Monday, February 6, 2012

Packing Light and Highlights of Our Trip to Costa Rica

Playa Negra, Cahuita, Costa Rica
Well, we got back laaaate Saturday night from our ten days in beautiful Costa Rica. We spent the week just outside of a sleepy little Caribbean beach town called Cahuita, half an hour north of the more popular destination, Puerto Viejo. The boys spent their hours playing in the surf and I spent mine reading, beach combing, bird watching, and scoping out all the gorgeous tropical plants I could. The black sand sparkles like new fallen snow and there are all sorts of flora and fauna to enjoy.

Cahuita's Main Street

We stayed at a place called Cabinas Iguanas where we had our own three bedroom bungalow with kitchen for what you'd spend at a typical holiday or days inn. 

Our Bungalow
The local Ticos were very friendly. Fernando, the hotel's maintenance and pool guy spent a couple evenings visiting with us and enjoying a cold beer after work. He shared herbs and peppers from the garden and one day got us each a fresh green coconut which we all thoroughly enjoyed!

Another day the owner, Martin, brought over an iguana he had found. Each of the boys got a chance to hold it.

When my family travels, we always pack as light as possible for three reasons:

1. We don't like to check bags. Carrying everything eliminates worries of damaged or lost luggage, and airline fees for checked bags. Plus, when you get to where you are going, you can bypass the wait at baggage claim.

2. When traveling with kids, there are additional things that need to be brought- favorite snacks, diapers, entertainment for during flights, etc that necessitates lightening up in other areas.

3. Fewer bags to lug is just easier!

We have two adults, a teenager, ten year old, eight year old, and 19 month old in our family. For those six people, we packed one military ruck sack, two school bag size roller bag/backpacks, a back/pack style baby carrier with a small bag used as a diaper pouch, and one large military sea bag.

The grand total of six peoples' luggage for 10 days minus the ruck sack.
Note: This is much, much easier to accomplish when travelling to a warm place! Shorts and sundresses take up half the space of jeans and sweaters!

Here's how we did it:

The orange roller bag held pantry staples and favorite snacks since we planned to do most of our own cooking in the kitchen of our bungalow. Some basic every day spices, olive oil, beans, rice, pop tarts, gold fish crackers, organic apple juice and apple sauce were among the things we toted along.

The red bag belongs to yours truly. The front part is a detachable piece that held kindles, chargers, a couple of toys for the baby, camera, Ipod, passports, all trip paperwork (email confirmations, contact info, maps, etc), anything we might need easy access to. The main compartment held all of my clothes, hair ties, a little jewelry, flip flops, an extra Kiva brand convertible bag- just in case, a couple of t-shirt totes (for shopping the local markets), swim suit, sarong, etc. (Admittedly I packed more here than I needed. I brought home 3 dresses, one tank top, and one pair of short yoga pants that were never worn.)

All diaper bag necessities went in the small pouch on the carrier. This includes diapers, wipes, powder, snacks, bottle, change of clothes, and the small blanket that I also use as a nursing cover.

The teenager carried the ruck sack with his belongings and everything else (toiletries and my husbands and other two boys' clothes plus a couple beach/pool toys, and life vests) went in the big sea bag.

Packing up the boys
When packing clothes, always pack half of what you think you'll need. In other words, you can wear things at least twice before washing, sometimes even three times. Plus, you can always hand wash, or find a laundry mat just about anywhere, so you do not need to bring a different outfit for every day. Pack versatile pieces that can be worn in more than one way and keep colors simple and interchangeable.

For a beach vacation, the boys each get 3-4 swim trunks, 3-4 t-shirts, one regular pair of shorts, 2 pair underwear, one pair socks, swim shoes, and flip flops. They wear soft pants, a sweater and tennis shoes on the way. I try to match up the trunks and shirts as much as possible so they can be interchanged and worn with whatever's clean. Since everything was getting thrown in the sea bag this time around, I separated their stuff into plastic bags so it could be easily pulled out when we reached our destination.

The baby got half a box of diapers, a travel container of wipes, several cloth swim diapers, trunks, swim shirts, t-shirts, and onsies, plus an extra long sleeved shirt, long pants and jacket for the trip home. I always pack a little extra for him because, well, babies can be super messy, but we didn't use half of what I brought.

The hubby wore travel pants and a sweater and brought 3 each shorts and t-shirts plus a pair of sweats.

For me, a couple of sun dresses, two gouchos and a couple of tank tops were sufficient. I also wore a pair of travel pants and sweater on the way there and had a pair of yoga pants for the trip home. You can always dress up outfits with new scarves, or simple jewelry.

I did no laundry the entire trip except to wash and dry what was still wet before leaving.

When packing toiletries, I didn't have to worry too much this time since we did check the big sea bag, but normally I have to dole out quart size bags to each passenger with bottles no bigger than the 3.4 ounces dictated by the airlines. I keep a toiletry kit for the boys, and one for me that's usually filled and almost ready to go. The boys have a mesh bag that they share with shampoo, soap, bath fluffs, combs, and travel tooth brushes. The baby's shampoo, baby lotion, and bottom cream stay with me. In my kit, I include everything I use daily: shampoo, conditioner, body wash or soap, razor, shaving cream, travel toothbrush and toothpaste,  lotion, deodorant, makeup and q-tips. In addition, don't forget sunscreen, bug spray, wrinkle release, and GSE. (A couple drops a day of GSE- Grapfruit SEED Extract- is invaluable, especially when traveling to areas where the water may be questionable. It can prevent stomach parasites and save your vacation.)

Other things to remember: first-aid kit (especially when travelling with kids!) including: aloe vera gel, molefoam, triple-antibiotic ointment, anti-bacterial gel (there aren't always adequate hand washing facilities in public restrooms!), Jr. strength chew-able acetaminophen, gas-X, loperamide hydrochloride (anti-diarrheal), kids pepto, infant ibuprofen, adult ibuprofen, sinus or allergy medicine if needed, tweezers, nail clippers and file, band-aids, hydro-cortisone, and any prescription medications, all in the smallest container possible. I fit all of this in a small clear zippered bag that came with a set of Goody brand Velcro rollers.

And don't forget!... cameras, a hat, extra batteries/chargers, sunglasses, passports/visas, ear phones and ear plugs (if you need them to sleep), wallet, cell phone, lap-top or tablet if desired, stroller or carrier for the little one, (and a car seat if you'll be renting a car), beach shoes and/or flip flops, shower shoes, goggles/snorkeling gear, travel towel, trash bags for laundry, several extra quart, gallon and two gallon sized zip bags, a couple of travel sized detergent pouches, and two of the most used items I always bring; a travel laundry line and my Thermarest pillow, and leave a little space for souvenirs!

PS: Two of the most ingenious things I've heard of those zip bags being used for are: put dirty clothes with a little water and detergent in a two gallon bag, zip it up and throw it in your luggage while en route. When you get to where you're going, take it out, rinse and hang- easiest way to clean your clothes! The other is to blow them up and use them to cushion breakable souvenirs. 

Hopefully that gives you some idea of how to travel light with your family.