In August of last year I felt like one of the luckiest girls in the world. Because of the generosity my family and friends extended to me after I finally graduated college, I was able to go on a 10-day trip to Dominical, Costa Rica, with my boyfriend. Without their graduation gifts I would never have been able to go (thank you, family!). At the time I was a recent college grad with no money except for what I made at the restaurant where I work… wait, that’s still me, haha. Being a student and working simultaneously gave me an education, but not the supplemental education that I believe everyone benefits from: traveling. I am admittedly not a world-traveler, for the aforementioned reasons, but oh, how I would like to be.
If you read my post Adventure, you know that my last vacation before Costa Rica had been four years prior, when my boyfriend and I went to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Because of where I was in my life at the time, the trip was rather disappointing (due to my behavior and mindset). In August of 2015, I was in a completely different place. I had quit drinking in February, graduated college in May, poor but debt-free, and had made meaningful connections or reconnections with the people around me. I was nervous about going on my first trip sans alcohol, but more than anything I was excited. Excited that I had the opportunity to travel, but also that I had the opportunity to change my traveling experience and style. I knew that I couldn’t get a “do-over” for Mexico (we can’t change the past), but I knew that I could alter my expectations and be grateful on this trip (we can change how we behave in the future).
At the risk of sounding corny, what began as a graduation-present getaway became an unforgettable journey that honestly changed my life. Costa Rica was life-altering not only because I was able to experience an amazing culture and a beautiful land, but also because I was given the opportunity to learn quite a few things about myself. When you’re removed from your comfort zone, both literally and figuratively, that’s when growth happens. But, as I discovered from my disastrous tip to Mexico, this only happens if you allow it to happen. If you’re open, willing, and receptive.
Maybe I was a little too receptive. Have you ever had a vacation hangover? When you’ve had such a wonderful, inspiring trip that coming back to your “real life” not only seems boring, but sad? Coming back from Costa Rica I began to feel the sadness that seeps in when you realize that waking up to the sounds of the jungle was just a passing experience. That learning to surf was merely an excursion, not a new lifestyle. As our plane flew further and further away from the lush greenery of Costa Rica, as the turquoise waters diminished from view, I decided to take stock of what I’d experienced and loved on the trip. Not only the experiences my boyfriend and I had joyfully had together, but how the trip had made me grow, made me feel. Wild. Free. Could I carry this with me back home? Would the high I felt in Costa Rica make it through customs? I’d have to try really hard. Wanting to implement some simple life lessons into my everyday life back home, I decided to make a list to help me remember:
- Pura Vida! We kept hearing this expression when we got to Costa Rica, which translates to “pure life.” It is used as a greeting, a farewell, and as a synonym for awesomeness, but it is also a lifestyle. Pura Vida is about living stress-free and enjoying the ride. The Costa Ricans we met on our trip lived Pura Vida by viewing life as wonderful and savoring the present moment. Whether surfing all day or working all day, life was celebrated. Now I try to treasure the simple day-to-day things, like the smell of my coffee in the morning or the scenery on my drive home, because it’s all good. Life is good if you choose to see it that way.
- Come as you are. Due to surfing and playing outdoors, many of the faces I saw in Costa Rica were makeup-free. There’s no point in applying mascara if it’s just going to run down your face. After the first day or so my makeup bag went untouched, giving me the freedom to feel beautiful without extra “stuff,” which is difficult for me due to my persnickety skin. At first I felt self-conscious, but then I realized that no one cared. They were too busy loving life, surfing and playing. I came to enjoy the naked, free feeling. Now, back home, I pretty much only wear makeup for work.
- Love your body. Because of the weather, no one wears a lot of clothes in Costa Rica. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It was hot, so I would often throw on just a dress or a pair of shorts over my wet swimsuit. My exposed skin made me self-conscious, worried that people could see my cellulite, but after a while I got used to showing some skin; it was too hot not to! I began to appreciate my body because it was capable of so much. It was hiking me up hills and jumping into waterfalls. My body became more to me than just its appearance. It became an awesome vehicle that enabled me to do some awesome things. Even if you live somewhere that’s winter 365 days out of the year and you never show skin, love your body because of what it can do, instead of worrying about what it looks like.
- Eat well. When out and about and wanting a quick meal, my boyfriend and I discovered that the junky imported snacks from home were much more expensive than the fresh, local foods that are abundant in Costa Rica, like coconut and fish. We ate well because it was easier and cheaper to get whole foods than packaged snacks. It’s not always easy or cheap to get fresh, whole foods back at home, but we look for what’s in season and it’s usually more affordable, not to mention much more satisfying than empty, processed junk. My skin was clearer and I lost weight (even though I ate like a truck driver!) while in Costa Rica.
- Be active. There’s so much to do outdoors in Costa Rica and many attractions require hiking or walking on rough terrain. Because of this, my boyfriend and I were active every day, whether we were trying something new or just bumming around town. Though I am admittedly not the most active person, I actually began to crave physical activity; it made me feel more alive. Though it’s not always easy or practical to take a surfing lesson or hike back at home, all you need is some space or the desire to take an alternate route to get the blood flowing. Now I roll out my mat in the living room and do yoga videos, I park farther away from the store even if there’s a close parking space (my boyfriend hates that), or I opt for the stairs rather than the elevator.
- Try new things. It’s common to try new things when you’re traveling, and in Costa Rica that means surfing. I assumed that because I do yoga, it would be easy for me to balance on the board. I was wrong. Surfing was tough and it took multiple tries and ultimately a board swap to finally get up. But when I did, it was that much more amazing because it had been so difficult. I felt like I had conquered something, including myself. I love the ocean but I’m afraid of its unpredictability, yet when I focused on just getting up on the board, the fear fell away and determination took over. When we returned home, I decided to continue challenging myself, to face my fears. That’s how I finally started this blog, something I had been putting off because of fear. You may fall down, maybe even countless times, like me falling off of my surfboard, but that’s okay. If you get back up and get back out there, you might just catch some amazing waves.
Yes, it’s not always easy to live like I lived in Costa Rica, where it was warm even when it rained, where I saw monkeys and waterfalls, where I learned to be kinder to myself because I was inadvertently eating well and being active. I live in Northern California, where right now it’s cold and rainy, where the ocean is about a million degrees colder than it is in Costa Rica, where I struggle with self-love because I don’t always have time to get on my mat or eat what is truly nourishing. But I come from the school of life where things that are worth it are not always easy. That’s what makes it so sweet when you get there.
I wish you a wild, free life.