Tom Braslavsky: Spring break safety

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For a few months this year, I was contemplating going on an all-inclusive spring break trip to Cancun. With the economy down, package prices were relatively cheap and I thought it would be really nice to go somewhere fun with my new college friends. I imagined the real spring break experience: beach, sun and thousands of college students. One thing that definitely did not cross my mind was the prospect of deadly drug wars.

If you’re a spring breaker going to Mexico who has not been keeping up with the news lately, let me share with you a headline from this past Sunday’s Seattle Times: “Cancun violence overshadows spring break.” It appears that Mexico’s drug wars, which killed almost 6,300 people last year (according to 60 Minutes), have steadily been reaching into even the spring oasis of Cancun.

Already in 2009, a Mexican army general was kidnapped and killed; a police chief was jailed for allegedly being an accomplice in the killing. In another incident, a cell of the Zetas drug gang – basically a private army for various drug trafficking cartels – was discovered in the city (the cell was also apparently connected with some of Cancun’s police force). Commentators add that the area around the city may be turning into a transfer point for drugs from Central America. Other Mexican destinations that have been harder hit are Tijuana, Rosarito and even Acapulco.

Now, I’m not trying to scare people into staying away from Cancun. Although these statistics sound scary, going to Cancun is still relatively safe, so those of you who will soon be on your way need not worry too much. According to that same Seattle Times article, the city already tripled its Tourist Police force and its hotel zone, an insulated tourist haven, is “remarkably safe.” And anyway, as long as you’re not too scared, how bad can it really be? When you travel, you just have to be a little cautious – no matter what country you plan on visiting.

First of all, you will need to find out some more about the situation in the country you are traveling to. In the case of Mexico, you’d be wise to read the most recent State Department Travel Alert for Mexico, issued Feb. 20. You should record important phone numbers, such as the U.S. Consulate’s number. Depending on the situation, you should also consider getting an international cell phone for the duration of your stay, just in case you may need to use it to contact the consular services. For Mexico, some Web sites also recommend staying in or around the resort (or the hotel zone in Cancun’s case) and not venturing out into unknown areas.

Most importantly, try not to do anything too stupid. Sure, spring break is all about having fun, but using common sense when you feel danger lurking could prevent some dangerous situations.

Personally, I decided against purchasing the Cancun package, even before learning about the danger of drug violence. I chose to go back home and see my family instead and maybe save up some money to spend on an adventure this summer. Of course, now I’m a bit more relieved that I didn’t purchase the package – at least it spares my mother some worrying. But with proper caution, one could dramatically reduce the potential danger in such a trip.

So this spring break, some of us will be at home, others will be volunteering and yet others vacationing. Hopefully, we’ll all come back with memories of good times. Here’s to a happy, safe Spring Break ’09!

The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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