Staying Safe in Baja Good information and common sense...

Old 05-01-09, 06:34 PM   #1
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Default Why I’m Not Canceling My Trip to Mexico

Why I’m Not Canceling My Trip to Mexico
Is now a GOOD time to go???

Many people are overreacting amid the swine flu crisis, says Peter Greenberg. But as long as you take appropriate precautions, there’s no reason to be afraid of taking your vacation.

By Peter Greenberg

I tend to be a contrarian traveler, and I've always believed that — with rare exceptions — the best time to travel somewhere is after a natural disaster, a civil disturbance or a medical crisis. You get to see a place the way it should be seen. There are no crowds. People are genuinely happy to meet you, and more often than not, you're genuinely happy to help them during your vacation.

A few weeks ago, in the wake of drug-fueled gang violence, I even advised that people should continue to vacation in Mexico. My advice was based on common sense — the violence is centralized in the border towns, not the resort towns, so there was no reason to let fear (and media saturation) get in your way.

And now, with the swine flu, or H1N1 virus, the situation is similar. For the moment, I’d still advise you to avoid border towns, as well as Mexico City, which is virtually shut down. But resort areas like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and the Riviera Maya — even as far east as the Yucatan — are just fine to visit if you practice good hygiene and common sense.

Yes, we need to be concerned about the swine flu virus; the World Health Organization has just raised the influenza pandemic alert to phase five, the second-highest level. And it’s true that the U.S. Department of State has issued a notice recommending that American citizens avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico at this time. But note that it’s a travel alert, not a travel warning, and that it’s “recommending” that we avoid “nonessential” travel. There aren’t any absolute terms here.

The best protection: Washing your hands

So should anyone feel comfortable traveling to Mexico? The answer is yes, with a caveat. First, see your doctor. If you’re already ill, or have a compromised immune system, or your physician is concerned about issues like age or a pre-existing medical condition, it’s best to stay home. But if you’re healthy, you can travel as long as you pay attention to two important things — personal hygiene and common sense.

In any travel situation, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands frequently, and carry packets of antibacterial wipes. I’ve long been a proponent of that, even before any health scares. Wash your hands before and after every meal, before and after traveling on public transportation and before and after using the bathroom. Use those antibacterial wipes to clean off the armrest of the airplane, the tray table and the remote control in your hotel room (one of the largest carriers of bacteria). It’s basic common sense.

What about wearing a face mask? Don’t bother. If someone sneezes or coughs near you, yes, a face mask can help stop droplets from spraying into your face, but the flu virus is too tiny to be stopped by a mask. Conversely, if you’re already sick, it can help protect others from sprays when you cough or sneeze — but if you’re already sick, you shouldn’t be traveling anyway.

Respirator masks are a little different. An N95 mask, for example, is made of heavier materials that block out very small particles, and has been certified by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (think firefighters and health care workers). But those masks need to be specially fitted (“fit-tested”) for each person, and must be thrown out after each use. They’re not exactly efficient or cost-effective. It’s a lot easier to just wash your hands frequently.

What to do if you want to cancel

If you have plans to travel to Mexico but are afraid (or unable) to travel, here’s the deal: Most U.S. airlines, including American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, United and US Airways, will waive penalties for people changing their reservations to and from Mexico. The same goes for Mexicana and Air Canada (though the latter airline is canceling many of its Mexico flights until June).

Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America, have canceled all calls to Mexican ports, opting instead to spend more time at sea or swapping in alternate ports in the U.S., the Bahamas, Jamaica or Central America. They haven’t said yet whether they’ll alter itineraries on upcoming sailings. (And don't expect a refund if your heart was set on sailing to Mexico. Each cruise line contract allows the company to substitute ports and itineraries due to weather emergencies or acts of God. Swine flu qualifies.)

