Few things are as frustrating as having a few days in a new location and your luggage decides to go elsewhere. For this reason, Doug and I travel with carry-ons only. It’s easier than most people think. Now, if I were going to attend business meetings, a family wedding, and perform in some big show, I might need to reconsider my options, however, most routine getting away is pretty uncomplicated.
You don’t need to travel with the kitchen sink. A few basics go a long way.
Consider the climate. December through April is the dry season in Costa Rica. If traveling during the rainy season, a rain coat is a must. I packed one, despite being dry season, because it could substitute for a regular jacket if it got chilly. I was thankful I had it. It both rained and got cold. Generally, the mountains are cooler, the coasts hot. The Pacific is dryer than the Caribbean.
Quick dry, convertible pants. We each packed two; they’re easy to wash and dry if you need to, and can be worn multiple times under normal conditions. These can be worn long to protect your legs from insects without causing you to sweat like a sauna. They are also warmer than shorts if the weather cools. Churches frown on people coming in with shorts and sleeveless shirts, so the long pants are helpful there as well. Costa Ricans “dress up” a bit more than we do for an evening on the town. These pants, paired with a nice shirt make decent go out to dinner clothes. With the bottom of the leg unzipped, you now have the shorts you prefer to wear most of the time. Just don’t loose the pieces!
Shirts. I usually wear a shirt twice unless I expect to be somewhere where I’m perspiring a lot. For this trip I only packed sleeveless. Next time I will throw in a sweatshirt.
A scarf! I learned this trick from my sister-in-law. Thank you, Julie! A scarf can be squished into a pocket, so takes up almost no room, but boy does it prove useful. Going to that church where sleeveless is frowned on? No problem! The scarf provides a shoulder cover that adds a stylish pizazz to your outfit. Restaurant a bit nippy? That scarf can help keep a little layer of heat up against your skin. Cold despite wearing the rain jacket? A scarf over the head or around the neck may be just what you need. Pick a color that goes with most everything and you’re set. Sorry, guys. Don’t know what to tell you.
Underclothes. You can pack enough for each day and not wash, or plan on washing. These usually take such little space, I opt on having enough to last the trip.
Socks. Pack at least a few. Hiking is no fun if you have blisters. They also do a world of good at helping you sleep if the room is chillier than expected. Costa Rican hotels had air condition but no heat. There were a few nights I was happy to have my socks on.
Tennis shoes and strap on sandals. If you want to hike, tennis shoes (or boots) are a good idea. This is a country with plenty of snakes and did I mention insects? Biting ants are a big problem, they also have roaches, spiders, scorpions and more. Protect your feet and watch where you’re going. You may also want to shake your shoes out in the morning before stuffing your feet in. Strap on sandals, vs. flip flops, are handy if you do any river rafting.
Swimsuit and wrap/towel. Hat. My wrap seconds as my towel. You won’t always have access to a hotel towel when you want to swim. If your hairline looks like my hubby’s, you’ll want a hat. The beaches are outstanding, and I understand the white water rafting here is world class.
Blow dryer. Most third world countries will not provide these. If your hair doesn’t behave without assistance, bring your own. Costa Rica uses the same power and outlets as we do in the U.S. ‘Bring your own’ also holds true of other toiletries and meds. Don’t expect a fully stocked bathroom, and you may or may not find what you want at a local pharmacy.
Tissue paper! I put a travel pack of kleenex into my purse, Doug’s backpack and each of our suitcases. While I never once ran into a dirty bathroom in Costa Rica, I frequently needed my own paper. Most non hotel restrooms were unstocked. (They also have an odd custom of never flushing their paper, the plumbing not being able to handle it. So, be aware that you will need to dispose your used items in the trash bin.)
Sunscreen and bug spray. I don’t burn easily, however within two hours at the beach I had tender shoulders, and that was using a spf 30. Insects, including the dengue carrying mosquito, are abundant, especially in coastal regions. I imagine this is even worse during the rainy season.
I like to stick a gallon ziplock bag in each of our suitcases. This can hold fruit, a muddy wet item of clothes, or a leaky shampoo bottle. It takes no room and is often handy. I also like to stick in one of those plastic space bags, you know the ones you zip closed then squeeze all the air out until your clothes form a soft brick. I use mine as a laundry bag while traveling, and when the trip is over, it helps compact my clothes so I have room in my suitcase for all those souvenirs.
If you are going to visit a friend or be a guest at someone’s home, bring a small gift from the states. It is the custom, and is also very much appreciated.
Phone. Call your provider and see how much they charge for their international plan. Ours charges $10/day. You can also bring a phone that uses a chip and purchase a chip when you arrive in Costa Rica. We used our phones for GPS constantly. A map isn’t enough, but good to have to double check the route you need to take. You’ll find very few roads have signs marking what they are.
My husband considers his pillow an essential item for travel. It ensures he gets a good night’s sleep. His has been around since before we got married, and it’s downy contents can be smushed tight at the bottom of his backpack and still leave room for a few other desirable items.
Don’t forget your passport! Costa Rica has a strict 90 day visa policy. If your ticket for return is 91 days later, you’ll be forced to change your ticket before they will let you in. If you overstay your visit, don’t expect to come back.
Most of all, bring an adventurous and kind spirit. Remember you are a guest in their country, and don’t take advantage of their desire to make everyone happy. Also, be aware that Costa Ricans are very laid back, so don’t get frustrated if things don’t move as quickly as they do at home. Your meal may take a while, the roads might get fixed tomorrow…or one of those tomorrows. (Plan for your driving to take a lot longer than expected.) Sit back, relax, watch and learn. It’s a big world out there.
Life’s a journey. Live it with a smile.
Until next time!