“You are so brave,” a woman told me when I mentioned I was spending three months in Costa Rica for an internship at Bodhi. I was shocked at first, why am I brave? But the question really got me thinking…
Why travel alone?
What I love about traveling alone is that I become this fiercely independent woman; something I never knew until I travelled by myself. It has been quite invigorating to know that I can go thousands of miles away from my familiar surroundings, and handle it in stride. As a recent college graduate, I had become accustomed to going places with my group of friends. And while I love going on girls’ trips, I never realized how much I would enjoy going on adventures by myself.
As I started to look for internships for the summer I knew I wanted to expand my horizons. Costa Rica sounded perfect — it was far, but not too far. When I first told people I was going by myself I got a lot of worried faces and questions. “Aren’t you scared going by yourself, especially being a female?” and “Are you sure it’s safe?” Some questions I truly did not know the answer to or had never considered because I was only thinking of how many adventures I could have and how amazing it would be to live in a small community for three months.
Traveling by yourself can be an extremely scary idea, and you will probably ask yourself the following questions:
- Who am I going to talk to?
- How different will it be going to places by myself?
- What if I get lost?
- Who is going to protect me from all the bugs? (A question I ask myself daily)
- What if something bad happens?
These are legitimate fears I have had and sometimes still have, but all of these obstacles can be overcome, and this in itself is incredibly empowering.
Costa Rica, a great place to travel solo
As someone who is fairly introverted, solo traveling has helped me come out of my shell. Both Costa Ricans and visiting tourists are extremely friendly. When I go to a coffee shop or local hostel for dinner, everyone is friendly and all of these barriers that formerly existed are broken down. It’s not hard to make friends with both locals and foreigners. I have a “stranger danger” attitude so I was a little apprehensive at first, but soon realized that most everyone is willing to be your friend. While I never forget that there are exceptions to this rule and thus try to be aware of my surroundings all the time, so far I have been met with only positive people.
One of the many benefits of traveling in this the Costa Ballena region in particular is that there is something incredible for everyone. Just here in Bahia Ballena, you can surf, kayak, SUP (stand up paddle boarding), and snorkel right in the bordering Marino Ballena National Park. There are a variety of waterfalls to hike to and go swimming in — one of my favorites is the Naucaya Waterfall. The other day I went zip lining through the rain forest in the pouring rain. It was an invigorating experience to fly through the mountains and take in all of the amazing views (I may or may not have been the only one screaming). What was great about this tour is that I was put in a group with other people so I was not alone on this thrilling experience and got to meet a bunch of new friends.
Traveling around within Costa Rica is also easily accessible and can be fairly cheap. I have gotten lost quite a few times but that’s what adventures are for, right? In Costa Ballena, the highway runs along the coastline so you are between the ocean and the mountains. This gives you a sense of direction as to where you’re going. The bus system is simple to use and inexpensive if you are traveling on a budget. Renting a car is also a great way to get around if you have less time. There are endless options of hostels and hotels. If you’re traveling alone, hostels are great because usually there are other solo travelers, so you can meet some friends along the way.
Traveling with a purpose? You can always opt for a learning-centered vacation package such as the Bodhi Sessions, which focuses on surfing and yoga and provides opportunities for meeting new people or spending time on your own, depending on your preference.
Tips for staying safe
- Be polite. Ticos are friendly; expect to hear hola, pura vida, and buenos dias from locals. It’s always polite to say hola and adios back!
- Be aware of your surroundings. When I first came here I thought it didn’t get dark until 8pm, but since Costa Rica is so close to the equator, it starts to get dark around 5:30pm everyday. I was in an uncomfortable situation where I had to walk back in the dark, no flashlight and in the pouring rain by myself. To say I learned my lesson is an understatement.
- Guard your valuables. If you’re going to the beach or waterfall you may want to leave your valuables back at your hotel. Things can get easily taken when you’re not looking so better safe than sorry.
- Do as the locals do. Don’t wear anything that is too flashy or skimpy, cover up in the bigger cities and downs, and don’t walk around with your expensive possessions on display.
- Be open to the lessons that this experience may teach you. Things may be different than where you come from, but go with the flow of the place you are in, and be open to the lessons that the solo travel experience has to teach you.
“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” ~ David Mitchell
Traveling alone has really brought perspective on my life. This experience has helped pushed me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one. Although I may be solo traveling, I have met so many incredible people along the way, and have made connections that will last a lifetime. With limited access to wifi, I’ve learned to unplug and experience life through my eyes and not the screen of my cell phone. Before zip lining, I kept thinking how many awesome pictures I would take but at the last minute, decided to leave my things behind so I could experience the adventure fully and be tuned into nature. The memories that I have are far more powerful than a picture and mine alone to keep. The saying, “Travel far enough, you’ll meet yourself,” can mean something different to everyone. You’re given time to reflect on yourself, clear your mind, and learn about who you are. The journey may be many things — difficult, fun, lonely, adventurous, scary, exciting — but the journey is yours, it’s one you can be proud of, and one that will forever change you.
Written by Elizabeth Belville