Most of my friends do not travel often but the handful that do always share stories about the nightmares they experienced with their travel partners.
Just the other day a friend was telling me how the two people she was traveling through Asia expected to be able to use their credit cards everywhere and refused to get any cash. That backfired when they were unable to buy anything to eat for a couple of days unless it was in a hotel or a tourist trap.
Another friend told me about how they are no longer friends with the people they traveled through Europe for a few weeks with. By the end of the trip they were at each other’s throats for various reasons, but mostly because they just spent too much time together and didn’t get enough space.
A recent trip of mine didn’t go a smoothly as planned with my travel partner and I realized we had quite different tastes and plans for our trip. We were able to solve these issues fairly easily though and I will give you some tips on how we did it.
Plan ahead of time
You don’t need to set dates or times, but discuss what you would like to see, activities you would like to do, and what you would like to eat. Don’t forget to take budget into consideration. Make sure that you understand each other’s desires and what they are financially capable of doing.
Notice when an issue arises
Do not ignore problems. When you see that something is beginning to become an issue, address it immediately. Talk about it. Explain your feelings, listen to their concerns and wishes, and try to find a compromise. Never force somebody into doing or going somewhere they don’t want to. They will inevitably have a terrible time because they had a poor attitude about it to begin with.
Sometimes there is no easy resolve and the best thing to do is simply go your own way. Maybe you just need to explore the area on your own or hang out with some people from your hostel. There is nothing wrong with this. Just be an adult and explain that it has become obvious you guys need some time apart.
This doesn’t mean you have to sever all ties from this person foe your entire trip. Maybe a day or two apart is all you need.
This is what we did in my situation that I mentioned earlier. I don’t think either of us minded. We were both mature enough to realize the issue and we enjoyed some activities together, and also had fun meeting other people to spend time with.
If you haven’t realized by now, the key is communication, understanding, and respect. Your travel partner has spent just as much money and sacrificed just as much time to be there. You both deserve to have fun and with these tips hopefully you can.
[tip]Have any tips or horror stories? Please share in the comments below![/tip]
One of the first things people assume when they find out I travel frequently is that it must cost a fortune. This certainly isn’t the case and over the years I have learned many ways to stay frugal but still enjoy myself while traveling.
More importantly than little tips that can save money here and there, you should learn how to decide when to spend and when to save. This way, you aren’t constantly looking for the cheapest option, but you also aren’t spending too much money.
Where you sleep is important, but when you look at all the various options in most areas, there are a lot of amenities that you may not need, but can greatly increase the price of your hotel or hostel.
This is where doing research can really help. If you know where you’ll be staying for a couple of days, check HostelWorld for hostels in the area. You may be surprised how many smaller independently run hostels there are compared to what your guidebook lists. The reviews on HostelWorld can be very informative as well.
As a general rule, I attempt to spend $20 US or less per night depending on the destination. Some places, like Paris, are more expensive, and others such as Costa Rica, hover around $10 per night. I need a bed, a bathroom (somewhere, I don’t mind if it’s outside of the room and shared), and a shower. A common area where travelers can converge is also a bonus.
Food is one of the things you might consider spending more money on. Many times I’ll be hanging out with other travelers and they insist on stopping by a market to buy some cheese and bread for lunch.
I prefer to enjoy a good meal at a local eatery. If there is one thing I can really take home with me it’s the experience of good, local cuisine. A good meal out is a nice treat when you’ve been traveling around all day with a heavy pack.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on every meal, sometimes a picnic lunch or a few snacks is all you need and easy on the wallet, but don’t be afraid to splurge a bit to enjoy some authentic cuisine.
While many independent travelers pride themselves in going off the beaten path and doing things that other tourists don’t do, let’s face it–you’re a still a tourist and sometimes you want to do those touristy things.
Strap on your walking shoes and get out and experience the highlights of your area. There are often free alternatives to the typical tours and entrance fees associated with popular tourist sites (aka tourist traps). Check your guidebook and see what they recommend.
While I can’t offer any advice on how to get up the Eiffel Tower for free, you might be able to enjoy it just as much from the ground or from a good lookout from the Siene river. Extra bonus if you’re afraid of heights!
What do you splurge or save money on? Share in the comments!
An interesting method of traveling has been gaining popularity recently.
