Thursday, October 11, 2012

Traveling Light

I thought it would be fun to finish up the Costa Rica posts with a few pictures that end up on the camera, but don't show much of anything other than how we travel.

For this particular trip we had to take three flights both ways. That's six flights total, and surprisingly only two of them were together! Since I was traveling for work, and Sarah was traveling for fun, we had to book our reservations through two different services. Sometimes, we can finagle the reservations to get the same flights, but in this case, we had to take what we could get.

On top of the separate flights, there was no way to travel from our little town in central PA to Costa Rica without an over-night layover. We had two flights the first day, delivering us in Houston at midnight, and then our next flight wouldn't take off until 8am the next day. So what's a traveler to do?

If you demand a bed, then you can check in to the nearest airport hotel. But that never seems like a good deal to me ~ on average it's going to take me at least an hour to get off the plane, to the hotel, checked in, and settled in your bed. Then you have to wake up in time to get up, dressed, and back to the hotel in time to make it through security... and if you're me, you won't be able to fall asleep right away because you'll be thinking about how you have to wake up in five hours to make it all happen. So what do we do? Sleep in the airport!

It's not for the the weak of back, because no matter how much you try, your sleep is likely to be uncomfortable, but it's free! and free of worry! You will not miss your next flight. Of course, I come up with the plan to sleep in the airport, and then worry that some worker is going to come along and say that I can't do it {they never do}. And, you'll find there are quite a few other folks with the same idea.

If this is your plan, you want to pack appropriately. Sarah and I both packed lightweight blankets that we could easily fit in our packs. She also packed a pillow. I forgot mine, but made due with some rolled up clothes {we saw a guy in the airport that brought a therma-rest!}. In the photo below, we're spread out for the night. And unfortunately, you can see that we were stuck in an airport with arms | between | every | seat. I slept on the floor, while Sarah folded herself into a pretzel on the seats.

Unfortunately, the next morning we were on two different flights to Costa Rica. Neither of us wanted to face the charges of using our cell phones abroad, so we came up with a solid plan for meeting at the airport. Solid until my plane landed before hers {it left an hour later}, and then neither of us were where we were supposed to be! It only took an hour or so of confusion and getting to know every nook of the San Jose airport before we found each other. So, if you find yourself in a similar flight situation, you might want a plan and a backup plan.

While traveling, we always opt for trains and buses over private taxis or cars. Taking buses and trains over taxis saves you money, lets you interact with local citizens and other travelers, and gives you a more intimate glimpse of life in the places you're visiting.

First a note about saving money. There's almost always a trade off between the money saved and the time spent. As I mentioned above, we were delayed at the airport because we couldn't find each other, and unfortunately we had to make an hour trip to our eco-lodge and check in before the front desk closed for the evening. In this case, we knew there was no way to take the two buses required and get to the lodge in time, so we opted for the taxi.

When I made the reservations at the lodge, I asked them about all of the travel options that would get us from the airport to the lodge. In the conversation I asked them what the average price would be for a taxi from the airport, so I knew ahead of time that it would cost about $100. With that information, when it was time to get a taxi, I could be a more informed customer and do a bit of negotiating. Also, when you're dealing with prices that high, it's always good to know approximately what you should pay so you don't get ripped of. Airports are one of the easiest places to catch a cab, so with the first guy who approached us, I asked if he could take us to the lodge for $80, he came back with an offer of $90, we agreed and were off.

When we were leaving the lodge the next day, we wanted to take a bus to San Jose. The bus price for two people? ~ $6.00! So given the choice between a $90 taxi fare or a $6.00 bus fare, I would take the bus any day.

Although, taking buses aren't for the weak of heart. In the photo above, Sarah's flagging down the bus. Notice that there's no stop and we had to stand on the side of a fast-moving highway. Once that bus arrived, there were no more seats left, so we were standing in the aisle for the full 40 minute ride.

After a night in San Jose, we caught another bus from the city to the smaller town where we would stay for the rest of the week while I attended meetings and Sarah sunned herself by the pool.

As you can see in that photo, we're sitting in seats this time {!}, but with all of our luggage on our laps. Whenever traveling by bus or train, it's important to keep an eye on your belongings, and often that means keeping them on your lap. If you're lucky and the bus isn't crowded you can spread out, but I rarely find an empty bus.

While this doesn't seem like the comfiest option, it gives you the most peace of mind, and with some careful planning you can make it comfortable by packing light. We like to travel with carry-on only. For us this means two backpacks. The larger one carries all of our clothes, but is still small enough to fit in the overhead bins on planes and is light enough to carry for as we're walking around foreign cities {Sarah has her larger pack on her back as she waves down the bus above, but you can't tell from the front!}. While suitcases are nice for wheeling around hotels and airports, they can be a pain in the butt when you're trying to wheel them over cobblestone of old cities, or trying to flag down buses on the side of the highway. The second, smaller pack carries our cameras, computers, and other valuable essentials. This one often gets worn on our chest. It looks silly, but makes it easy to grab our camera or some cash as we're walking around cities and interacting with vendors.

And with that, our little trip is over.

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