Part of the Family

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View from the Lost Iguana resort outside La Fortuna, Costa Rica

There’s pros and cons to every form of travel—whether you’re with a tour group, a self-guided trip, alone or with friends, we all have our own image of a perfect vacation. Within the millennial travel blogger realm, I see a lot of think pieces about traveling solo, with tips on what to do/ not to do, safety, or the benefits. Those are great pieces to read about, especially for me, a woman, who may face certain challenges as I backpack across Europe alone. It’s important to read up on others’ experiences and hear their advice before going on your own trek.

However, what if you decide to travel with a group? Or even more specific, what if you decide to travel with your family? On your solo adventures, the only person you have to cater to is yourself—you get to dictate which museums you visit and when, how late you want to stay at a bar, or if you should change your flight and stay on an island one extra day (tempting, right). But when you’re with a group, your needs are as equal as the others you’re traveling with, and many times you have to compromise to make sure everyone has a good time. That’s the key too—everyone needs to have fun.

Such was the case for me earlier this year when I traveled to Costa Rica. The country itself had never been high on my radar, but when an opportunity to visit my youngest sister there came up, I was sprinting out to the store to buy a guidebook. What I learned in my own research first, is that Costa Rica is a hub for adventurers (which made me wonder why I had never had it on my list before!). Between each coast you can hike in the rainforest, climb a volcano, zipline through the canopies, and surf the Atlantic or Pacific (your choice). And let’s not forget about the sloths. There are so many sloths.

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The beaches at Manuel Antonio.

If I was traveling solo, my trip would easily be booked with days and days of adventure. Instead, I was traveling with family, where each member had his/her own skill set, interests, and comfort level when it came to traveling through a new country. Originally, I had written out an itinerary similar to the trips I had organized in Europe—day to day outlines with travel, hotel options, and activities in each location. Because of the timing, I set aside two parts to the trip—a few days on the beach, and a few days up in the mountains.

Reading into the travel portion of our plans, I forgot that driving in a foreign country is never the same as driving in the U.S.—five hours of straight driving here is easy, but there, you’re venturing through winding streets up and down the mountains of the countryside (and watch out for gators!). Luckily, it was my father who suggested we hire a driver to do the heavy lifting. It was the best decision we made on that trip.

For first timers to the country, I would recommend consulting a travel guide. We went through Costa Rican Vacations (http://www.vacationscostarica.com) and they hooked us up—they set up the drivers, scheduled our tours, and booked our hotels for us for the whole week. All we had to do was show up.

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Hiking selfie in La Fortuna.

For me, going through a tour guide isn’t always my first choice—I tend to feel restricted, and without the freedom to travel at my own pace (very fast), I worry about missing something. But due to our circumstances, and the fact that none of us had traveled to Costa Rica before, this was an opportunity to put the planning in the hands of the experts. It was our priority first to have fun.

Of course, there was also compromise in our day to day decisions—the heat was difficult to deal with, so spending an entire day at the beach wasn’t ideal for everyone in our family. The cliffs made it hard for the non-hikers to get to certain beaches, and I had to learn how to sit still, but together, we were able to make memories we’d cherish forever.

During our trip we stayed in two areas: Manuel Antonio and the Arenal Volcano region. We took a few guided nature walks and got to see sloths and monkeys up close, we swam in the warm ocean, and hiked through the rainforest (on our last day in Arenal, I stepped on a viper while hiking and determined it was time to go). But what I remember (and miss) most, were the hours we spent lounging by the pool, with the gorgeous view of the ocean behind us. It’s an out of character memory for me, but those were the moments where I was able to reflect and simply enjoy the ride.

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Local Costa Rican iguana + a view in Manuel Antonio.

Still Life

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A moment of silence at the end of my street in Costa Rica.

I am by no means a professional photographer. Sure, I have some idea of the basics when it comes to composing a quality shot, but for the most part my portfolio consists of a couple lucky shots taken while on vacation. A big part of composing a quality photo has to do with the subject—you can always pick out a professional because they know how to manipulate lighting and positioning to make even the most mundane subjects stand out. But for the amateurs like me, sometimes our best photos are more because of the location.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I was overcome with inspiration—by just stepping outside of my hotel room I would catch these moments of pure beauty, and would do my best to capture it in a shot. Some moments would slip by—the country is known for its wildlife, so many of my photos cover the blurry movement of a money or the tail of an iguana before it slips back into its hiding place. But, on occasion, I managed to capture a truly one-of-a-kind shot that I wanted to show off.

The rise of social media, specifically photo sharing, has become quite the phenomenon in recent years—our selfies have become a means of placing us in the moment and sharing our joyous occasions with others. For some, seeing photo after photo of an occasion may become a nuisance, but for me, I welcome these pictures. I love seeing people share pictures from their vacations, snapshots of a family event, or even just a funny moment they had on an afternoon walk. The camera was invented to supplement our memories—it gives us the ability to preserve moments in our lives, good and bad, and we should share that with others.

I’ve always loved snapping pictures. Behind each picture there is always a story. To this day, I still take pride in a shot I took on a hiking trail in Italy. For the unknowing viewer, it’s just a sign pointing to a cliffside town. But to me, the photo is a memory of an incredible weekend, where I broke from my comfort zone for the first time and fell in love with that small village on the coast.

Candid shots are another favorite for me. Sure, posing for photos is great, but to capture humans in their most comfortable state, when they are truly happy, or contemplative, or scared, those are the moments that can tell so much of the story without saying a word.

That’s why I try to capture the still moments, the moments that spark memories, that remind us of the life we’ve already lived. My photos may not be award winning, but for me, they are worth more than any souvenir I’ve paid for. They are the physical proof of a life well lived, and as I grow older, I appreciate the reminder of those little moments when I was quick enough to pull my camera out and snap a photo.