about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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gear and tips for traveling with a baby to costa rica

Amara and I at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest

Looking at the chickens at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest

Last week, I told you about why we loved our Costa Rica trip with Amara .  I think it's a perfect first international destination for new parents because:

  • most people speak English
  • food and water are clean and safe for immediate consumption
  • Costa Rican culture is very family-oriented and babies are everywhere
  • most restaurants and hotels offers high chair and portable cribs/pack and plays
  • distances are not too long so it is possible to see a few places without subjecting your baby to very long drives
  • many of the popular attractions are outdoors and relatively low-key, involving hiking, walking, and beaches, all of which are perfect activities with baby

All this being said, we found very few families traveling with babies and toddlers.  Several people stopped us on our flight back home and told us that they remembered us at the hotels because we were the only couple with a baby at two different hotels.  Perhaps because of that, we had a hard time finding detailed information about traveling to Costa Rica with a baby so the information provided below gets into the nitty gritty of travel, in the hopes that it will answer many of the common questions that travelers with babies/toddlers may have.

Amara in Costa Rica

Trying plantains for the first time

What to Pack

Patrick and I did a lousy job packing for our first international trip so this list is based on what we should have packed (and is close to what we ended up packing for our subsequent trip to India) rather than what we actually packed for Costa Rica.  We ended up needing to do laundry every two days because we did such a bad job with our packing!  Anyhow, for a one week trip, assuming that you will do laundry mid-way during the trip, you should pack:

  • at least five pairs of shorts/pants: we found that we had to change her clothes at least once a day because of the high humidity and stickiness
  • at least five shirts/tops/onesies
  • two days worth of diapers and wipes: there is a HUGE Wal-mart right outside of San Jose which is a great place to stock up on diapers and wipes, but it's important to make sure you have enough for the plane and the first day or two
  • food pouches: we find baby food squeezable pouches to be the most convenient for traveling and stocked up on these in the United States before we left; we found jars of baby food in Costa Rica but didn't see the pouches anywhere

Car Seats and Strollers

Costa Rica has very strict car seat safety laws so we took our car seat with us to the country.  However, it is possible to rent a car seat in Costa Rica for around $5/day if you don't want to drag it across the airplane and airport.  Though I would recommend bringing or renting a car seat, I would NOT recommend bringing a stroller.  Most roads are not meant for strollers and strollers will not work in any of the national parks.  We used our Ergo baby carrier instead.

Flying to Costa Rica

Flying to Costa Rica

Managing the Flight

There are endless articles out there about taking babies on airplanes but our number one tip is: get baby to sleep as much as possible on the flight.  We found this to be pretty easy for our trip to Costa Rica because the flight was four hours long from the East Coast and Amara normally takes a two to three hour nap in the middle of the day.  To get her to sleep on the flight, we:

  • don't let her sleep beforehand, even if her nap is off schedule (anyway, no matter what we do, the flight will screw up her schedule)
  • feed/nurse as soon as the plane takes off (Amara didn't have any issues with the pressure changes but some recommend to nurse while the plane takes off to help them equalize the pressure in their ears)
  • put her to sleep the way she normally gets put to sleep (in Amara's case, we rock her gently on our laps while playing her Lady Gaga music.  Yes, it's weird, but, it works!  Lady Gaga soothes the infant beast.)
  • let her sleep on our laps (which is incredibly uncomfortable for hours on end BUT it ensures that she'll sleep for a really long time.  On our 22 hour flights to India and back, she slept most of the time on our laps.)

When she was awake, we kept her entertained with "new" free toys, such as empty water bottles, paper cups, and plastic spoons.  As a last resort, we let her play with apps on our iPhones, which kept her entertained for about 20 minutes.  Delta was particularly accommodating by letting us sit in the Economy Comfort seats since we had the baby and neither flight was full.

Nursing while hiking

Nursing and napping while hiking

Breastfeeding in Costa Rica

Costa Rica, like many Latin American countries, is very pro-breastfeeding.  In fact, the symbol of the national healthcare system is that of a mother nursing a child .

