You’ve got this far- the flights are booked, you’ve hopefully asked your boss for time off work, and your hard-earned cash is burning a hole in your pocket. The outline of your trip is all set- now it’s time to deal with the nitty gritty. Obviously, I’m here to guide you every step of the way the planning out what to do, where to stay and how to get around when you don’t speak the language.
Getting to the airport
The cheapest way is almost definitely by Megabus/National Express/Greyhound. I paid £25 return for a bus from Swansea straight to Heathrow Airport overnight. Feel free to opt for a train (hideously expensive) or a lift (I hate goodbyes) but personally I opted for a coach trip.
Where to stay
Hopefully you’ve read my previous post all about planning a backpacking trip (and if you haven’t, the title of this post must be very confusing for you). You should have an idea by now of where you want to stay, and also where you can afford to stay. Hopefully the two aren’t too far removed from each other…
Some people like to just turn up in a country and wing it. Those people are not me. To decide where I was going to stay, I first made a list of all the activities I wanted to do and places I wanted to visit in Costa Rica. These included hiking up a volcano, seeing the natural phenomenon of bio luminescent plankton, and I knew I was going to be working at Bamboo Bass festival in Jaco. Once you have a rough idea of what you want to do (and the best places to do it) and any particular sites you want to visit, draw them on a map. Hopefully, some sort of route between them should become obvious. I’ve pretty much managed to do a loop taking in most of the north of the country, and ending up roughly back where I started.
Now that you have your route with stops, you can start looking at where to stay. I’ve opted largely for Airbnb this trip. I find it’s almost as cheap as hostels, but I value my own privacy so I really appreciate having my own room. They’re much more spacious, well-furnished and homely than hostels too. What I also really like is the social aspect- often you’re either sharing a home, or you will at least see the landlord regularly who’s a local and can offer good tips on the best bars and things to do. Some hosts are obviously more social than others, but I’ve been stunned by the hospitality I’ve been shown and found myself largely being invited round for dinner every evening, taken on quad bike tours and going out for drinks.
In each location before you book accommodation, you need to consider:
How easy is it to reach from the bus/train station? The last thing you want after spending 12 hours on a bus is to have to fork out for an unexpected taxi, or face a half hour walk to your destination (this was particularly hard in Costa Rica, where they have foregone actual street addresses in favour of ‘Turn left out of the town, continue 2km down the dirt road, go past Frank’s Bar and Grill and it’s the third house on the right.’ I am not joking.)
What part of town is it in? Maybe you want to be near the nightlife, or maybe you’d rather be somewhere a little quieter, or even on the beachfront. All things to consider.
Sometimes, staying a town or two out from the tourist traps can be better. The town I stayed in last, Los Pargos, was a 45 minute drive from the main tourist area of Tamarindo, which was a little inconvenient, but I had all the better time for it. Other times like in La Fortuna, I cancelled my original Airbnb as it was a 20 minute drive from town, and opted to stay in a hostel in the centre of town to have easy access to bars and tours.
How are you going to get between all of these stunning, Instagram-worthy destinations? If you’re like me- multiple not very glamorous and certainly not Instagram-worthy bus rides. Costa Rica has excellent and very cheap public bus links, but they don’t half take a long time to get where you’re going. Other options include- trains, private shuttle buses, taxis/Uber, or hitchhiking if you wanna go old-school. Check before you book that there is a route between towns that doesn’t involve a very expensive last minute taxi due to you being stranded in the middle of the night.
A few other things you will want to think about before you go.
Cash. How are you going to take your money abroad with you? My original plan was to just take my bank card and withdraw c weekly budget in cash, but unfortunately my card details were stolen the day before I left, so there wasn’t time to send me a new debit card. However in a Blue Peter-esque ‘Here’s one I made earlier’ moment, this has enabled me to talk to you about- prepaid travel money cards! These are available from the Post Office and most travel agents. It’s basically a prepaid debit card, which you load up with as much cash as you want, and then use in exactly the same was as your normal card, ATMs and all. You’ll be given your own PIN for it, and I’ve had zero problems with mine so far.
It is also worth taking some cash in the currency of your destination for quickly grabbing anything you need before you have time to get to an ATM, and also some cash for any countries you will have a layover in.
The language. Please, for the love of God, at least learn to say hello, please and thank you before you go, because it prevents you looking like a total idiot in shops and staring at the cashier blankly when they greet you. Anything extra you can learn is obviously great.
Itinerary! Before you leave- write up a day-by-day plan of where you’re going to be, the addresses/contact details for where you’re staying, with copies of any flights/bus tickets etc etc. I have kept a copy on me, along with extra photocopies of my passport (some hostels ask you to leave one while you stay, and then you don’t have to leave the original). I’ve also given a copy to my mum so she knows where I should be, and can get in touch if she doesn’t hear from me.
And there we go- by now, you should be well on the way to having your own backpacking adventure booked! Time to pack!