It’s called CouchSurfing. You know, that thing you did when you forgot to pay your rent. OK, well maybe not quite the same thing, but the concept is simple. Travel around and sleep on somebody’s couch for a night (or longer).
I first came across CouchSurfing last year before I ventured to Morocco. I wasn’t sure what to think of it at the time but soon I realized that it was an amazing project that can really change your life.
Think of CouchSurfing as a social network for people who all love to travel and share unique experiences around the world. If you want to travel somewhere but either can’t afford, or don’t want to sleep in a boring hotel room, you can look for locals on CouchSurfing who might be able to host you, for free!
The system has some built in precautions, requiring you to register your name and address with your credit card for safety purposes (the site is totally free, but they use this to prove your identity). In addition, friends and travelers can leave references indicating whether or not that person is friendly and safe. Of course there is always a little risk involved, but overall the system works very well.
CouchSurfing runs on Karma. There are no limits placed on how many couches you can sleep on, and no requirement for you to reciprocate. If you choose to allow people to stay, you have complete control on who you allow in and you are in no way obligated to offer your couch to anybody.
The majority of the users are open to the idea though and are generally welcoming.
The concept of allowing strangers into your home (or entering a stranger’s home) may sound strange, but it can prove to be very rewarding.
Sure, it’s a way to save money. But more importantly, it’s a very unique way to experience a town. Staying with a local can be a very different experience than you might find in a hotel or hostel. Especially if you are in a foreign land and experiencing a culture you are not used to. Many CouchSurfers spend time together sharing their culture, food, and lifestyle together.
Other hosts simply hand you a key, or tell you when you can come and go, and let you stay for free. It all depends on the host but this type of information is typically posted on their page.
I have hosted quite a few people. I received a lot of requests last summer and fall (high season here in Southern California) and I had to be somewhat particular about who I let stay. I preferred people with references and also chose foreign travelers over domestic ones when possible. To me, CouchSurfing is more about the culture and experience than a free place to stay.
And if any of my guests were looking to save money, I probably helped ruin that plan. We went to several baseball games, the firing range, and some local restaurants. Explaining baseball to Liam from the UK was certainly fun, as was watching him shoot his first handgun. Playing golf while attempting to speak French with Fabrice was also a great time, as was watching him experience his first enchilada!
As I’ve talked about before, I was welcomed to Casablanca, Morocco by several CouchSurfers who gave me a lovely walking tour of their city. They also shared tea with me at their favorite cafe as well as a late night snack of chwarma, which I’m still not exactly sure I know what was. Their generosity and friendship made me feel welcome and at home in a place where I was completely out of place.
There are downsides to CouchSurfing as well though. Often, potential hosts will not live in the central area that most travelers want to experience. Sometimes, you simply want to do the touristy things and that may be difficult if you are staying with somebody who lives outside of the city. Public transportation may not be as accessible. Sometimes CouchSurfing just isn’t appropriate for your trip, especially if it is short.
If it will work for your trip, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Sign up for CouchSurfing (remember: it’s free!) and browse around. Completely fill out your profile and also look in your area. There are many large groups with local CouchSurfers putting on events and meetups. In fact, I’ve made several good friends thanks to the local gatherings.
CouchSurfing is a wonderful concept that can make this big world, feel a lot smaller than it is thanks to strangers sharing kindness and culture.
If not, it probably sounds a little scary doesn’t it?
It doesn’t have to be. In fact, now that I have been traveling independently for the better part of my adult life, I’ve really come to love it. When I’m not traveling, I’m thinking about traveling. All but one of my backpacking trips have been completely solo.
So what does it take to get into the mindset?
All it took for me was a little push. My first trip to Europe was to be with one of my good friends. Two days before, he canceled for reasons I still don’t know. There I was, about to leave for Europe. No accommodations booked, no real schedule or plan. Top it all off, there was a bomb found underneath one of the French railways and terrorist threats of more that had not been found.
Yeah, I was a little nervous. I stayed up all night before my early morning flight stressing over whether or not to go.
Obviously, I’m glad I went. I had the time of my life, met some great people, and visited places I didn’t even plan on going to (or had even heard about).
You will not be alone
Stay at almost any hostel and you are almost guaranteed to meet other travelers. You may not the best at meeting and talking to random strangers, but when you travel all that will change. Regardless of what language you speak or where you are from, you share at least one common thing with everybody else there. You are travelers in a strange place and you’d probably enjoy some company.
