Safe Travel Series | Visiting Mexico

Episode #24 of NAVIGATE shares travel safety in Mexico tips.

Safe Travel Series: Mexico transcript:




Frank Harrison

0:00:04 – 0:00:36

Hello, my name is Frank Harrison. I’m the regional security director of North America with World Travel Protection. Welcome to NAVIGATE. In a podcast with Amber Wheatley of Travelex, we talked about Mexico and some of the travel myths that exist in the travel space. Join me as I talk with two WTP colleagues, Stan Ayscue and Michael Roberts, who will dispel some of those myths that exists and help you frame your traveling perspective. Michael, I’ll get you to introduce yourself first. Who are you, tell us a little bit about your experience in Mexico.

Michael Roberts

0:00:36 – 0:01:02

Thanks, Frank. It’s great to be with you. Michael Robert – I’m the Business Development Director for the south region for World Travel Protection. I’m based in Houston, Texas, but for most of my professional career, I was living and working in Mexico for a span of over 20 years. So it’s a country I know well, I worked in a variety of capacities, and a lot of it was security and risk consulting. So I’m familiar with both as an expat and as a subject matter expert.

Frank Harrison

0:01:03 – 0:01:08

Excellent. Michael, thank you for that. Stan, I’ll get you to introduce yourself, give us a little bit of your background as well.

Stan Ayscue

0:01:09 – 0:01:31

I’m Stan Ayscue, the business development manager for the East region for World Travel Protection, been involved in the travel risk management industry for roughly about two decades, traveling to over 26 countries helping people support travel in high risk regions and getting from one place to another in the maritime space, as well as across the land.

Frank Harrison

0:01:32 – 0:01:42

Thank you, Stan. So Michael, Mexico, a lot of myths, a lot of legends, a lot of inaccuracies. Give us an idea of what Mexico was for you?

Michael Roberts

0:01:43 – 0:02:32

Well, you know, I was there when things went from being a medium risk country to being very difficult in a lot of regions due to increased cartel violence, you know, which really began to kick off around 2008. And over that period of time, some regions have become like very dangerous to travel to, and it’s not recommended to go to. The Texas Mexico border, states like Sinaloa and Michoacán are very high risk for any travellers. Nevertheless, major urban environments where business travellers would go in most tourist destinations, I would carve Acapulco out of that, currently, but those areas are still very accessible, very travelable and with the right security awareness and protocols in place, really safe places to visit.

Frank Harrison

0:02:33 – 0:02:43

So if a business traveller was going to Mexico, what would be one tool or stuff they could do to prepare themselves and become educated on Mexico, Michael?

Michael Roberts

0:02:43 – 0:03:55

Well, I think the most important thing is to become familiar with your environment before you go there. Read up on it as much as you can. A company like World Travel Protection, we have a portal that has a lot of information available online. And with a few travel advisories. The State Department’s also an excellent source of information through the travel advisories are available on the web, just Googling State Department travel advisories and the list of countries pops up and understanding the neighbourhood where you will be staying, putting some thought into it. Getting good advice on the security atmosphere around your hotel. Or if it’s in the case of an Airbnb, understanding where that particular domicile is located. Also basic things on the ground, such as understanding what transportation to use. Hailing taxis off the street, for example, in a lot of urban areas is very risky. Using taxis from approved sites or hotel taxis, or even rideshare services with the right precautions like Uber is really the way to go. And things like that will be a good way to start minimising some of the risks.

Frank Harrison

0:03:56 – 0:04:10

Thanks, Michael. Stan, you’ve got a pretty extensive travel footprint as well. Just reflecting on what Michael just shared with us. Can you share with us some commonsense tips for people when they’re on the ground regardless of where they are traveling?

Stan Ayscue

0:04:11 – 0:04:55

It’s certainly one of the things that we would primarily do when we were setting together the travel plan is to initially start with the first steps of checking your travel resources. So for instance, if we look at a hire car – it’s inspecting that hire car before you get in it. Are you looking at something that’s got bald tires, have you checked to make sure your seat belts or your locks work? That you have a spare in place – for all the safety precautions because that is the vehicle that is going to get you out of harm’s way. It’s amazing to me that even today when I’m traveling the United States, how many people I see that just are staring at their phone and just hop in an Uber without taking these type of considerations as well.

Frank Harrison

0:04:56 – 0:05:05

So awareness, focusing on what you’re actually supposed to be doing. So Michael, that’s a good segue into the perception that everybody’s going to get kidnapped in Mexico. What are your thoughts on that?

