Life Hacks and Musings from My First Vagabonding Trip: Central America

This suntan was totally worth the sunburns! Un gringo muy gaupo, No?

Find someone who has lodging that needs a website.

One thing that significantly enriched my trip to was meeting Bert, a charming expat who operated a lodge in the surfing village, Dominical. He had a gorgeous property in one of the surf mecca’s of Costa Rica but needed a website like a Tico needs an Imperial (FYI: A tico is a Costa Rican and Imperial is the CR national beer). I ended up bartering him a very nice website for about a month and a half of room, board and meals. I would be willing to guess that about half the people that read this have enough web competency to create a website comparable to the one I did for Bert.

Listen to Spanish foreign language podcasts.

A lot of travelers and vagabonds find it challenging to learn Spanish because they aren’t conversationally confident enough to initiate an exchange or they don’t have the time or money to take classes and who wants to sit around reading a foreign language textbook when there is so much adventure to be had? The good news is that you can learn a lot of Spanish from listening to instructional podcasts. They are free and easy to download on iTunes. You can listen to them while walking around or on buses or airplanes. I personally like Discover Spanish but if you search in iTunes you will find a lot of options.

Try to speak Spanish. Even if you suck.

At a certain point, you just need to bite the bullet and start a conversation with a stranger. I recommend starting little conversations that will not go too far, where is the kitchen? Do you work here? What are you reading? What are you studying? Where are you from?

Use this line to explain you are trying to learn.

Necesito practicar mi espanol mas. Tal vez me puedes dar una pequeña lección (I need to practice my spanish more maybe you can give me a little lesson)

Tip: tengo un a pregunta One thing that’s confusing with any language is learning the conjugations (What’s the future infinitive of ‘to be hungover’?). In Spanish the second verb in a sentence is almost always not conjugated, so if you begin your conversations with ‘tengo una pregunta’ (Pretty hard to screw up right?) you don’t have to worry about the conjugations in the sentence after that.

Tip: Do a Captain Sparrow when you forget your vocabulary. In the Pirates of the Caribbean films, you see how Johnny Depp utilizes lots of eccentric body language in combination with pauses. He will pause mid-sentence, stare deeply off at the horizon, make some flamboyant gesture then finish his thought. As opposed to filling your sentences with uhms and ahs if you forget some vocab pull a Jack Sparrow.

Learn a few jokes in Spanish. If you want to gain permission to insult the grammar of someone’s native tongue (and let’s be honest that’s exactly what you are going to do…) it’s a good idea to make them laugh. I recommend making a little joke to get started on the right foot.
Evite la cruda permanezca borracho — In Costa Rica, this means ‘Avoid the hangover, stay drunk’, make sure you let people know it’s a ‘proverba’ since it obviously isn’t but it makes it funnier.
Esposas — In Spanish the word for wife is esposa, wives is esposas, but what’s humorous is that esposas is also handcuffs.

Casco Viejo Joke — The historic neighborhood I was staying in had a problem typical to a lot of central American cities. There are large holes in the ground that could be a real potential hazard to people walking around after dark. I made up this joke about them:

Hice una broma sobre este ciudad. ¿Quieres oírlo? ¿Sabes cómo hay huecos en las calles y aceras? ¿Sabes que la ciudad realmente instalados esos huecos? Se instaló para prevenir alcolholismo, porque si tomas a la cantidad que va a caer en ellos, pero si sólo bebe un poco de que va a caminar alrededor de ellas.

Ask members of the opposite sex to teach you charming things to say in their language. A super fun way to pick up new vocabulary and flirt at the same time is to ask new friends to teach you flirty things to say.

Latino Lifestyle Lifehacks

Get a tan. If you have dark hair and you get a tan you can probably pass for a central American. If you speak a little Spanish in combination with this you won’t get treated like a gringo which can sometimes mean cheaper prices on things and people being more friendly (although the locals are pretty friendly as is to Norteamericanos).

