Today I leave for Jaco, one of Costa Rica’s major surf towns, and I couldn’t be more excited to head into the unknown. To elaborate, I’ve never been to Costa Rica before, I’m going by myself, I don’t know exactly how long I’ll be staying, and I don’t know anyone in the entire country unless you count Chris, the manager of the hostel where I’ll be worktrading. (He and I facetimed for 5 minutes, so that counts, right?) In case you’re not familiar, worktrading is the term for work that is traded in exchange for accommodation and/or food–a nebulous concept that is neither altruistically volunteering nor working purely for monetary compensation.
What I’m doing and how I found out about it:
I discovered the opportunity to work 28 hours a week at a hostel cafe/smoothie bar last month while sifting through different host listings on workaway.info. This site offers an incredible and unique way to travel by connecting open minded travelers with hosts. Most worktrade situations involve anywhere from 15-35 hours a week doing farm work, language teaching, childcare, eldercare, kitchen help, housekeeping, hostel work, etc for accommodation. (Some awesome hosts even offer meals and stipends.)
Two of my best friends, Nicole and Chrystina, first introduced me to workaway a couple years ago. It’s a solid way to travel in spite of not having much money. Initially I was unsure about traveling as a solo female/independent badass bitch, but my friends had had great workaway experiences themselves and reassured me that each host is registered and verified through the site.
I didn’t have much to lose, and before I knew it I found myself exploring both Puerto Rico and Spain by worktrading in hostels over the course of 5 months.
What I loved most about these experiences was the level of immersion in the local culture that you wouldn’t ordinarily enjoy on a two-week long vacation (The Spanish slang I learned! The friends I made! The secret beaches I lounged on!), and the incredible group of adventurers from all over the world, both coworkers and fellow travelers, who turned out to be my built-in friends. Fun people plus few responsibilities plus vacation plus the structure of a few hours of work a day plus seeing the world?? Hell yeah.
How I’m doing it:
This winter I worked two jobs 7 days a week, one full time and one part time, so I was able to save up some monetary padding.
Since I’ll be earning tips and 7% of the cafe’s profit during my daily four hour shifts, I’m hoping those funds cover the cost of my food. I’m not worried since I’m planning on sticking to the traditional “tico” diet of rice and beans plus as much local produce as I want. Costa Ricans, who prefer to be referred to as ticos, apparently have their own version of rice and beans called “gallo pinto” which also includes cilantro, onions, and peppers. Even going out to eat can be affordable (2-4USD a meal) if you go to local diner-style “sodas”. Supposedly, food is only expensive in Costa Rica if you’re buying processed Western stuff, so all the more reason to give up the disgusting yet delicious junk I shouldn’t be eating anyway, right?
My flight from Denver to San Jose cost $190 through Spirit–an especially good deal thanks to May being a low month for Costa Rica. Although Spirit itself is notoriously bare-bones, I at least had the luxury of choosing one-way because it was just as good a value as roundtrip. I love having as much freedom as possible when I travel, whether that means “something came up and I want to go home” or “I don’t ever want to leave and you can’t make me.” (Side note–Costa Rican airport officials probably would want me to leave. They don’t, as a rule, allow travelers to board a flight to enter the country unless they have proof of departure. In order to circumvent this, I intend to buy a ticket from San Jose to Managua right before I board the flight; I’ll cancel for a full refund as soon I’ve safely made it into the country.)
The biggest financial uncertainty for me is the cost of excursions and nights out. This part of my budget is flexible because I’m prioritizing sightseeing and partying over penny-pinching. I’ve heard from several reliable sources (aka people on the internet) that so many bars offer ladies’ nights that girls can essentially drink for free every night if they know where to go (for once, the kind of gender inequality I can get behind!). I want to be open to whatever adventure is going down. I don’t want to blow through my savings, but I have my priorities: I didn’t work 60 hours a week this winter to NOT be able to see some sloths in the damn rain forest.
Of course, no matter how prepared you are, there are always necessities you find yourself without. On my trip to Guatemala, for example, I’d forgotten to bring face scrub–a necessity when you’re as whitey white as me and have to cake multiple layers of 50 SPF onto your face every day to avoid getting burnt and looking like a sweaty tomato. I ended up shelling out the equivalent of $9 for a travel-sized tube of men’s Nivea face scrub. I think it cost more than the same amount of gold would have, and let me tell you, it was worth every penny. I don’t mind if I have to go over budget for something equally important.
I’m tentatively budgeting $1000 spending money for my trip assuming I stay three months, which works out to ~$10 a day. I’m not including airfare, and that amount might change if the internet lied about ladies’ nights. To clarify, if I’m able to spend under $2000 total for the whole thing, I’ll be a happy camper.
Why I’m doing it:
The main reason I’m going to Costa Rica is because I want to have fun. I can’t wait to wiggle my toes in the sand, laze around in the ocean, and explore the rain forest. I’m excited to be surrounded by a brand new group of people who I hope are interesting, a little strange, and very entertaining. I’m looking forward to going out at night without worrying about waking up at 5:45am to go to work like I did this past year. I want to read all the books I haven’t had time for, and I want to write if for no other reason than to record my memories. I can’t wait to get buffeted by the waves as I learn how to surf.
I’d loved my past visits to Guatemala and Honduras because of the amazing food and friendly people, so I figured I’d love Costa Rica, too. I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t quite as pricey as Europe but still offered interesting local culture where I could practice my rusty Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in my honeymoon phase as a new Denver resident, but I miss the beach… Most appealing to me is the promise of being able to spend so much time outside and in the sun, especially after working an office job.
I chose Beds on Bohio in Jaco because it had great reviews on workaway as well as on booking sites, and because it’s barely a block from the beach.
So there ya have it, my fairly unplanned travel plans. My upcoming post will cover tips and tricks for packing light. Until next time, friends!
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