Craig and Carla spent three weeks travelling in Costa Rica (Tamarindo and around Arenal) with their young children. Zack was four years old and Lucas was eight months old at the time. Most of their friends thought they were crazy to do it.
Q: I understand your friends thought it was a bit crazy to travel to a country like Costa Rica with young children. What did you find most difficult?
A: People seem to think it is an insane thing to do because of the ‘fear’ factor—it’s outside their comfort zone. But we have travelled twice to Mexico with Zack and we knew we could do this as a family. The biggest challenge is actually the flight there and back. When you walk on a plane with little kids it is obvious everyone hopes you’re not going to sit close to them. When you do sit down the expression on the faces around you is “oh my god.” Twice people asked to be moved to other seats on the plane.
Q: How do you make the flight easier?
A: My first recommendation is not to plane hop. It is not worth saving $100 if you have to change planes. If there is no choice, consider breaking up the trip, stopping the first night at an airport hotel that has a swimming pool. So the reward at the end of the day is a swim in a pool.
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Why travel with kids? Because it opens up their world
We count on the kids sleeping 25% of the flight time, so you have to figure out what you’ll do to entertain them the rest of the time. We brought colouring books, mini story books, and lots of snacks and drinks. Some people bring little gifts that can be opened every two hours. Be sure to bring spare clothes and diapers because accidents happen!
Q: What about getting from the airport to where you were staying?
A: We made a commitment to stick to Canadian safety standards when in Costa Rica so we wouldn’t just hop in a taxi without car seats. We brought car seats from home and arranged for a private shuttle to meet us and that was a good decision.
Q: I imagine you brought lots of other stuff with you?
A: Yes, and we actually brought too much. Aside from the car seats, we brought a stroller and a portable crib (check out “travelling with children” on the airline’s website). The stroller should be a jogger one with big wheels and I picked up a used one before I left home. An umbrella stroller will not work because the roads are too rough. The stroller was our saviour and without it we would have been miserable. Each day we would load up the stroller with the kids and all our stuff and head out to the beach.
The southern end of the beach in Tamarindo is great for children and I wasn’t worried about Zack wandering out into the water a few feet on his own. We had to be careful about not getting too much sun and you can buy sun hats, sunscreen and a beach umbrella there if you need them.
Bring any special things your child needs like lactose free milk. We wished we had brought laundry detergent for sensitive skin. Other than that, we could have gotten everything else there and did not need to bring so much food and formula from home.
Q: Is it preferable to stay in an all-inclusive property or at a place where you can cook your own meals?
A: We like both ways of travelling but having a house as we did this time was great with kids. We could buy what the kids like to eat and just have it in the fridge. We packed our lunches and ate them on the beach. It’s easier to eat in your own kitchen with kids than going out to restaurants so we did that most of the time. We could also schedule meals for times that suited us.
Q: Looking back, was it worth the effort?
A: This was a great family trip and one that included extended family and friends so Carla and I were able to get breaks from the kids. Zack talks about the vacation to this day. We spent time researching activities for children and as they say, if the kids are not happy, you are not happy. The activities don’t have to be expensive. He loved a place where he could hold snakes and an exotic frog and even though the owners didn’t speak English it was so interactive.
Costa Rica is a child friendly place. Locals are good with children and so accommodating. We had to seek dental assistance for Zack and the dentist came on the weekend and someone translated for us and Zack got the antibiotics he needed.
After three weeks, we were so into the zone that we didn’t want to go home. So it certainly was a fabulous experience.
© Riding the buses 2011