travel preparation

Costa Rica 2 Weeks In

There is a lot going on! 

Before getting into the trip details, check this out:

1) I found extraordinarily awesome and cheap travel insurance via the website Squaremouth. It was only $193 for a year and is fairly comprehensive.

2) You can get a permanent address with US Global Mail or something similar like Scan Mailboxes. I went with US Global Mail. 

3) Before going to another country, I recommend you:

  • Find out if you need a vaccine
  • Determine the visa requirements
  • Find a place on Airbnb
  • Get a plane ticket after determining where you’ll be staying so you can hopefully fly to the nearest airport. This doesn’t always workout because you can often save a lot of cash by flying into a major international airport. 
  • Try to find a cheap-ass plane ticket
  • If the country you’re staying in has visa requirements and you need to show next country flight information (either return flight or flight to your next country) then get that next plane ticket. 
  • Print out your passport
  • Make sure you have transportation figured out
  • Ensure you’ll have cell service and Google Maps
  • Get Google Translate on your smartphone
  • Bring some ginger capsules with you for gastro-comfort if needed
  • Have credit cards/debit cards ideal for traveling. I use Charles Schwab and Etrade for ATM withdrawals (no fees), and Barclay/Chase travel cards for credit cards (again, no fees). 
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • No ATM fees
    • Earn some travel points while traveling
  • Call your credit card companies and make sure they know you will be traveling
  • Know the fundamental customs of the country you’re going to
    • What things are just completely rude?
    • What things are expected?
  • Know the crime level
  • Know at least a bit of the language spoken there (even if it’s just “please” and “thank you”)
  • Make sure there is coffee. If not, avoid at all costs. 

Okay, on with the details. 

On the flight there, the stewardess handed all of us documents to fill out for customs. This is expected when you’re flying into another country. What I didn’t expect was 2 documents, one of which I thought the stewardess called “family.” 

Word to the wise: you need both documents.

  • One is used to present to customs
  • The other is used to present to the people who check your bags before you’re allowed to exit the airport.

When I arrived at the airport I immediately went and pulled some cash from an ATM. DO THIS instead of using the currency exchange services; they will charge you for it. 

I stayed in San Jose the first night, but it was too late to explore, and to be brutally honest I’m not that interested in the city itself. It’s the rest of Costa Rica that I wanted to see. I took a shared shuttle to Playas Del Coco, and it’s ridiculously lush all around. Costa Rica is truly beautiful. 

Notes on transportation:

  • Public buses only take cash, there are no tickets that you can buy. I imagine you can purchase something in a fancier bus loaded with other foreigners, but I don’t mind being the only gringo on a public bus. It can get pretty crowded, fyi. 
  • Getting a rental car here is interesting. The first time I tried I found myself about 20 kilometers outside of the city walking along the highway to see if the rates were all the same. 

Here’s the story with that. 

I thought I’d struck gold. I found a great deal on Kayak to get a rental car for $1 per day. I took the bus up to get it, and found out that in Costa Rica you can expect the following 2 things just as much as you can expect death and taxes:

So instead I found out that I would have to put down between $900 to $3000 for the deposit, and pay the liability insurance. Okay, I was naive to think that I could get a rental for $1 per day, but it’s all good. I was determined to figure this rental situation out because I wanted to go wherever I wanted in the country, whenever I wanted to. 

That’s when I discovered Economy Car Rentals. They were able to offer comprehensive insurance for a decent price, and their deposit was only $750. Believe me, $750 is the absolute cheapest I could find.

Playas Del Coco

It's an interesting area. If you happen to visit I recommend checking out The Monkey Farm. The name sounded a bit odd to me at first because it made me wonder if they were farming monkeys in cages with the intent to create a monkey empire to do their nefarious bidding. 

This was not the case, however, and I found that they provide a sanctuary for monkey troupes. They're all about sustainability and have a no frills setup that is endearing. 

Check out their video here: 

You'll find that Playas Del Coco, while a tourist destination, isn't quite as touristy as other places in Costa Rica. The place where I'm staying is surrounded by locals going about their daily lives. The narrow streets are filled with people walking, riding bikes, riding motorcycles, riding scooters, riding motorized bicycles, riding bicycles with children sitting on the frame, riding motorcycles with any number of things (children, construction materials, etc). It is also filled with dogs, cars, trucks, more dogs, some cats, and more motorcycles. There are probably more dogs running about than you're imagining right now. If aliens landed in Costa Rica they might mistake dogs as the dominant species.

The street I'm on is a bit like a large sidewalk where anything is allowed to pass through. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if a small airplane was rumbling down one of these roads. Not all roads are like that mind you, but the roads by my apartment are.

When I'm driving here I just always expect to see someone on any road, so try to be pretty careful when behind the wheel. On the highways expect to see people walking and riding their bikes along the side of it. Hell, I was one of those people during my debut with CR rental cars. 

