Another week, another inspiring solo female travel story. For those who don’t know, Women Who Wander is a travel series I have on my blog where other bloggers can share their stories of Solo Female Travel. It’s something I personally have not done enough of but reading all these incredible stories inspires me to no end! This week Emma tells the story of how a volunteer trip to Costa Rica in 2010 changed her life. Literally.
Hello fellow, wanderers! My name is Emma and I run The Weekend Abroad where I offer travel stories & affordable adventures. Having been a student for most of my life, I’ve always been an avid deal hunter. I hope to help others travel the world without breaking the bank. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada but now reside in Berkeley, California. The blog has been a way for me to continue writing and being creative – and a way to connect with other travelers! My favorite travel destinations thus far have been Southern Spain, Bali, Amsterdam, Peru. And of course, the wonderful place you are about to read about – Costa Rica
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One Trip Can Change Everything
My story is throwing it way back to the year 2010 to a trip that greatly impacted my life and values. It sounds dramatic, but it really did change my life. It changed the way I saw the world, caused me to transfer degrees in school. It’s also where I met my husband.
This life-changing experience took place the summer after my first year of university. My friend and I embarked on an environmental conversation volunteer trip to Costa Rica. No cellphones or laptops; just ourselves, needed apparel, and a lot of bug spray. We spent a week in the small town of Heredia. There, we went to Spanish school and took advantage of the nightlife with dozens of other college-aged volunteers from Canada, America, and Europe. After a fun-filled week, we were split into various groups to carry out volunteer projects across the small country. My group focused on monitoring dolphins and poisonous dart frogs while others built homes and monitored massive leatherback turtles.
Entrenched in Nature
My group of 11 made our way down to the southern tip of Costa Rica. A lovely 9 hour public bus ride from the country’s largest city of San Jose. For the next couple weeks, a very small and secluded camp provided us a home base while we rotated volunteer tasks. To paint you a picture of how entrenched our camp was in its environment – frogs became my buddies in the bathroom. Our volunteering consisted of hiking for hours up into the very wet and dense rainforest looking for poisonous dart frogs (tiny brightly colored amphibians) to measure.
Let me be clear – it was just us up there. Sometimes our leader would have to use a machete to carve a path for us! On the days we weren’t sweating profusely in the forest, we would journey out in to the Gulfo Dulce on a small boat in search of dolphins. Our leader said there was no guarantee we’d see any dolphins on our excursions Though we were lucky as we actually came across a pod of about 150 dolphins on our first trek out. They even came up to our boat! It was one of the most magical things I’ve ever experienced.
If you’re wondering how our monitoring contributed to environmental conservation, it’s because dolphins and frogs are indicators of ecosystem health. Frogs will be some of the first animals to show if something is amiss in the environment due to their sensitive and permeable skin. Tracking dolphin populations and behavior will show whether their species are on the rise or decline.
Getting Used to a New Destination
While the volunteering part of the trip was incredibly valuable, there were so many other memorable instances I learned from (and which also make me just laugh). Fun fact about Costa Rica: there is no such thing as addresses there so your home could be “2 lefts from that church”.
My friend and I got lost for an hour trying to find our host family’s home in Heredia! We collapsed in a sweaty mess when we finally found it. We turned on the fan to full blast only to have the head dramatically break off as we laid on the bed! Naturally, our host mom thought we broke it ourselves and made us pay her for it. The same mom found us at a local bar one night to give us our house key because we had forgotten it at home. I guess we can’t blame her for thinking we were irresponsible… Hey, we were just teenagers! There are numerous other ridiculous stories, but I’ll leave it at that.
How Costa Rica Changed Everything
I went back to Canada after my whirlwind Costa Rica trip with a clear and transformed outlook. I learned a plethora of valuable lessons and met interesting and diverse people from all over the world. Things like name brand clothes and even my cell phone became less important. I switched my university degree from English to Human Geography, which I really enjoyed for its focus on history, culture, city planning, and earth science.
That experience also led to a four-year long distance relationship with a fellow volunteer whom I am now married to and live with in California. He is my ultimate travel buddy and we just had a great Eurotrip earlier this year where we traversed 5 European countries in 19 days. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had never gone on that Central American adventure. What if I had chosen New Zealand or South Africa as my volunteer destination instead? I guess I’ll never know, but I’m forever grateful for the project I did choose.
If you ever want to get over a broken heart, gain perspective, meet a range of interesting characters, and potentially lose weight (minor plus), I highly suggest going on a volunteer trip abroad.
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories
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