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Trouble in Paradise?

The big travel-related story making the rounds this week has Mexico in its sights. (I can almost hear United Airlines breathing a sigh of relief – the spotlight is off them this week.) A tragic story emerged about a family from Wisconsin who was vising idyllic Riviera Maya in Mexico this past January. On their arrival day mom, dad, and their two college-aged kids all spent some time at the swim-up pool bar together. Mom and dad then left the kids at the pool bar with plans for meeting up later for dinner. The kids never made it - Austin suffered a concussion and Abbey was found face down in the pool and sadly later passed away. The family believes they were given tainted alcohol or possibly drugged.

Many concerned clients have contacted me since this story broke all over mainstream media this week. I am in no way downplaying this tragedy - this is heartbreaking and I can't imagine living through this. However, there are a few points here that I believe the media missed (or chose to leave out) because, well, facts just sometimes cloud a story.

This happened on their travel day. Travel days usually start very early, with maybe airport food and little else, and it’s easy to get dehydrated. Once guests land in that warm, sunny paradise, there’s that switch into vacation mode. Some people let their guard down, thinking they can party it up - the alcohol is included and no one has to drive anywhere. As a travel agent friend of mine says, sometimes people check their brains with their bags. Also, it’s hot and usually humid. All these factors, coupled with inexperienced drinkers doing shots, spell trouble. Do I know for sure that’s what happened with this family? Absolutely not. But I take exception to the news outlets with their headlines screaming “Tainted Alcohol” and “Guests in Mexico Drugged” without facts to back it up or telling a complete story. They're purposely stirring the pot.

Many clients have consequently asked me if I think Mexico is safe. My answer is this: Last year 4.8 MILLION people visited Cancun alone. (And I get it - it doesn't matter if it's 4 TRILLION people if you're the one that has a bad experience.) The state department’s latest notice on travel to Mexico, posted in December 2016, makes no mention of any concern for vacationers at all-inclusive resorts. Indeed, it suggests they are relatively safe. I'm not a statistician, but based on the sheer number of people who visit annually versus the handful of these reported accounts, many of which are full of conjecture about what happened, I thing the safety odds are pretty good. I still personally feel it's absolutely safe to visit Mexico and will continue to do so - four times so far this year.

And Mexico doesn’t hold the first-place trophy for crime; there are many incidents of crime in many Caribbean countries, and even in the US. Travelers need to be super diligent and take the same precautions they would take in a club in NYC or any major city. Even Disney World, the Happiest Place on Earth, has its share of crime.

There’s also a huge outrage regarding the medical care. The family reported that they were victims of “extortion” regarding the hospital and doctors requiring huge payments up front. This isn't uncommon and doesn't occur just Mexico - it's like this in many other countries. Hospitals and healthcare just don’t work the same way outside the US. This is right from the United States Embassy's Jamaica page (bolding mine): "Medical care is much more limited than in the United States. Comprehensive but basic emergency medical services are located only in Kingston and Montego Bay, and smaller public hospitals are located in each parish. The availability of prescription drugs, emergency medical care, and ambulance services are limited in outlying parishes. Ambulance service is limited both in the quality of emergency care and in the availability of vehicles in remote parts of the country. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost $15,000 – $20,000 USD or more. Private doctors and hospitals in Jamaica often require cash payment prior to providing services, sometimes in emergency cases." (Not picking on Jamaica – Jamaica and I are besties – but just using this as an example.) And a huge shout-out to buying travel protection - depending on the individual company and policy, medical bills may be covered and most companies have emergency contact numbers when something happens in destination.

Again, I feel for this family - their lives have been changed forever in a way I can’t even begin to comprehend. However, I don’t think it’s reason to boycott a whole country. Go to Mexico. Swim in the beautiful water. Meet some friendly people. Try some of the freshest guacamole you’ll ever have. Enjoy some much needed time away. Drink that margarita. Be smart and be aware. And don’t check your brains with your bags.

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