I truly can’t think of a time when I had nobody to hang out with, share a meal, or just talk to in a hostel. They are unbelievably social places and by staying in one, you will meet others and before you know it, be going out sightseeing, grabbing a bite to eat, or partying it up at a club or bar (ask the person in charge of the hostel for that information!).
Your guidebook is your friend
Unless you venturing off into uncharted territory, somebody has probably been there already and written an entire book about it. Pack your guidebook and read as much of it as you can. Need a hostel recommendation? What about a good place to eat? How about information on safety and tips to avoid trouble.
Your guidebook has all of that already! Read it and follow it–but don’t be afraid to stray a little.
Be willing to explore
Some of the best days you will have are when you simply venture out on your own (or with others). Many cities are great to simply walk around all day and explore. See the sights, but walk down those streets that look interesting. Visit shops, eat some food from street vendors, look at the architecture, talk to people! There are many things you can do without an itinerary.
Please feel free to share your experiences of traveling alone (or with a small group) and the encounters you’ve had! Tips are always welcome as well.
Being American (technically Canadian-American but who’s counting?) I am always surprised by how few of us speak a foreign language. Sure, in California many people speak Spanish, but not nearly as many as you would expect.
One of the things I always tell people is that they should learn at least a few conversational basics when traveling to a foreign country.
I did a lot to cram in some French and Italian before traveling to Europe for my first backpacking trip. I was in no way fluent, or even comfortable speaking either language, but what little I did know helped tremendously.
Many Americans expect that since they are paying tourists, they should be catered to. If you use Paris for an example, you’ll realize that Paris does not live off of tourism! It’s the cultural center of France and if no Americans visited, they would hardly miss us.
I saw this first hand when ordering lunch at a small cafe. I managed to ask for a particular sandwich and a glass of tea but I could not understand the price. I politely asked, “parlez-vous Anglais?”
“Yes, a little,” she responded and told me the price in English. I paid, thanked her in French, received a kind smile and enjoyed my food.
Shortly after another young backpacker came in and asked for something using only English and didn’t even bother to try French. The same lady who was so friendly to me responded, “je suis désolé monsieur. Je ne comprende pas Anglais.” He made a couple more requests in English but eventually left frustrated and hungry. The lady looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
To her, a few Euros were less important than the cultural pride. This attitude is very common not only in Paris, but anywhere that does not rely solely on tourism.
But surely you don’t have the time to enroll in a class and practice for several months before traveling.
Never heard the name before? Well Dr. Pimsleur created a wonderful technique for learning language and has produced fantastic audio programs.
While the full versions with nearly 50 hours of training are quite expensive, there is a great alternative if you wish to get started and learn the basics, whether it be for fun or in preparation for a trip.
The insert Pimsleur Learn to Speak & Understand programs contain 16 lessons (each unit of the full program has 30, so you are getting about half of the free unit). The best part, they’re pretty cheap on Amazon.
Of course, they hope you enjoy them and decide to move on to the full course. If you do, I believe there is an upgrade program for purchasers of the intro versions.
Let me tell you first hand that these work very well and will prepare you for many common situations such as asking (and understanding) directions, ordering food, or exchanging money. Of course you’ll learn how to politely interact with people in that language and how to ask for help if you are unable to understand.
I tried several different French audio training tools before coming across the Pimsleur program. The other were ALL a waste of money.
Here’s the list of all the ones I have used and enjoyed success with:
Whether you are traveling for a week or for a year, your health is always a concern you should have.
Traveling in a foreign country usually is an experience to remember, unless you get sick. If you’ve been under the weather while traveling you know first hand what I am talking about.
I’m going to go over a few of the ways I combat sickness and attempt to stay healthy while traveling.
You must remember to stay hydrated. Keep in mind that even if you’re just walking around the city with your pack back at your hostel, you’re probably still doing more physical activity than you are used to back home.
Make sure you know if the water in your area is safe to drink though. If not, buy bottled water or if you’re hiking and using stream water, you’ll want.to be sure you can purify your water. There are iodine tablets, filters, and probably the most impressive, the SteriPEN which you can use if you bottle your own water and want to be sure it is safe for drinking. Be sure any reusable bottles you purchase are BPA-free.
