Do as I say, not as I do.
For many, Puerto Peñasco, a Mexican beach town just a few hours south of Tucson, is a popular spot to frolic in the ocean, get a tan and enjoy some authentic tacos for a weekend getaway. My trip last May didn’t go that way—I was scammed and robbed instead, with no way to contact my family.
The first night went well. I took my dogs to the beach, enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and returned to my Airbnb. The next afternoon, things took a major turn when my car got stuck in a sand-filled pothole near the beach. Before I knew it, three men were helping me. Though they did ease my car out of the sand, one stole my phone, crashed my car into a taxi, and sped off. Suddenly, I had no way to communicate with my family, who I knew would be extremely worried if I went silent in a foreign country.
But it didn’t have to be this way. Although I’m a seasoned traveler, I made several rookie mistakes that worsened the situation, including panic. As COVID travel restrictions start easing and travelers begin venturing back into the world, it’s important to reacquaint ourselves with some simple rules to stay safe abroad. Here are some tips I learned the hard way.
Trust Your Gut: If Something Seems Fishy, It Probably Is
Just because someone is posing as a good samaritan does not mean that their intentions are pure. In the heat of the moment, I didn’t find it odd that a man happened to show up with a shovel to help me dig my car out. I figured this happened quite a bit and he was just trying to make a living off of tips.
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When one of the men hopped into my car while they were attempting to free my tire, it didn’t sit right with me but I didn’t want to be rude to a “helper.” Worried that this could turn into a car robbery pretty quickly, I quietly said, “I think I should be the one in my driver’s seat.” Of course, he disagreed, but I didn’t want to offend him by implying he was a thief.
According to Healthline, if you need to make a quick decision about a situation it may be an indication that it’s a good time to listen to your gut. I should have listened to my gut and insisted on being the one in the driver’s seat of my car.
The biggest mistake I made in this situation was panicking. I had purchased a Mexican auto insurance package prior to my trip, which would have covered the expenses of freeing my car from the sand trap. If I would have taken a moment to breathe, analyze the situation, and weigh my options, I could have called the company and gotten certified help for free. Some things you can do to immediately calm yourself in a stressful situation include pushing your palms together for 10 seconds, closing your eyes, taking a few mindful sighs, and giving yourself a 10-second hug.
Know Important Passwords and Phone Numbers
I was caught completely off guard when my phone was stolen, and I quickly realized my entire identity was tied to that little device. My first instinct was to call my mother so she knew what happened and that I was OK. Although I didn’t have my cell phone, I could just borrow someone else’s, right? Wrong. As a millennial, I didn’t actually know my mom’s cell phone number. It was just “mom” on my phone.
So what? I could contact her by e-mail or Facebook, right? Nope. I couldn’t remember my newly changed and highly complicated Gmail password. I knew my Facebook password but couldn’t sign into an unknown device. Thanks to authentication, which is designed to protect us from hackers, I couldn’t reset my Gmail password either.
Although I’m a seasoned traveler, I made several rookie mistakes that worsened the situation, including panic.
In the end, my Airbnb host logged into her Facebook account, and I video chatted with my mother from there, but she later informed me that the situation struck her as so odd that she had worried that I’d been kidnapped.
The US Department of State suggests that travelers make two copies of all travel documents such as passports when traveling abroad. One copy should be left with family or a trusted friend and the other should stay with you. In an age where so much of our existence is tied to our phones, you might consider doing the same thing with a few important passwords and phone numbers (or at least doing a vacation pre-check to make sure you’ve memorized them). Had I simply known a few of my passwords and phone numbers, it could have saved me a lot of trouble.
Make it Harder for Thieves to Access Your Info
Believe it or not, I actually did a few things right: I had enabled a password on my phone and immediately reported the theft to my carrier. The Sprint customer service representative assured me that because I reported the phone as stolen, it would not work, even if a new SIM card was inserted. That means that even if the thief somehow got past my password, they couldn’t use the phone and probably couldn’t sell it for much. This is the one thing that made me feel a little smug. I just pictured a frustrated thief trying—and failing—to access my information.
Bottom line: There Is No Such Thing as Over-Preparing
For those of us who have put in a lot of travel miles, planning can become sloppy. Remember that no matter how much of a seasoned traveler you are, you can’t always avoid disaster. It’s better to be ready for the worst than to let yourself become a victim because of poor preparation.
Between the 2004 and 2017 we made 13,5 return trips by a compact car to Mexico (the half- .5 refers to the one way trip i.e. we ended up importing the car and legalizing it to be left in Mexico). We travelled along the west coast as far as Huatulco and east coast as far as the Yucatan Penninsula and Chetumal near Belize as well as the interior as far as San Cristobal in Chiapas, close to Guatemalan border. The trips were winter outings from 2 to 5 months long every time. We encountered no problems over that period. The predicament that the author of above found herself in can happen anywhere, but especially, if 1) travelling alone and 2) in the deserted areas as this beach appeared to be!
This was the biggest mistake.
One should keep valuables (like a phone) out of sight. Yes, have it password protected!Especially nowadays when just looking at it opens it up!
When did this happen? Did you contact the police?
I was just the victim of theft in the avasa office at the cabo airport on July 4 2022. I'm a seasoned traveler as well and 4th trip to cabo just this year.
Good article and good advice. Over the years I have just stayed out of Mexico not worth it.
Sorry to hear that. I had the same thing happen to me in Costa Rica, except for the getting robbed part. In fact, the three young men that helped me refused to take the twenty dollars I tried to pay them in gratitude for their help (I finally succeeded in convincing them). I didn't have the insurance and towing coverage, but I probably would have used them instead if I had. However, I didn't get that negative gut vibe, so I agree that it is something to listen to.