We brought a few items that have proved so useful this summer that I think they deserve some recognition. We highly recommend the following for a trip like this:
Bungee cord. Our only gripe with this is that we only brought one. It’s excellent for Macguyver-style baby-proofing, securing groceries or a pizza box on your bike, and more.
Swiss army knife. Whether we needed tweezers for splinter removal or a knife for slicing my flat-and-wound-up-in-my-bike-spokes tire free, this was an excellent and compact tool.
Inflatable bedrail. Instantly transforms any regular bed into a safe place for Dean to sleep.
Travel booster seat. This little thing was impressively sturdy and kept Dean well contained at home and in restaurants.
First aid kit. Probably a no-brainer, but I was amazed at how often I turned to my trusty kit. I learned never to leave the house without it!
GPS device. Intuition is great when there are no road signs telling you which windy road to take, but knowing which direction your traveling — and maybe even having a map — is even better.
What didn’t we need? A billion diapers. Every grocery store I’ve entered in this country has had them for sale. Other than that, I think we packed pretty admirably.
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We’ve noticed something really random about the diapers we’ve bought here.
See it? How about a closer look?
All the diapers have one tab stuck to the inside of the diaper, rather than folded over neatly as we would expect. It’s odd. Of course, it doesn’t bother Dean! But does anyone have any theories about this? It’s a mystery!
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Here are three things that we were surprised we miss:
“Who would call us?” we thought. “We don’t need no stinkin’ local phone!” This has turned out to be a big mistake. We live on a gated property, and the fact we don’t have a phone means no one can stop by without pre-arranging an exact time to meet them at the gate. This has caused problems with the taxi, the Tofu Man, our rental car, and our new friends. We would never attempt another long-ish stay overseas without a phone.
We thought we would “go simple” and wash our own clothes. This would be fine except when it takes more than 48 hours for them to dry. If you’ve never let clothes stay damp for two straight days, let me tell you what they smell like: a cross between a wet dog and a locker room. Mmmm, fresh! Our landlords have a washer and dryer that they charge us around $10 per load for. Hey, at least we’re not buying gasoline!
We knew when we came down here that we would only have a two-burner gas range and no oven. No big deal, right? When do we use an oven, anyway? We really miss being able to roast/bake/broil/warm whatever. There are those days when all you want for your life is to cook a frozen pizza. We have been in several homes here with an oven, and we get jealous.
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One of the ways the Internet is changing the world is that it enables working, communicating, and conducting business transactions across great distances. One of the things I’m experimenting with here in Costa Rica is a little economic sleight of hand. The reason we can stay here for an extended period is not because we have a large savings (haha, that’s a good one), but that thanks to the Internet, I can continue to work for my U.S. clients and draw funds from my U.S. bank. It is something of a juggling act, but here’s how it works:
I do some work. Once I have made some useful software, the resulting code is transmitted over the network to one of my university clients.
They send me a check. It would be a lot easier if they paid me electronically (like with PayPal), but these are large bureaucratic institutions and they do things the way they do them. I use a mail handling service called Earth Class Mail which receives my mail and scans it, so I can see any checks or business letters on the web.
I deposit the funds electronically. I pay a monthly fee to use the same electronic funds transfer network that your gas company or your credit card company uses to automatically withdraw an amount from your checking account. I use the scanned image of the paper check to get the account number and bank routing number to initiate the transaction.
I transfer funds from my business bank to my personal bank. I can do this quickly and easily from my bank’s website.
I wasn’t sure this would all work until a couple of days ago, when I completed my first payment. From the moment my client puts a check in the mail to the moment I can go to the ATM and turn my hard work into ice cream and rum, it takes sixteen days to go through my Rube Goldberg system.
The upshot of all this is that I am warping some old, reliable rules of economics: that the income you earn and your cost-of-living are both tied to your location. In a country where the minimum wage is $2 an hour, I still draw a U.S. salary. And by the way, the demand for my software skills here in Puerto Viejo is absolutely zero!
We’re not exactly cleaning up financially; We’re still paying our mortgage and all the bills back in Texas. But I now know the model works, and it’s giving us a very memorable summer abroad.
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Today I devoted myself to the Herculean task of packing our bags for the trip, and I think I am very close to being done.
The challenge is two-fold. Not only must I figure out how to pack 12 weeks of clothes/toys/gear/etc. into a quantity of luggage that Zach and I can manage along with two rowdy boys in a variety of airports, I also have to figure out what, exactly, we need in those 12 weeks. I mean, this is a town without a gas station — it’s not like we can just pick up anything we forget or didn’t think of at the local Target.
However, I embrace the challenge:
Doing this trip with children obviously changes the rules a bit. For example, I would never stash snacks throughout my luggage if it were just me — but knowing that I can ply the boys with a cereal bar in a mid-flight meltdown is worth the inconvenience.
In case you’re interested, it looks like we’ll be bringing the following luggage:
We, um, like Eagle Creek. I’m also using some compression bags (the kind where you roll the air out) and some Rick Steves packing cubes, which are sort of flimsy but serve the purpose of keeping stuff together. Very useful
13 items left on my to-do list… and just a few days to do them in.
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Posted by: zach in Gear
Naturally, while we’re in Costa Rica we want to be just as in-touch with our friends and relatives as we are now. With the magic of the Internet and IP telephony, it’s remarkably simple.
I bought a dedicated hardware Skype phone. For those of you aren’t the nerd that I am (read, everyone), here’s how it works: I plug the base station into a broadband Internet connection, and our friends can call us at our U.S. phone number, even if we’re in another country, even if we’re in another hemisphere.
We also get unlimited calling to any number in the U.S. or Canada. You might think something like this is prohibitively expensive. Not so, gentle reader! It costs $24 per year to hold on to our phone number, and $3 a month for unlimited calling.
You can get details at the Skype website.
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Posted by: zach in Gear
Any family excursion into the jungle needs some good tech. This blog runs on the glorious WordPress 2.5. I decided to buy some credits at iStockPhoto.com, at least until we’ve got some fabulous photos of our own to share. My first download was the image you see here, and was the basis of our blog’s new banner.
More to come!
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