A good multi-vitamin can go a long way in keeping your immune system up and fighting the multitudes of germs and bacteria. Some people use fancy multi-vitamin packs with a handful of various pills and others prefer a simple one-a-day vitamin.
3. Hand Sanitizer
Be sure to wash your hands but if you can’t, a small bottle of hand sanitizer can come in handy. No pun intended.
4. Anti-Diarrheal medicines
I’ve saved the best for last. There is absolutely nothing worse than being so sick that you can’t leave your room. Loperamide (Imodium) works very well if you’ve eaten something bad and are having diarrhea. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as you can easily become dehydrated.
5. First-aid kit
Finally, a small first aid kit with basics such as bandages (useful for blisters, not just cuts and scrapes!), antibiotic ointment, and even burn cream if you might be around campfires. There are a plethora of small first-aid kits available everywhere that will take up hardly any room in your backpack.
Have any other suggestions or tips that you use when traveling? Please share them in comments below.
Ask anybody who has backpacked for any amount of time what the highlight of their trip was and they’ll likely tell you about a place that you’ve never even heard of.
That’s right, I’ve never met anybody who said the Eiffel Tower was their favorite part of their trip to Europe. Nothing against the Eiffel tower, it’s wonderful, but often the small, out of the way places that you never planned on visiting are what really make your trip.
For me, it was Cinque Terre, Italy in 2004. It was my first backpacking trip and I was all by myself. Made my way from Paris to Venice and met three Americans who were studying in England. They were in my hostel and we decided to go out for dinner. We ended up spending the next day together exploring the neighboring islands before heading to Florence which so happened to be both of our plans.
After a couple of days in Florence they invited me to Cinque Terre. “Where?” I asked.
I looked it up in my Lonely Planet. At the time, there was just one paragraph that said that the olive farming villages of Cinque Terre had no hotels and you had to find a local to rent you a room.
It sounded interesting, but the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in some place I didn’t know with nowhere to sleep. I was also convinced I needed five days to explore Rome.
Somehow they talked me into it, and after a brief obligatory stop in Pisa, we ended up in Vernazza, one of the villages of Cinque Terre. It was there that an old lady met us at the train station and offered us a room. Thanks to my Pimsleur Italian level I audio tracks and a lot of body language, we secured a room for the night.
The village was beautiful, located right on the water and offered the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (keep in mind I live at the beach in Southern California and it’s hard to beat our sunsets). We had an amazing and affordable dinner at a restaurant up on a cliff that overlooked the ocean. The sky was lit with nothing but bright stars. No lights from any nearby metropolis polluted the sky.
The following day we hiked between the villages along a path that had previously been used by the olive and grape farmers. Some of the hillside had been carved specifically for the harvesting and that way of life hadn’t changed for many of the residents of Cinque Terre.
These days many Cinque Terre has become quite the hot spot. Located on the Italian Riveria, it’s surprising that it took this long for it to become such a great spot for tourism. Now, nearly every body I speak to who has backpacked Italy has told me they stopped in Cinque Terre. I haven’t looked at the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Italy but I would bet that there is MUCH more than the same short paragraph that I took a leap on five years ago.
I had a similar experience in Morocco when I visited Chefchaouen. While I had read a bit about it in the guidebook, it certainly wasn’t the destination that bigger cities like Casablanca, Fez, and Tangiers were made out to be, but it ended up being the highlight of my trip for both its beauty, and the wonderful locals who invited me into their home for a great meal.
My point is that you never know what is out there when you are traveling. Your guidebook is a necessity but you can never expect that the author visited every square mile of the country.
There are still many of places that have yet to be bombarded with tourists and in the case of Cinque Terre, they soon might be, so go see them while you have the chance!
Talk to other backpackers at hostels or ask a local their opinion on places you can visit to get a real feel for the culture. You’ll be surprised with what you may find. Just because a guidebook doesn’t listen a place, or doesn’t provide you with a lot of information, doesn’t mean it won’t be the highlight of your trip!
Have you found a great off the beaten path destination in your travels? If so, post a comment and let us know where and how you came across it!
Throughout my travels I have learned a lot of things about what and what not to bring when traveling independently. If you’re the type of traveler who is constantly on the go, I think you’ll benefit from this list.
1. A good backpack:
Sure, you might have some fancy luggage in your closet but if you’re going to be traveling independently on trains, buses, or by foot, you’ll soon be sick and tired of dragging that rolling suitcase behind you.
