Travel Tales

Posted 2/1/16

“Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.”                                        ~ Charles Dudley Warner


If you read my 1/21/16 blog, you’ll remember that on my December 2010 inaugural trip to Costa Rica, I learned a very valuable lesson (lesson #90): that over-packing is over-rated, but an extra pair of shoes is essential in case of emergency.


Without realizing at the time how materialistically consumed I had become, those massive suitcases in a Costa Rican jungle at a yoga retreat were a sad, but accurate, snapshot of my life – I was often so consumed with outward appearances, attempting to look fashionable and put-together at all times.   I took great pride in my wardrobe, and shopping was one of my favorite pastimes.  Several years ago, when I did my student teaching, students from one of my high school classes made me a tee-shirt that said, “Mrs. J. survived student teaching, AND NEVER WORE THE SAME OUTFIT TWICE.  (For those who don’t know, student teaching lasts 12 weeks – that’s 60 days – that was 60 different outfits on a full-time college student’s limited budget!)  But as is so often the case, my polished outer “shell” was actually shielding hidden insecurities.


So now you understand my baggage, both literally and figuratively.  To say I over-packed is a gross understatement.  I actually stuffed full, two of the largest suitcases I could find (I don’t even want to admit how much I paid the airline for overweight luggage).   Since I was going to a yoga retreat, one would assume packing would be a minimal, simplistic task, but in my naivety I incorrectly presumed I would need several options for dining out, sight-seeing, shopping, and the occasional photo op.  Of course, each outfit had to have matching shoes – yes, I took dress shoes, lots of them: pumps, sling-backs, wedges . . . and ONE pair of flip-flops.

suitcase picture

Having left Pennsylvania in the middle of winter, upon arriving in Liberia, Costa Rica, it was immediately evident that I needed to change into my “Central American” traveling outfit, which included trading in my snuggly Ugg boots for my (one pair) of flip-flops for the impending road trip to the retreat center.   Once the wardrobe adjustment was complete, I boarded a shuttle van for what, I was certain, was going to be the most relaxing and stress-free week of my life.  As I climbed into the van, lunging toward my seat, which was the third row in the back of the van, as I lifted my heel poised to take my next step, the passenger boarding behind me stepped on the back of my flip-flop . . . for anyone who’s ever had this happen, you probably know the rest of the story . . . my ONLY pair of flip-flops no longer flipped or flopped; they were broken beyond repair.  So much for stress free!  As I mentioned, I had LOTS of shoes, but ALL of them were heels (no, I did not even take sneakers).

stone steps

If you read my “About Me” blog, you know that I was embarking on an 8-day yoga retreat in the jungles of Costa Rica.  My accommodations were a daily jaunt up and down 451 steps from my hut in the grove to the main retreat center, and that was if I made only one trip to and from my hut per day.  Sufficient to say, I knew I would be doing a lot of walking over the next week – let the stress begin!


Sparing you all of the details, I actually did trudge up and down ALL those stairs, several times that first day IN MY WEDGES, (I can only imagine what my yogi compadres, most of whom traveled with a backpack or duffle bag, thought of the superficial chick from Pennsylvania).  Day 2 when I quit yoga, I walked 3 miles down the beach to the nearest town, hobbled into the surf shop and purchased a pair of flip-flops (which have lasted me these last five years and traveled to and from Costa Rica many times since).


In addition to learning about packing “just enough”, from the lovely Costa Ricans I learned about Pura Vida – the pure life.  This concept is more than a common greeting or catchy slogan; the people of Costa Rica actually embrace and exude Pura Vida.  Pura Vida is the joy of simplicity; it is choosing to be happy; it is not worrying; it is just being.  According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica ranks #1 of all the countries analyzed.  Even though the average annual wage in Costa Rica is not even $7,000 a year (nearly $40,000 less than the average annual wage in the US), everywhere I’ve been in Costa Rica, meeting and experiencing happy, content people is the norm.  It is this contentment that I’ve been chasing ever since my first visit.


Over the past few years, I have made a conscious decision to simplify my life, to eliminate extras, declutter, repurpose and recycle, but I have a long way to go before the essence of the pure life exudes from my soul.  I wish I could say that since my first visit to Costa Rica, I made tremendous strides at simplifying my life, and I wish I could tell you that I never revert back to thinking of shopping as retail therapy, but although I’ve made great improvements, I sometimes still struggle with what I actually need in my life and what I want, just because.


Whenever I’m faced with deciding if I should add or keep something in my life, I ask myself 3 questions:

Will it bring me lasting joy?

Will it move me farther away from my goal of becoming debt free, thus complicating the plan to an early retirement in Costa Rica?

