Costa Rica: Planning the Trip

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Over Thanksgiving, my family and I took a trip to Costa Rica.  When I say my family, I mean my WHOLE family!  My amazing mom sprung for all of her kids and grandkids to travel together for 6 days of family time in paradise.

As the resident family travel nerd, I of course make it my business to take over all planning and booking for trips.  Since researching and planning are two of my most favorite things, this part is almost as much fun as the actual vacation!!  I hit up all of my favorite planning sites like tripadvisor.com and Google Maps.  But then I decided to branch out and started using my Pinterest account for the first time in forever.  Surprisingly to me (and yet probably not at all surprising to people who are frequent pinners), I found so much valuable info on Pinterest!  From my pinned content, I stumbled upon some amazing blogs that are full of Costa Rica goodness.  I used Two Weeks in Costa Rica for some of my initial research and then I practically lived on Costa Rica Guide  (through which we got a free waterproof map–yay!) and My Tan Feet for all of the practical tips for just about every location and scenario.  Another planning tool I used was You Tube.  I was amazed by the amount of videos that I found helpful in planning!

Planning this trip was pretty different than most of the trips I have planned.  For starters, I usually travel with a small group of adults, but this time we were with a large group with quite the age range! My mom is in her 70s, my siblings and I range from late 30s to mid 50s, and our kids range from 2 to 18.  This meant a lot of considerations for what activities would and would not work for our group!!   Another thing that made this a very different trip was planning for my kids.  Q: How many diapers, wipes, pouches, toys, and bottles of organic sunscreen can fit into one suitcase??? A: A LOT!

I started with where to stay.  Even though Costa Rica isn’t that big (only like 19,700 square feet compared to California’s 160,000 (ish) square feet), it is not very practical to hit all of the major attractions in one week-long trip.  This meant that we had to find the area that was closest to good attractions.  This put us into the Puntarenas region where we could access Manuel Antonio, Poas Volcano, and the popular tourist town of Jaco.  My next challenge was where to stay.  I am a Hilton girl, both for comfort and convenience (love those free stays with points!!), but that was not really an option with a group our size.  Plus we wanted to stay together in a house.  So this led me to my very first experience with Air B&B.  This part took a while.  Trying to find the perfect place with the perfect location and 5 star reviews would not have been easy anyway, but my paranoia with trying out a new kind of booking made it even more ridiculous!  But I am happy to say that after only about a week of research and around 20 annoying emails to the owner, we finally booked our home away from home right on the beach between Jaco and Tarcoles.  Yay!  Here is the view from our porch–not too bad, huh??  🙂

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Once we had the house and location, I used Trip Advisor to find all of the nearby must-see’s and must-do’s.  Once I had a list, I went nuts trying to Google Map everything for driving distance.  Now I’m the kind of gal who likes to see and do as much as possible on vacation, so I have a little tendency to over plan my itineraries.  Thankfully I stumbled upon several different websites that all had the same tip: take it slow and don’t over plan!  Taking this advise, I dropped a few activities from my wish list.   Here is our resulting itinerary:

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The days with lots of color are the days I planned as busy destination days and the in-between days were the relaxing days.  This is me scaling back my plans and as it turned out, we couldn’t even muster up the time or energy to do all of it!!

Once we had our basic itinerary all set, I started in on what became a little bit of a crazy research obsession: TRAVELING WITH KIDS!  Before this trip, we had only taken our first little one to Hawaii when he was 10 months old.  Thankfully we went with my sister-in-law’s family (aka lots of help!), but it was still a challenge.  And that was just with one sweet little baby who was happy just to eat snacks and sleep on mommy.  Now we were preparing to fly to another country with two crazy little boys.  GAH!  This is when I went into Pinterest overload, searching everything from “toddlers on planes” to “travel with kids” and “flying with little kids.”  What I found was an insane amount of ideas from seasoned mommy travelers who seem to know all the tricks.  I was also amazed at the amount of creative ideas I found from super talented and crafty overachievers!!  You can see some of the gems I pinned on my “Travel with Kids” Pinterest page.

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I also went a little crazy researching Zika virus and the best ways to avoid it.  I felt sure that the second we stepped off of the plane, my whole family would be bitten by mosquitos and we would all instantaneously contract the worse cases of Zika known to man!  So I plugged away at finding all of the most effective natural repellants (Badger gets a big thumbs up in this department, by the way!) and all of the strongest chemical repellants for when the natural sprays didn’t work.  I think I bought out Amazon’s entire inventory of Deet, Picaridin, Lemon Eucalyptus, Citronella, and bracelets soaked in essential oils.

Anyway, as time ticked away and the trip got closer and closer, I started finalizing plans, confirming bookings, pestering my Air B&B host some more, printing updated schedules, and emailing annoying reminders to everyone in my family.  And when the day finally arrived, we filled up the shuttle with our 8000 suitcases (mostly filled with my new collection of bug sprays, sunscreens, and of course diapers) and my family, and headed out to LAX!

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