Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bon Voyage Sister

My little sister leaves for Costa Rica for ten weeks on Saturday. She is going to study Spanish, and perhaps to take in a bit of scenery.

And as her big sister who has traveled quite a bit, it is my God-given duty to tell her what to do.

I mean impart wisdom.

I mean give some advice.

I mean, like, give some suggestions that she can, you know, follow or whatever, and if not, whatever, that's fine too...

1. Bring fewer shirts and pants and more underwear. At the end of the day your undies are the limiting factor. Trust me, nobody is going to notice if you only have two pairs of pants to last you ten weeks. This is especially good advice if you have to do your washing in a bucket or in a sink. Just pack a couple more pairs of undies and ditch that second pair of jeans.

Cautionary Tale: when traveling to a place that requires you to iron all your clothes (including undergarments) to kill bug eggs, don't bring synthetic underwear. They will melt bright purple onto the single iron in the house permanently and all the volunteers for generations to come will know that the bright purple smear perma-melted onto the iron once belonged to you.
A backpack on your front AND your back = too much stuff.
2. Get to know the local people around you. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much you have in common. Take risks and ask them questions about themselves. They will be curious about you and will no doubt ask you all about yourself, but turn the table and ask about them. When in doubt ask about their families and where they were born.

3. The transportation. The single most important asset to traveling is to have a good taxi driver who knows where you stay and that you trust to come get you whenever you may be in a bind. If your friends suddenly evaporate at a bar and you need a ride home, if you stay too long at school, if you end up in a place you don't know/don't like, this person can come and get you and bring you safely home. Don't be afraid to take a taxi home by yourself with this trusted person. It is better than waiting on loser friends to come with you. Put yourself first.

Cautionary Tale: Make sure the car you get in to is actually a taxi cab. It could turn out that the man driving is a nice guy who is amused by having his car suddenly filled with four white kids and will give you a ride home, (not before scaring the bejeezus out of you by reaching into his glove compartment for a gun - no wait, just a business card), and turn out to be a safari guide that wants your business. Or it could not turn out that way.
One mode of transport - a tuk-tuk.
4.  Beyond the transportation, the other most likely annoyance will be pestering by the other gender. Sister - you are cute. You are fun. You also appear like many many girls before you who may have had different priorities. So keep it polite, keep it short, and keep it simple. And smile while you tell them "No, thanks. I do not need another Eiffel tower that I am so sure you painted yourself".

5. Soak it all in and allow yourself the space to process. Understand that this is a once in a lifetime trip. Perhaps you will go back to Costa Rica, or perhaps you will travel for this length again. But it is the only time you will have this perspective. Even when you are old and wrinkled like me in a few years you will look back on this trip and think about how great it was that you did that. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to think about what is happening around you. If you want, write it down.

6. There is value in staying home on the weekends. I know the temptation will be there to travel each weekend with new friends, and you should do that. But towns are different on the weekend. And families stay in and relax. This is a good time to get to know your surroundings. Don't stress out by thinking you have to see every freaking thing in the country. You can't and you won't. So pick a few things that sound the best and give yourself time to think, relax, enjoy, and just be.

7. Have fun. Dude. This is freaking rad you are doing this and you are going to have so much fun. When you are lonely, be lonely. When you are sad, be sad. Travelers fool themselves all the time into thinking every day is going to be an up and then feel guilty when they have a crap day or feel like they want to go home and eat a real cheeseburger and some fresh fruit. Its all a part of the process. Take a deep breath, get yourself a huge piece of chocolate cake, take a nap or a walk on the beach, call home. And then go back to having fun.

And you never know what kind of crazy stories you will have (the story from the above picture will be saved for another day).

Because, hey, you are in Costa Rica!

1 comment:

  1. I am going to take all this advice for the rest of the time I am in Brazil! Wise advice.