If I were living in Costa Rica would I think this was a necessary purchase?

More often than not, after taking the time to be intentional, I make a wise decision.

I’m always searching for new ways to adopt simplicity habits.  A few things I’ve done recently include:

  • I now never take a suitcase or check bags when I travel to Costa Rica. I take only what I can fit in my carry-on.  If it doesn’t fit, I don’t need it.  (But, I do always take 2 pair of flip-flops!)
  • I move often; although it’s a hassle, it’s a great opportunity to downsize. Each time I move, I purge – I give away or sell any extras or non-essentials.  Curb alerts on Craigslist are an excellent way to get rid of your things fast (one woman’s junk is another’s treasure!).  I must admit, that “purging” is a semi-regular occurrence with me, which is proof that I’m still working on this one
  • When I do shop, I most often purchase at yard sales or consignment or thrift stores
  • Ok, time for true authenticity: I still have a handbag obsession (admitting is the first step to recovery!), but I buy only from outlet stores, and whenever I splurge for a new designer bag, I sell my gently used bag on eBay, so I’m no longer a “collector” (every girl needs a bag, right?)
  • Recently, I decided to give away my entire life’s collection of earrings and necklaces. Not only did I eliminate the clutter of all that jewelry, but you can’t believe the time I save each morning by not having to accessorize my outfits
  • I’ve also recently removed my artificial nails; giving up the bi-monthly trip to the nail salon has given me an extra 2 – 3 hours a month and saves me over $700 a year
  • I’m thrilled to have discovered the many uses of essential oils—I not only smell great, but I’m saving money! I now make my own toothpaste, deodorant, and fragrances (email me for recipes)

For me, it’s not just about reducing clutter, maintaining feng shui, or saving money; for me it’s about seeking serenity in a simple, uncomplicated life.


I won’t pretend it’s easy.  Everywhere you look, there are marketing messages to buy more, accumulate more, spend more, do more, end up with more.  There’s not much support for simplistic living, unless you seek it out.  If you look, you will find people who encourage living within your means, people who agree with promoting sustainability, people who know that life is more about who you are than what you have.  I’ve found the most inspiration from others who are on similar quests to seek serenity – the state of being calm, peaceful, untroubled – just like the Costa Ricans.  Strive to surround yourself with encouraging people; it is essential.  Let’s encourage each other.  Send me your comments or questions.


My friend, may you always have “just baggage enough” in this journey we call LIFE.

turtle on beach



Posted 1/21/16

December 2010, near Playa Guiones/Nosara, in the Guanacaste region at a total-immersion New Year’s yoga retreat


During my self-imposed week of solitude, I did not participate in the day-long yoga sessions.  I did not read; I did not make friends; I did not analyze; I did not worry; I did not plan my next activity, my next day, or the step of my life.  Each day, I simply walked.  I walked and observed the beauty of Costa Rica, specifically a small slice of a peninsula where the jungle shared space with the coast. Along with the sun, I soaked in the pura vida ideology – my cells actually drank in the pure life and every fiber of my being felt alive. My daily routine included hiking down the mountain to emerge on the deserted beach.  I headed north and walked approximately 3 miles along the Pacific Coast on that narrow strip of beach toward Playa Guiones, crossing the river where it met the ocean, taking care to observe the tides, so I would not be stranded before I was able to retreat and repeat my 3 mile journey back to my jungle hut.  Each evening, I would sit on the bench outside my hut, and while the rest of the guests practiced their evening yoga sessions, I wrote my reflections from the day. These simple thoughts became lessons I recorded, of which I will share here.  Some day, they may become the skeleton for a book I’ve been meaning to write.  For now, they are merely a glimpse of my stream of consciousness.   I will strive to avoid adding any back story or comments.  To maintain authenticity, I have kept them in their pure, unedited form, which happened in the order you see them here . . .

