Traveling internationally as an American these days is interesting, to say the least, but it’s more important than ever. The more divisive rhetoric we hear about “others,” the more critical it is that we step outside of our bubbles and at least attempt to see life through a more global lense.

In this spirit, now is as good a time as any to visit one of our closest and most woefully underappreciated neighbors: Mexico. Many American tourists are familiar with Mexican beach destinations like Cancun, and often–if we’re being honest with ourselves–the draw of such locales is that they are now so Americanized that they feel pleasantly exotic but not uncomfortably “other”.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking a palm tree and a tropical cocktail,  but if you want to start to really get to know the country, a trip to Mexico City is a great start. There are a million different things to see, do, and eat there; here are some tips to get you started.

Commute Wisely | Mexico City, commonly known as D.F. (for Distrito Federal). is a sprawling, highly populated, highly engaging metropolis. The layout feels more similar to L.A. than New York, though the public transportation is cleaner than it is in either U.S. city. If you do come from New York, are a woman, and are traumatized by the nonstop sexual harassment parade we call a subway system, you might cry with joy when you witness the women-only sections of D.F.’s public transportation system. Save your concerns about whether such a practice advances gender equality for some other time–not worrying about being groped or leered at as you try to get from point a to point B is seriously awesome.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people in D.F. and not so much room on each and every bus or train. During rush hour, personal space will not be an option. Fortunately, Mexico has an extremely hygienic culture, much more so than the U.S., so you don’t have to worry about olfactory trauma. Also, you can pass the time by admiring the women who expertly turn the bus into a Mac makeup counter and walk out looking 100% flawless. Talk about a steady hand.

You can certainly take taxis or Uber to and fro, but traffic is REAL in D.F., so don’t expect to get anywhere fast. Renting a car is of course possible, but you will die. Just kidding, sort of, but if you’re at all unsure about the rules of the road in Mexico…just don’t drive.

To Stay Safe, Just Keep Your Cool | One of the questions that abounds regarding travel to D.F. is whether it is safe. There isn’t necessarily a simple answer to that question, but the capitol is generally a safe place, especially if you follow common sense rules, like not holding up a map, cartoon-sized binoculars, and your wallet and wondering aloud, “WHERE IS THE MCDONALD’S AROUND HERE.” Probably no one would actually do that, so you’re good.

If you come from America, a country where a whole lot of completely unhinged people have easy access to guns, it is likely that you already have a good sense of how to logistically and/or emotionally navigate the general possibility of crime. One can also assume that there’s a far smaller chance that in Mexico City a psychopath on bath salts will try to eat your face off than there would be in, say, Florida. If you’re visiting someone in D.F. who can help you navigate the city, great, but if not, just make sure your phone is fully charged (for Google map purposes).

Speak Freely, But Be Courteous | In regards to language, it won’t hurt to brush up on any basic Spanish you may have learned, but many people in D.F. speak at least some English, so don’t worry if you’re not completely fluent. For the sake of politeness, greetings like “Buenos Dias” are always good to know and utilize. Speaking English will obviously draw attention to your foreignness, so just be cognizant of that if you have any interest in blending in/seeing rather than being seen.

Where You Stay Can Make or Break Your Stay | Air BnB is alive and well in Mexico, so if you want a better chance of getting to know the city, it’s a good alternative to hotels. Hotels have more amenities, but they tend to be a little bit culturally sterile if you intend to go beyond standard tourist activities.

As a bonus, many Air BnB’s in safe, exciting areas are seriously affordable, running about $15-20 per day. The neighborhoods that most attract young American tourists these days are Condesa and Roma Norte, but that doesn’t mean those are the only places you can stay or visit. They just happen to be the most hipsterish around, meaning that you will find a lot of Brooklyn-esque coffee shops, etc.

Mexico City has countless urban adventures to offer for many different types of travelers. The longer you stay, the better you’ll be able to get to know its many interesting nooks and crannies. If you’d like a head’s up about some fun things to do and delicious things to eat, stay tuned for parts II and III of this series.

– Naakai Addy