When I was a senior in high school my school had one of their big annual trips to Costa Rica. The trip was for students taking Spanish so they could have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a Spanish speaking country. Now since Spanish was the only language my school offered, the trip was basically open to any upperclassmen who could convince their parents to sign the permission slip and loan them $2,500.
Now, since going on this one trip, I do not consider myself an expert on all things travel. I still can barely navigate an airport and I always over-pack no matter where I’m going. However, my trip to Costa Rica opened my eyes to some pretty useful (albeit unconventional) travel tips that I think can apply to everyone.
Tip #1) No Hablan Español
Let me tell you, trying to exist in a foreign country and being unable to communicate with anyone is extremely overwhelming. The McDonalds menus are all in different languages and the price tags are just a jumble of letters with no dollar symbols to help you out. It’s rough. But the best thing you can do while visiting a foreign country is to at least try and communicate in their language. Nothing is more frustrating for a store or food service employee than someone babbling away in English and completely ignoring the language barrier. Simply saying, “Well most people here probably speak English,” is not an excuse. It’s always helpful to just assume that every person you meet doesn’t know English.
For example, in Costa Rica we stayed in a hotel where not all the employees were bilingual. We needed more towels in our room so my friend and I went down to the front desk to ask for more. The man at the desk could not speak English so my friend stood there for five minutes yelling, “WE NEED THREE TOWELS” as he just stared at us, blankly. Finally, I dove deep into the small part of my brain that actually retained knowledge in Spanish class. “Necesitamos…tres…toallas” I stammered.
The man’s face finally lit up with understanding. “Si!” he said happily, and went to get us three towels.
Bottom Line: Speaking to someone in English who doesn’t speak it is not going to get you anywhere, no matter how loud you yell. Put a little effort in and try speaking their language. You may sound stupid, but you’ll look like less of an asshole.
Tip #2) Don’t Be Afraid of the Bananas
Everybody hates a picky eater. Sorry, but it’s true. If you’re planning on traveling to another country and you consider yourself a picky eater, it’s time to strap your big kid pants on and get a little adventurous. To truly discover another country’s culture you need to try their food. If you have an endless list of foods you think are “gross” than you’ll be the that person at the table eating bread and nothing else. Even if you end up hating something you try, you at least tried it.
One night in Costa Rica we were all served an amazing dinner that included these strange, brownish cylinders. Everyone began questioning what the cylinders were and started poking at them with their forks. Most people just pushed them off their plates and said they weren’t going near them because they didn’t know what they were. I didn’t want to do that. I put one of them in my mouth and discovered one of the most delicious tastes in the world. The brown cylinders turned out to be fried plantains, which are basically like big bananas. I ate all of mine and most of the plantains others were too chicken to try. I gained a new favorite food and lost nothing.
Bottom Line: You’re in a beautiful country that you have never seen before and may never see again. Eat the damn bananas. You’ll be fine.
Tip #3) Don’t Brake
I never thought I would ever go zip lining between two mountains. I never thought I would be given the opportunity to strap myself to a half-inch thick wire and hurtle through mid air while suspended hundreds of feet off the ground. The whole thing sounds insane but I got the chance to live that insanity in Costa Rica. We all went zip lining through dense forests and towering mountains and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I can assure you there is nothing like it.
The most thrilling part of the whole experience was that the zip lining instructors told us not to brake before we hit the next landing platform. They were afraid that if we braked too soon we would get stuck out in the middle of the line and they would have to come get us. So instead, we just plummeted towards the platform at full force until a brake line caught us and prevented us from the smashing into a tree and dying. The few moments before coming to an abrupt stop were the most terrifying and exhilarating moments I have ever experienced. I knew there was going to be a break line to catch me and yet when you are speeding towards such a stationary object, you definitely see some life flashing before your eyes.
Zip lining is a memory that I will carry with me for life, and I am so grateful that I never gave myself the chance to chicken out. Seeing the beautiful mountain peaks of Costa Rica at eye level is something that comes along once in a lifetime. Amazing trips call for amazing experiences and to make the most of your travels, you need to open yourself up to everything.
Bottom Line: Don’t brake. Don’t let fear keep you from experiencing something amazing . Just hurtle towards your target and don’t let anything hold you back.