1. Get off the beaten path. Even if you plan on spending your entire vacation in a tourist hot spot like Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan, it’s easy enough to step off the tourist trail and experience authentic Mexico. Ask a cab driver to take you to his favorite taqueria, or just keep walking until Señor Frog recedes into the distance.
2. Pack a few nicer items of clothing. Mexico is a dressy country. When you’re invited to a fiesta or out on the town with the locals, show respect by ditching your flip-flops.
3. Talk to the locals. Even if your Spanish sucks, most people will appreciate your effort and your friendliness. This is also the best way to really get to know a place and discover the best food (always our #1 priority).
4. Order a torta. Don’t be afraid to eat at street stands, market stalls, and hole-in-the-wall joints. You will find the most authentic and certainly the cheapest food by eating at comedors and taquerias.
5. Leave your travelers checks and large US bills at home. No one accepts traveler’s checks and, due to a recent change in law, it’s harder to find places that will accept or change US dollars. ATM is now the best way to access money in Mexico. You may want to consider bringing a back-up card and stashing it in a separate bag. See here for more info on Mexican ATMs.
6. Don’t walk around looking like you think you are going to get mugged or kidnapped at any moment. Paranoia is self-fulfilling. The more you act confident and friendly (within reason), the more people will accept that you know where you are and what you are doing.
7. If you’re traveling by bus, go high class. Unless you need to get dropped off at an obscure location that doesn’t have a major bus station (small towns are often only serviced by second class or regular first class lines), it’s worth a few extra dollars to get on one of Mexico’s super luxury liner buses: Primera Plus, ADO, or ETN, to name a few.
8. Smile. It sounds cheesy, but it works.