When you first arrive to Costa Rica, everything will be new and different. You will be nervous and scared and that’s okay, everyone is. You’re arriving to a country you know little or very little about. You’re not going to know anything about any of the good places to go to, or how easy it is to get to one beach or another. So, naturally, you will start asking people who’ve been here a while for advice: “What’s the best bus, the best beach, should I go to Montezuma or Monteverde?”

All of this is normal! I did this when I first arrived in Costa Rica and I’ve had plenty of people who have just arrived ask me for advice about traveling. I do my best to give my honest opinion, but I also make sure to let the person know that I am only giving them an opinion, not a fact. This is my own personal experience, but yours could be totally different. And here’s why I do this: I’ve realized I’ve loved places that other people have not loved.

This past weekend my study abroad group and I went to Bocas del Toro. As usual, I didn’t know what to expect; I’d heard great things and not so great things about the Panamanian island. I crossed the infamous “sketchy” hole filled border bridge, which lived up to its reputation, then took a taxi boat to the island.  Immediately, I was taken with the island. There are times when you’re traveling when you have these moments that make you fully recognize how incredible and different is that place. Bocas del Toro was filled with scuba diving, boating, laughing, dancing, and everything was perfect.

So there is a point I want to make: I had an incredible time in Bocas del Toro, but I know plenty of people who did not have a good time there. My good friend went a few weekends before me and came back saying the island wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and also it rained the whole time she was there. I realized, while there, how much of our experiences are based off circumstance, especially when traveling. I could go to one place and have a beautiful time, but my friend could go and it could rain the whole time and she’d have an entirely different experience. Every place has the opportunity to be amazing; it’s all about the people you’re with and the weather and so many other things.

It took me a while to learn that I have to give a new place a chance, and that I shouldn’t completely abandon a travel option just because I heard a few bad things about it. I think research is important, as well as asking questions and gaining opinions about places, but do not rely solely on what you find.

And because life doesn’t completely change while you are abroad, you will have good days and bad days, so you could be in a great mood in Santa Theresa but you could be in an awful mood in Puerto Viejo. Just remember that every place can be amazing, so have an open mind and don’t rely solely on what you’re told. Everyone’s different, and everyone’s favorite place is different.

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