The Joys of Hosting: Planning, Policy and Provisions
The time of your guest's arrival to visit you in Mexico is approaching. Just a couple of days before their departure, if it is a long (especially transatlantic) flight and they are not experienced travelers, it may be helpful to advise them to drink plenty of liquids. If they are party types, explain that this means water and juice, and twice as much water again if they plan on drinking liquids of an alcoholic nature too.
As concisely as possible tell first-timers what to expect when clearing passport/migration and customs. Usually customs and migration forms are given out to fill on the flight, and this often results in breaking the ice with fellow passengers the ones not spoken with already before landing.
After refreshment, rest is essential. So consider carefully beforehand which room is best to put them in, ideally with its own bathroom or near a bathroom in case diarrhea strikes, and away from the road if you live close to heavy traffic and your guests are not city folks.
For some time now an English-speaking official has been perched at the beginning of the customs line, often surprisingly smiley, to help visitors head in the right direction. Tell your guests to keep their migration form with their passport, as they need to hand it in on their return.
Aware of how fundamental my passport is for identification, when going to an unfamiliar country (anywhere that is not "home," i.e. where I have document back-up and family who will vouch for me) I always keep a photocopy in my check-in luggage, as well as in my hand luggage just in case something weird happens in transit. If this does not sound paranoid to you, you might advise your guests to do the same.
If they are traveling with children, it may be worth suggesting they use the bathrooms between the gate and the customs line, as the pokey ones downstairs by baggage reclaim are a little grim. The elevator down from passport check to baggage reclaim is poorly indicated slim metal doors on the right, while stairs and escalators (if they are working) are on the left so it could be worth alerting those with buggies and offspring, or otherwise prevented from traveling light.
The main thing that could catch your guests by surprise is after baggage reclaim, handing the customs form to an official who inserts it into the metal slot of a machine that then produces a green or (bad luck) red light. If the latter should occur, their luggage will be opened and checked by hand. This is when they are both at their most tired, and also imagining they see light at the end of the tunnel. I have seen it throw travelers completely, so it's good to warn them ahead about the stop-go light system.
If your guests are timid travelers and first-timers to Mexico, you should refrain from asking them to bring you hard- or impossible-to-find foodstuffs (the classic from the UK is basmati rice) that may be confiscated. No fine or punishment is involved but it's upsetting and humiliating for the sensitive traveler.
Even disregarding the lights system, this is a stressful part of the journey, with everyone stumbling over everyone's luggage and overtired teens squabbling over who pushes the trolley, and everyone else forgetting which pocket they put their documents and forms into, and blaming their spouses for their own fluster ("you had the passports!").
So guests are unlikely to feel calm having made the exit through the sliding frosted glass doors to be faced with a squawking circus of eager faces, heckling porters and cabbies. Assure them you will be there, and if they can't see you in the unfamiliar multitude, not to worry, just to stand still you will easily spot them.
As for you, call the airline and check if the flight is on time. Be on time. Bring a phonecard, if you don't have a cell phone, so you can call home and let people know if there is a last minute delay (or just call and say "we're on our way now!"). And it's a good idea to bring a bottle of water for the journey home, as both the flight and the hassle of baggage reclaim and customs tend to leave people dehydrated, and they will only realize how thirsty they are once they relax (usually when on the road to your home). If you are taking a taxi, buy your ticket home when you are waiting.
If for some reason you cannot meet your guests, tell them well in advance who will be meeting them, describe them well and it's a good idea to get a board prepared with the traveler's name printed clearly. Chose a bright color that not everyone else will have (luminous pink or lime green are good) to make it easily identifiable.
If your guest knows the city and is taking a taxi autorizado (official airport taxi) make sure they have the full address, colonia, and the cross street (as well as phone number) of the location where they are going.
Around the time you are sending the last snippets of advice and reassurance (and try not to make this too fragmented they will probably want to print out one long, and clear, email message, for example, not lots of little afterthoughts), it's worth making sure you have all the spare keys they will need just for them. It's a bad idea to have them share a set with the housekeeper, or gardener, nanny, etc.
Small bottles of water in the fridge for them to take when they go out on a wander are useful and, if you live in a walkaround neighborhood, local maps. I always copy and enlarge the relevant pages of the Guía Roji, circle the house in red, and write our phone number and address (and cross street) above. Provide a phone card too.
You may want to consider giving them a light, carry-around bag (one that can be zipped or buttoned shut), just as some hotels give beach bags or at least checking if you have one, in case their travel luggage is not suitable for day trips.
If your guests have children, you could ask about favorite foodstuffs and juices, so that you aren't caught without, but little ones are generally well catered for in Mexico (either the supermarket, or the pharmacy on the corner, even your neighbor will sort you out). Baby bottles, brushes to clean them, jars of mashed up foods and sweets and munchies a plenty, toys, crayons, balloons, colored stickers and stamps are everywhere.
By Barbara Kastelein
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