For spring break, a few friends and I eagerly, but quite cluelessly, planned a trip to Mexico to have THE stereotypical college vacation.
Coming from central Pennsylvania, I can’t say I have traveled much and I can’t say my town is very diverse. However, I love experiencing new things, so I jumped at the opportunity to go with my friends. For my first major out of country adventure, I learned a few things about traveling and myself.
1. Cancún will not teach you about Mexican culture
My trip was essentially Syracuse University’s greek row picked up and dropped along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I did not expect to see so many people I recognized in another country. I love Syracuse, but I really did not get away from this place or these people at all.
I expected to eat real Mexican food and meet locals. In reality, there were McDonald’s restaurants and Dominoes delivery was on every corner. I even saw a Hooters. I think I had two quesadillas and to be totally honest, I was craving one from Schine by the end of the week.
As beautiful as the beaches were, the entire area of Cancún was extremely Americanized and a total tourist destination. I don’t think I had one authentic meal.
2. My high school Spanish was better than I expected
I can’t say I really cared about my Spanish III course senior year of high school. It was my last class of the day, and I was predominantly with freshmen and sophomores.
However, to the surprise of my friends and myself, I was able to speak to people pretty coherently. I did not expect to use Spanish as much as I did. It was also fun to see who I could talk to and what I could learn, despite a language barrier. I definitely grew more confident by the end of the week.
3. If you’re not, like, a total idiot, there’s no reason to be afraid
My mom’s number 1 rule when I told her I was going to Mexico for spring break was that I could not leave the resort. Of course I nodded and agreed, fully knowing I had intentions of going off the resort to explore the area. I can hang out in pools anywhere. I was not going to fly 4 hours to just sit around.
So every night, my friends and I went downtown. We rode buses and walked around the strip that was surrounded by clubs, restaurants and street vendors. It was described as a “mini Las Vegas” with flashing lights and signs. I talked to locals and workers everywhere we went. In terms of safety, it felt no different than New York City. I just had to be aware, like any other place.
I strongly believe that other humans are not out to get me. I have always thought that if I do not act afraid or better than anyone, people will not try to take advantage of me. This may be naive or overly optimistic, but I refuse to act like I am too good.
I was experiencing someone else’s culture for my stereotypical, privileged, college spring break trip. The very least I should be is respectful of the people and culture.
4. Do not book the “spring break” package
Yes, “all inclusive” means all food and drinks are included. However, it does not specify WHICH food is included. Instead of the nice restaurants with ocean views that are featured on the resort’s website, spring breakers were herded into buffet lines that made you crave dining hall food. I have never seen more red meat (it was actually gray) in my life – best of luck to any vegan vacationers. If I were to go again, I would pay extra for real food so I wouldn’t have to buy nutella from the local convenience store for meals.
5. Travel with the right people
I can’t say how many trips I have been on where one buzzkill friend ruined the mood. Luckily, there were 4 of us so it was easy to split up to do whatever people were more interested in.
It was also a great group to, ya know, keep you accountable in a foreign country. Find people who want to explore at all hours, but who also love laying on the beach and relaxing.
Overall the trip was amazing. I love the beach and traveling anywhere new, and it was a great experience. That being said, I do not think resorts are for me. I hope to go back someday and get a real sense of what Mexico is like, without all the thrills for the American vacationers. I had a blast, but all I saw was the Cancún designed for tourists.