Mexico City: not so scary

01:50, May 28 2012

Hearing about the dangers of Mexico City (it's comforting that our travel insurance policy covers kidnapping anywhere in the world except Mexico and South America), BF and I bought some locks to foil any thieves or drug barons hoping to plant their wares in our bags.

As we piled 17 locks on to the counter, the man raised an eyebrow and said, "Beefing up security, are we?"

It's not embarrassing at all.

Our guide-book warned us only to catch authorised taxis (the drivers of the other kind will probably assault us and steal our stuff) and under no circumstances must we travel at night. Arriving at 9pm sent my paranoia-meter off the scale.

I looked drug-addled myself the way my eyes darted between bags to stop scoundrels pinching one. It turned out that driving in the dark is all good, and at 11 at night we were assured it was fine to go out searching for food.

After just a few hours it already felt friendlier than many "safe" places I've visited.

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Throughout our stay the experience repeated itself. People were over-the-top welcoming: one man paid both our bus fares when we didn't have the right change, another studied a map for 10 minutes to figure out our best route.

What a beat-up!

Have you been somewhere the subject of unfair press?

Mexico City is touted as one of the world's roughest metropolises, its drug crime rate sky high.

It's an awful reality for many, but it seems to have little bearing on visitors. Violent crime is rare in tourist spots, though our host did warn us of a dog-napping ring in the upmarket suburbs of Condesa and Roma (it's more popular to own a pet here than have a child - the streets are teeming with four-legged friends).

Authorities are concerned at the bad rap their country's getting and are quick to assure travellers it's okay to visit.

I had similar perceptions about a trip to Eastern Europe last year, which were equally unfounded.

In fact of all the places I've visited, I've felt most safe in the ones I thought would be the dodgiest.

Do you think it's because they are safe or because they seem that way next to our horrid expectations?

I've met foreigners who've refused to visit our entire country following the Christchurch earthquake. Are we guilty of the same attitude toward other places?

I do have one genuine concern in Mexico City - its insane traffic!

It's so car reliant our host tells me she works 12 kilometres away and it takes her two hours to drive it, so bad are the traffic jams (and we think Auckland's roads are atrocious).

This city is not pedestrian friendly! Each time we want to cross we throw our lives to the tarseal as we zip between zooming cars on six-lane roads. Frustrated motorists don't slow down and wave to pedestrians here.

Cities are multifaceted places with many personalities.

A friend of mine was recently mugged at a Melbourne train station, there are assaults in New Zealand every weekend, and many parts of Europe are renowned for pickpocketing. Moral of the story?

Be careful everywhere! As long as you're sensible and keep an eye on your stuff she should be right bro.

I'm heading to South Africa in September - it'll be interesting to see how my presumptions about Johannesburg compare to the reality.

Where have your perceptions about a place been smashed? Or have your travel destinations lived up to your safety expectations exactly?