Studying abroad tears us out of so many comfort zones, making us grow in ways we did not expect, and sometimes in ways we did not want to grow. I have gotten much better at spending money. This was not a skill I was looking for, but I am accepting that it is a skill I needed. I have grown from being the friend who would always be down to go out to dinner to be social, but only order tap water and a side of veggies to be frugal, to become the person who dishes out $60 for bungee jumping without thinking twice. I need to remind myself each day that money is meant to be spent, not hoarded. Could there be a better time to spend money than when you are young and travelling?
It’s important that we are aware of our uniquely privileged situation, living in the perfect home base for travel in a country that is the size of West Virginia but has eleven distinctly different microclimates and cultures. We can easily travel to the Carribean to experience a weekend of Afro-Caribbean culture, spend the next weekend ziplining through the rainforest, the next weekend snorkeling in Panamá, and then many weekends soaking up sun at the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The secret is in the awareness of the newness and beauty at our fingertips, and then finding our own personal balance.
For me, my balance looks like staying sometimes, and exploring often. I have been to beaches and rain forests, spending money and making memories, but I have also stayed in San José, saving money, still making memories, and getting to know and love this city. I have danced with Ticos and made friendships in broken Spanish, and I have spent nights in my bed reading Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal. I always travel on public buses and stay at the cheapest hostel, but I spend money on day tours. My balance is looking at my bank account once or twice a week and accepting it. My balance is spending little on souvenirs or fancy meals, and lots on travel and experience. I have friends whose balance is very different. I know people here who get much more happiness eating luxuriously, buying every t-shirt, and staying home often. There is no right or wrong way to survive monetarily here, just your own personal way. You are going to have friends here who are scraping by with money from student loans. You will have other friends whose parents send them money frequently. You will have friends who want to stay in Hotels and others who love hostel living. Money comes up often when you are traveling, so know that everyone is coming from a different place and treat the conversation gently. Your budget will be different from someone else’s budget, and that does not matter, as long as you are aware of your own.
I have decided that I will not let my fear of surviving off ramen noodles all summer long stop me from taking care of myself and basking in all the opportunities that this paradise provides. Whatever your monetary situation is, I hope you are able to do the same. I will leave bursting with experience and lacking in money, and that was my decision. You may not currently think you want this skill either, but prepare yourself, you may leave Costa Rica being quite good at spending money.