Two weeks before my study abroad trip, I became frantic. What kind of clothes should I bring?! How many outfits should I bring?! The Program suggests not bringing shorts, but isn’t it hot there?! The program says I should cover up conservatively, but what about my tank-tops?
Resources, advice, recommendations… these were all hard to find. I only found snippets of information from past study abroad students. The world populations of study abroad students has diminished but has started to grow again. (I just overheard there are more than 90 new international students starting classes at VERITAS next week!) So my advice will hopefully become more useful in the future.
First and foremost, the weather, my study abroad term is from April until the end of June. May is the beginning of the rainy season in Costa Rica, all the way until about mid-November. So if you will be here in that time period, be sure to bring an umbrella and/or a raincoat. During the rainy season most days start fairly sunny, but it starts to rain between 12pm and 5pm.
Secondly- how much? I packed for about three weeks; so about a ¼ of my trip. I think this is satisfactory considering I have bought a handful of clothing items since I´ve been here. I would advise bringing clothes for about ¼ to 1/3 of your stay. Since my mamà tica does laundry every week, three weeks’ worth was more than enough.
Okay now let’s talk about style. It’s true, you don´t see a lot of ticas wearing shorts, but that is just their style and their comfort in the region. It is very common (and very acceptable) to see internationals wearing shorts here. Bring clothes that make you comfortable, just don´t walk around in pajama pants, trust me. Another thing to keep in mind is your skin, for two reasons. Firstly, be conservative. In the states (or wherever you’re from) maybe you wear revealing clothing and it is acceptable, but it is discouraged in this culture to show so much skin, so it is your responsibility as a representative of your country to respect the culture you will be learning about. Secondly, the sun. Costa Rica sits less than 800 miles north of the equator, which means the sun can be surprisingly harsh. I personally, am very pale, so I have to be extra careful. However, even some of the other girls in my group were burned the very first day and they came here with much darker skin than I. Sunblock is a whole other story, but just trust me- you want to protect your skin.
Okay another important thing- utility and versatility. Most days in Costa Rica are fairly warm- although the locals will tell you it is very cold. Depending on the region you come from you want to keep in mind that Costa Rica’s average temperature is 70-81 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21-27 degrees Celsius) In my experience the lows around the mid-60s and the highs are in the 90s. So dress accordingly. A really important fact to remember is the weather can change very quickly. So even on a hot day- tie a sweater around your waist, and on cold days wear something you can shed if the sun comes out.
A good tip on versatility is to think “mix & match.” A good way to conserve space in your suitcase and still have a wide selection in your wardrobe is to bring things you can mix and match. Part of the clothing I brought includes tank tops and V-necks that I can interchange. Shirts and tank tops that go with shorts, jeans, leggings, skirts, etc.; are the best.
Alright, my last point on clothes- dress up. There will be times that call for more dressed-up outfits; going out during the week, meetings, events, etc. You do want to make sure to have at least two or three occasion-worthy outfits. I brought a cute conservative black dress, my favorite `going out` top, a bright professional looking top and a goldish- cardigan that I can pair with any of them if I get cold.
One more thing- maybe the most important: shoes. An absolute must is tennis shoes or comfortable walking shoes. Costa Ricans walk everywhere. Back home in the states I am a waitress and a trainer, so I am more than used to being on my feet and continuously walking for eight or more hours. Somehow this did not prepare me in the slightest for walking around in Costa Rica, during your class excursions and cultural activities there will be plenty of walking too. I`ve been here for two months and I am still getting blisters from walking.
When you travel on the weekends, it is much cheaper (and sometimes the only choice) to hike to specific locations instead of taking a taxi. So just trust me- bring some comfortable shoes. Sandals of course are a good idea, although flip flops are very easy to find and fairly cheap here. However, you may not know where to shop right away for sandals so a cheap pair of dollar store-flip flops is perfect for the first week or so. Other than that you`ll want a pretty pair of flats (or heels if that´s your thing) for going out, and maybe another pair or so for everyday activities, like school or getting lunch with friends, etc.
Hopefully this article gives you some insight on packing. If not just use your best guess, my guesses ended up being pretty close to perfect. Just remember—you want to be comfortable.