Posted in Travel

What Is It Like Travelling To Costa Rica During A Pandemic?

I made this brief Instagram post after settling in to our first hotel in San Jose, not quite doing justice to the amount of stress and anxiety endured to get to that point.

Booking a holiday pre-covid only revolved around excitement, maybe a little bit of nerves for flying, but generally there was nothing to worry about.

However now, post-2020, things aren’t so simple. The rules are ever changing and differ depending on where you’re coming from and going to – don’t even get me started on adding in a transit! Even in the time I’ve been home (7 days and counting, thanks covid) the rules have changed again. Therefore, this post isn’t perhaps as informative as it is about the experience, however I’m here to share anyway. The biggest lesson I can offer, straight off the bat, is 100% do your research if travelling anywhere now… do it and then do it again. If you’re in the UK, the government website has everything you need to know but it also a little confusing. The website I found most helpful was Sherpa and I believe that can be used by anyone, anywhere in the world.

My personal experience involved travelling from London, to Miami, then on to Costa Rica and of course back again.

A connection always worries me but I couldn’t find direct flights, although it does transpire some run from Gatwick. So if you’re planning a trip, try to get a direct flight and save yourself the add stress of a transit. Factoring in the rules for another country, just to be in the airport, was a tad frustrating.

Also check your baggage allowance, rather than assuming that all long flights include checked bags like I did, as it turns out they don’t. I booked flights months in advance and didn’t even think twice to check. Only when it came to prepping everything did I then re-read the flight details and realise it was hand luggage only. Perhaps some people can pack lighter than I can, but in my opinion you can’t fit enough for 10 days in Costa Rica in hand luggage! Turns out I was right, as we did so many different kinds of activities in different places, lots of layers and outfit choices were much needed.

So, you’d think we could add on baggage online right? Wrong! No such luck… then upon contacting the airline to do it instead via multiple calls and emails, being passed from pillar to post… they tell us that due to our connecting flight being with a different airline (operating under the same company, but still different), it has to be done at the airport. More expensive and more time consuming, fantastic.

Travelling to Costa Rica from the UK didn’t require a test or any quarantine, so that was a relief. However, transitting through the USA required either a PCR or an observed LFT, no more than 24 hours before – for both directions. When we first started planning, we also needed a pre-departure and day 2 test for returning home. Pre-departure was scrapped before we went and the day 2 has also since been scrapped – so like I say, it’s ever-changing!

Also required to travel was proof of vaccination, a pase de salud, an ESTA, attestation form, confirmation of contact details and a passenger locator form before returning. So lots of paperwork to complete and QR codes to scan. Then there’s another curveball if you’ve had Covid in the last 90 days… you don’t need to do the tests but have to show more proof. The friend I was travelling with had to pay extra to obtain this, only for us to then find out it can’t be uploaded online for an early check-in. Talk about a palava!

All of these hiccups made me pretty nervous. Our flight was leaving around 9.30am, so we’d need to be at the airport pretty early… what if we couldn’t check in or sort out our luggage? We’d opted to stay overnight at a nearby airport hotel and my boyfriend was dropping us off. He was kind enough to take us to the airport first so any issues could be ironed out, leaving us with less to worry about early morning.

What a saving grace that was. Whilst there, we paid for luggage (£85 each, ouch!), checked all our documentation was correct, checked in and printed boarding passes. It finally felt like we could be excited.

The night at the hotel was pretty surreal after that, knowing it was REALLY happening now… leaving my boyfriend behind for the biggest chunk of time ever in our 4 year relationship. We had a couple of drinks to settle our nerves and then tried to get some sleep.

It didn’t feel like many hours later and we were on the way to the airport, the nerves were real by this point but everything went off without a hitch.

The only issue I had was having to throw some liquids away, after mistakenly having a bag that was too big… under the liquid limit but still a problem apparently! I’m still a little bitter about the expensive moisturiser but it’s a lesson learnt, and I’m just thankful there were no further issues.

We attempted breakfast at Giraffe but nerves got the better of us and both plates went unfinished, despite being delicious.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to our gate.

The flight was a little bumpy but we made it to Miami with plenty of time for our connection. Just as well as the line for passport control was CRAZY.

By the time we were at our next gate, our energy was starting to flag. I was so tired that I wasn’t even bothered about boarding another flight, I just wanted to sleep.

