I fell in love with Mexico the first time I stepped off a plane there in 1998. I've been back many times since then, and I got married there in 2011. As a frequent visitor to Mexico, I am asked repeatedly if it is safe. It is, if you're smart. A bit of preparation and planning before you leave and using your head when you're there go a long way. Here are a few tips on how to stay safe, healthy and relaxed in Mexico.

1. Make copies of your passport.
Keep a copy with you, but keep it separate from your passport. Leave another copy at home in a place where someone you know can access it. Should you lose your passport, a copy will facilitate a quick replacement.

2. Learn your local geography.
Mexico is a big country, roughly the size of Western Europe, and almost all of it remains safe and untouched by the violence that's been in the news. Research your destination and learn about potential safety issues from a credible source. The U.S. State Department's website provides detailed up-to-date safety advisories for the entire country. If you find your destination has safety advisories in effect, travel smart and heed the warnings. For example, if the area has experienced highway robberies recently, use taxis or public transportation instead of a rental car. When you get there, chat with your hotel's owner to get the lay of the land. Ask if there are neighborhoods to avoid.

3. Don't bring bling.
Leave the Rolex at home. There is no need to strip down to a burlap sack, but avoid wearing fine jewelry and keep your camera tucked away when it's not in use. Keep your valuables attached to you when you're walking and in sight even when sitting down to dinner. But, please, forgo the fanny pack. Nothing says "Rob me!" like a fanny pack.

4. Don't be flashy.
When I'm in Mexico, I pay with cash. It saves me international transaction fees and averts potential fraud. ATMs in Mexico usually dispense large-denomination bills. Break your large bills as soon as possible and carry only as much cash as you need each day. Withdraw your cash from brightly lit, well-attended ATMs during daylight hours and keep aware of the people around you before, during and after the transaction. Keep a few small bills in the primary compartment of your wallet and tuck larger bills away or leave them locked in your hotel's safe, along with your passport and credit cards. Small bills prevent egregious shortchanging and are easier for shopkeepers to manage. When you must carry a large amount of cash, use a money belt or hidden pocket. If your credit card is stolen or there are fraudulent charges, contact your bank right away. By reporting your lost or stolen card immediately, your liability should be minimal and usually your card can be replaced within three business days.

5. If you are held up ...
There are bad people everywhere, including in Mexico. Be aware that Mexican bandits may be desperate and easily provoked to violence. If you are the unlucky victim of a holdup, don't resist. Don't look into the robber's eyes. Give up the inexpensive jewelry and the few dollars in your wallet, and let it go.

6. Avoid Montezuma's revenge.
Skip the traveler's trots by staying away from unfiltered tap water, but do stay hydrated. When drinks are served with ice cubes, ask if they were made with purified water (agua purificada).

7. Don't drive at night.
Nighttime is when most carjackings and highway robberies occur. It is also when people, their farm animals and their pets like to congregate on the road to visit and travel between villages. Driving etiquette is different in Mexico and can be especially harrowing at night. When I must travel at night, I leave the driving to a bus or taxi driver and focus on my Hail Mary's. In Mexico City, it is important to take only certified Mexico City taxis. Most restaurant, business and hotel owners will be glad to call one for you.

8. Don't buy drugs.
Buying drugs in Mexico greatly increases your risk for being the victim of a violent crime, and your drug purchase directly supports the drug cartels.

9. Explore the world from a cup-half-full perspective.
Mexicans are some of the kindest, happiest people in the world, and tourism is a primary source of income for many of them. It is important to them that you leave with a favorable impression of their country. That said, there are bad people everywhere in the world, including Mexico. When in Mexico, assume the people you meet are good, kind people who want you to have a great vacation. With a perspective like this, chances are extremely high that this will indeed be the case.