Low-Stress Travel — Costa Rica

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About every six months we find that we crave a week of vacation to rest, reset, and experience something new, but it’s easy for us to get distracted by life and postpone vacation planning. We recently tried something new to take the stress out of planning. In the post-vacation glow during the days following a trip, we plan the framework of our next trip. By simply getting a vacation on our work schedules and purchasing plane tickets, we can then relax into normal rhythms of life and plan the details at a relaxed, enjoyable pace. Just having it scheduled propels us through the busy months in-between.

We recently spent a week in Costa Rica—our first international experience while married. It was a great! We rented a car and spent time in the mountains and beaches of northern Costa Rica. We’ve found that traveling in a way that allows for ease, simplicity, frivolous exploration, and mental space dramatically increases the restfulness and enjoyment on a trip. Here are some planning tricks that we used to achieve that.

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Packing light for a week of adventuring in Costa Rica. Everything fit in a carry-on underneath the seat in front of me.

Packing

Keeping track of too much luggage can be a stress of its own. To ease traveling stress, I now pack as lightly as possible and wash clothing as needed. It’s difficult for me to get luggage out of the top rack on a plane, so I try to pack everything in a carry-on that fits underneath the seat in front of me. Here are some of the tricks that we used to determine what to pack for Costa Rica as well as what I wish I packed in addition.

1) Pack items that will be used most days and serve multiple purposes and occasions. We knew that we would be doing a lot of water adventuring and walking so we purchased sturdy water shoes that doubled as hiking and walking shoes. We even used them for some trail running and flat-pedal single-track biking. I also packed some cute flip-flops for the beach, shower, and even a night out. Using a travel capsule wardrobe based around water sports conserved space as well.

2) Research prices for in-country replacements prior to packing. Sunscreen is incredibly expensive in Costa Rica. We didn’t bring enough so we had to buy a $17 tube of sunscreen. We could have avoided that purchase with a little more research.

3) Pack high-protein, calorie-dense snacks. Bringing snacks like trail mix took the stress out of finding food when we were hangry and reduced overall food expenses. We also purchased easily peelable fruits and veggies like avocados and oranges and that could hang out in our car for the week. I would rather give luggage space to hanger-preventing snacks than to a couple extra shirts that I probably wouldn’t wear anyway.

4) Simplify potential stresses, like determining if the water is safe to drink. We read mixed reviews about the water in Costa Rica, so we used a gift card to purchase a simple water filter to take the stressful guesswork out of the water situation. The filter saved probably 35-50 plastic bottles of water over the week. We’re looking forward to using the filter for camping in the Boundary Waters this summer too.

Itinerary Planning

We loved that we only had a few destinations on our schedule. This gave us plenty of time to experience local markets, foods, and beaches at a relaxing pace. The beaches were incredible. Each one had a different personality with different shells, sands, and landscapes. Our favorite activities were driving from beach to beach south of Tamarindo and single-track biking in Las Catalinas. We probably could have fit a few more things into our itinerary, but we returned from our trip feeling incredibly rested and refreshed since we weren’t rushed through the country.

Two Weeks in Costa Rica was an awesome planning resource! It’s a thorough site with recommendations on where to stay, transportation, road conditions, and a ton of helpful tips. During the trip we used this essential Travel Guide to get around. Our favorite accommodations were at an Airbnb across the street from Playa Prieta—stunning location, low-key beach, beautiful sunsets, and lots to do nearby!

Upcoming!

Next up on the exploration-vacation docket is Paris and Amsterdam in the fall. We booked tickets as soon as we got home from Costa Rica. We’re listening to this very sweet podcast about French history and getting excited to start planning for another low-stress and enlightening international experience!

Simply, Becky

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