Michael Roberts

0:05:06 – 0:06:14

Yeah, you know, the, the press is rightly pointed out areas in Mexico where kidnapping is really an issue. But I think it’s easy to misconstrue that that any traveller going to Mexico is at risk of the kidnapping. The reality is that the vast majority of kidnappings that take place in Mexico, and around the world actually are local nationals, not foreign nationals, or visitors. It’s – the statistic’s ridiculous like 95% local nationals. So that visitor, even a business traveller, being kidnapped for kidnap for ransom is very unlikely. But there are other scenarios like an express kidnapping, where they might be exposed, you know, an express kidnapping is essentially a very prolonged mugging where somebody takes you and keeps you captive and withdraws the maximum amount on your debit card, until the account’s empty. And that can be for a matter of days. And travellers are susceptible to that if they aren’t aware of their surroundings and don’t take the right precautions about how to go about withdrawing money and when to carry on their persons.

Frank Harrison

0:06:15 – 0:06:26

So taking the idea of familiarity and what’s going on around you, Stan, can you expand on what a traveller should be doing to be familiar with their surroundings when they’re traveling?

Stan Ayscue

0:06:26 – 0:07:40

Well as Michael said before, understand the neighbourhoods that you’re going to, understand the resources that are available. A lot of people assume when they go to some of these regions that a lot of resources like police and emergency services are going to be the same as they are back home. And then oftentimes it’s very different, whether it be the jurisdiction they operate in, how many are available, so there are a lot of things that you need to do to care for yourself. And part of that comes with having an emergency plan in place. Letting people know your travel plans so that they can be aware if those are disrupted. And just making sure to be knowledgeable of where you’re going. That includes not only stay in the State Department and other things, but talking to some of the folks in the region, talk to your folks in your hotel, see if there’s certain neighbourhoods that they recommend that you don’t frequent. Talk to some of your folks that work in the offices around that region. Ask them what the local conditions are. And if there are certain times that you shouldn’t travel because it might be agitated states, such as certain anniversaries, or others, so mainly it’s knowledge is power and having resources you can call on.

Frank Harrison

0:07:41 – 0:08:06

Knowledge is power. And, Michael, when we look at Mexico, there’s this attitude that some people travel to Mexico with that it’s a bit of a free for all that you can do things in Mexico that you can’t do at home, can you reflect on some of the things that you were witness to or you had to deal with while you’re working in Mexico with people going in and not respecting the local culture and local laws?

Michael Roberts

0:08:07 – 0:09:36

Yeah that’s a really good point, Frank, there is a perception that anything goes and that it’s lawless, and there aren’t rules. And if you do find yourself in trouble, it’s an easy situation to get out of. And, and that is really not the case. In fact, there are more risks in doing things, going to areas where you shouldn’t go, taking drugs that are a lot higher than they would be if you did it elsewhere. Getting caught up with the law in Mexico with the police can be a very difficult and dicey situation – often police, with an excuse to detain you and apprehend you, they’re often part of the crime problem. And then you could actually find yourself in a small kidnap situation or, or certainly a robbery. And it’s really a question about the traveller using common sense, and not behaving in a way that puts them at that sort of risk. And what does that mean? Understanding what restaurants and bars not to go to. The ones that they go to, being aware of their surroundings, being aware that they may need to identify the safest exit route in case something goes wrong inside of establishment. But essentially respecting the law and respecting the country and the people and not doing anything that you wouldn’t do in your home country is really the way to avoid any complications.

Frank Harrison

0:09:37 – 0:09:52

So following up on that concept of respect and Stan, can you draw on some of your experiences and give us a couple of examples of how when someone goes into an area, respect, you know, respect becomes king, the same as the US dollar is king.

Stan Ayscue

0:09:53 – 0:11:00

Absolutely, it’s being sensitive to the cultures you’re traveling in, especially at times now, where there’s a lot of division in between different challenges that are going on in the world, people have different perspectives on it, depending on their upbringing and their individual beliefs. It’s respecting that sometimes you can have conversations and other countries that maybe will not go in the particular direction you expect them to go. So it’s really important to not only understand the dynamics of geopolitics, but also understand the local customs in theere – how things operate, what can be insulting to certain people, even within certain regions. As an example if you don’t finish your plate of dinner, and some countries that can insult people thinking that their food isn’t good enough, whereas in other countries, if you eat at all, that means they haven’t fed you enough. So it’s just minor things that you need to understand about a culture. Make sure you don’t offend, make sure you’re a good visitor, expect – pretend like you’re going to your mother’s house, essentially, and just behave yourself.