There are no shortage of articles proclaiming the benefits of breastfeeding but I particularly love it while traveling because:

  • I've never forgotten her food source: we've forgotten everything else while traveling with Amara --- there was a time when we went on a four hour excursion without a single diaper --- but it's impossible for me to forget her food (!)
  • I don't have to worry about temperature or water quality issues: this was a big deal at Manuel Antonio Park where monkeys and raccoons pee in the sinks
  • It's easy to feed while hiking: I did a lot of hiking and feeding with her in my Ergo carrier.  It took a little bit of practice but, once I figured out how to feed her in a baby carrier, I felt like a supermom.
  • I never run out: Amara was extra thirsty and hungry in Costa Rica, probably because of the high humidity and heat.

Breastfeeding doesn't work for everyone but, if you are breastfeeding and traveling, you'll feel very comfortable nursing in Costa Rica.  I never once got strange looks and people helped point me out to slightly secluded places so that I could feed Amara without any issues.

I'll be back next week to talk about baby-friendly attractions, hotels, and restaurants, including the amazing Manuel Antonio Park.

*Our trip to Costa Rica was sponsored by the Costa Rican Tourism Board but all opinions are, as always, completely and entirely my own.

stocking stuffers for the traveler

Stocking stuffers

If you've ever been to India,  you know that Indians like to buy gifts.  It's just this thing that Indian people do: if you go to someone's house, you bring a gift; if they come to your house, you buy them a gift; if you're meeting them at a cafe, you bring a gift; if it's Diwali, buy a gift; if it's Christmas --- notwithstanding that my family isn't Christian --- we buy gifts.  So, people are constantly asking me what they can buy us and we respond, "Nothing."  It's not that I don't like gifts . . . it's that I have no space for anything else in our already crammed backpacks and suitcases.

Actually, that's not true.  I do wish more people would buy me plastic bags and deodorant.

No, seriously.  When my dad came to visit us in Tuscany, he brought us 50 poop bag rolls (for the dogs, not us, people) because the price of poop bags in Italy is simply outrageous.  He actually got the better end of that deal, though, because he brought us poop bags and we sent him home with Italian wine.  Our most coveted American purchase is Hefty Food Storage bags : these wondrous things currently store our liquids in our "pantry," our papers and receipts in our "file cabinet", and our toiletries in our "medicine cabinet."  And, as soon as I landed at Miami airport, I found a drug store that sold deodorant that costs less than $10 for a roll and actually has antiperspirant in it.  (Antiperspirant, praise the deodorant gods!)

But, obviously, if you're planning on buying Christmas gifts for the traveler, you're not going to buy them deodorant and Hefty bags (though you should cause it's what they probably want.)  So, what do I suggest for cheap stocking stuffers for the travelers?  Here we go:

For the Outdoor Adventurer

Nathan Bottle Sling - Black : We are totally aquaholics and, on any given day, probably drink over 2 liters of water, especially when hiking. But, I hate carrying water bottles --- they are bulky and cumbersome. The Nathan Sling is the perfect solution: a simple neoprene wrap that fits around the standard slim water bottle and we carry it across our shoulder. Brilliant!

For the Electronics Junkie

Sanyo Eneloop Ni-MH Charger and 8 Rechargeable AA and 4 Rechargeable AAA Batteries : If you have a lot of electronics (and especially an external flash), you'll need batteries. These Eneloop batteries work better than any other that we've tried, stay charged for a long time, and the recharger fits in the palm of the hand. Perfect for the electronics junkie!

For the Frequent Flier

nap Travel Flight Kit : I love the Brookstone nap collection. The supersoft NapSoft material just begs to be slept in and I like that the inflatable travel pillow and earmask fold up into a small little package, perfect for long-haul flights.

For the Flashpacker

Belkin F8B024 8-Inch Velcro Cable Ties : If you carry electronics (as most travelers do), then you also carry cords to charge them. We have two full bags of electronics cords and these simple velcro cable ties are essential to keep from pulling out my own hair (or my spouse's.)

For the Traveling Toddler

Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote (colors & styles may vary) : Many of my friends have young children and will be crossing the country with them this holiday season, either by car or plane. We saw a toddler using this set a few months back and I loved the idea for any traveling family. The markers are completely mess-free and show up only on the included paper and the markers and paper store into a book-sized travel tote that doubles as a lapdesk in the car or a plane. Seriously - I want to buy one for every toddler who boards a plane with us!