Luckily, it didn’t take too long to get going and before we knew it… we finally landed in San Jose, safe and well. I’ll be honest, I don’t think it ever sunk it, even now that I’m home. It was just so surreal.

I had wanted to avoid any room for error so booked a taxi ahead of time to get us to the airport. We landed around 9pm local time and I knew we’d want to just get to bed, not deal with sorting transportation in a foreign country.

Foreign being the key word here, my Spanish is incredibly limited. I learnt a minimal amount but certainly not enough to hold a conversation – a big regret if I’m honest! The lack of Spanish very nearly meant we went with the wrong person for our taxi and would have no doubt been overcharged, but to my own pleasant surprise, I stood my ground.

A much nicer man than the first helped us find the correct taxi driver. I think he’d waiting a while, as his friend waiting with him cheered my name when we arrived… I remember grinning, soaking in the late night heat and thinking wow… welcome to Costa Rica!

The drive was short and mostly silent, purely from exhaustion by this point. The universe must have known we needed some extra comfort though, as upon checking in we were upgraded to a suite – we weren’t even going to be there for 12 hours but oh it was bliss!

We made it.

I hope you’ll read on and relive the journey with me… stay tuned.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve have any travel experiences during Covid!

Posted in America, Anxiety, Life, Travel

My First Solo Trip With Trek America: Arriving in LA

This post contains links to outside websites but these are not affiliate. All views are my own, I’ve not received any type of payment for this post – but if Trek America wants to hit me up then I’m down!

For someone who has always wanted to travel the world, I’m not particularly comfortable on any mode of transport. To be honest, that’s putting it mildy. I hate to drive anywhere new, especially if the roads are busy, I also hate being a passenger when someone else is driving. Flying is completely mind-boggling and utterly terrifying, and I generally won’t even consider getting on most types of boat. I have done it, but I don’t like it. Trains are about the only thing I don’t mind for some reason.

All that being said, I’ve always understood that to get anywhere I’ve always wanted to go… I usually need some kind of transport to get me there, probably a plane. The fear never goes away but I try not to let it stop me.

You can imagine though, with flying already on my long list of fears, going it alone makes it even more terrifying.

A young couple were sat next to me on the 11 hours or so flight from London to LA. They made polite small talk when we first boarded and then cuddled up together, while I kept to myself and tried to relax. I’d been having nightmares for weeks about the journey, but a short while in to the flight, I managed to doze off – still clutching my drink. Luckily, this was before my coffee drinking days and it was only a glass of water, as I ended up throwing the whole thing all over the poor guy next to me. I must have been having another one of my said nightmates, as I jolted myself awake, of course holding on to my cup of water… I was mortified and it certainly didn’t help with all the anxiety bubbling up inside me, but the couple were very sweet and made sure I was ok. Plus, I suppose it’s quite funny looking back on it!

Other than that, the flight was thankfully uneventful and there was no need to put the safety instructions I’d memorised to any use – not that I’d be any good if there was an emergency, as I’m sure I’d full on panic and do nothing. I imagine I watched a few films, although I don’t remember that detail now. I just remember landing in LAX some time in the evening, relieved to get off the plane, but still filled with the terror of what I was embarking on. Things were about to go downhill too.

The Trek America trips start at various “gateway” hotels in the departing cities and when you book the trip, there’s an option to stay there the night before the trip starts, as they tend to start early in the morning. Trek America can even pair you up with another solo traveller, either on the same trip, or another trip, to keep the cost of the room down – damn single supplements!

The gateway hotel in LA at the time of my trip was called The Hacienda. From what I gather this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, although I could be wrong. The hotel was only a couple of minutes drive from LAX, with a free shuttle service to and from the hotel. You’d think this would have been super easy to use and yet, I managed to make a total hash of it…

I went to the information desk, who call the hotel and request the shuttle to make a collection from the terminal. Then I waited outside as instructed, assuming the shuttle would simply stop… it didn’t. I went back in and told them at the information desk, who tried again for me. It didn’t stop again. I went back inside… you need to wave it down, they told me. Ok, sure, I’ve waved down a bus at home before. I went back outside, waved the shuttle down, and guess what? It drove past me again. Short of standing in the middle of the road, I didn’t understand what more I was supposed to do and by this point I’d been waiting for easily over an hour, beginning to despair. The trip was off to a total disaster and it hadn’t really started yet. This clearly was an awful idea, I should just pay for a flight home now, I thought to myself, close to tears.