Frank Harrison

0:11:01 – 0:11:44

So it’s always about the little things. So if we look at the world’s changing, and we look at how, during the pandemic, things have shifted, and Mexico and other places around the world. Now we have this new dynamic of new types of work environments, working from home and the various parts of that that are still moving, and then digital nomads. So Michael, if you think about what the term digital nomad is, and there’s a lot of organisations in Mexico that are encouraging people to use that term to go down and work and play in the different resort areas of Mexico, what would you recommend as the top three things, for someone who wants to be a digital nomad in Mexico to be aware of?

Michael Roberts

0:11:45 – 0:13:33

A lot of it comes down to just keeping track of where your equipment is at all time. I mean, that if you are working abroad, and you’re visible with a laptop and a cell phone, you can set yourself up for opportunistic crime and having those things stolen from you. Also, deciding on where you’re going to be staying is critical. Being in an area that’s easy to return home from in case you have to for some reason, for example, in a major city with an international airport would probably be a wiser choice than a remote beach destination that will be difficult to get home in a hurry if you needed to for work or personal reasons. And also ensuring with your employer that being a digital nomad is congruent with the work policies, oftentimes companies are concerned about IT security, for example, or risks that are inherent in somebody traveling abroad to do work when it’s not precisely a work-related trip. So I think those are some of the things that should be looked at. But also, if you’re a digital nomad, you’ll be tend to spending more time in a certain area. And depending on that area, you might stand out and call a little more attention to yourself from people who might see you as a target for opportunistic crime. So that means you need to be just that much more aware of your surroundings and who you’re associating with and speak with. And, you know, lastly, wherever you decide to stay, if you’re being a digital nomad, it’s likely that you’re an Airbnb or something similar, by ensuring that the house has some proper security, that you’ll be safe there that your belongings will be safe there.

Frank Harrison

0:13:34 – 0:13:48

Thank you for that, Michael. So Stan, let’s look at the scenario of a digital nomad that wants to live aboard a boat. What kind of insights do you have for someone who wants to go onto the onto a sailboat or a small pleasure craft?

Stan Ayscue

0:13:49 – 0:14:26

Understand that there’s going to be limited connectivity. I know that on a lot of resources that we used, whether you’re talking a very large cruise ship to a container ship to, as you said, a yacht or a small sailboat. There, a lot of people anticipate that they’re going to have the same connectivity that they do when they’re on land and it doesn’t – you’ve got very limited bandwidth to work with. So a lot of things that you could do, such as this video call right here, you can’t do when you’re out at sea or even close to shoreline. So it’s just respecting your limitations and adjusting your work environment.

Frank Harrison

0:14:27- 0:14:43

So respecting our limitations, Michael, you lived in Mexico, you’ve got about 20 years’ experience there. If we reflect on limitations, if you could give three pieces of advice to travellers, especially business travellers, what would it be?

Michael Roberts

0:14:45 – 0:17:10

Primarily, you know, don’t be so intimidated by the security environment, that you’re not maximising both your professional opportunities and your personal opportunities for experiencing things in the place that you’re visiting. With a proper preparation and understanding, there’s no reason to not fully enjoy the trip that you’re on, be it for business or pleasure, and to maximise the business opportunities you have there. So it would be to follow through some of the things that we’ve discussed regarding familiarising yourself with the area and the risks, and how to keep yourself as safe as possible. The second thing would be to be really realistic about what you are concerned about when it comes down to where you believe your risk exposure is, we talked about kidnapping, very unlikely that you’re in situation where you’d be kidnapped for ransom. But if you are in the habit of taking money out of an ATM, and an ATM that’s on the street late at night, and you were hailing a cab, that might be surveilling you and goes by, you know, off the street, you could really be at risk for an express kidnapping, even though you’re a foreigner. So doing things like ensuring that you’re taking money out at an ATM that’s inside a secure location, like your hotel lobby, probably doing it much earlier in the day than late at night, since midnight is when the ledger flips over for money that’s been taken out of an ATM, and definitely not doing it on the street and taking – hailing a cab off the street. Minimise that. And just common-sense procedures, just remembering that security is always an issue. But generally the incidents that people come across when they’re traveling are far more medically related than they are security related. And the crime happens that it’s just likely that you run out of your medication if you don’t plan properly for it, or you just indulge too much and drink too much. And you’re out in the sun too much if you’re on holiday. And that’s what prompts a physical crisis with an underlying condition that wasn’t diagnosed. Or just, you know, simply that you didn’t really think through what to do in case of an emergency. And you find yourself wondering, well, I’m sick now who do I call? Would I go to – can I call the police here? Or is it should I not call the police in this certain situation. And that goes back to the pre-trip preparation of understanding the environment, which you’ll be operating.

