We just got back from Costa Rica! (Well, we got back Saturday, but I picked up a cold somewhere along the way, and Bryna got sick at the dog-boarding place, so it took a few days to get back into the swing of things.)
It was a long-planned adventure for us, and a lot of firsts: Our first international family vacation. Our first big trip with a toddler. Our first trip to Central America. The first time we'd been on a beach vacation in a long while. Our first time relying primarily on a rental car for transportation in another country.
We flew in and out of San Jose, and spent the first and last nights of the trip at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport to make arrival and departure easy. From San Jose, we drove to Monteverde for two nights, and then spent six nights at Playa Negra in Guanacaste, just south of popular Tamarindo.
There's lots I want to write about the trip, and many pictures to sort through, but while they're fresh in my mind I want to share a few things I learned on our first international family vacation. These won't apply to everyone, but they're thoughts I want to remember and keep in mind for our next big trip!
It's worth it. Despite the challenges of traveling with a toddler (and there definitely are challenges!), it's totally worth it. The ups and downs and the memories you make will bring you all closer together.
Even if your "worst case scenario" comes true, everything'll still be fine. Our 6-hour flight to Costa Rica left at 4pm, and Willa had had an early nap. I'd told friends before we left that, "worst case scenario," if she didn't sleep the whole flight, we'd arrive at 9pm Denver time. Sure enough, she didn't sleep the whole flight. And she stayed awake until 11:30pm Denver time. But we all made it through in one piece. Everything carried on as planned.
Kids can be better travelers than adults. We were a bit worried about how Willa would do during our three 4-hour drives. She did great, and on one drive, we dubbed her "MVP," because she was happy and content the whole drive, whereas Dan and I got a bit crabby because we needed a bathroom and were hungry etc. etc. And, although this trip was probably an exception, usually Willa sleeps much better than we do while we're traveling!
You might want to splurge on A/C, but it'll be okay if you don't. It was a little tricky figuring out how to get Willa to nap. At her usual naptime, 12ish, our bungalow at the beach was extremely hot. My initial response was to curse myself for not paying the additional money to rent a bungalow with air conditioning. But really, all we had to do was move her nap a little earlier. If she napped around 11, it wasn't yet that hot in the room. This worked well, too, because she woke up at 5:30 or 6 most of the week (ugh!) since it gets light so much earlier there. We also took her for late afternoon walks in the carrier, which gave her a chance to catch a few more minutes of sleep if she needed it. But still, when you have little ones and need to be in your room midday, it could be a good option to have A/C.
Carefully selected toys are key. You can't take many toys on a trip. (Well, I guess you could, but that would just be silly. And we all know I strive to pack light.) So you have to make sure you pick ones that serve many purposes. The main players for us this trip were stacking cups, an AquaDoodle, and a Sesame Street coloring book.
I really like breakfast. The places we stayed for the first three nights had breakfast included. I really like rolling out of bed and having coffee and breakfast treats available at my fingertips. At the beach we bought groceries and had breakfast on our porch each morning. That was also nice, but not the same.
Give things time. When I travel, I sometimes feel a lot of pressure to be having an "amazing time" every single moment. But for me, it takes time to settle in to a new place and to a new schedule. Even when all you're doing is relaxing on the beach, it might take some time to figure everything out. Just let it happen. It will.