These FAQs are from our 2018 Winter trip to Mexico/Costa Rica.
Where are you going?
We’re planning to go to Mexico and Costa Rica. For specifics in those countries, see our itinerary.
Why Central America? Why Mexico & Costa Rica? How did you decide?
The reason it took us so long to actually plan a trip (instead of leaving winter in Boston winter in early January) was an inability to decide where to go. Back to Argentina & Chile? Peru? Ecuador? Colombia? In the end, our deciding factors were: somewhere warm/with good weather, somewhere that spoke Spanish, had good food, was relatively low costing, and safe. We couldn’t decide between Mexico and Costa Rica, so we decided we should just go to both. Mexico has an amazing history, culture, food, and landscape. Costa Rica has a huge biodiversity and geographically and culturally unique among Central American countries. It took a long time to make a decision about where to go (so many places!) but in the end, we told ourselves it didn’t matter where we went – we just needed to go and we can go somewhere else next time.
How did you decide on your itinerary within Mexico & Costa Rica?
Our current itinerary is more like a rough guide/skeleton. We came up with it from reading guidebooks, looking at online forums & blogs, and chatting with a friend who spent 4 months there last year (thanks Sarah). It’s not set in stone and we’ll make decisions as we go based on what we hear from other travelers, and what works out well (i.e. timing, costs, etc).
How long are you going for?
We don’t have return tickets yet, but since we’re booking award tickets, it’s really flexible. We’ll probably just get a ticket-holding reward flight home then decide as we’re traveling when we’re ready to come back. We’re thinking between 2-3 months, which means coming back sometime in late April to early May.
What about your jobs?
Jenny quit her full-time salaried/benefitted job in 2016 to travel and has been living the contractor life since then, spending much of 2017 teaching people how to ride a bike for the first time. David is a freelance mobile software developer so he’s always on and off various contracts; we leave after his current contract finishes and he’ll pick something new up when we come back. While it’s a little scary to both not have jobs and know when our next income will be, we are confident that we will be able to find paid work when we return. We recognize that we are incredibly blessed to have this luxury and feel very grateful for our educations, skills, and networks.
What about health insurance?
We purchase our health insurance through the state’s insurance exchange. For traveling abroad, we purchase travel insurance, which offers 24/7 support and covers medical needs, canceled travel, and emergency evacuation. We use World Nomads.
What about your house?
When we traveled for months at a time in 2012, we moved about 5 times in one year, hopping between sublets and storage. To be frank, it sucked. So we decided that this time, we’re keeping our apartment in Boston. We have a friend to housesit.
How can you afford to do this?
We’re not independently wealthy and we don’t have trust funds. We knew that we wanted to travel long term again, so we lived our lives accordingly.We have intentionally made choices and sacrifices in our lives that have allowed us to do this. We live simply and below our means. Could we afford to live in a nicer apartment or buy a house? Yes. Could we afford to buy a car, go out more, have more stuff, etc? Yes. But we intentionally live as simply as we can to be able to afford to do this. We also work the miles/points system through travel hacking with credit cards and other offers, learning from FlyerTalk and The Points Guy. Our flights/to from Central America, several internal flights, and several accommodations will all be basically free because of the miles/points we’ve accrued over the last several years. We also keep it simple while traveling – we stay in hostels and modest guest houses and don’t say “it’s vacation, let’s splurge” very often (because that works for a 2 week trip, but not a 2 month trip).
What’s the currency? Exchange rate?
Mexico’s currency is pesos and Costa Rica’s currency is colones. 100 Mexican pesos is $5.35 USD, or $1USD is about 19 pesos. 1000 colones is $1.76USD, or $1USD is about 570 colones. We’ll have our heads better wrapped around costs when we get there and start thinking in pesos/colones instead of dollars. We know that the dollar is stronger and will work in our favor. We plan to do what we always do – take the local currency out of ATMS and use credit cards where accepted.
What are you going to do while you’re there?
We are going to do a mix of vacationing, traveling, and just living. There are a lot of museums and ruins to see, as well as beautiful architecture. The outdoor recreation opportunities are endless – so we’ll be hiking, biking, going to the beach, and spending a lot of time in awe at the beauty around us. There’s possibilities of rafting, climbing, boating, , swimming and more. We’ll take a lot of pictures and do a lot of reading (and writing on the blog!). We’ll practice our Spanish a lot and might even stay in one place for a longer period of time and volunteer/just live there instead of traveling around all the time.
How will you get to/between places?
For much of the time, we will fly between places. If we’re going to multiple places in one area, we’ll take buses. Mexico City has an amazing subway system. We don’t anticipate driving ourselves at all. We’ll also walk a lot!
Where are you going to stay?
We’ll stay mostly in hostels, with some AirBNBs and regular B&Bs mixed in, found through Rough Guides/Lonely Planet guidebooks, TripAdvisor, and Hostel World. We have a variety of hotel points, so at some point we’ll stay in some (hopefully fancy) hotels. We generally prefer hostels/B&Bs because they usually have free internet, breakfast, and friendly people.
Is it safe?
This is a big question that we’ve gotten, given all the negative things you hear in the news about Mexico and that we don’t take lightly. We’ve read the state department warnings; there are some unsafe parts of Mexico where there are drug wars happening, but we’re not going anywhere near those areas. Mexico is a huge country. We’ve spoken to people who spent significant time there last year and are there now and all signs lead to the fact that there are many safe areas. We are going to heavily touristed areas; millions of tourists (it’s the 8th most touristed country in the world) go there each year.
Do you need any vaccinations or anything?
Since we traveled to South America last year, we’re caught up on all needed vaccines that most Americans don’t get – such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid from a travel clinic; we’re also bringing antibiotic pills. There is very low risk of malaria or Zika in the areas we are going and we’ll be taking mosquito avoidance measures (which is what the CDC recommends).
How do you go about planning such a long period of traveling?
Short answer: Painfully.
Jenny is a type A, over-planner, which she has to let go of for these type of trips. We use a variety of print resources (i.e. taking every guidebook out of the library) and online searching. We try to read up/get as familiar with a country as we can before we go, with a vague idea of what we’d like to do and 6 nights booked. We then plan as we go so that we can decide to stay in a place longer or shorter if we like/dislike it, and go where people recommend/as we hear about things. That’s not to say that Jenny doesn’t do research at home and bring many spreadsheets of information that she’s already vetted (i.e. we’re going to blah town, here are 3 places I’ve already checked out that we could stay). This allows more flexibility to make decisions that work, instead of having everything pre-planned, which seems nearly impossible.
How can you go with so little planned? Aren’t you scared?
You bet it’s a little scary! But travel is about pushing out of your comfort zone and trusting that in the end, it will all work out. That’s the adventure! (and, having each other sure helps!)
Why did you take a sabbatical? Why are you traveling?
Taking a sabbatical and deciding to travel did not come as an easy decision. (Will this derail my career? Can I afford it? What will my friends and family think? Am I crazy?). But, after years of burn out and following the expected path, we just knew we needed to get off the path – fearing that one day we’d wake up 30 years from now and wonder where the time had gone and what opportunities we had missed while on cruise control. We don’t want to put everything off until retirement – but take the opportunity now while we are free from most personal and financial commitments to have life changing adventures. Traveling opens your mind, enhances you as a person, and lays out new opportunities. Lastly, yes, this was scary for us (not settled with somewhere to live, an unknown future, less than secure jobs, traveling to unknown, foreign places). This is the adventure – it’s a little scarier, less safe, and something new and exciting to explore and challenge us.