Touch people. In this part of the world, people touch a whole lot more. So make it a conscious point to touch people more on the back, forearms, etc as you are interacting with them. Also, you will notice some serious invasion of your personal space, so be prepared for this.

Check both and for lodging. Sometimes the best hostels don’t list themselves on all websites so make sure you check the rankings on multiple sites before making a reservation.

Eat a lot of garlic, coconuts & black coffee. In Central America, you will be exposed to all kinds of interesting new parasites (not as many as in South America, though) so you want your immune system to bring it’s A-Game. Eating fresh garlic, coconuts (which are everywhere, delicious, fresh, cheap and do wonders for a hangover) and drinking coffee for antioxidants will significantly improve the chances that you don’t sick.

Skip the traveler’s checks, just order multiple debit cards.

You can use your credit card at a lot of establishments and to pull out the local currency from ATMs. This saves you the time, headache and fees of dealing with traveler’s checks or money changers (cambios). However, you know you stand a chance of losing your credit card so order a backup or two just in case to bring along in one of your bags that will be staying in your room while you are out having adventures.


Casco Viejo, Dominical and get the hell out of San Jose! If you are going to Central America there is a good chance you will fly in through San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. While I found a very fun hostel to stay (Casa Yoses), made some friends and visited some cool museums, I would NOT recommend staying in San Jose any longer than you have to.

It’s a very dirty city with trash piling up on almost every sidewalk that is not a representation of the natural beauty of Costa Rica. San Jose has major traffic and pollution issues, if you are traveling across the city expect to sit in traffic for a while as you breath exhaust fumes. Another major negative of San Jose, the prices of virtually everything other than real estate seem extraordinarily inflated for the class of the environment you are in. Don’t expect to save much money over the cost of living in your average American city. Here are two places I highly recommend spending some time:

Casco Viejo, La Ciudad de Panama

The historic district of Panama City is seriously one of the coolest places in my life. Several square kilometers of the peninsular barrio has more culture than you find in some entire countries. You will find 400-year-old European style cathedrals, patio cafes, museums, trendy lounges full of undulating bodies, the French embassy, kids playing soccer in the streets, fresh fish markets and very friendly police officers on almost every corner ensuring the safety of locals and travelers. Casco Viejo also boasts one the best hostels in the world, Luna’s Castle, a seriously social place with a bar, movie theater, and a constant parade of good looking young travelers from America’s and Europe.

Dominical, Costa Rica

I will always treasure the time I spent learning to surf in this quintessential beach town on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Opportunities for adventure abound in this area, there are beaches for all surfing skill levels, horseback tours to pristine waterfalls, canopy zip line tours, a rich biosphere of wildlife, along with a fairly vibrant beach bar nightlife scene. The vistas of this place are seriously breathtaking, watching the sky turn purple as the sunset over Pacific every day followed by stargazing at the full swath of the milky way was seriously therapeutic.

Travel Hacks

Don’t rent a car unless you absolutely have to. In Central America the taxi’s are cheap, the state-subsidized bus companies are even cheaper and surprisingly comfortable to travel in. If I ever couldn’t find a taxi or bus to where I needed to go, it seemed a friendly local or expat willing to help me out with a ride was always easy to find. On the other hand the car rental agencies seem to charge excessive fees for rental and insurance (I knew some people who paid around $800 for about 2 weeks rental) on top of this the vehicles they provide are, in a word, wimpy; tiny little European style commuter-mobiles lacking in horsepower, style or comfort. Gas is also expensive, $7/gallon in Costa Rica and $4/gallon in Panama.

Geeky Travel Resources

  • — This website ranks and provides a vast amount of statistical data on hundreds of cities, worldwide. Want to compare the average cost of a draft beer in cities? Want to avoid a high crime or a highly polluted city? Numbeo is the tool for you!
  • Application — As a digital vagabond I rely heavily on wifi, the faster the better. This application for Android and iPhone will tell you in about 30 seconds what the connection speed is. Highly recommend testing wifi before you pay for your lodging.

Originally published on

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store