For the Book Lover

Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display - includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers : Okay, this is a bit out of stocking stuffer price range but not by all that much, actually. The brand new Kindle is only $79 (with advertisements), lightweight, and still packed with the best of the Kindle's features: e-ink Technology, no backlighting, and built in WiFi. I can't imagine traveling without our Kindles and am excited that Amazon's making it so affordable for folks to pick up e-readers.

For the Traveling Teen

Luggage Tag - you won't look good in my clothes : I adore Inventive Travelware's set of tongue-in-cheek luggage tags: "You won't look good in my clothes"; "Take my luggage; do my laundry."; "On my way to Alaska to look at Russia."; "You have exquisite taste in other's bags." Love!

For the Backpacker

Pacsafe RetractaSafe 3-Dial Retractable Cable Lock : A good lock can save your luggage from being stolen or fiddled with --- especially by pickpockets and lazy thieves. A retractable cable lock is essential on long bus or train rides and hostel rooms.

For the Photographer

Nikon ML-L3 Remote Controller : This remote is smaller than a finger and only $13, yet it will change the way you think about night photography. (There's also a Canon version if you have a Canon). Set your camera down on a solid surface (a tripod, if you have it), change the settings to take with a remote, press the button, and voila! No handshake and a perfect night shot. It's also great if you want to take pictures of you and your travel partner without handing over an expensive DSLR to someone who might not know how to use it.

For the Vacation Home Renter

Travel Spice Kit : Most vacation homes don't come with spices other than salt and pepper and it's a bother to carry around lots of jars. We have something similar to this spice kit that we created ourselves using miniature jars I found at the Container Store. I like this version because the spices come pre-labeled and organized so any vacation home renter is ready to head to the cabin and start cooking.

For the Heavy Packer

Eagle Creek Pack-It Compressor Large - Clear : As soon as we started traveling with the dogs, we realized that we need to carry a lot more bulky stuff --- especially heavy dog blankets. These compression sacks make quick work of them, reducing the volume by about half, and ensuring that we can fit everything in. If you know someone who's planning a ski vacation and taking lots of bulky sweaters, these Compression Sacks will help them fit everything in to their suitcase.

For the Business Traveler

Tugo Luggage Cup Holder : It's almost mandatory that the business traveler juggle a laptop case, coffee cup, and carry-on aboard the plane, and I see them fumbling with the coffee cup while trying to hand their boarding pass to the flight attendant or do any other simple task. The Tugo Luggage Cup Holder is a simple swivel product that attaches to two handles of a regular carry-on case and prevents the coffee cup from spilling.

For the Honeymooners

Just Married Flip Flops - Stamp Your Message in the Sand! : Most honeymooners head to the beach and I think this is such a cute novelty gift for the blushing bride (they also make a matching set in black for the groom). The shoes stamp the words "Just Married" in the sand.

For the Armchair Traveler

The Travel Book : My sister-in-law bought us an earlier version of this book years ago and it remains one of my all-time favorite travel books. Bleeding with gorgeous photography and chock full of facts of every country in the world, this book will feed the traveler's soul even when he's at home.

* If you click on any of these links and buy something, we'll get a teeny bit of money - maybe enough to buy a glass of wine at our local pub.

the digital nomad's electronics death toll


This has nothing to do with this post . . . except that I'd rather be here than dealing with this

Because we are digital nomads and self-employed, we are every single person in the typical company.  We are our own help desks, secretaries, accountants, and financial analysts.  On most days, these administrative duties take only a few minutes from our daily schedule but, some days, everything comes to a standstill because the difficulties of managing a business collide with the actual work we wish to do.

Yesterday was one of those days.  One hour into writing, my 10-month-new state-of-the-art Sony Vaio laptop whined and then screeched, reminiscent of the appalling sounds of the emus that roam Australia, stunning me out of my work.  The black screen appeared and I reverted to my catch-all technological fix, Control + Alt + Delete, and the computer soon started up.  Within minutes, the screen was black again.  For four hours, I pressed the Power button, watched the computer boot up and frantically saved my most recent work to our backup drive and server.  By the time the evening rolled around, the computer had, with somber finality, died.

