I write this from a breakfast counter at our airbnb in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. It’s all fun and games now, but getting here has been a series of lessons. Do’s and don’ts have been abundant, with the scales tipping on the don’ts. To even explain why we’re here, I have to go all the way back to January 2017.
When Thomas and I first decided to travel, we were so excited that we bought airfare right away, when we had planned to leave December 1st of the same year. The thinking was that this would force the motivation required to go into savings mode. Now let that sink in a moment; we bought our tickets 11 months in advance. Lesson number 1 - don’t book your flight unless all of your ducks are in a row. So many things can change in that kind of a time frame, and it is just not advisable.
In the following months, when the travel fog lifted and gave way to pragmatism, we discovered that if we prolonged our departure by 3 months, we could nearly double our savings due to year end bonuses, and several other factors. Double our savings in 3 months? Ok! Wait, but what about our already purchased flights? This error in judgment taught us a valuable lesson; don’t leap before you look.
However, we decided to make the best of the situation and took a little 1 week trip to Costa Rica as a way to not waste our airfare and to test travelling together without the comforts of an all inclusive hotel for the first time. Yes, that cut into our savings a bit, but in the end the experience was well worth it.With that in mind, we wanted to pass on some of our hard earned wisdom that we have accumulated so far.
Dos and Don’ts DO:
Check your flight before you leave to make sure no changes have occurred. We’ve encountered cancelled flights we could have easily avoided.
Bring plenty of bug spray, and more importantly make sure you are properly immunized and take a course of anti-malaria pills if you are planning to head to the Amazon.
Buy local currency when applicable to avoid getting ripped off. USD is charged at a higher rate 99% of the time.
Pack sarongs instead of towels, much lighter and get less sandy, and dry quicker
Find local grocery stores, everything is much cheaper than in the touristy supermarkets (ie. Pali in Costa Rica)
Pack a first aid kit, sewing kit, elastics. Trust us, you will need them.
Invest in a good camera. You’ll be glad you did.
Invest in good hiking shoes. You won’t survive in flip flops, or running shoes if you plan do any kind of hiking.
Check if you can drink the tap water at your destination
Pack Ziploc bags and a bit of tupperware
Pack a raincoat or poncho, long pants, sweater (or long sleeve shirt), not to sound too motherly, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Investigate if you need a visa, need an ESTA, need to pay a tax when leaving a country. Playing stupid, even if you aren’t playing, won’t get you out of a jam if you don’t have the proper paperwork.
Check things like drone laws, car insurance requirements (ie. third party liability, since credit cards do not cover that and most of Latin America requires it for rentals)
Wake up early, days are short and touristy areas get busy quickly.
Carry an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card when you arrive. Having data and cellular access will make life a lot easier.
Check out Keepgo and or Skyroam for your data needs.
Forget to make a packing checklist; forgetting important things can be frustrating and can hurt your wallet abroad (ie. camera accessories).
Talk loudly in national parks and rain forest. Other travelers will not like you and neither will the animals. You may miss out on some amazing sights.
Bring a backpack to the beach if you can avoid it. Monkeys can be aggressive little thieves...as can the raccoons. If you have to bring a backpack, do NOT carry things like chips or other packed snacks. Those little thieves have learned how to open these.
Go crazy on your first few days at the beach...always wear sunscreen. We have suffered bad burns by being too eager and going for the oil right away.
Miss out on local cuisine, just because you’ve never had it before, doesn’t mean you won’t Iike it.
Trust the weatherman, the weather can change on a whim.
Trust or mistrust anyone. Use caution, but don’t miss out on what could be wonderful connections, conversations, or information from a local or fellow traveler.
Forget to learn some key terms or phrases before you go. Sometimes you simply cannot get by in your native tongue.
Go swimming at beaches with rip tides. You can lose your bathing suit, your camera...or worse...you can get swept away.
Leave your belongs too close to the water, just because the water doesn’t reach your belongings at first, doesn’t mean it won’t. We have lost a shirt, and money this way..and had to carry soaking wet towels full of sand all the way home.
Forget to look up. Sometimes wildlife is hanging out just out of your normal line of sight.
Buy your flight tickets too far in advance. A lot can change in your world as well as the airline’s if you book too far ahead.
I’m sure this list will grow as we trek along, so keep tabs on us!
The Shake Escape Team