t’s been six weeks since my suitcases have been emptied into my drawers (and onto my dresser top…and onto my bed), so though I know I arrived with only two bags and a backpack worth of belongings, I could use some mid-semester cleaning. This gives me an opportunity to discover what I wish I would have brought and what I wish would not have wasted my suitcase space.
Part 1: Things to Bring
| My rain jacket may have been a bargain, but it's
definitely been keeping up with the rainy days in Costa Rica.
I unroll my navy blue raincoat from my backpack where it always resides…just in case. The rain here in San José has become more frequent, though the locals say it’s not as frequent as it was past winters when it would rain from 11 AM until 9 PM. It’s already difficult enough to go shopping and return before the almost-daily 2:00 p.m. rain, so I can’t imagine even more rain.
When the raindrops are small, my $20 jacket does the job, but when the storm is more like an aguacero (downpour), I wish I had brought an umbrella, because within a few minutes, my skin feels moist, my hair is dripping water in my eyes, and my clothes look drenched in sweat. Besides that, if I’m wearing my tennis shoes, my socks are heavy with water and my feet squeak and squelch with each step down the sidewalk that’s plentiful with puddles.
I would suggest either bringing a pair of flip flops with you everywhere (they’re thin enough to slip into a plastic bag that you keep in your backpack) and/or pack rain boots. Rain is no “maybe” here in Costa Rica. It’s as real as the sunny beaches you pack swimsuits for and the college classes you bring pencils and notebooks for, so prepare yourself well. The rain waits for no one.
I unzip my small makeup bag to refill my travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Those containers were a last-minute addition to my suitcase, and I’m glad I added them. Since most Spanish classes avoid giving homework for the weekend, Friday afternoons, Saturdays, and Sundays will be all yours, and exploring the country is the best way to spend that time. Though I was disinclined to travel the first one or two weekends here, it soon became a habit to want to leave San José in search of another Costa Rican adventure elsewhere. Whether it be a simple trip to the beach or a program-led excursion, I had to pack lightly, fitting everything I needed in my school backpack.
Using the travel-sized bottles and jars has helped me immensely. I don’t waste room on bringing the big bottles of bathroom supplies, and I don’t waste time packing because I just throw the small bottles in my makeup bag and am ready to go.
| The portable electronics charger I bought and used
several times by my trip's end. Having a way to charge
my phone (especially in case of emergencies...such as if my
camera battery died and I NEEDED to take photos).
Very useful product for around 10 dollars.
I empty my electronics’ cables bag. My small portable charger falls out with a tangle of wires. Though I’ve only used it twice so far, I’m glad I bought the charger (a deal at only $8 from Walgreens), because in case of an emergency, a charged phone is an indispensable tool. It’s easy enough to charge my phone on campus which has a sufficient amount of outlets in study areas and computer labs, but on excursions with long bus rides, I’m very thankful for this back-up power supply.
Other notable things not to miss:
School supplies---Very expensive here, and there are no back-to-school sales with five cent notebooks (more like five dollar notebooks). It’s easy enough to slip a few notebooks, a planner, pencils, pens, highlighters, a mini-stapler, an SD card, notecards, and scissors into your checked suitcase, so DO IT.
Makeup---Also very expensive, and if you get desperate and splurge 30 dollars on mascara, you will probably feel very guilty. Just pack the essential colors (preferably the ones that match the clothes you brought), maybe a bottle of foundation, and other simple tools.
| Since all I use is cash here, I get a LOT of change back
from grocery shopping or taxi rides. I really need to
spend it more often.
Layerable clothing---It won’t waste much space in your suitcase if it’s thin, plus you’ll have more possible outfits that way. Also, be sure you don’t bring your FAVORITE CLOTHES EVER IN ALL OF ETERNITY, because if they get bleach/sand/dirt/sweat/food stains, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed. Since your host parents will only do laundry once a week, make sure you have enough to make it through at least a week and a half to leave time for the clothes to dry on the clothesline. I already wish I had packed at least a few more outfits.
A coin purse---I thought I wouldn’t need one since I didn’t use them often in the US. I realized the only reason I didn’t use coins was because I usually use a credit card. Since it’s safest to use cash here, and because taking buses that cost an odd number between 200 and 500 colones, you’re left with a bulky wallet that won’t close and that vomits coins inside your purse. And that’s when you wish you had a coin purse.
Simple first aid supplies---After scraping my knee on the sidewalk in a random incident, I realized that even a simple box of band-aids and antibiotic cream is good to have on hand.
Part 2: How to Find What to Leave Behind
After digging through my drawers, I am proud to say that though I may have forgotten a few helpful items, I didn’t pack anything unnecessary. How did I accomplish such a feat?
1) I packed light. I only brought one checked bag, one carry-on bag, and one backpack
2) I knew that staying four months in a foreign country some 3,000 miles away, unable to receive packages from family meant there was minimal room for error.
3) While making my packing list, I imagined a normal school day from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed so I knew what practical items I should bring.
4) I reminded myself that I would have to carry everything by myself, unpack it all in my room, and live with it for the next four months.
5) I considered the minimum that I could live with. You'd be surprised how much of what you do is only routine and proves unnecessary while in a foreign country when nearly everything about your normal life changes (usually for the better).
6) I reminded myself that it’s only four months, and that my priorities should be on what will help me learn and explore the world and not what distracts me from those tasks.
Now just to figure out my souvenir list…
Gabriella Cisneros is the Fall 2015 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a sophomore film student at UW-Milwaukee.
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