So, four days until I fly out to Costa Rica.
In this post I’ll be talking about what I’ve been doing to prepare. None of this should be taken as expert advice because the facts are, this is my first such trip and I’m learning it all as I go. Consider this more a recording for posterity, and later we can all look back at this and rate how well it went, haha.
Overall, I find myself doing much less planning than I did for preparing to go RVing. Which on the one hand seems absurd because I’m going to be farther from the comfortable and familiar than I’ve ever been, and if I forget some important detail, it may not be easy to fix in a foreign country.
But on the other hand, I feel like it is easier, because six years of full-time RVing have taught me a lot about extended travel, and perhaps most importantly – that I’m resourceful enough that if something unexpected occurs (which it is bound to happen being gone 12 weeks doing something I’ve never done before), that I’ll be able to figure it out. When I was preparing to go full-time I didn’t have that confidence in myself yet, so the extra planning made up the difference in my level of comfort with the situation.
Here are the major points of my checklist I’ve been working on, not in great detail but as an overview:
I applied for my passport a couple years ago in preparation for crossing into Mexico for dental care, so no problems there. Rules for visiting Costa Rica state your passport has to have an expiration date 30 days beyond when you’re scheduled to leave the country. If you’ve never had a passport before, it does take numerous weeks from submitting the paperwork to receiving it, so give yourself plenty of time to get one! You can pay extra money for a rush delivery, but that still takes a couple weeks at least.
If the USA is your home, no visa is required for stays in Costa Rica up to 90 days. My volunteer program lasts 12 weeks, or 84 days. Coincidence? I think not. If you’re flying into the country, you do need to present a return ticket out of the country upon arrival (so basically, you have to book your flight out of Costa Rica before you arrive within that 90 day limit). And on that note…
There’s a whole world of “travel hacking” out there, a community of people who scour for ways to fly for cheap (the biggest component seems to be strategically signing up for credit cards that offer airline miles for rewards). If I decide to get more into international travel I’ll probably dive into this, but it was not a huge concern for this trip.
I’d read some time ago that the more times you search for tickets for a specific flight on the same computer (over the course of days, weeks, months), the higher the prices get. I’d also read that the sweet spot for purchasing tickets for the best price is 3-4 months out. I’d also read that Sundays are the best days to buy. But there’s conflicting reports on all this info so it’s hard to say how true any of it is or how big of a difference it really makes.
I used one of those websites that compares the the costs of multiple airlines at once, of which there are several (Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc…. I honestly can’t remember which one I went with in the end). I bought my tickets about three months and a week out from my flight. And I only searched for flights twice – the first day the website anticipated that tickets would get cheaper and to hold off on buying. The second time I looked a few days later the site said buy now because they’d be getting more expensive… or, maybe it was all a ploy, who knows. Because once I bought my tickets, I never looked at prices again, it’s better for your sanity that way! (Delta ended up having the best deal for the dates/times/luggage options I wanted.)
Total cost round trip from Phoenix, to Los Angeles, to San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica), and then back: $522… plus the cost of trip insurance.
Trip insurance serves three purposes, it covers your loss in case you need to cancel a flight, covers your luggage in case something happens to it, and covers emergency medical care in case something happens to you. When I was booking my flight with Delta, they gave me the choice to add trip insurance on for a mere $39.17 through a company called Allianz Global Assistance, which seemed too…. I don’t know, cheap and easy. But I researched the company and looked at reviews and they seem legit and have a fairy high approval rating, so I bought it. (You can also buy trip insurance on your own through a third party.)
Besides the $522 flight, mine covers luggage up to $300 in value (which isn’t much considering I’m bringing my smartphone and laptop), a baggage delay fee of $75, emergency transportation up to $30,000, and emergency health/dental coverage up to 20,000 with a 1-time deductable of $50.
When traveling to a foreign country, always check to see if there are required vaccinations to get into that country. Then, check the official CDC website for the latest vaccine recommendations (different from requirements), and talk with your doctor to see what they think based on your unique situation. You’ll want to get vaccinations 4-6 weeks before flying out as some have a 30 day period to achieve maximum effectiveness.
Currently, there are no required immunizations for getting into Costa Rica from the USA (not the case if you’re coming from other countries though). The CDC says all travelers should be up to date on the basic ones recommended in the US (Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Tetanus, Diphtheria, the current year’s flu shot, etc.), and that most travelers should get Hepatitis A and Typhoid immunizations. There are some additional ones they recommend to some travelers depending on where you plan on going and what you plan on doing, none of which applied to me (no malaria pills for where I’m going, phew).
Being nomadic, this was the part of international travel that concerned me most going in, because I did not want to go up to South Dakota (my residency state) in the middle of winter just to get vaccinations from an in-network doctor. But it turned out to be a non-issue. I planned my travel route and contacted a clinic in Blythe, CA a week before I was going to be in the area and it was easy to make an appointment to get what I needed there. Vaccines can be pricey, the flu shot was only a couple dollars because of some program, but Hep A costs over $100. Luckily you don’t need boosters often.
$522 is not my bottom line for transport costs, because from San Jose I need to get to the west coast where Wild Sun is. Once I get through customs at the international airport, I collect my baggage and hop a regional plane (Sansa Air) to a city called Tambor, and from there I get on a 45 minute shuttle that should take me to Cabuya…. the tiny town where Wild Sun is located. Total cost for all that? $145.75.
I’ll be flying out of Phoenix at 7:30 pm on Saturday, and arriving at Wild Sun around noon on Sunday if everything goes well. Which is still less time and hassle than my trip from Wisconsin to Lasqueti Island in British Columbia was two summers ago!
I want to travel light, which is made easier by Costa Rica’s tropical climate that stays at a steady temperature pretty much all year round and varies primarily by elevation. It’s also made easier by the fact that a lot of basics like soap, sunscreen, etc. I’ll be able to buy in Costa Rica after I arrive. My flights with Delta allow for a carry-on, with the first checked bag costing $30. Sansa Air charges extra beyond 30 lbs of luggage per person.
I have a preliminary packing list made up, which is likely too much stuff. Tomorrow I’ll have a test pack to see what I can actually fit in my bags and prune the list then. If people are interested, I can release a final pack list sometime after that.
Actually, if anyone wants more detail about any part of my planning process, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do. I just wanted to make sure I covered all the basics in this post before flying out on Saturday!