A crashed computer shouldn’t cause Boy Scout-worthy-knots in my shoulders but, yet, it did.  This computer is my livelihood and, in the time it will take me to ship it to the Sony warranty center, have them fix it, and send it back to me, I will lose several weeks of work.  I have a full line of blog posts scheduled, some technical writing lined up, and intended to finish the first draft of my novel by the end of this month.  I can appropriate Patrick’s computer in the evenings (as I am doing now), but he needs it during the day.  And, all our pictures, photo editing software, videos, and video editing software are on my computer, meaning that things might be a bit quieter on this website until my laptop is fixed.

There is a slew of logistical issues, as well.  We are currently in Savannah and leave at the end of next week for Charleston.  If the Sony center can’t fix it by the time we leave Savannah, do we have them ship it to Charleston or do we wait to have it fixed until we reach Asheville in April, at which time we will be in one place for a full month?

This isn’t the first technological worry we’ve had since we have begun traveling full-time.  In the past 18 months, we have suffered through the following death toll:

  • Sony Vaio laptop (not this one – my prior Sony laptop) due to extreme heat issues
  • Macbook Air laptop due to extreme heat issues
  • First-generation iPhone dropped and broken on concrete steps
  • An 18-200 Nikon VR lens dropped and broken while hiking
  • Canon point and shoot camera that died after being exposed to sand from the Namibian dunes

Granted, we work our electronics harder than the average person, taking them through extreme conditions, temperatures, and situations, and use them on a daily basis.  But, the Sony Vaio that just died is less than a year old and I’ve already sent it to the warranty center once because the hinges for the monitor fell apart.  I spent two hours on the phone this morning with the warranty center and they believe that my 32 GB solid-state hard drive (which I purchased for its supposed crash-proof-worthiness) is corrupt and needs to be entirely replaced.  Patrick keeps telling me I need to suck it up and start buying Macs but I then point out that his Macbook Air reached mind-boggling temperatures before he replaced it.  Plus, call me old-fashioned, but I prefer PCs.

We’re not the only digital nomads to suffer from a heavy electronics death toll and, given Christine’s death toll of five computers in three years , maybe we should consider ourselves lucky.  Is replacing electronics the inevitable consequence of this lifestyle?  Or, is it just, as the old folks used to say, that things aren’t made like they used to be?  Is there a laptop out there made for the digital nomad?  And, if not, why the heck not?

Either way, we have learned something from these disasters.  Last year, when we replaced my old Sony laptop with this one, we purchased the most exhaustive 3-year warranty Sony offered.  We purchase all our equipment using our American Express card, which automatically doubles the manufacturer’s warranty.  We keep all our equipment in heavily padded Manfrotto and Kata bags.  We back-up everything every single day to our Cloud storage (I’ll tell you about our awesome data storage plan later) and on a weekly basis to our external hard drive.  Even still, our equipment dies, we lose data, and I devolve into a very, very irritable person.

So, this week, I’m planning on buying an iPad 2 because we want a back-up option in case either of our laptops crash.  Heck, I should just say that we want a back-up option for when our laptops crash because, at this point, the laptop death toll seems to be an inevitability.  We hate spending the money on another piece of gear but we don’t see any other choice.  We don’t have a help desk that we can call to magically send up a computer when ours crash and we don’t have a financial analyst that can buffer our working expenses with a glut of extra equipment purchased at deep discounts.  We are all we have.

Then again, maybe I’m jumping to conclusions.  What would you do?  Is buying the iPad 2 a complete mistake?  Should I suck it up and buy a Mac?  Is there a laptop that can actually withstand the conditions we put it through?  Any suggestions are gladly welcome because I am about ready to bang my head against a very hard wall to avoid dealing with these technological nightmares.

February 2011

awardwallet review + free upgrade!
February 7, 2011

October 2010

the great firewall of china
circumventing censorship
October 19, 2010

September 2010

a man's round-the-world packing list
September 10, 2010

February 2010

kindle for travelers
February 27, 2010

December 2009

an electronics junkie's round-the-world packing list
December 15, 2009

October 2009

canon wp-dc29 underwater camera
October 20, 2009

July 2009

a woman's round-the-world packing list
July 19, 2009