Costa Rica
TRIP PLANNING

How to Plan the Trip of Your Dreams

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“Fail to plan, plan to fail.”

If you’re a planner like I am, you probably do a LOT of research before booking a trip.

 Since I typically only go on one big trip each year (which I’m hoping will change in the not-too-distant future), I definitely do a lot of research: I talk to friends, go online and do research, read reviews and travel forum comments.  

There are a lot of things to consider when going on vacation, regardless of your destination.  During the planning phase of my most recent trip, some questions helped me focus my planning so we would (hopefully) have an enjoyable and memorable trip.

Here are the questions I asked myself (and my boyfriend):

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HOW LONG DO YOU WANT TO/
ARE YOU ABLE TO GO AWAY?

A week?
10 days?
2 weeks?
Longer? (wouldn’t that be nice!)

Our trip was 6 nights/7 days.

WHAT TYPE OF VACATION DO YOU WANT?

Adventure?
Relaxation?
Romance?
An eco tour?
A culinary tour?
A combination of some of these?

We wanted a combination trip: relaxing with some adventure mixed in.

ONCE THERE, HOW DO YOU WANT
TO GET FROM PLACE TO PLACE?

Rental car?
Taxi?
Private van?
Tour bus?
Minibike?
Commercial flights within the country?

We found a trip package that included a rental car, which gave
us a lot of freedom to take off and explore whenever we wanted.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO STAY?

In the mountains?
In the rainforest/cloudforest?
By the beach?
A little bit of both?

Since we’d never been to Costa Rica before,
we wanted to experience the rainforest and the beach.

WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATIONS DO YOU WANT?

A local hotel?
International chain hotel?
Hostel?
Cabin?
Resort?
House or condo rental?

When we go on vacations, we’d rather spend less on our lodging and use the money we save to do more activities since most of our time is spent exploring areas away from where we’re staying.  For example, last year, we vacationed in Puerto Rico and found a great trip package that included staying at the Gran Malia Resort.  It was a nice resort with gorgeous grounds, several pools, 5 on-site restaurants, and a private beach with chaise lounges and hammocks…everything we could ever want.  However, at the end of each day, we returned to the resort SO tired that we really didn’t have enough energy to enjoy it.

This year, our trip to Costa Rica included two really nice hotels: the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Spa (a 2015 TripAdvisor Travelers Choice award winner) and the Doubletree by Hilton Central Pacific (an all-inclusive hotel by the beach).  Both were part of our trip package so we didn’t have to research lodging.  But I did read the reviews online.

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WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AND/OR SEE?
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO?

Are there specific points of interest that are a must-see?

 Are there any national parks that you really want to visit?

Are there any activities that you want to do or tours you want to go on?

As you can see on the map above, Costa Rica offers something for everyone.

However, it seems to be best known for zip lining above the rainforest.
You can also:

  • Go whitewater rafting
  • Hike to one of the volcanoes
  • Horseback riding on the beach
  • Ride an ATV through the mountains or on the beach
  • Go snorkeling in the ocean
  • Go on a night nature tour in the rainforest
  • Check out the hanging bridges
  • Visit a butterfly garden
  • Feed some white-faced capuchin monkeys (we did this – so much fun!)
  • Go deep sea fishing,
  • See the turtles on Tortuga Island
  • …the possibilities are endless.

You can go online to learn about available tours or contact the hotel(s) where you’ll be staying to inquire.  Most hotels use specific tour companies and will steer you to them.  However, this is probably a good thing since most hotels wouldn’t use or recommend a tour operator who has had a lot of complaints. The costs of the tours may vary a bit depending on the tour company.  Some also offer different prices based on whether or not you need transportation.

We wanted to do and see a lot without but didn’t want to spend a lot of time driving to and from them, so we had to be strategic about our outings.  The locations of our lodging made some of the most popular and enticing sights undesirable because of the amount of time it would take to get to and from them.  

For example, Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica, was 2-1/2 hours each from our resort.  What a bummer! 

TIP: If what you do is more important than where you stay, you may want to decide on your activities and/or destinations first, then choose your lodging based on its proximity.

WHAT IS MY BUDGET?

How much money do you want to spend on your trip?
Is your budget fixed or somewhat flexible?

  • Take into consideration airfare, lodging, transportation (and all associated taxes, additional fees, etc.)
  • Factor in other trip-related expenses such as food, drinks, tours, tips
  • Some hotels and resorts charge for things like WiFi, parking, and other miscellaneous things,
  • You usually get a better deal when you book everything together.  Also, if you stay at an all-inclusive resort, food, drinks (non-alcoholic & drinks with rail alcohol) are usually included in the price and can save you a considerable amount of money.

Although our trip package was $899 per person (including non-stop roundtrip airfare, lodging, and rental car), there were other fees tacked on that made the trip more expensive.  However, when I look back on this trip later on, I’ll remember the experience, not how much it cost. #YOLO

Now that you’ve answered the questions above, its time to book your trip.

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BOOK YOUR TRIP

There are various ways you can plan your trip.  You can do it:

Through a travel agent

Through AAA Travel Services
AAA membership includes the ability to talk to a AAA travel specialist and free trip guides

Online
You can find trip packages on popular sites such as:

Expedia

Travelocity

Orbitz

Priceline

Groupon
This is where I found our Costa Rica trip package

AirBnB

VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner)

Couchsurfing
Stay on someone’s couch for free (Really!)

eBay
Some people book trips they end up not being able to take so they sell
them to recoup their costs.  Others have timeshares that they rent out.

TripAdvisor

Bookit


MAKE SURE YOUR PASSPORT IS UP-TO-DATE.

Most places require that your passport has at least 6 months
left on it before expiration, others want 1 year.

START COUNTING THE DAYS & GET READY TO ENJOY YOURSELF!!

 


If YOU have travel tips you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!  Please share in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. Great tips! The budget part is perhaps the most likely culprit to burst a dream vacation bubble, but you’ve got some great guidelines to keep things in line. A few years ago some family came to visit from across the planet and they were recommended $500/day as a budget when planning. This would include (on a daily basis) a hotel night, transportation throughout the day, meals and snacks, and then stuff like excursions, gifts, etc. It’s amazing how quickly that can get eaten up!

    1. Thanks for reading, Kris! Yes, budget can definitely be an issue if you don’t plan well. $500/day sounds like a lot of money but I guess when its for an entire family, maybe it isn’t. I tend to try to travel pretty inexpensively. For example, I’d rather spend less on my hotel since I typically only sleep there and use the money I save to do, see and experience more in each place (local food, sightseeing, excursions/outings, etc.)

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