What to Pack for a Trip to Mexico

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Traveling to Mexico soon? Good idea. You won’t need to bring much, and the most important things don’t go in your bag: an open-mind, a friendly nature, curiosity about culture, adventurous tastes, and common sense.

But what about that bag, what do you put in it? And which bag do you choose anyway?

The bag

I have a special loathing for roller bags. Yes, they are very useful after a trip back home, when it gets stuffed with books or Christmas presents. But on an adventurous trip with several destinations, the wheels get neglected as you end up carrying it like any other bulky, heavy bag.

Backpacks are essential, but there are few sadder sights than the traveler in dirty clothes carrying a $500 backpack and haggling over a bag of fruit in the market. The bigger the backpack, full of expensive electronics and who-knows-what else, the worse the picture becomes.

Good quality, functional backpacks can be cheap. At the time of writing, this one was on sale for $30 USD (click the picture):

Smaller is better. It’s no fun hunching under a heavy bag that towers over your head. Fortunately, in Mexico all you need should fit in a medium-sized backpack (like the one above, maybe a little bigger).

Be sure to bring:

  • One sweater or hoodie (chilly nights and overly air-conditioned buses)
  • Flip flops — for the beach or the hostel shower (but you can get cheap ones in Mexico)
  • Jeans or long pants — to blend in when not on the beach (Mexicans are more formal)
  • One nice outfit, for that night out
  • Sunscreen (it’s expensive in Mexico)
  • Sunglasses (the cheap ones in Mexico don’t have UV protection, bad news)
  • Tiger Balm — this stuff cures mosquito bites, trust me. I take it everywhere I go. But don’t buy the “extra strength” red one — it stains.

  • Swim suit — even if you aren’t going to the beach, your hotel may have a pool
  • Flip flops — for the beach or the hostel shower. Though you can get cheap ones in Mexico, the best are rugged and comfortable Havaianas from Brasil:

  • Several ATM cards — they give your best exchange rate, and you need backups
  • A money belt or pouch to hide the essentials while you are between hotels on public transportation:

  • A small backpacking towel for cheap hotels (Once in Mexico, you can buy a thin blanket for the beach):

  • A tiny, cheap, collapsable day pack:

  • A packable raincoat if you go in rainy season, which occurs at different times in all over Mexico:

  • If you are addicted to coffee and want to save time and money by making it yourself, get a hotel with a kitchen (to boil water), buy a bag of locally-produced coffee in a market, and use one of these pour-through coffee makers:

  • Fun things: frisbee (hard to find here), guitar (lots of musicians around), sketchbook, camera, etc. — but consider leaving the smartphone and laptop at home. Keep in touch by email at computer rooms (everywhere), and give a rest to all the rest.

Please see my article How To Pack Light for Independent Travel for more packing tips.



You can survive without a guidebook in Mexico, but they are undeniably useful. If you need one, Lonely Planet is the standard — it covers the whole country and has plenty of maps.

If you are going to Cancun or the Mayan Riviera, then buy my guidebook! I promise you’ll save much more by following my suggestions for hotels, transportation, restaurants, and attractions (click the picture).

I also have a guidebook for nearby Chiapas:

Spanish language books

You don’t need a phrasebook — you can find all the basics online. Plus, phrasebooks don’t really teach you anything. If you want a book that covers all the basics (restaurants, doctor’s office, etc.) but actually explains the language, I recommend this book (click the picture):

If you are serious about learning Spanish, Madrigal’s Magic Key is absolutely the best book for understanding its complicated grammar. You can do a page or two in the morning and then practice on the street that day. It’s only $9 USD and paperback size. (Tip: don’t write in the book — go back and do the exercises again.)

Novels / beach reading

Mexican literature is vast and wonderful. For more suggestions, including books about politics and history, please click here.

Magic is real in Magic Realism, a literary genre strong in Latin America (Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, many more). Like Water for Chocolate is a recent Mexican contribution, also made into a decent movie. As usual, the book is better — and it has recipes!

Written by an gringo who spent 12 years living, traveling and researching in Mexico, Aztec is as epic as epic gets: 1,000 pages of blood, sex, and adventure as good or better than Shogun or Game of Thrones.

Thanks for reading and please tell me what I missed in the comments.

(This post contains paid Amazon Associate links.)

About Ted Campbell

U.S./Canadian writer, translator and professor in Mexico. Travel stories and practical tips on my blog No Hay Bronca: nohaybronca.wordpress.com // Twitter: @NoHayBroncaBlog // Contact: nohaybroncablog (at) gmail.com

Posted on December 3, 2015, in Lessons from the Road, Mexico, Reading material and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. In January I’ll be going to Mexico for the second time, but as the plan is to do some teaching work I’m probably going to have to leave my backpack behind and take my roller-case – I’ll be having to take nice shirts, some form of tablet/keyboard combo (which I haven’t bought yet) and all the rest of the stuff one needs for an extended stay away from home.

    BTW, I didn’t think the recipes in ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ looked very doable. Unless you’re a very creative chef!

    • Bring the backpack too–you are going to want to travel around while you are here.
      Thanks for the comment, and yes, buy all your electronics before you come, as they are expensive here.

  1. Pingback: My Top Tips for Travelers to Mexico | No Hay Bronca

  2. Pingback: How to Travel Around Mexico by Bus for CHEAP | No Hay Bronca

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