That’s why I bought the Kelty Redwing 3100 (read my review) for as my main pack when traveling. I’ve gone through three packs before I found this one. It holds about 50 liters of gear, has great padding, and can be adjusted to fit snug and comfortably.
And as a final testimonial, I had shoulder surgery a year before using this for the first time and I never once got sore wearing this bag.
Of course, everybody’s tastes will differ. It might be a good idea to try on a few at your local outdoors store, but with this model being such a bargain, it might be worth the risk to just give it a shot and return it if it doesn’t work out. Note: good backpacks can run upwards of $300. They might have more space or pockets, but unless you’re packing snow clothes, you shouldn’t need more than 40-50 liters of space.
Best part about this pack, you can carry it on the airplane!
2. A good day pack:
Not everybody will need a second bag, but it can be useful of you will have a base location and be venturing out on hikes or day trips. It’s much easier to leave your large bag behind and load up your day pack with the things you’ll need to get you through the day.
Almost any backpack will do but I particularly like the North Face Recon pack. It holds plenty of gear and is extremely comfortable. As with the Kelty bag, this is one of the first bags I’ve had that doesn’t hurt my shoulders despite loading it up daily with a gallon of water and other junk.
You’ll probably want to have a pack that can hold a water bladder, or at the very least, pockets for water bottles. You can never have enough water with you!
3. Lonely Planet guide books:
Depending on where you’re going, you’ll likely have a choice of several guidebooks. Over the years I have found Lonely Planet to be the most accurate and helpful for the independent traveler. They tend to cover all types of restaurants and accommodations from the bottom of the barrel budget hostels to five star luxury resorts. Several times I have brought two different guidebooks with me and every time, I end up relying solely on the Lonely Planet.
4. Rough Guide books:
Ok, I wasn’t entirely truthful before. When in Morocco I found myself relying a bit more on the Rough Guide. Since Morocco is a bit difficult to navigate, I often utilized information from both books to determine the best route or activity.
On the other hand though, I’ve browsed other Rough Guides at the book store and some have not been very good. When in doubt, check the reviews on Amazon.
5. Digital Camera:
This probably goes without saying as many people don’t leave home without their camera these days. My trusty pocket camera is a Nikon S600 which has recently been replaced by the Nikon S610.
You can’t go wrong with just about any modern digital camera and the choices are endless.
I also use a professional Nikon D200 body, but often I find myself leaving it behind and relying on my smaller camera. It’s easier to carry and takes great photos. Don’t forget, most of these small cameras also record movies now. The quality may not be as good as an expensive camcorder, but they work surprisingly well.
6. iPod touch:
Can you tell that I’m a bit of a gadget freak yet? I’ve always brought an iPod along with me ever since I began traveling. You won’t find me walking around the street with headphones in my ears (I prefer the sound of the world around me), but they are great on airplanes and long train rides.
Earlier this year I learned how great my new iPod touch really was. Not only could I use it to listen to music and watch videos on, but its built in WiFi allowed me to hop on to the Internet at every hostel I’ve been at this year and keep in touch with my friends and family. Check your email, surf the web, even post to your blog. Not to mention you can use it to find the latest information on happenings wherever you may be. I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone, but it is so powerful that I don’t even bother carrying a laptop with me anymore. Not even for business trips!
7. Bpa free water bottle:
Ok, enough with the gadgets. No matter where you are, you’ll need to drink water. Depending on where you are, bottled water can often be much more expensive than you’re used to. Solution? Carry your own bottle and refill it with tap water. Just be sure the water is safe to drink where you are visiting!
You might not need shoes specific to hiking but if you’ll be doing any treading on uneven ground you’ll surely appreciate them.
They’ve evolved over the years to fit and look more like regular old sneakers and less like the mountaineer boots of yesteryear so you won’t feel dorky wearing them around the city as well.
9. Sport sandals:
These are something I wish I had in Costa Rica (and now I do). I tried to make due with my sneakers but every stream, lake, or waterfall we came to I had to sit down and take off my socks and shoes. Then try to keep them dry as I crossed the river only to put them right back on. I’ve learned my lesson.
They’ll do for mild to medium hikes and you don’t have to take them off when you want to get wet.
