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One of the reasons we love to travel is to encounter new situations even if they may make us a bit uncomfortable. Figuring out how to deal with them can be incredibly empowering. International travel as a woman can be intimidating, but over combing challenges is exactly why we find it so fun!
Traveling in any foreign country comes with unique cultural challenges and experiences. Traveling as a woman in Mexico is no different. Here are a few tips to ensure both safety and the most positive experience possible.
Women are generally seen as “the weaker sex.”
Of course, this can come across as a bit offensive, especially to a 5’9” feminist who outweighs the average Mexican male by a good 10 kilos like myself. But actually, I rather enjoyed having random strangers on the street offer to help me every time I carry something heavy, without exception.
Although I can’t prove it, I actually feel safer traveling as a solo female due to this fact. Any time I need help with my car, directions or a place to stay, men go out of their way to make sure I am safe and comfortable. While I heard numerous reports of police corruption on the roads from other traveling males, I personally never experienced an issue, even in over 3000 miles of solo driving with foreign plates on my car.
The comfort of a woman is prioritized. If you are in a situation you want to get out of simply saying you are not comfortable is a call to action for Mexican men.
They will do what it takes to be sure you have what you need to be comfortable. This was amazing when I was stranded on a deserted beach alone after an earthquake without food or water for 10 days. The kindness of three Mexican fishermen kept me safe and alive.
2. Women sit up front.
When riding in a taxi with a male friend the woman generally sits up front. Generally, only couples sit together in the back. I made it very awkward for my mechanic when I jumped into the back of a taxi with him to go pick up my car. Oops! When taking public transportation women are given the seats in the front part of the covered trucks. And by the way, expect to fit a lot more people in public transport vehicles than you think could reasonably fit!
3. Women eat first.
When sitting down to a family style meal where everyone will be serving themselves from a large dish in the center of the table, the woman is always expected to dig in first. This is one of my favorite customs! It is quite frequent when ordering fish at a restaurant.
The beach areas of Oaxaca offer excellent seafood and it is common for a group of people to order one large fish accompanied by rice, salad, and salsa, for the entire group.
If visiting Puerto Escondido be sure to check out the beach restaurants in the Neighborhood of Zicatela
4. Revealing clothing is seen as an invitation for comments from men.
I hate this one, but that is the way it is. Of course, this does NOT apply to all Mexican men, but it is something you will notice. They are not trying to be rude, it is simply a cultural difference. At the beaches, typical beachwear is the norm (bikinis, short shorts, etc.) but venturing into the market with a tank top and cut off jean shorts will definitely draw a lot of attention.
Mexicans tend to be very vocal about what they like. Stares are often accompanied by whistles and shouts. This can really suck, especially when the temperature is sweltering and you are just trying to stay cool.
I found that a baggy t-shirt, a fake wedding ring and walking with a purpose really helped me to feel like I blended in a bit better. But often I just didn’t care and I wore whatever I wanted and enjoyed the attention that came with it. However you choose to dress is fine. Just be aware how others are likely to react.
5. With regard to male advances, anything other than coy is typically taken as an invitation.
As an American, I’m used to responding politely when someone addresses me.
Sometimes even a polite response is used as an open door. If a man calls out to you, especially with a question like, “Where are you going?” you do not need to answer, only if you want to. Often times engaging in a conversation, even a little, will get you a lot of unwanted advances.
There is certainly no harm in this but be prepared to turn someone down if that is not what you are looking for. Which leads me to my next point.
6. “No” only means “no” if you say it like you mean it.
In the age of #metoo and debates around consent, this one is also a hot button. Often saying “no” politely is ignored. Saying “no” with a smile on your face and continuing the conversation will often get the question brought up again.
Saying “maybe” or “maybe later” is often taken as “yes”. The best way to turn someone down, whether it is a sexual advance or just an invitation for a snorkel tour you don’t want to take, is just to firmly say “no, I am not interested” and walk away.
7. Complements might not sound like compliments.
Being called “gordita” (chubby girl) or “flaca” (skinny girl) means nothing at all. I’ve been called both in the same day! Using physical descriptors to refer to a person is actually used with endearment. There is a wider appreciation for all body types.
This was a huge help for me in ending a 15 year battle with low self-esteem which you can read about at www.100daysinmexico.com.
Traveling as a woman in Mexico, even alone as a woman, is definitely an option. Just like anywhere else in the world. It is important to walk with confidence, avoid illegal activities, don’t walk alone after dark and respect cultural differences. Remember the excitement of a challenge is all part of the fun!
As a final tip, be sure to brush up on your Spanish before you go. Knowing a few key phrases will get you further than you think!