I just wanted to share a few takeaways from our trip—things we learned, things we wished we had done differently, things we loved.
I’m so proud of both kids, first of all. They tolerated the change of schedule and the uncertainty of some days without many meltdowns at all.
We made sure we built downtime into every afternoon and tried to let go of things that we wanted to do that were just not going to work, both of which helped them have a good time.
They have learned so much from Forest School, and that was evident in their observations of nature everywhere we went. Petra’s eye was uncannily skilled at spotting elusive animals like sloths and spiders. Silas, who usually seems like he’s paying zero attention to the nature observation side of Forest School, quickly learned to identify several plants that we don’t have at home. Both of them have a much greater tolerance for uncomfortable weather than they ever did before. They could easily hike a mile if the weather wasn’t terrible. They enjoy being outside at a level I haven’t seen in them since they were toddlers. It made the trip enjoyable for all of us.
They both kept journals of our trip. When I went to Costa Rica as a kid, my mom made me and my brother keep journals, and I remember that it caused lots of fights. I’m glad I have it, but I hate that it was such a struggle. I think it would be even worse with my kids, because they are not at all used to doing things because I told them to, especially Petra, who is still a honey badger. For this trip, I bought each of the kids a brand-new notebook and a six-color pen. I told them, “I think it would be a good idea for you to keep a journal of your trip. I’m glad I have mine, because it is fun to read it and remember things that I forgot. I plan to keep a journal on this trip, too. I’m not going to make you, but I think if you do it, you’ll be happy that you did.”
They both wrote every day. Petra typically wrote a sentence or two and drew a picture. Silas decided to write the whole thing as if it were a D&D book, inventing stats and encounters. I’m just glad they decided to do this and I didn’t have to fight about it. They also both asked me to put their notebooks somewhere special so they wouldn’t get mixed up with all the junk in their rooms.
They also handled not having much TV or screen time really well. JC brought the Switch with him, and let them play that a little, but it was minimal. They both did a lot of reading. Petra brought too many books—about 8 novels, I think—but she did read several of them, polishing off one 300-page book in three days.
Both of them had challenges particular to their personalities. Silas is our family’s only social butterfly, and spending weeks with nobody he could talk to but us was very hard on him. He ended up chatting with countless strangers in Manuel Antonio because that was the first place where we encountered a lot of people who spoke English as a first language.
Petra is so introverted that sometimes even her cat is too much company. About halfway through our trip, she said, “It is really driving me crazy that the only time I have been in a room with the door closed by myself this whole trip is when I use the bathroom.” All of us felt the stress of too much togetherness, but she felt it most of all. When I gave her permission to run around by herself at the tree house hotel, she was thrilled and relieved (and then didn’t seem to mind having Silas along after all).
I had told all my clients that I was completely unavailable for two weeks. They were wonderful about respecting that and encouraging me to really unplug. I didn’t take my computer or check work Slack channels. I can’t remember the last time I did something like that; it’s been at least ten years. Not that I’m able to turn it off entirely; I had a lot of nights when I woke up at three a.m. to talk to myself about upcoming theater projects. But I did get a good break.
Overall, we did a good job of packing; we didn’t have too much (except Petra, who had too many books and didn’t listen when we asked her to leave some behind….we all sympathized too much with that problem to be stern enough to prevent it). There were only a few things we wished we had brought:
- bag clips (we couldn’t keep a bag of peanuts closed for anything, and we didn’t see any for sale anywhere!)
- reusable ziplock style bags (I brought two, but wished I had more).
- a second pair of shoes for JC, whose sneakers kind of dissolved halfway through the trip
- Benedryl (I had some kids’ Benedryl, but not enough to add up to an adult-level prescription, and when I had a reaction to ???? in Santa Elena, I learned that there’s not much in the way of over-the-counter meds there. So that was an expensive and time-consuming problem to solve).
- JC and I had the reverse problem of Petra; we each brought one book shy of what would have been ideal, so he spent the last couple days rationing pages, and I spent the last couple days a little bored.
I learned that shampoo bars are great for travel, and I’m curious whether there is an equivalent for things like bug spray, sunscreen, or toothpaste. TSA regulations are very annoying.
My phone plan is through Google Fi, and I was happy to discover that it worked well nearly everywhere, and the data costs were the same as if I were in the US. Calls were $0.10/minute. Having that was very helpful, as it allowed me to research and book things from everywhere and download maps to get around.
Things we would do differently:
Before I ever go to a Spanish-speaking country again, I need to work on making my vocabulary and grammar match my accent. People didn’t believe me when I said I only spoke a little Spanish. My accent is pretty good, and got better while we were there (I have a good ear), so they thought I was being modest. I was not being modest. I think that made communicating with me more frustrating than it would have been if I sounded as bad as I am. That said, although I’ve done absolutely nothing to work on my Spanish in the past 12 years, I had a much easier time understanding people than I did when I was there before. No idea why. Most people spoke English, as well, but I got through the majority of every day just speaking Spanish with everyone I met. I also had far less trouble converting the currency in my head. Maybe I’m getting smarter as I age.
We mostly were happy that we decided not to rent a car. The shuttles were relatively affordable and not having to drive in Costa Rica, especially in areas with no road signs, was nice. We ended up wishing we had rented a car just for the part of the trip where we were in La Fortuna. Everything is spread out there, too far to walk to most of the attractions, and taxis are expensive. Other than that, though, not having a car was easier than it would have been to have one.
Plan a time for Silas to phone a friend or something. My goodness that boy needs interaction!
Figure out a way for Petra to get some downtime without us. She’s still so little that leaving her entirely unsupervised in a strange country where she doesn’t speak the language is definitely irresponsible…but it’s all she wanted.
Next time, we’ll probably skip the beach. There’s so much to see in the rain forest!