. The only problem is that they take things a step further and actually put them on ? which makes them stand out even more. How you dress in Mexico strongly influences how you are perceived. While Mexico is generally a safe and welcoming country, there are certain individuals who may want to take advantage of you based on how they perceive you. I was born and raised in Mexico, but even as I travel throughout various parts of the country, I am mindful of how I dress and prefer to tone things down so that I don?t attract attention to myself.

Err on the side of caution — assess your environment and dress accordingly.

How you get around
Locals rely very heavily on public transportation in Mexico, so if you want to get around the country inconspicuously, use public transportation. By going public, you will get to meet people, understand the culture and adapt to the way of life a lot more quickly, even if temporarily. You?ll discover how locals get around and how they navigate their city. Car rentals are perfectly fine, but be careful about where you rent them from and how you drive around in them. If you rent a car from the United States and drive it into Mexico with US license plates, you will draw attention to yourself, not only from locals, but from the police who will in most cases stop you and expect some money before letting you off the hook. You also don?t want to draw too much attention to yourself driving around in the nicest or most expensive rental car available, even if you can afford it within your budget.

What you spend
As soon as you cross over the border or fly into Mexico, you should be ready to spend pesos and not dollars or pounds. There is a strong guarantee that if you go into a store to make a purchase and all you have on you is foreign currency, you will probably be paying way more for it that you need to, only because your money will in many cases be worth more than the local currency. You also don?t want to be flashy with your money or give off the impression of being a big spender.

Apart from spending money on things, you may find yourself with the need to spend money on people. For example, if you happen to become acquainted with a family or person in Mexico who takes their time to show you around, it is customary to offer some form or monetary payment as an expression of gratitude.

Where you go
If you are going to stay at a hotel, stay in a bed and breakfast or family owned hotels that are located a little bit closer to town, rather than staying in a five star hotel where most other tourists stay.

Every state in Mexico is different. Its traditions are very similar, but there are certain aspects of the culture that distinguish people or a group of people from one another. For example, music is something we as a people have in common, but there are certain traditions that are celebrated every year or in a particular month. Some states differ in religious views and orientation, and there are certain places to go that will make you more aware of these differences. Catholicism is practiced by a great majority of Mexicans, but there are nuances to the religion that differ by culture. A great way to learn about them is to walk into a local church and talk to a priest who will tell you more about the customs of the church and traditions of the town. Streets represent very important landmarks and tell their own stories, many of which are named after colonies, famous politicians who contributed greatly to the country or heroes who defended the country at very crucial times.

Certain states are also known for culturally defining periods in history and are worth a visit. The state of Jalisco is known as the birthplace of the Mariachi. Even though the music has its roots in Spain, after Mexico was conquered, it was adopted and made into a musical entertainment form of our own that is unique to our culture.

What you eat
If you want to experience an authentic Mexican meal, you may have a better chance of doing so by visiting the taco trucks on the street than by visiting a high class hotel where chefs who have been trained in the fine art of Mexican dining whip up a very expensive meal. The most authentic flavors are always homemade, from the tortillas to the sauces. If you are lucky enough to become acquainted with?a local family, you may get invited to sit down with them for dinner, which will truly be a unique experience because every family has its own way of preparing meals. For example, my father and mother have specific recipes that not every family has because they were passed down from generation to generation and have stayed within my family. My father makes delicious Birria, and I really haven?t tasted anything quite like his. It all boils down to (pun intended) the ingredients and flavors added, based on the techniques that are used to bring a meal together. And remember, if you want a meal that will absolutely rock your world, a penny or two as a form of gratitude will certainly make that happen ? and make sure you do so with a heart of gratitude.

Rosa Valdez is from Baja, Mexico and a communications professional with over 15 years of experience.