Just yesterday we drove past someone sitting on the side of the road facing away from it, and there was no shoulder on this road. 

The Beaches So Far

Coco

On Coco beach, expect some major humidity and heat, at least in the month of October. I just expect to sweat a lot all day. It’s like having an outdoor sauna that you don’t have to pay for! The water is by no means cold, so when it rains it feels a bit like heaven. I also have a hard time getting my water cold enough in my apartment. It’s a small price to pay my friends. 

It’s certainly not the best beach in the world. It’s just not really taken care of that well, but it’s beautiful in its own right. Also, there is an outlook that you can go to where you can get stunning views of this horseshoe beach. 

Ocotal

Playa Ocotal has beautiful black smooth sand with a gold tint. The water is fairly clear on the north side of this beach. Watch out for strong undercurrents, otherwise the water is fairly easy going. 

Neither Coco or Ocotal is good for surfing. 

Brasilito and Conchal

Playa Brasilito is adjacent to Playa Conchal, and seems to be okay for surfing, but we really didn’t see many people at this beach at all. It was mainly a place to start from to get to Playa Conchal. Why? Because Playa Conchal is made of seashells instead of sand, and the waters are crystal blue. It’s truly beautiful. 

Tamarindo (aka Tamagringo)

There are a lot of what appear to be Americans here. It’s a surfing mecca, and (obviously) heavy with tourism. On a Tuesday afternoon in late October, that beach was filled with people. There were tons of surfers either adeptly navigating the waves or just learning how to stand up on the board. 

Josh Bolinger and I rented a board each at Banana Surf School, which is located on the main strip parallel to the beach. We loved this place because the people there didn't try to sell us a billion things we didn't need or want. That day we must've looked like tourists who wanted to spend a bunch of cash on stuff. Expect that if you go to Conchal or Tamarindo. 

We were pummeled and thrashed by the waves, and Josh had better luck than I when it came to riding the waves, but it was hella fun. We’re going to be going again today, but to a different beach. 

Inland trips so far

It was truly an adventure going inland and through the mountains. All of a sudden I found myself on extremely bumpy and pot-hole ridden gravel roads that winded around mountains. The views were stunning. I had to stop every ten minutes it seemed just so I could try and capture some of the beauty. 

To give you an idea, here are a few of the pictures snapped:

 

Volcano Arenal

So beautiful, so rad, and the air is cool. I stayed at Arenal Essence, a boutique hostel, which was superb. 

Monteverde

Initially I was going to go to the could forest reserve, but I made it there late and didn’t want to pay the $20 to get in. 

I was kind of recovering from having eaten something that didn’t sit well with my stomach too. I don’t know if it was food or the fact that I drank a SHITLOAD of tap water the night before. I suspect the latter, so I’m playing it safe with bottled water from here on out, forever and everywhere. 

The food is delicious here, though, and I recommend getting a nice breakfast with fried plantains. 

Volcano Poas: I drove there but didn’t see it because it was covered in clowds. Oh well!

Also, for some reason I’m waking up ridiculously early (like 4 am). I guess this could be because of the fucked up roosters who start their morning routine at 3 am instead of when the sun is rising. More than that though, it just gets dark early as hell already. At around 5:20 is sunset, and 5:45 it is straight up dark. So I’ve been going to bed early so I can get a real early start to the day. It's a new life, and it beats the hell out of cubicle life, for real.

Until next time amigos.

- Jeremy

Tips, Tricks, and Updates - Edition 1: Preparing to Go

Two weeks and two days until I’m out of here! There is a fair amount of information to cover, but I’ll try and be as succinct as possible. 

Visa Requirements (disclaimer, the info in this section is mainly relevant for U.S. travelers, but I still love all of you)

Having a passport isn’t enough in some countries, including Brazil. I need to get a tourist visa for Brazil, the Philippines, and Thailand, the latter 2 because I’m staying for more than 30 days in each. Brazil, like many other countries in the world, requires one to have a visa to merely set foot on their soil. 

Definition of Visa: "an endorsement made by an authorized representative of one country upon a passport issued by another, permitting the passport holder entry into or transit through the country making the endorsement."

There are a number of pages that house information about Visa requirements, however, the most legitimate information is from the U.S. Passports and International Travel Page. In it you’ll be able to find not just visa information, but other pertinent information about the country you’re thinking of visiting. For example, they have some pretty heady information about visiting Myanmar (or Burma). 

For a nicely laid out quick reference, I like to use the following Wikipedia page .

If you’re interested in learning more about the specifics of what is needed regarding passport requirements for Brazil, Philippines, or Thailand, feel free to contact me. 