As of this writing, only Carnival has announced that it will allow passengers to rebook Mexico-bound cruises for future sailings without penalty. Several package travel companies, however, such as Pleasant Holidays, Funjet and Apple Vacations, are waiving cancellation fees for travel to Mexico.

Although hotel policies tend to vary by individual properties, Hyatt, Intercontinental, Starwood and Marriott have announced that they’ll also waive cancellation fees. That’s also the story for major resorts in Mexico, such as Karisma Resorts, which is waiving rebooking fees, and Sol Meliá, which is allowing customers to change their Mexico vacation plans to resorts in other countries.

No matter which travel provider you’re using, you should contact it directly. As in all cases like this, each waiver applies to specific dates and may vary depending on whether you booked directly or with a third-party agent.

A little perspective

For those who think that I’m underestimating the seriousness of the swine flu, consider a few statistics. As of May 1, there has been one death in the United States, and 141 laboratory-confirmed human cases spread out across 19 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Remember the SARS “crisis” in 2003? According to the WHO, a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS, which killed 774 people. At that time, major cities in Asia became virtual ghost towns.

At its heart, the real crisis around SARS was a financial one: No one was traveling to Asia. I went to Hong Kong in the middle of the "crisis,” when hotel occupancy rates were a dismal 3 percent. But I've never had better service or, for that matter, a better travel experience overall. The planes were empty as well.

What about the avian flu? Over the past few years, we’ve been mired in a global panic over a disease that primarily affects people who’ve had one-on-one contact with poultry. According to the World Bank, Vietnam is one of the countries that’s been most severely impacted by the disease, with just over 90 infections, and 42 deaths. I don’t mean any disrespect to those who have been affected, but in a country of more than 86 million people, that’s just over one in a million cases.

Although each of these situations led to a wave of fear, they also created a learning opportunity. And I must give kudos to countries that are now better prepared to handle medical emergencies. Because of SARS, countries like Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines now have medical staff at their airports taking the temperatures of inbound travelers. In fact, I think that should be required in every airport for anyone entering a country, including the U.S. — and not just during possible disease outbreaks, but as a matter of regular policy and process.

A final reason to travel

If you’re still on the fence about taking your vacation, consider this: The global economic crisis has already forced the travel industry — and Mexico, in particular — to come out with some of the best deals I’ve ever seen. I checked one airline Web site this week and saw fares from New York’s JFK to Cancun for just $71 each way. And even better than the money you’ll save, you’ll be putting your travel dollars into a destination that desperately needs it.

Remember this: With the proper precautions, it’s OK to travel. And guess what? I practice what I preach. I’m scheduled to travel to Mexico soon. I'll be broadcasting my radio show from the Riviera Maya — and I have no intention of canceling my trip.
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Old 05-04-09, 11:43 AM   #2
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Default Re: Why I’m Not Canceling My Trip to Mexico

We are still planning on taking our trip to BOLA at the end of May. We will be a little cautious, use a mask if we feel the need and have a large bottle of hand sanitizer in the truck. We may or may not eat in El Rosario on the way down or in BOLA while in town, kinda depends on how we feel things are going at that time. We look forward to our trips so much that we really feel that the need to be in and experience Baja supercedes our desire to suspend our travel plans. 20 days and counting! Connie
Longing to be in Bahia De Los Angeles, with a cervesa and a hammock!
Old 05-04-09, 08:59 PM   #3
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Default Re: Why I’m Not Canceling My Trip to Mexico

Having just spent the last few days driving across a few hundred miles of northern Baja and then crossed the border all the way up into central California, I can tell you that there are a lot more measures being taken to contain further outbreak south of the border than north.

It was like NOB thinks there is no problem whatsoever. And they could be right but not if you believe the press...

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Old 05-07-09, 04:08 PM   #4
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Default Re: Why I’m Not Canceling My Trip to Mexico

I noticed that too - hardly anybody wearing masks or anything in San Diego but south of the border it seeks like most folks working with public did. I still think there is more to the story and we probably aren't going to hear it.

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