Traveling is an adventure, just like life. You will find that everything you gain from it depends on your attitude. No matter when you do it, or the reasons why, if you have a carefree attitude, you are sure to have some fun and learn a few valuable lessons to take home with you.
8 Personal Lessons I Learned from my Trip to Costa Rica
I made a spontaneous trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. I met up with my daughter, who had spent 2 months over there on a foreign exchange study during her senior year in college. I dropped everything I was doing at the time to make the trip because I knew it was a chance of a lifetime.
Here are some of the highlights of our trip:
- The beach– We walked on the beach at sunset and marveled at the sunsets.
- Crazy bus rides – We took bus trips all across the country and held our breath as we discovered that tourist bus drivers are daredevils! They drive incredibly fast over narrow winding roads.
- Torrential rain – We were out shopping on a hot afternoon in San Jose and were suddenly caught in a torrential downpour. The water came down so hard and drenched us that we ran screaming back to our hostel and then burst out laughing.
- Open markets – We explored open markets and tasted many new kinds of fruit that we had never heard of. Even ordinary fruit tasted extraordinary!
- Living modestly – We gained new awareness as we saw the type of rural cheap housing that people live in. We realized it is common for people to live there without cars and walk barefoot on the roads.
- Volcano – We shopped for cheap handmade items and jewelry in Monteverde and went to Alajuela and saw the sometimes active Arenal Volcano.
- Tour group – We bravely signed up for a tour group that took us to see toucans in flight and howler monkeys in the trees. That same group hiked with us deep into the rainforest where suddenly an ocelot (wild spotted cat) jumped down from the trees right in front of us!
- La Fortuna and Baldi Hot Springs – We lounged and swam in dozens of natural pools, some of them with built in bars.
- Ferry trip – We hopped on a boat and floated across the Gulf of Nicoya to Paquera and stayed in a hotel in the rain forest at Santa Teresa. The sounds of the rainforest at night are incredible!
Here are 8 personal lessons I learned from my trip:
1. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive
The first thing I learned was a necessary thing, because I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. This may sound a little crazy, but the solution for me was that I sold my car to buy the ticket. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? The airfare was the most expensive fee, so I was able to come up with the $700 for it, then I had about $300 left for the trip. I know it is hard to believe that I made the trip that cheap, but my daughter and I stayed in hostels (private homes open to travelers) and rode buses throughout the country. We were in Costa Rica for 9 fabulous days. Some places we stayed were only $20 bucks a night. They were nothing fancy, but adequate places to sleep. It was different being without cell phones. If we wanted to find a wifi connection, to email friends at home, we had to look for a coffee shop or hotel.
2. Don’t overpack
I was an inexperienced traveler, so, of course, I brought way too much. As a result, I ended up dragging around a heavy suitcase for many days, and that can be a miserable experience. Lesson learned! Pack light for your own sanity, so you can save yourself the trouble of carrying your belongings everywhere. Luckily, I had just purchased a nice pair of athletic shoes which ended up being perfect for hiking on the slippery trails in the jungle. Besides having the right shoes, you should plan on leaving some extra room in your suitcase for souvenirs, so you don’t have to scrunch everything together and rip your bags apart when it’s time to leave.
3. Nothing goes as planned
One thing I learned from my trip was that you simply can’t plan everything in advance. I had the crazy idea that when you go on a trip, everything needed to be arranged ahead of time (like where you want to go and where you can stay). My daughter and I both discovered that if we tried to make a lot of plans, by looking at places on the internet, it just added confusion and caused us stress. In the end, we decided to forget a definite plan, which was the saving factor of our trip. We went to several key places and had some great experiences that we would not have had if we tried to plan it all in advance. Our decision to go without a plan freed us to relax mentally and enjoy ourselves more.
4. Don’t have expectations
I learned from my trip that it is not always a good idea to have expectations about the destination you are going to ahead of time. It is better to just go there, see and do what you can. If you have a lot of expectations, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment, when things do not turn out as you expected. Things will go wrong, flights will be delayed, you may not be able to stay where you want to stay, the weather may be bad. It may take awhile to get through the security at airports. There are dozens of things that can go wrong on trips, so it is best just learn to go with the flow.
5. Relax and be spontaneous
When I went to Costa Rica, I did not realize that I was carrying around a great deal of stress in my life. I was caretaker to my elderly mother at the time, which had triggered so many frustrations and problems, and it was incredibly hard for me to deal with. So, the first thing I had to do on my trip was to learn to relax and unwind. It took a few bottles of wine, shedding a few tears and breathing the tropical air for me to calm down. As I did that, I also learned to be spontaneous, as I was visiting new places. I learned to look for the humor in situations, to appreciate the places I went to, and it changed my state of mind from being stressed out, into laid back. I got better sleep in Costa Rica than listening to sound therapy tapes on my alarm clock at home. And the most enjoyable part of the whole trip was spending time being close to my grown up daughter.
6. Be open to meeting people
When you travel, you learn to just let go of your fears about meeting strangers. You are exposed to new places, and it can be enjoyable meeting people too. Meeting new people everywhere was one of the best benefits of my trip. I found myself talking to people I met in airports and restaurants. Even those who spoke another language were interesting to meet, although the language was a barrier for me. It helped that my daughter spoke excellent Spanish. She became my guide, so in a way, she took on the role of “mom” and I became like the “child.” I was dependent on her to speak the language and help us do the things we needed to do, like buying bus tickets or figuring out the money exchanges. I was out of my comfort zone, but my daughter was a very capable tour guide.
7. The world is beautiful
Costa Rica is an amazing place! It made me realize that the world is full of many beautiful places to explore. I had been living in my own little world, but going to Costa Rica allowed me to realize that there is a great big world out there of fascinating places to go and things to do. We marveled at the pastel colored sunsets and walking barefoot in the surf. We discovered rain forests and animal species we had never seen. We marveled at and were inspired by all the places we saw and captured with our pocket digital cameras.
8. Traveling gives you perspective
Traveling to another country enlarges your view of the world. It helps you reflect on the many cultures there are and the history of different places. For me, it gave me a new perspective on my own life. Because I visited a place that did not have all the modern conveniences that we enjoy in America, I came to appreciate more the life I have. I realize now how lucky I am to live in Boise, Idaho, and I cherish my family and friends more than I ever did. I gained so much from my trip to Costa Rica. It inspired me to rekindle my love for photography. I am glad I traveled there and I want to go back, but one of the best parts of my trip was coming back to my life here in Idaho.