Growing up, we went on one family vacation together when I was seven to Disney World. I still have mementos, a journal, photos and tons of memories of the time we spent there. I really wish we had done more trips together as a family growing up but other things always seemed to take priority.
Since having my own family, travel has been a major dream of mine. My husband has never left the country and did very little traveling as a child too. So when my husband and I got married we decided we would save for a family trip/honey moon and picked Domincan Repbulic. Most people go to Mexico, or Jamaica, or Dominican Republic as you can get a lot of cheap tickets to these destinations. I saw Mexico when I was 16 with my mum, and it was okay. But I had little desire to go there again.
In preparation we went to get our vaccinations up to date, as well as a hepatitis protection for our 14 month old daughter as we were taking her with. The nurse giving us our vaccinations was a little concerned because of the water quality down there since the Haitian earthquake and she asked if we really had our hearts set. It was then I said “Why not Costa Rica?” She smiled and said,
“Actually they have the most stable of the Central American countries, and health care that is comparable to that of Canada’s.”
Unfortunately just before booking there were some life circumstances that prevented us from going. I was really bummed; I didn’t think it was ever going to happen. We then bought a house. And then I got pregnant. And Mila was about to turn two and we would soon have to pay for her seat…
However, come November and an unnaturally cold day here even for Canada I decided to hell with this, I’m booking. I had kept asking my husband what he thought of this place and that place and he told me
“Just book it and tell me when to pack, and where to go.”
So December 7th we packed our bags and set off for the airport. It wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. Our van started acting up, we almost got in a head on collision among other stuff. We made it to the airport and through customs, our two hour wait for our midnight flight and a hyperactive toddler; side-effect of children’s gravol (news to me, to. Finally we were in Toronto where we waited for our flight to CR.
The plane from Toronto to CR was seriously the smallest plane I’ve ever been on. But after being up all night Mila slept the entire way to CR, only waking long enough for us to change her out of her fleece jammies to something more tropical climate friendly.
We took a taxi to our hotel, as we didn’t realize there was an air-conditioned shuttle waiting for us. (Again read the fine print folks.) If anyone has ever taken a taxi ride in a Central American country you’ll know they drive the windey-est roads at mach 1 speeds. So about 20 mins in, 30 degree weather and Mila refusing to sit on my lap,I knew what was coming when she started to panic and began to climb on my lap
A quick break, a sneaky gravol later (this time no side effect, figures.) we were on the road at a slower pace and arrived at our resort.
We chose a resort because it was our first family vacation and my husband’s first time outside of the country. I didn’t want to worry about cooking, messes, safety or anything else during our trip as I was 27 odd weeks pregnant. My husband was already completely out of his element and I wanted things to be as smooth and carefree as possible. Our resort was very mountainous, and overlooking the ocean. There was even a shuttle to take us from the beach to the lobby and even some of the rooms higher up the mountain. I requested a building near the pool because we were in and out of our room so much because of Mila.
The first few days were just for settling in; getting the restaurant schedule down, finding where everything was, and finding our new routine. Tuesday my husband discovered what “all inclusive meant” (booze) Wednesday morning he discovered what “all inclusive cheap liquor hangover was like.” (lame.) And by Wednesday afternoon we were bored, believe it or not. We are not a family that sits in one place long. Both our toddler and us really like to explore and take everything in.
There were excursions nearby we could go to, but most were a little too extreme for us in our current situation (pregnant, and a two year old.) I wasn’t looking for pre-term labour so we nixed the snorkeling and zip-lining, as well as horse ride through the jungle. But the one trip was a boat ride to a nearby beach town to do some shopping and see some sights.
Although the thought of being stranded in the ocean with a toddler on a boat seemed terrifying, it turned out to be the best part of the trip!
We saw dolphins swimming and jumping beside our little boat. Mila was fascinated with the boat and sat nicely. We got to Coco beach and after traveling with our guides through the town we were set loose to have lunch and shop. We saw a local grocery store that looked just like ours at home. It had organic apples and other fruits and vegetables as well as cheap coffee and dried beans.
We bought some snacks, coffee, water bottles and oreos for Mila and headed back down the main strip for lunch.
We made some friends and had a pretty American-esque lunch. I was hungry and afraid to try anything too out of my comfort zone, and the waiter had a difficult time explaining what was in the dish.
We did a little shopping; the normal mementos for friends and family, some chocolates to share, a book for Mila, and cigars for my husband. I’m not a big trinket person, so I opted for a straw fedora that I could wear lots at home as well as for the rest of the trip.
By that weekend we were both anxious to get home. Justin was home sick, Mila was bored of the few toys and books we could bring, and I was sore from walking up the mountain all the time. The resort food was pretty good, but got rather repetitive. Central American diet consists of a lot of rice and beans and squash!
So come Monday, we had breakfast and quickly packed our bags. We enjoyed a bit of time at the beach, fed the monkeys again, played at the resort playground and waited for our shuttle back to the airport. We had a quick lunch at the airport and prepared for our flight back to Toronto. The plane was just as small and just as packed, but as always, the flight home seemed to take much less time. Mila had a few naps and was a good girl. I still had a lot of leftover snacks from the flight down plus all the oreos we bought at the grocery store.
We had little time between getting off the plane in Toronto before boarding for Calgary. The flight from Toronto to Calgary was nearly empty and we each had a row to ourselves practically. Mila slept in my lap and woke when we touched down after 1 a.m.
We still had a 90-minute drive home, and we were exhausted, but it was well worth the work and trip. We had so much fun as a family, playing on the beach, and taking in the culture. As always with traveling I learned something that radically changed my life; mostly about giving grace; both to my husband, my daughter, and myself.
Traveling a toddler was challenging, but I learned it is not impossible and can very much be enjoyed. I was reminded of just how young she is. At home she is determined and independent which makes her seem so much older than she is. However being in CR she was out of her element, and while she seemed to do fine, I saw just how much extra comfort she needed. At first I responded with frustration to her tantrums and behaviour. I contacted my best friend who had traveled with her daughter and she reminded me to cut Mila some slack, have more patience, and that everything had been disrupted. It seemed so obvious after she said it,but in the moment and the selfishness of wanting to enjoy myself on vacation too, I realized I was not taking this into consideration.
After taking her advice we all enjoyed the trip more. In fact I just continued it at home even after we had settled back into our routine. Everyone was less frustrated, there was less yelling, less tears and I felt better as a parent.
All in all, I am so thankful we embarked on this journey together. It was a great bonding experience for my husband and I; and I learned valuable parenting lessons. Many people were very negative in response to us wanting to travel with our toddler.
“She won’t remember it anyway.” Was a big one. No. She won’t. But I will. I have so many memories with her in this beautiful place that now holds a very dear spot in my heart.
We have already started planning our next trips. We hope to be in a position eventually to visit Costa Rica annually. We are planning our Europe trip when the children are a little older. And in the mean time to see our own country and all the beauty it holds.