Nickel and Dime-ing my way to Tanzania

Despite the title of this entry, this is really about budgets and Costa Rica.

You see, I get a week off between Christmas and New Years, and it seems like a waste to not travel when you’re given holidays.  So months ago I started planning a trip to Costa Rica, on the cheap.  I’ve been told it’s hard to do – out of all the Central American countries, CR is the most expensive.  So I figured it was going to be challenging, but I’d do what I could.

It started at home, of course.  I drew up a budget, and set out how much I would spend on the necessities – rent, hydro, phone, internet, and cable (ok, so cable isn’t a necessity, but if I was going to spend more time at home, I needed something to do!) as well as food, my bus pass, apartment insurance and my sponsor child through World Vision.  I then factored in entertainment, and how much I’d like to save per month for Tanzania.

This budget worked out great until I realized that I hadn’t thought of Christmas gifts.  No problem right?  I have a small family, it was doable.  Until I found myself with a boyfriend, which increased my Christmas spending.

I ended up getting a part time job in a bookstore (more spending!) to fund my trip.  I asked that an extra $40 be taken off for taxes, so that I didn’t get hit with a surprise at tax time (and with luck, I’ll get a small return, which I can then put towards Tanzania.)

Currently, I have paid off my flight, and exchanged currencies – I’ve gone with American dollars, as they tend to be easier to exchange for local currency in many countries.  I’ll get enough Costa Rican colones to get me through a day or two, as well.  My hostels are going on my credit card.  We’re staying in moderately priced hostels, so it shouldn’t be more than $200 for the week that we’re there.  My surfing lesson was a present from my friend Steph – she graciously offered to pay for it as my Christmas gift, which is amazingly awesome. 

And now all that is left is in incidentals.  Zip lining, guided night walks of the cloud forest, a coffee plantantion tour, bike rentals…whatever comes up. 

It’s not easy to travel cheap, or rather it’s not easy to plan to travel cheap.  You can save on accomodation – even a single room at a hostel is cheaper than a hotel, and you still get the privacy, albeit with a shared bathroom and shared kitchen.  Taking public transit, or local buses (chicken buses) over private/tourist buses helps as well.  Buying and making your own food, or going to smaller, local places, is also helpful.  Do some research – there’s lots out there, on any number of destinations.  Someone, somewhere, has been there and done that, and they want to share their tips!

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Taking the Cost-a outta Rica

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Things have been percolating on the travel front, as well as the couchsurfing front, so expect to see a ramp up in posts.  I don’t want to blog about two unrelated topics in one post, so I’ve decided to hold off on my couchsurfing post for now.  While I’ve hosted my first couchsurfer (hint: it went well), my second arrives in about two weeks, so I’ll wait to blog about that until after he’s left.
This post is all about Costa Rica.  After much debating, googling, and price hunting, my friend Jason and I found a return flight to Liberia, Costa Rica for $850CND, tax included.  This is pretty phenomenal.  We leave Ottawa on December 27, and return on January 5.  I’m pretty stoked to ring in the 2012 somewhere in Costa Rica – maybe on a beach, maybe in a cloud forest, who knows?  All I do know is there won’t be snow involved.
We found the flights on the Travel Cuts website.  We have a bit of a circular route – we fly to Newark, then transfer to a flight to Houston, then a flight to Liberia.  On our way home, we fly Liberia-Houston-Chicago-Ottawa.  Our layovers are generally 2 to 3 hours, so all luggage should make the transfers as well; and we won’t get caught up in any border delays.
I know I said I wanted to go to the Canary Islands – and I do – but this price was just too good to pass up.  Assuming La Palma doesn’t slide into the ocean and cause a mega-tsunami, I can always go at a later date.  There were a few signs (or omens) that kept popping up for Costa Rica.  While looking at sleeping bags at MEC, there was a Costa Rica guide book left on a table.  Reading an online newspaper, I noticed the travel section was devoted to Costa Rica.  A friend mentioned that they were going to Costa Rica next year. Ok, so only three signs popped up, but it did seem a little serendipitous. 
Nothing besides the flight has been planned.  We do know that we’re going to be staying mostly in the north-western part of the country – hiking Arenal volcano, zipling in Monteverde and the cloud forest, scuba diving/snorkling/surfing/relaxing on the Pacific coast.  I’m also hoping to couchsurf at least one night in Costa Rica to experience it from the surfer end.  
The friend I’m travelling with is a scuba diver.  I’ve never been certified – I’ve never been anywhere where it was needed – and I’ve been looking into it here in Ottawa.  There’s one spot, within a half hour bus ride from my place, that offers an Open Water course starting in October, for $300.  The only problem right now is that the course is once a week, for 5 weeks, and ends at 11:30 pm.  I’m up at 5:30 am during the week for work.  That is not good math.  But I’ll continue to look into it.

It’s Not the Time. It’s the Money.

I travel.  It’s what I do when I have the time, and money.  Let me rephrase that – when I have the money.  Time I have, the money part of the equation….that takes some serious tinkering with finances, and promises of a more rewarding future if I leave those shoes on the rack, instead of in a shopping bag.
For years I was self-employed with no real vacation time, and my “travels” were limited to long weekend jaunts to Toronto or Montreal, with the occasional road trip to Nova Scotia thrown in.  About three years ago I decided to say “screw it” and I booked a flight to Iceland.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.  Shortly after buying my ticket, and signing up to run a 10K race, a friend and I decided to take a car and drive to Chicago for a 4 day weekend. 
That 4 day weekend turn into a 10 day Americana road trip, with stops in Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison.  A mere week after returning home, I was off again to Reykjavik, and a whole new world of adventures.
There’s been no stopping me since, and in the past three years I’ve logged trips to Peru, Belgium (with add-ons of Paris, Luxembourg, Rotterdam and Barcelona), Hawaii and Newfoundland.  This Christmas, I’m hitting either Costa Rica, or Panama.  And next summer?  Next summer I’m climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
This blog is (hopefully) going to be a combination of my planning, and my trips.  I’ll give you the companies I found, the companies I ultimately decided to go with (and why), and any lessons learned along the way.