Costa Rica: the Unexpected Family Vacation


I have never been on a cruise. I have never been to Disney world. Or land. When I was a kid and families I knew organized an in-state weekend ski trip, I knew there was no way. And I didn’t care because from what I could tell skiing (if you had to travel to do it) was for the elite, and I was proudly not that. My first international travel experience was going on a youth delegation with Witness for Peace to Nicaragua when I was 15, which I fundraised for a year to pay for.

Bare bones travel was how I made it work. I wanted to go but I didn’t have much money. I loved my thrifty travel. Even if I had to wear gloves in the house in winter to save on gas and rent in the industrial wasteland outside whatever foreign metropolis. It was a privilege to be there at all and I was single. It was all an adventure.

When I married, my partner was just beginning to explore the world. As we planned our honeymoon, his criteria for the destination were that there be toilet seats and air conditioning, which all seemed over the top to me. We ruled out Costa Rica because it was too expensive. We had the best honeymoon I could possibly imagine in Guatemala, in Antigua and out on Lake Atitlán at the amazing Casa del Mundo. It was the fanciest trip I’d ever been on.

Which is why I find myself struggling to write about this amazing trip we are about to embark on tomorrow. To Costa Rica. With our two kids. To stay at resorts. My class guilt is shining bright and I feel the need to excuse myself to the 22 year old me who is sneering at the notion of a vacation at a hotel.

But listen, I say, this is something we still would never have had in the budget if my partner hadn’t stumbled upon credit card points games as a semi-professional hobby. Not the one or two airline miles cards thing, but the manufactured spending on the Serv account and make me buy my groceries with gift cards thing. It’s been amazing. He took all his adolescent video game playing passion and plugged it into something that felt useful for the whole family, so let himself go with abandon in a way he never would have with something else.

Here’s the truth. We pulled together grant funding so that we could live abroad on and off over the course of 2 years for my dissertation field research. We lived in 6 different cities in Spain and Brazil with our first child, from age one to age two. It was unbelievably hard, mostly because we both had to work and had no childcare. It was also amazing. Knock your socks off incredible. Tear your hair out wretched at times, but we fell in love with being on the road. There was no going back. But then he was 2 and we had to buy him a ticket. And then there was another one. And you can’t stay in whatever cheap place you find on foreign craigslist when you are traveling with kids, and…and…

So being the resourceful person that he is, my partner figured out this points business and it has totally changed our lives for a few years (the game appears to be up now, as the primary way of racking up points has been shut down). We didn’t have to budget for travel anymore. Sure, we mostly stay at hotels instead of the neat little backwater places we might have stayed otherwise. But we couldn’t have gone at all, otherwise. We are THERE.

And there we will be…staying at Los Sueños resort in Costa Rica for a few days and then at Tulemar in the Manuel Antonio rainforest, and finally, for the big kid, one night at Poas Volcano National Park before heading home.

We’ve learned that we are all exhausted from winter by January so every year we plan a trip at this time. When we planned this trip, a year ago, we knew we’d have a rambunctious toddler and said “we want warm, we want water, we want something as undeveloped as possible given that we are doing it on hotel points, but developed enough to be safe for little people, and we don’t want a long trip.” Costa Rica is perfect.

So, almost certainly, an unexpected winter storm will blow up tomorrow and ruin everything or our flights will be canceled. But there it is. I haven’t been posting because I’ve been packing, and if we make it without too much excitement, we’ll have a lot to share.


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