I approached a couple of taxi drivers, desperate to get to the hotel and willing to pay anything they requested… no one wanted to take me, which I still find surprising because I was practically begging them to take my money. I got the impression they didn’t want to rip me off as they kept saying I was better to take the free shuttle, so I guess it was kind but I was desperate to get out of the damn airport.

The hotel was close, but it wasn’t walkable. The roads were busy and several lanes wide, and this is before we all had google maps readily available on our phones. In fact, I barely had wifi for the entire trip – hasn’t technology come far in just 8 years?!

So, I stood outside in utter panic. I’m never going to get there, I kept thinking to myself. Then, by pure stroke of luck, I overheard a family discussing the hotel they were staying at… it was the same as mine! They were waiting for some more family members to arrive and then jumping on the shuttle, hallelujah! It’s so unlike me to approach a group of total strangers, but I was honestly desperate by this point. Plus, they seemed friendly. I explained my tale of woe, and asked if I could wait with them. Of course, they said, but they were going to be waiting for another couple of hours. I honestly didn’t care, knowing that the shuttle wouldn’t drive past a much larger group. The hotel can’t have been popular as there were no other shuttles in the time I waited with the family, who were a chatty Eastern European bunch. When the rest of their party arrived at the terminal, someone requested a shuttle, which arrived and actually stopped. I was finally on my way, completely exhausted after the journey and slightly passed caring enough to be nervous anymore.

The drive to the hotel was so quick, I couldn’t beleive it, I’d waited so unbearably long for a 2 minute or less drive. I was SO grateful to that family and for fate to bring me a group going to the same place, or perhaps I’d still be trapped at LAX to this day.

Upon arriving, I checked in straight away and was informed that my room mate was already there. My stomach twisted. I wondered who it would be, what would they be like, what if they’re really annoyed about me arriving so late… Mainly I hoped it was someone due to be on the same trip as me, and friendly enough that I could stick with for at least the start of the trip.

For the sake of anonymity, I won’t use full names. The girl in the hotel room was “S”, a young German girl and very sweet, thankfully. She’d put the lock on door so when I first rocked up, I couldn’t get in, but she’d stayed awake waiting for me and jumped up to let me in. She greeted me with a huge grin and was chatty straight away, automatically putting me at ease. I was so relieved, this is all going to be fine now, I thought. I never actually told her how much she really did calm me down that first night and how much I appreciated it, I wasn’t particularly open about my anxiety then.

“S” had been an au pair and was doing a bit of travelling in America, I can’t remember why she wasn’t going home for Christmas but there must have been a reason – I really should have kept a journal so I could remember these smaller details. (If you’re thinking on booking a solo adventure like this, I implore you to keep a journal.) I do remember saying up chatting for a short while, before FINALLY calling it a night, now full of excitement for the trip to begin.

My memory of how the next morning exactly played out is obviously quite hazy but we were up early, as we had to join the trip for 7.30am. I was sorting my suitcase and found a card from my mum. She’d snuck it in there without me realising and had written to me about how proud she was, I was close to tears reading it but I took a deep breath and gave myself a minute to appreciate how far I’d come. I still have the card to this day.

S and I went downstairs and met the rest of the group together. Besides the tour leader, there was just one guy out of the whole group, we’ll call him Dutch, because he was. There were another 2 German girls, a Canadian, an older Japanese woman, I was the only Brit and the rest of the group were Koreans. I was suprised to be the only Brit, having been told it’s common to have mainly Brits in the groups, but I wasn’t bothered. Everyone was baffled that I’d chosen to be away from home for Christmas, as they were all studying in the States, or already doing some kind of travelling and wouldn’t have been home anyway.

The tour leader, “C”, was a guy in his later 20s and exactly what I’d imagined. He had perfect teeth and a wide smile, enthusiastic and wearing a baseball cap. I distinctly remember being relieved that I didn’t find him attractive, because I was NOT ready for anymore guy drama. I’d left behind my worries of the guy who ghosted me for Australia, as well as an on/off ex that had crept back in to my life somewhere along the way. Say it with me: no more guy drama!

The group was briefly acquainted and there were formalties such as recording travel insurance info, then “C” handed us our itineraries. It was in that moment that I knew this was about to be the time of my life.

Screenshot of my FB post, having just received the itinerary – the last bit of WiFi for a few days!