Before I left for Costa Rica, I spent a month selling what I didn’t need and talking to some well-traveled friends about what I should buy. I spent 5 months living abroad and found for myself what I was really lacking. So when I went back to California in August, I spent about a month buying and returning gear with a free 1 month Amazon prime account to be prepared for when I returned to Costa Rica.
I have been back in Costa Rica working abroad for 2 months now and have found almost all of it to be very useful. Here is what I am using:
Although most hostel and cabinas that are not completely sealed off have bugnets, it only cost me $8 to pick up my own bugnet from REI. One hostel I was in was fairly well sealed so it didn’t have mosquito nets but it only takes 1 mosquito to keep you up all night (or to give you dengue like I had back in April!), so I set mine up and slept soundly.
I also have some powerful magnets (I think they are neodymium but you can use normal magnets from Home Depot – be careful if you use the superstrong ones!) to connect the 6 metal rings in my “mosquitero” (mosquito net) to the metal frame of a bed, nails, or to curtains (with another magnet in the back).
In the wet season in Costa Rica, it rains almost every day at 3pm like clockwork. Sometimes there will be a storm and it will rain for 24 hours. So it is crucial to have good rain protection at hand at all times.
My go-to is an Arcadia travel umbrella which I always keep in my backpack – it folds up small but opens up big enough to have proper coverage.
I also have a hooded rain jacket from Outdoor World which is alright but gets a bit cold when it is wet; my fisherman friend swears by Guy Cotten raingear and says that they always stay dry on the inside.
I have a Duck’s Back rain cover from REI that I keep in my backpack at all times that can cinch around the bag and folds up into its own attached bag for storage.
I also have a 30L Osprey dry sack from REI (about $30) that I love and could use in an emergency river crossing, etc. but I use it to store wet swimsuits in my luggage and as a laundry bag.
My iPhone has a lifeproof case that is IP67* and works great.
And both of my computers have Pelican laptop cases that are also IP67 waterproof.
* IP67 means that it is dustproof and protected from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (or 3.2ft) for up to 30 mins
Last time I was in Costa Rica, I was worried about my posture (neck and shoulder strain) from hunching over my laptop, as well as the strain on my eyes from staring at a screen for hours in a dimly lit room.
So I did some research and talked to my expert ex-coworker and decided to get a USB powered LED backlight so that my eyes would not be so dilated in the darkness but staring at a bright screen. I don’t actually use it much because I work outside in cafes mostly but it is under $10 and small so it is nice to have.
For neck strain, I bought the Kickstarter Roost laptop stand for $80; it is a bit pricey but it is very well made, collapses compactly, and does a good job of raising my laptop screen up to head height so my neck stays at the proper right angle.
Then I bought Tecknet’s USB wireless mouse ($10) and Anker’s bluetooth wireless keyboard ($20) and a mousepad with a Belkin gel wrist-support ($7) on Amazon. It took me a couple of tries to get the right keyboard but I am quite happy with the one I have. I also have cases for the keyboard and mouse by Hermit Shell to protect them from rattling in my luggage.
Since I am developing apps as well as websites, I need to test on all platforms, so I have a Samsung J7 (although I would rather have a Samsung Galaxy 6 because it is supposedly waterproof) for Android, an iPhone 6 for iOS, a 13″ (perfect travel size) Retina (to save my eyes) Macbook Pro 2014 (which I love and got on ebay for $800!) and my old 15″ Toshiba Satellite P755 which has Windows 7 and Ubuntu dual booted. Both of my laptops are protected in waterproof, crush-resistant Pelican cases and I keep the smaller macbook in my backpack, with me at all times, and the older PC in my duffelbag in my room or car as a redundancy backup.
I have 3-digit luggage locks on both my backpack and duffelbag but as I found out recently, I can fairly easily break into them (in about 10 seconds) but they keep the honest people honest and will discourage someone from opening your backpack in a cafe while you are in the bathroom.(Maybe try the >4-digit version?)
I also picked up a 4-digit Brinks cable lock to attach my bags to bed posts or tables to keep someone from grabbing my bag and running off with it. This lock I accidentally reset the code and had to learn how to break it which was more formiddable (took about 15 minutes). These measures are good for cafes and for keeping the maid out of pickpocketing your bags while he or she is cleaning but they won’t keep a thief from cutting open your bag with a knife – which is why, in the future, I will invest in a steel mesh-lined, anti-theft backpack.
I really love the smell and texture of an old paperbook, but it is so difficult to find the obscure books I like while traveling and impractical to carry around enough books since I tend to travel for half a year at a time and read every day. So, I “gave in” and bought a Kindle e-reader ($50 when I bought it) and haven’t looked back. I have 400 books on my Kindle right now and have never had to pay for an ebook. I like to use Project Gutenberg for classic books that are free because they are so old they do not have copyrights (think Shakespeare, Mark Twain, The Odyssey). I also find it quite easy to type the name of a book in google followed by “pdf” and am often successful in finding what I am looking for. Worst case scenario, I can purchase an ebook on Amazon.com for less than $10 and will never run out of reading material for the beach or long bus rides. If you don’t want to purchase a Kindle, you can even download the Kindle app on your smartphone or simply save pdfs or ebooks to your Apple iBooks library and read on your phone. I caution you on doing this too much though because it is not good for your eyes to read with a backlight (make sure you have Apple’s Night Shift or f.lux on your computer to turn down the blue light at night).
Flashlights are very important so I keep a small waterproof one in my car and one in my backpack, a Vipertek tazer flashlight for protection, and a headlamp in my backpack and a backup in my luggage. I also have an overhead reading light – I have heard the solar inflatable ones work well.
It is important to always have clean drinking water in a hot climate especially in countries that have water outtages. I either use Hydroflasks or just buy a big glass waterbottle and either buy a rope-net carrying sling for it on Etsy (or you can make your own if you lose yours like I did!).
It is about 80 degrees fahrenheit here year round so it is really nice to have your own fan. I have a usb powered one I can plug in to my laptop while I work and a usb battery pack (usually used for recharging phones) if I want to take it on the go or in my old car that doesn’t have air conditioning.
Shoes are incredibly important. I have good hiking boots from REI but I would recommend buying some cheap, tall rainboots if you are crossing rivers, fishing or working in muddy areas. My daily shoes are Dockers that are open-air (no socks – too hot!), water-resistant (important) leather, closed toed, fisherman sandals that I bought in a shopping mall in San Jose, Costa Rica. I love them and will continue buying them when these wear out. If Jesus and the Roman legion could hike all over Eurasia with these things, I think I will do just fine in them.