10. Quick drying towel:
Last but not least is a quick drying, lightweight towel. They’re thin, light, extremely absorbent, and dry quickly. Much easier to carry than a regular cotton towel, they dry so quickly that they won’t get mildew easily. Perfect for camping or showering at hostels where you generally need your own towel. Some hostels will let you use a towel, but there is often a charge. I won’t travel without one anymore.
That’s it! Throw in a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of shorts and you have my backpack, loaded and ready to see the world.
Do you have any suggestions or special items that you can’t travel without? Please share them in the comments below.
I hope you found this list useful. If so, and you plan to purchase any of these items or anything else from amazon, I will earn a small percentage of any sales made through the above links. Anything helps to keep the site up running. -Thanks!
When I noticed that I had a rare five days off of work I immediately began looking for cheap flight deals. I’d never been to Hawaii and last time I looked, I found round trip deals for about $400. No luck for that particular week, but I did find a $375 flight to Costa Rica leaving around 11pm on the 4th of July! I booked it without hesitation.
True, I had never been to Costa Rica, really didn’t know that much about it, nor can I speak Spanish well. Sometimes you just have to jump though. I quickly went out and picked up the Lonely Planet Costa Rica Guide and began studying it as much as I could. When I left for the airport less than 24 hours later, I had no idea where I would be going, staying, or doing.
In fact, that continued all the way up until I landed in San Jose. I had narrowed it down to three places, Puerto Viejo, Quepos, or La Fortuna. I took a quick poll from the people sitting near me on the plane and the winner was La Fortuna. So I got off the plane and hopped into a cab heading to the appropriate bus station (I later found out that the bus now stops by the airport but my guidebook was outdated – don’t worry, it has since been updated).
The cab driver warned me to be careful because the area was not very safe. Luckily it was the day time but it was pretty obvious that it was a bad place.
I stood in the long line before I noticed a fellow gringo a few spots in front of me. Somehow we began talking and I found out that Garrett grew up about 20 minutes from me but has since relocated to Utah. Lucky for me, he spoke Spanish well and was able to talk to the ticket seller at the terminal. Turns out that the last bus for La Fortuna had already left but we could board a bus to Ciudad Quesada (about halfway) and then transfer to another La Fortuna bus.
The bus there wasn’t bad but there was no window in Ciudad Quesada so we had to speak to every bus driver at the station. Finally we found the right one thanks to a boy who dragged us and insisted we get on the bus. Honestly, we didn’t know if we would end up in the right place or not but we had faith.
Unfortunately that bus was over packed and we had to stand for over two hours. When we finally arrived in La Fortuna it had begun to rain pretty hard. I whipped out the Lonely Planet and navigated us to Gringo Pete’s hostel. Despite telling me they would have room when I called earlier, they were full. We walked to a couple more places but by 7pm at night they had all filled up too.
It was on the other side of the town (not that it’s a very large town) but I suggested we try Arenal Backpackers Resort which despite being more expensive than any other hostel, was the Lonely Planet’s recommended place to stay.
We were greeted by Diego, a friendly English-speaking Tico who luckily had two beds left. At $14 a night this is probably the priciest hostel in all of Costa Rica but it was a great place to stay. They have a nice pool, covered patio bar and restaurant (with the best and most affordable food I was able to find in all of La Fortuna), and very clean tiled bathrooms and showers. From the street it almost looked like a bar or a club since the patio was so busy.
Shortly after putting my bag away and grabbing a tasty meal at the on-site restaurant, I was invited to go out with a group that was heading to the local discoteca.
The place was booming with an odd mix of Spanish language dance music, American classic rock set to house beats and reggaeton. Nobody minded the $1 Imperial beers either.
After a long night of loud music and dancing we all called it a night.
The next morning I ran into a few people I met at the club the night before and was invited to do a hike to Cerro Chato laguna, a huge lake that has developed inside of a dormant volcano crater.
The hike up the volcano was amazing but difficult. The other three guys who came along didn’t stay back for myself and Anna, a nice girl from Louisiana who had been studying in Costa Rica for the summer. Her and I were slowpokes and took many stops for snacks and water. It didn’t help that I skipped breakfast.
