I have always been an extremely light packer, and while this was helpful for navigating orientation and quickly settling into my casa tica, a light load of luggage does not always mean an efficient job packing.
If I could rewind time to two weeks ago, I would bring significantly more toiletries. While it is logical to think of toiletries as something that you can buy anywhere, it is cheaper to buy them in the states. Not only does packing full bottles of shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, aloe, bug spray, lotion, etc. save you money, it also guarantees empty space in your suitcase for the return trip. The space that these toiletries take up on the way over, will be filled by a beautiful $12 hammock from the artisanal market, “Pura Vida” tee-shirts, and souvenirs for all your loved ones.
Now that you have included your toiletries, pack triple the sunscreen that you think you’ll need. So far I have not encountered any type of skin that can transition easily to the strength of this sun. Before arriving, I worked in Florida for two months and I spent each free moment wearing only a bathing suit and baby oil in the backyard, always tanning and never burning. Yet here, my friends (who have a wide variety of ancestry and skin types) and I, are all peeling, burning, and hurting. This sun is strong when you are being stingy with the tiny bottle of sunscreen that cost you roughly fourteen US dollars, so prepare yourself to be able to lather up at the beach frequently.
Do not let that sunscreen price scare you. Most things in Costa Rica are a bit cheaper than the states. Therefore, there are many items that you can leave out of your suitcase. If the suggested packing list for your program is similar to the one my program provided me, you were likely given a general packing list designed for students heading to Europe.
Do not feel pressure to pack lots of plain colors, bulky blazers, and business casual type clothing. If that is your current style, then that works beautifully and you will fit in with many of the trendy Veritas students. But, if you are like me and that is not your style, you can wear whatever you want to wear and I promise that your outfit will not be what makes you stand out as a student from the US. Veritas is filled with freethinking, Tico artists, designers, and architects. I could have brought all of my funky patterned, hippie clothing and saved myself all the money I spent on buying clothes that would make me look “less American”.
So, do not buy new clothing for your study abroad experience. Buy your new clothing here (cheaper!) after you can observe Tico style for yourself. In downtown San José I always notice a lot of denim (tops as well as pants) and from there, I’ve seen a lot of diversity in the outfits. Also notebooks, pens and school supplies are very affordable here, so save the luggage space and you can purchase those at the San Pedro Mall. The one office item I do recommend buying in the states is a planner. As soon as you arrive, before you have time to figure out where and how to buy school supplies, you will meet your program directors and hear an abundance of information about excursions and expectations. Having a small planner with a calendar and room for notes is crucial for your organization when classes begin and you have projects and tests to study for, as well as amazing weekend excursions to prepare for, so you will be extra grateful to have organized information at your fingertips.
So go grab your planner to jot down these packing tips, forget about changing your current style, and remember to bring extra sunscreen.