My recent girls’ trip to Costa Rica was a beautiful disaster.

It was my first time traveling to a non-European country as an adult and was the perfect storm of just enough under-planning, language barriers, physical weakness, and random accidents.

But I still had the time of my life.

Here’s everything that can go wrong in Costa Rica (but hopefully won’t for you):

San Jose Costa Rica Traffic

Waiting for our Airbnb host in the monsoon.

Your friend Smoky could have a family friend who doesn’t speak much English who graciously picks you up at the airport, but then you get stuck in traffic and roast in the car and when you finally break free from the gridlock and arrive at your Airbnb, your GPS actually can’t find it and leads you in circles around the block for nearly an hour.

Your AirBNB host might be super gracious and come out to meet you to lead you to the apartment, but as soon as she steps outside there is a surprise monsoon and she gets soaked and you get soaked and Smoky’s family friends get soaked and no one is really happy about it.

San Jose Rainy Season

Soaked, but at least glad to know where we were staying.

Your AirBNB host might let you check in early even though you made her essentially take an extra shower, but as she’s finishing up the preparations you hear her mutter “Hay agua en mis zapatos” and it takes a second to register, but you figure out she’s got water in her shoes and you later find out she recently received them as a birthday gift.

You might have some shoe troubles of your own and wear a new pair of Birkenstocks that were supposed to be comfortable walking shoes, but you didn’t break them in well enough, so you rub your feet raw on the arches and toes and tops on day one of a walking-intensive trip and have to soak them in a plastic container you found under the sink and hope for the best.

San Jose Art Musuem

Peep the shoes that would betray me

You might have to pee so badly on the drive to Arenal that you pull over at a little bodega that’s essentially in a cave, but it’s raining again, so you can’t tell if you’ve wet yourself or if it’s just the rain and then end up peeing into a toilet with no seat for legitimately 47 seconds while rain pours through gaps in the ceiling.

When you get to Arenal, Smoky’s phone might have no service and it’s getting dark and starting to rain and when you arrive at what looks like Costa Rica Sky Adventures there’s no hotel in sight, so you drive helplessly up and down a really steep hill for like 30 minutes and nearly back into a ditch and you’re almost in tears, but then you spot a security guard, but he doesn’t speak English and once again another kind Costa Rican is getting drenched by a sudden onset monsoon trying to help you find your Airbnb. Only to find out that the little house you’ve been driving past for this entire time is where you were supposed to be all along.

Arenal Airbnb Costa Rica Sky Adventures

Our Airbnb in Arenal! At Costa Rica Sky Adventures

Costa Rica Sky Adventures

The Jurassic Park View

When you collect yourself emotionally you might want to go get dinner, but the place your host recommended is closed, so as your pull into what you thought to be an abandoned driveway to turn around, your headlights illuminate a man peeing and you obviously startle him so he panics and starts trying to hide, but he can’t stop peeing so it’s just going everywhere and the stream is swinging back and forth as he looks for a hiding spot and you might urge your friend to drive faster and desperately call “Lo siento!” out the window at him as you speed away.

Costa Rica Weather

She wasn’t a fan of getting constantly soaked

When you get back to your room you might forget you put your phone charger in the front pocket of your bag and panic when you “can’t find it” so you send Smoky out to the car to search for it cause you’re not dressed, but she can’t find it either and makes multiple trips and then starts panicking herself because she can’t find HER other charger (even though she didn’t even bring it) all the while putting her life at risk because there’s some sort of animal out there and it legit sounds like the Chubacabra.

Costa Rica Zipline Costa Rica Sky Adventures

Soarrrrin Flyyyyin

(and the power might go out in the middle of the night because of the rain, so when the air conditioner reboots it might start beeping and flashing a bright white light for like EVER so it’s a good thing you don’t have epilepsy)

The next morning, you might sign up for zip lining, but you might do what Smoky did and only mentally prepare yourself for one 20MPH swing 500 feet above the Costa Rican rain forest with Costa Rican Sky Adventures, but when you suddenly have to do five more, you panic and feel like you’re gonna pass out midair.

Costa Rica Arenal Lake View

On the hike we took after ziplining. It was her jam. I was dying.

It might take you over 3 ½ hours to drive from Arenal to Monte Verde (even though they are only 13 miles apart) cause Costa Rican roads are low key insane and it could have been raining so you have to dodge hella landslides and eventually you’re basically off-roading on a rocky path in your little two wheel drive and you’re high up in the mountains and it’s so foggy it looks like the planet where Luke Skywalker finds Yoda and you might become so emotionally attached to the car in front of you for pointing out the potholes, that after driving behind it for a good 90 minutes you might shed a little tear when it turns off the path.

Costa Rican Roads

Views on the way to Monteverde

When you get to Monteverde, you might be excited about staying in your super cool and chic refurbished shipping container, only to find out that it’s like 1000000 degrees inside because you can’t open any windows because it’s like the planet of the moths outside and there are tons of bugs inside too and the wifi doesn’t really work because it’s literally a metal box.

Monteverde Sky Forest

Not as cloudy as I hoped

When you go on the local coffee tour, you might misunderstand the guide and think she said it starts “one kilometer from the parking lot” when in reality it’s more like one mile, so you’re walking down a dirt road into some freaky thick mist and cars of other tourists are driving past looking at you like you’re an idiot. Then after the tour, there might be another sudden onset monsoon and you’re trapped in the visitor center for like an hour after you wanted to leave because you need a ride to your car.

