This article is from the March 1996 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Packing for Mexico

By David Simmonds

My first trips into Mexico were always by camper van. I'd spend a month, six weeks, and take everything I could fit in and on the vehicle: fishing gear, diving equipment, a 96 gallon ice chest, books, music, cookware, and the essential toy of those times... a Frisbee. This was basically everything I owned.

When my life became somewhat more complicated, and the duration of the trips was reduced to necessitate air, bus and train travel, packing required a lot more thought and planning.

For my first few attempts I was carrying more baggage than Bill and Hillary. I still haven't mastered the perfect suitcase, but I would like to share what I have learned through trial and error. Mostly error.

Now I have a list on computer disk to assist my failing memory abilities. This list will be only partially helpful to the female readers, since I have no expertise in the additional items they desire (make-up, nail polish, etc.). I guess I could ask my wife. Felice, but her list would be way too long judging by the size of the suitcases she totes.

Clothes: pack clothes that will match the climate. Cotton or a cotton-blend is the most comfortable, especially in the tropics. Loose fitting shirts, pants and shorts are also advised, all with lots of pockets. Khaki pants are useful and versatile, as are denim. Shirts and blouses. Shorts should be worn only along the coast, but often they are all you'll need. I have often spent two weeks without ever wearing long pants or shoes (other than sandals). Long pants and dresses should be worn in the inland areas. Light colored clothes will reflect the sun and will blend in well with the locals. Try not to stand out and draw attention. Take one parka or light sweatshirt to keep warm, even in warm areas. I like a rain-repellent, light, windbreaker for all my trips and I take another heavier layer for the colder climates.

Shoes: one pair of comfortable shoes, one pair of sandals. Maybe some hiking shoes if you're going to be off-road. If your shoes get wet, they need to dry fast. Being stylish should not be a consideration. Avoiding blisters should. Don't rely on newly bought Mexican huaraches. They have no support and will rub a hole in your skin. You need to break them in slowly.

Airplane tickets: always know where they are. Keep them easily accessible when flying and packed away securely in between flights.

Alarm clock: Timex makes a good little travel clock for under ten bucks. Make sure the batteries are fresh and the hands glow in the dark.

Antibiotic: have your doctor write a prescription for bacterial infections that can cause diarrhea. Alternately, visit a farmacia in Mexico and buy something over-the-counter as suggested by the pharmacist.

Baggies: useful for water protection and storing perishables in a cheap styrofoam ice chest which you can buy for three or four dollars.

Bandana: I always have one in my back pocket. The various uses are too numerous to mention. Wiping away the sweat is the most obvious.

Bathing suit: anything comfortable and fast drying. As for style: I've seen thongs in resort areas that are accepted and even worn by the more daring Mexicans. They may not be advisable in the smaller, more rural coastal towns.

Batteries: for your clock and flashlight.

Binoculars: carry them in your day-pack in a side pocket. Pentax makes a 7x25 power model that is small enough to fit in a small ziplock sandwich bag for protection.

Book: if you have room, and you like to read, take two or three paperbacks. They can be traded or new ones purchased in tourist zones. If you want information from a travel guide, photocopy the pages to take.

Bottle/wine opener: the type waiters use, small and convenient.

Calculator: when your brain cramps, it for helps converting pesos/dollars.

Camera and film: you never know the onset of a 'Kodak Moment." Film in Mexico is expensive and not always the best.

Combibrush: disregard if bald.

Credit Card: take one that has ATM access where you are going. Check with your bank for those locations. From personal experience I advise against taking many credit cards. You might lose your wallet.

Cup/glass: the kind that collapses.

Day pack: when exploring a town or a day at the beach, a day pack is essential. It carries your water bottle, camera, snack, light clothing, binoculars, etc.

Dictionary: Spanish/English, either in small paperback or calculator.

First-aid kit: the small compact kits can be bought at most travel or sporting good stores. Add things you may need, i.e., snake bite kit, personal medications, malaria pills, antacid.

Flashlight: small and durable.

Hat: sufficient brim for sun protection. It's hard to beat a baseball cap for versatility. Plain peasant-type straw hats can be purchased cheaply in most Mexican towns (not the touristy ones with the red bands advertising Acapulco).

Insect repellent: use it at home first to assure no allergies to DEET, the active ingredient.

Knife: Swiss army style, one with multiple uses.

Map: to cover your itinerary.

Mirror: the small, camp-style, unbreakable type.

Money belt: to be used whenever it seems right. Carry your passport, tourist card, money, traveler's checks, cash, expensive jewelry (which you should have left at home).

Notepad: for uh...taking notes.

Passport: not required but a reliable proof of citizenship.

Pen: especially handy on the airplane where you will be required to fill out Custom's forms.

Prescriptions: photocopy the original to show you are legally taking the medication.

Sewing material: I've never actually carried this, but it seems a good idea.

Shaving/make-up kit: the usual assortment you would take on any trip. Fill it with the travel-size containers of toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. Don't forget the soap. Some hotels don't provide any and in some that do, the soap (?) won't lather. It will, however, eat away your top layer of skin.

Sunglasses: leave the $100 Porsche design shades at home. It won't hurt so much when you lose or break them (which you will).

Sunscreen: you're getting close to the Equator.

Toilet paper: keep some (not the whole roll) in your day pack.

Tourist card: by law, you should carry it at all times. I rarely do so.

Towel: find a beach size towel, but very thin to conserve space and for easy drying.

Traveler's checks: you can't always count on an ATM being available and a lot of cash is not advisable.

Watch: leave the good one at home. Take the one that was a gift from your mother-in-law.

Water: the liter bottles are easy to find in most parts of Mexico. Always carry one.

Water purification tablets: depends on your destination, but it wouldn't hurt to make them part of your first-aid kit.