Mobile Apps

Ahh, how lucky we are to live in this day and age when we can use our smartphone to skip the ticket line and go straight to the long ass annoying security line. It’s such a great line to have awkward stares with strangers. 

Anyway, on with the recommendations. I don’t make any commission or anything off of these recommendations, in case that’s relevant. 

Kayak - Awesome Trip Organizer

Kayak is awesome not just for finding great flight and car deals. Their trip organizer beats Tripit and Tripcase, which is very awesome. With both Tripit and Tripcase very stupid things would happen, like marking a transportation itinerary as being in Kansas when it is actually in Costa Rica. I don’t need to be dealing with that kind of junk, and with Kayak I don’t. Also, it pulls relevant pictures of the places where you’re going, which is also a nice touch. 

With other travel organizers, it would simply pull the information of the layover as the destination. For example, if I’m flying to Sao Paulo, Brazil with a layover in Dallas then it would show up as my “Dallas Trip.” This is pretty damn unacceptable in my book. Kayak, you win. 

Anyone know how to draw? I think it would be cool to have a comic illustrating this. Let me know and I can put it up here and give proper cred. 

Google Translate: Quick and intuitive. Nuff’ said. 

Opera Mini Web Browser

I’m trying out Opera Mini because the company claims to reduce data usage by 90% compared to other browsers. When embarking on international travel, if this is even halfway true then hell yes. 

Swipes and Evernote for GTD (Getting Things Done)

Viber, Skype, or something like these for Wifi calling. I haven’t used these internationally, but when I do I’ll try and update you on how it went. 

 

Phone Service and Mobile Data

Wfheww, this was a big one. I’m pretty damn reliant on Google maps and other apps that use up data on the road, so need some decent coverage. I spent too much money in November ’14 with ATT passport because I kept on going over my limits. Where did I land in my research? 

Resoundingly: T-Mobile

 

Following is a breakdown of the options I was considering. I’m sure there are more out there, and if you have suggestions for something better, let us all know!

Note: prices vary by country, though not with T-Mobile. Brazil used in this example

   Information was sourced from  T-Mobile ,  ATT , and  KnowRoaming  sites. 

 

Information was sourced from T-Mobile, ATT, and KnowRoaming sites. 

An AirBNB Trick

If you’re going to be at a place for over a month, be sure to punch in a time frame of 1 month or more so that you’ll see monthly rates as opposed to nightly. This can make a pretty big difference. 

For example, the following studio is available by the beach for $149 for a two-night stay. If you want it for a month it’s only $534. That’s a pretty big difference. Let’s break it down. 

Two night stay = $74.50 per night. 


1 Month stay = $17.80 per night. 

Transportation

It's good to figure out how the hell you’re getting from and to places. Not every place in the world has Uber or a cheap bus to hop on. For instance, getting from San Jose, CR to Coco Beach, CR I had to do a bit of research and find a shared shuttle. It’s about $50, but you can upgrade for a couple hundred more if you want a private shuttle. In the Phillipines, I’m likely going to get a ride from an airport to my loft in a “trike,” which is basically a motorcycle with an attached carriage. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorized_tricycle_(Philippines)

                                                                           Source: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/pulutin63/14213235.html

                                                                           Source: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/pulutin63/14213235.html

Medication

Let’s say you’re on meds like myself and suddenly don’t have any insurance. Kind of scary right? I now have an 6 month supply and am fairly confident that I’ll be alright in the future. Disclaimer, I’m not offering any medical advice of any kind. Please do your research before buying meds from a place that is outside of your norm.

This is what I’ve done so far: 

  • I had my doctor write out a new prescription that I could take with me and show to any pharmacy and get the right meds. 
  • I used this prescription to get meds from a legitimate Canadian pharmacy. 
  • I also used this prescription to go to MedSavers here in Austin and pickup a cheap batch. If you’re in Austin with no insurance, you should definitely utilize MedSavers. The people there are awesome, and the owner is just a rad guy who got tired of seeing the general populace pay sooooo much more for the medication than what the pharmacies paid for it. 

This has me set for a while, and I may have to figure out something in the future, but I’ll worry about that in a couple months. Siri, remind me!

Update: What Happened With My Apartment?

Remember how at first the apartment issue kept me from leaving because I couldn’t sublet or find a replacement? Well, since I couldn’t do any of those things I found a Ben. 

A Ben is a person that you're friends with who becomes your "roommate."

Ben is a friend who is moving back to Austin, and when I was talking with him I asked if he’d be interested in having a place for a couple months as my roommate. I really didn’t want to try and find a roommate on Craigslist because this would all require a modicum of trust. I trust Ben completely, and he is officially my roommate though I will of course not be in the apartment. He also bought my furniture making it much less of a hassle for both of us. 

I hope you have found some of the information here useful. 

Peace!

- Jeremy