Frank Harrison

0:17:11 – 0:17:33

The pre-trips important and I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico. And one of the things that was reinforced to me was never get into a cab that has a second person into it. Especially at night or in the evening, it was always that precursor to an express kidnapping. So taking that note, Stan, do you have any tips or pieces of advice you’d like to share?

Stan Ayscue

0:17:35 – 0:18:38

A lot of it relates to time as well – give yourself extra time when you’re traveling, especially nowadays, there’s going to be longer lines at the airport, there’s going to be more delays along the way. So give yourself a little bit extra time to be patient. But also anticipate that extra time. So anticipate that your trip might be delayed for a few extra days. So take your extra medication, make sure that you’ve got extra clothes, extra resources. So it doesn’t necessarily become a stressful environment to work with. Also, if you’re traveling with a group, understand how your group feels about that travel, you may not be overly concerned about some of the dangers there. But that they might be and you want everyone in your group to work as a team and get safely to where you’re going. And as we said before, just be respectful. Everybody right now is having trouble reintegrating into life in this post-Covid world and everybody gets a little bit anxious, a little bit quicker. So just be patient and be respectful.

Frank Harrison

0:18:38 – 0:19:10

Thanks, Stan. Risk tolerance – that’s something that I think between the three of us we have a very strong threshold for but the average traveller, it’s interesting to bring that up about checking in with the other travellers in your group because what we may consider the norm, may be the extreme for somebody else. So one last question for you then, Michael is if we look at that term, what’s the norm? Would you like to make a comment on that?

Michael Roberts

0:19:11 – 0:20:38

Well, I think the norm on risk tolerance is that I’ve always found that there are two types of travellers that tend to have a higher exposure to risks and, and one is the ones that are naive and aren’t used to traveling and haven’t done any the prep work and don’t know what they’re getting into. And then they end up stumbling into situations just out of not being prepared and not knowing their environment and counterintuitively – the other group is a very experienced traveller, that just takes things for granted. Because they just think, well, I know this, I’ve got muscle memory. I’ve been doing this for a long time. And particularly after a long time without traveling when they become the rusty traveller. And things have changed so much on the ground in so many different areas over a period of time where they might not have travel, they can fall into this false sense of security. And that experience could actually end up being a really weak spot for them. So as Stan mentioned, being aware of your own risk tolerance, but also being aware of folks around you and take into account what they’re thinking, and maybe they’re picking up on something that you aren’t, and think about that, but also follow your instincts. Because sometimes, if your gut check says if something doesn’t feel right about this situation, maybe I shouldn’t get in this vehicle. Maybe we shouldn’t walk down the street. You just might be picking on something you absolutely should follow and trust that instinct.

Frank Harrison

0:20:39 – 0:20:45

So Stan, following on the comment about the rusty traveller, what would be your closing remark?

Stan Ayscue

0:20:46 – 0:21:48

I think everybody’s going to look at a situation in a different way, anytime you’re moved out of your environment it’s going to unsettle you a little bit. One thing I always like to recall, I had a good friend of mine that managed this large security operation in Nigeria, he was involved in compounds involved in armed escorts and moves like that. And then he got transferred to Houston. And he was actually more scared in Houston because he didn’t know at night where he could stop for gas with his family and his car. So anytime you change your environment, whether it be temporary, whether it be a long-term relocation or permanent move, there’s going to be time to adjust, there’s going to be time to actually look around and find those areas like Michael said, where the hair on the back of your neck stands up. Find those places where you can be comfortable and let your hair down a little bit. Just give yourself that time. Take time to study, take time to talk to people and learn about your environment and you’ll be alright.

Frank Harrison

0:21:49 – 0:22:29

Thank you for joining us. In this episode we focus on travel realities over myths with real world experiences. Looking for the best travel podcasts inspire your upcoming adventures while also helping you travel smarter? Listen to NAVIGATE, the top travel podcast that enhances the way you explore the world found on our World Travel Travel assist hub. In each episode our rural travel protection hosts speak with a travel industry expert – today I had two – or experienced everyday travellers to bring you thought provoking travel insights, experiences and advice, helping empower you to travel the world confidently. Until next time, I am Frank Harrison.

At World Travel Protection, a key part of our job is enabling travel no matter how far away or high-risk the destination. In our Safe Travel Series, we deep dive into locations around the world that leisure or business travellers visit. In today’s episode we focus on travel safety in Mexico and are joined by travel experts with over 50 years of combined experience living and working in Mexico.

They break down myths vs realities such your likelihood of getting kidnapped. They share tips on travelling safely, respecting the culture, and leaning on locals for up-to-date intelligence. At the end, they share tips on how to manage travel when your companions have a different risk tolerance to you. You might be surprised who tends to expose themselves to more risk when abroad!

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