Don Juan Coffee Tour

Covfefe in the rainforest

When you get to Manuel Antonio, you might get upgraded to a room with a view and everything might seem to good to be true, but if you’re like Smoky it’s your actual worst nightmare because the hotel literally has an iguana infestation and they’re constantly scampering all over the place and one might even bite you because you tried to feed it a banana.

el faro beach hotel

My little Amigo

El faro beach hotel

Before the betrayal

You might forget to put on sunscreen the day you spend the whole day at the beach, but it doesn’t really LOOK like your getting burned because your skin is still its usual milky white, but then all of a sudden you can’t even bend your legs anymore because they are TOAST and your shoulders are practically burned shut and everything hurts. Even looking at photos of the ocean might make you feel sick.

El Faro Beach Hotel View

EL Faro Beach Hotel has a GREAT view of the Pacific

Playa Manuel Antonio

Posing on Playa Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica is really hilly, so you might keep forgetting to take the parking break off and wondering why the car shakes and shudders when you try to back it out and when you finally return it, you have to take an Uber to your Airbnb by the airport and since there are no addresses in Costa Rica you have no idea where you’re actually supposed to go, so you’re left to fend for yourself and end up walking in ankle deep mud alongside a railroad track with a girl who speaks no English looking for it.

And when you finally find it, you’re so freaking tired that you crack and eat at Denny’s.

BONUS: since Costa Rica is one of the only countries my dad has been to…

Costa Rica Fishing

Dad’s photos that actually turned out

You might be my dad and be down near the Nicaraguan border on a fishing trip in the 80s and you can see some super sketchy government activity going on, so you try to take photos of it every time your boat passes, but when you develop your film expecting to expose a conspiracy, it turns out you faced the camera the wrong way and you just have a bunch of photos of your armpit.

The dress I’m wearing is from Dress Barn. 

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*Suggested listening while learning how to ride Amtrak with ease: “City of New Orleans” –  Arlo Guthrie How to ride amtrak with ease. A station in Europe.

European train stations are both architectural wonders and hubs for commuters, locals, and tourists alike. I once met a girl from Belgium whose dad commuted via train weekly to work in Luxembourg. He felt that Belgian schools were better and wanted to keep his family around Brussels. Luckily for him, it didn’t mean he had to compromise his career.

In the good ole’ US of A, the story is different. Many times (especially in smaller cities) stations are far from downtown and sometimes in areas that most people would otherwise avoid. You could say that in addition to this, our country is so large that trains are inefficient and antiquated. But I want to challenge that.

I’m not saying that taking the train from New York to LA is the absolute best way to travel, but it can be done! Follow these tips and you can survive pretty much anything Amtrak throws at you.

Here’s how to ride Amtrak with ease:

 1.) Always Be Early.

Since there is no required arrival time and no extensive security line at a train station, you might think you can just waltz in whenever. While officially that may be true, you want to be early if you want your trip to go smoothly.

Early arrival means you can board before the rest of the heard (a perk for those trying to save by traveling in coach) and can get your pick of seats. This is also helpful since Amtrak cars still only have outlets along the window-side walls. You don’t want to have to awkwardly reach across someone you don’t know to charge your phone.

2.) Book Tickets in Advance.

Many people think of train-travel very informally, and thus do not believe they need to book tickets as far in advance as they would for a plane. Some do get lucky doing this, but a solid money-saving tip is to always book as soon as you can. Ticket prices skyrocket the closer to the departure time. Additionally, some special deals (such as AAA discounts) are only good if you book a certain amount of time before your trip.

3.) Pack Lightly.

Very few Amtrak lines have checked baggage options. Additionally, the usually limit passengers’ allowed baggage. This is for your own good, as it difficult to make it through a busy station – let alone the train itself – if you have too many things to carry.  A good example of how to pack for the train would include a backpack and/or a small rolling suitcase.

4.) Prepare for Delays.

Unfortunately, one of the real truths about Amtrak is that delays are common. While they are obligated to help you out if you miss a connection because of them, it’s always good to take this into account at the outset so you can try to avoid it as much as possible. Make sure you have enough time between connections (I prefer an hour because it’s not too much but not too little either) and pack lots of snacks!

Some other quick tips:

  • If a train seems crowded, take the first open seat. If you pass one up, you could end up on the floor.
  • If you have to change trains, always charge your electronics at earliest convenience, even if your battery is still pretty full. You never know when the next charging opportunity will be. You can also purchase a portable charger.
  • If you have a smartphone or tablet, opt to store your ticket there. iPhones will automatically prompt you to store your ticket in iBooks. This way, you can never misplace your ticket and its one less piece of paper to worry about.
  • Pack a sweater or blanket, and wear warm-ish clothes when you travel. I have worn my Patagonia fleece on Amtrak even in the brutal heat and humidity of Washington, DC in August. The AC is freezing after you’ve been sitting in it for a while. How to ride Amtrak with ease

So now you know how to ride Amtrak! Go forth and conquer (and let me know if I missed anything in the comments).

 

A newly-minted Mount Holyoke College Alum, Abby is never happier than when she is headed some place new.

This is likely why her dream (and current career goal) is to join the Foreign Service. After studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, she decided that the best kind of weather is a rainy day in the city. A native of northern New York State, she now lives in Washington, DC. 

You can follow her on Twitter here.

I used Affiliate links in this post. This means that if you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps offset the cost of running She’s a Trip. Thanks! 

 

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