Bug Abroad: Lessons & Lists

I’ve been back in the swing of day-to-day Eugene life and work for a little over a week now, without abandoning everything to run back to Costa Rica. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted. This is a particularly challenging time of year for me, especially approaching the largest annual event we host (which is, overall, my responsibility). My sense of duty keeps me grounded as I daydream about Puerto Viejo. Oh, and I love my job blah blah blah…
Anyhow, now seems like a good time to do a little post-mortem on what to keep and what to change for next trip. (Can you tell that I’m a project manager?) Let’s begin.

Take A Good Travel Partner. Cam was the absolute perfect person to take on this trip. Besides being super close friends, we are also complementary travel companions. His relaxed nature helped me to keep from getting too on-edge about being active all the time. It’s vacation! Take a nap! Also, we both were comfortable with having general ideas of what we might do and when, but there was no stress to get anywhere. This came particularly handy when dealing with incredibly extended bus rides or long walks in the heat of the day. We were prompt in getting to major travel points–arriving at the airport with ample time, for example–and maintained, otherwise, a leisurely sense about the trip. When something doesn’t work out? No problem! We’ll do something else! This is vacation. Every moment is a new opportunity for adventure, even if it’s not what or when you expect.
In short: take your Cam with you on vacation. Heck, take my Cam with you. He deserves it. (If you do take him, can I come, too?)

Break Up Return Travel. If you’re going to push a tight timeline, I recommend doing it on the front end of your trip. Arriving at our initial destination in a single day was tiring, but we knew that our only task upon arrival was checking into the hotel. On the other side of check-in: bedtime. We weren’t worn such that a lack of energy put a damper on the following days. After a few days, however, we were glad to split up the return travel. Our energy was mostly spent on adventuring and playing the waves, so splitting up travel allowed us to have a little more energy on arrival both in San Jose and when we finally got home. Plus, arriving in San Jose felt like Vacation: Part II rather than a lead-up to leaving. Bonus vacation!

It’s Acceptable To Work On Vacation. Some people relax by tuning out entirely. That’s just not me. And that’s okay. Yes, it’s important to have time off and away without concern about responsibilities at home. I derive a lot of joy from helping others and being productive. Also, I’m neurotic as all get-out. Thanks to the wonderful world of technology, I was able to feel productive despite being away from my desk and was able to help my coworkers and others who needed assistance. Once that itch was satisfied, I could let folks know when I would again be available, then go about the rest of my day. My time wasn’t spent worrying about what I might be missing or who was going to start a dumpster fire in my absence — I knew that, if something happened, I could hear about it and do what I could to make it better in a timely fashion.
Also, it helped that Cam is similar in regards to working habits. We could both work over breakfast or settle in for a working/reading/chill session for a few hours without putting the other person out. On the other side of that coin, we were both explicit about voicing when we wanted to shift gears and if we wanted the other to join us in said shift:
Hey, when you have a moment… I’m about done with work for now and would like to grab a snack. Are you in a good place to stop soon?
Sure. Can I have 10 minutes or so?
No problem.
Needs: met. Productivity: achieved. Vacation: WINNING.

Keep Lists. Lists are a specialty of mine (see this blog post for example). There was so much to see and do, so many ideas unleashed, that we made a point of signaling one another with “put it on the list.” (Yes, you could sing this phrase to the tune of “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” You’re welcome.) Now we have lots of ideas for other activities on our next trip, and the one after that, and after that… Use your phone, a notebook, the inside cover of your vacation reading selection. Take notes. You’ll be glad for it later.

Pack More Sunscreen. In a tropical climate, the people using sunscreen are tourists who will — and have to, unless they want to stay inside or be horribly burned — spend whatever amount charged for that liquid cancer blocker. Things like shampoo and soap, however, are more universal and, therefore, cheap. If you’re looking to travel light, let go of needing to use your preferred brand of most anything and, instead, fill your allotted travel bottles with sunscreen. Your pocketbook and skin will thank you for it later.

Pack Less Clothing. I like having a variety of clothing options, but I wanted to pack light. Being in the tropics means not much in the way of fabric, allowing for more options in less space. My packing included at least: one pair of shorts, two pairs of athletic capris (for jungle hikes), four sundresses, one skirt, several tank tops & t-shirts, one long-sleeve athletic shirt, two swimsuits, underwear for the entire trip, a couple pairs of socks, a couple bras, a packable raincoat, a light jacket, and a blanket scarf (for the plane ride). All of that took up less than half the space in a hiking-worthy backpack.Really, I found myself returning to the same couple of dresses, shorts, and 2 tops. Add to that the couple of warm-ish items for travel (which are also good for hiking) and I was set. I could have gotten by with far less than I took, especially if I had simply washed some items in the sink or paid to have some laundry done while there.
Next trip: fewer options. More sink washing.

Pack More Clothing That Features Pockets. My most frequently work clothing article was actually my shorts. Odd, being that I’m not much one for shorts. However, these are just the right length, lightweight, and feature pockets with closures on either side, making them perfect for carrying an ID and a little cash without needing a hide-away pouch and belt. I may have worn other pants of they had this same feature. As with dresses — hell, as with most anything, pockets make it better.

Take Two Swimsuits. Glad to have made this choice. I took both a one-piece and a bikini (for when I was feeling brave). Regardless of the cut, swimsuits were donned daily. I appreciated having a dry one always available.

Learn A Few More Key Phrases. I picked up a phrasebook on the way to Costa Rica, and we studied it a bit on the way down. Cam was significantly more successful than I was in overcoming language barriers — in part because he also speaks French, and my Spanish is very rusty (and I’ve never been fluent). After a few days, we both were immersed enough to get by, and we constantly tried to speak the local language rather than asking others to speak English. The effort was generally humored, if not appreciated. Next time, we’ll make a point of knowing a couple additional key phrases, namely “I speak very little Spanish. Please speak slowly.”

Stay Longer. One week is simply not enough. We had just gotten really settled in by the time it was back to San Jose, then NOLA. Working remotely seems functional enough to attempt a two week trip next time. And, if two weeks is too much, at least we’ll learn that lesson… while in Paradise.


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