45 minutes behind our c0-hikers, we finally arrived at the lake. It’s a massive body of water filling the entire crater of the volcano. After the long hike it felt great to remove our shoes and take a dip. What is most interesting about Cerro Chato is the fact that there is no inlet nor outlet, yet there are fish living in the water. Later we were told that the fish likely were dropped by birds flying overhead or that their droppings may have contained eggs. However they got there, it was certainly an interesting experience.
After making our way back, we decided that it was still early and took another trail from the bottom to a waterfall. The walk was very steep but the steps had been formed so that it was easier hike without slipping and sliding your way to the bottom. A nice outlook provided this wonderful photo opportunity:
After making our way all the way down, we decided to jump the water at the bottom of the falls. While it wasn’t the largest waterfall I had ever seen, it certainly was powerful and the force could definitely injure or kill you if you got too close. We played it safe but it was exhilarating to feel the water throwing you all over the place.
The following day I met up with three college students from Ohio. They were going back to the waterfall I visited the day before and I decided to tag along. We did some more swimming at the falls and got a little closer this time. It was still scary!
We decided to cross the river and follow the path to wherever it may lead us. There was another great lookout, a suspension bridge, and even a snake.
Later that afternoon we took a guided tour to see the flowing lava of Volcan Arenal. It began with a guided, hour long hike where we found howler and spider monkeys, along with learning a lot about the local floral and fauna. We even came across a large hanging vine and I insisted on swinging from it like Tarzan.
By the time dusk rolled around it was cloudy, as it almost always is there, but we were able to see a bit of lava flowing down the side of the volcano. The tour was then followed by a few hours at the Baldi Hot Springs.
While Baldi is considerably cheaper than the competing hot springs, Tabacon, it was quite nice. It resembled a fancy water park with beautifully tiled pools all filled with flowing spring water heated by the lava rocks below the surface. There were pools of varying temperature, including one as hot as 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit). A few drunk guys we were trying to dare each other to get in. I managed to stay in for about 5 minutes before I realized I was likely becoming sterile.
There is also a very scary water slide which people were shooting out of at dangerous speeds. I love to have fun and do stupid things, but I couldn’t get myself to go down that thing! Especially since the water they were torpedoing into was only about three feet deep.
We returned to the hostel after the hot springs and hung around the patio bar for the rest of the night. I spent most of the attempting to flirt in french with some girls from Quebec. They had one male friend with them who told me, “Your French fucking sucks, but it is cool that you are trying.” I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or an insult but I knew it wasn’t very good so I didn’t mind.
The next day would be my last day before heading back to San Jose to grab a hotel before my early morning flight. It was rather clear in the morning and I was rewarded for waking up early with this lovely view of the volcano:
I spent the day lounging at the pool with the Quebec girls and got a pretty nice sunburn. In the late afternoon I had to run to catch my bus back to San Jose. I was planning on meeting up with Anna, who was doing the same thing as me. We were going to meet up and share a hotel or find a hostel but I was never able to find her. Her bus (from a different part of the country) was rescheduled and she ended up heading somewhere else. No problem, except she had no way to contact me.
I was hanging around the extremely dodgy part of San Jose, the Coca Cola bus terminal for a few hours too long. What a scary place. I’ve been to some sketchy neighborhoods in my day but this was the worst. There were people shooting heroin in the small alleys next to prostitutes going to town on lonely homeless guys. Plus, an elderly guy grabbed attempted to mug me by grabbing my backpack shoulder strap and pulling me into an alley. I pushed him away and headed for a small dodgy hotel whose name I recognized from the Lonely Planet. It wasn’t very clean, but I was able to lock my door and stay safe for the night. Plus, it was only a few dollars. It would do for a few hours of rest before grabbing a taxi back to the airport at 5am.
While this final experience in Costa Rica may sound pretty bad, it hardly put a damper on my trip. The rest of it was so beautiful that this didn’t even matter. Next time I know where NOT to spend my night though!
Here is a short article I wrote for Dig Magazine, CSULB’s monthly publication. My day-by-day travelogue is posted here on Have Pack, Will Travel.
“Where is all the sand?” I thought to myself when I landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. It turns out that much of Morocco is actually very dense with forests and vegetation. The Mediterranean climate is much more comfortable than one would imagine when contemplating a visit to North Africa.
“Bienvenue en Maroc! Welcome in Maroc!” I frequently heard while walking down busy streets. Not knowing whether I was French, English, or American, they were sure to cover their bases and make sure I understood that I was welcome in their country.