  • I have learned that I can not spontaneously run away
  • I have learned that good endings make for better beginnings
  • I have learned that I can not plan to not have a plan
  • I have learned that ideas and perceptions do not always match reality
  • I have learned to listen to my soul even when it is in opposition to others’ voices
  • I have learned that my past does not have to be an indicator of my present or my future
  • I have learned that unless I allow fear into my life, I can not conquer it
  • I have learned that when faced with no options, NOT to continue looking for options
  • I have learned that accepting what is, is not necessarily settling
  • I have learned that being afraid gives me a chance to grow stronger
  • I have learned that the absence of light accentuates sound
  • I have learned to appreciate the simplicity of my surroundings
  • I have learned to love my hut
  • I have learned to stop competing with myself, but rather to accept who I am, where I am is more than enough
  • I have learned that there are kind, compassionate, friendly people waiting to befriend me when I am ready
  • I have learned that my plan must be MY plan, and that I do not have to make excuses or explanations for it
  • I have learned to honor myself
  • I have learned to be still
  • I have learned to empty my cluttered mind
  • I have learned that I enjoy my own company
  • I have learned that less verbal communication allows for more non-verbal communication
  • I have learned that I am never alone when I am with myself
  • I have learned that being alone does not mean I am lonely
  • I have learned that the less I talk to others, the more I enjoy me
  • I have learned that when I don’t engage in conversation, I am more who I “am” and less of what I “do”
  • I have learned that personas are not realities
  • I have learned that all oceans merge
  • I have learned that openness befriends openness
  • I have learned that no woman should be an island
  • I have learned that I like wine more than yoga
  • I have learned to accept gifts from others and self (still working on the guilt part)
  • I have learned that 8 days/24 hours a day = 192 hours.  192 hours goes slowly when I do not rush
  • I have learned I sleep well when I have emptied my mind
  • I have learned that although this trip was costly, it is priceless
  • I have learned that to save one’s life, one must lose it
  • I have learned that to preserve one’s mind, one must empty it
  • I have learned that I can sit still
  • I have learned I like to sit still
  • I have learned to see the beauty in the simple, small things
  • I have learned to do whatever I want to do – and not to do what I don’t want to do
  • I have learned that I like letting my hair wild and not doing my make-up, but I still must tweeze my eyebrows, pick my face, and trim my cuticles
  • I have learned that it may be wiser to not spend money on manicures & pedicures, but rather save it for adventures –however, if I am to do yoga and meditate, it would be better to have a pedicure first so I don’t fixate on my ugly toes
  • I have learned that I have a very small world view & I want to expand it
  • I have learned that I need women friends to love me, encourage me, and understand me
  • I have learned that I miss, and I need, a sense of belonging to a community
  • I have learned that I am not crazy; I am not pre-menopausal; I am not abnormal.  I am understood by many and I am in good company
  • I have learned that to follow my pleasure may cause others pain
  • I have learned to not doubt myself
  • I have learned my feelings are valid and I do not need to explain them away
  • I have learned that right now is all I need to be concerned about
  • I have learned that I love vegetarian food; it is like a flavor explosion in my mouth
  • I have learned to slow down and enjoy my food; to chew; to taste and to consider it before the next bite
  • I have learned that my presence, my essence touches others
  • I have learned the joy of saving money is being able to spend it on indulgences
  • I have learned that distance is sometimes necessary to put things in perspective
  • I have learned that when faced with fear, visualizing the worst that could happen makes anything more bearable
  • I have learned that when I am dissatisfied and restless, the answer is not to change everything; it is to change me
  • I have learned to find my center and revolve from it
  • I have found that without a strong connection to my source – God – I am lost and alone
  • I have learned I am never truly alone and if I feel so it is because I have walked away or tried to hide
  • I have learned that I will not feel like a victim if I do not give away my power
  • I have learned that open communication is the key to eliminating resentment
  • I have learned the truth is kinder than bitterness
  • I have learned that traveling (and being) alone is not abnormal (but I prefer company most of the time)
  • I have learned that very small (cute) animals (howler monkeys) make VERY loud roars
  • I have learned that once I can name what scares me, it no longer has the same negative power over me
  • I have learned I like to hear the monkey’s howl
  • I have learned to let go of things I can not, or should not, control
  • I have learned that I am not vital to others’ success or happiness
  • I have learned that I do not need to be bound to my cell phone, text, or email
  • I have learned that single minded focus is unhealthy and creates a chaotic mind
  • I have learned to learn about and seek to understand and accept others’ beliefs and practices
  • I have learned to still and focus my mind
  • I have learned how important the sun (and warmth) are to my well-being
  • I have learned that watching the sun rise and set centers me
  • I have learned that beach walks are my meditation
  • I have learned that creating “my story”, by recalling and sharing the drama diminishes the experience; rather, I need to concern myself with the feelings and the growth process
  • I have learned that everyone (even the great teachers) struggles with maintaining focus
  • I have learned that someday I would like to return and explore Costa Rica – so I shall
  • I have learned my sense of responsibility and obligation must be self-focused; I owe it to myself
  • I have learned that 2 currents can merge: the river flows into the ocean and the ocean tide infiltrates the river
  • I have learned that I want “who I am” to be more prominent than “what I do”
  • I have learned that I want my essence/my presence to bless others
  • I have learned that I need to smile from within . . . everyday
  • I have learned that if I ask for signs, then I should honor the response
  • I have learned I love the earth and want to sustain it, but not flushing toilet paper is gross–perhaps we need to recycle more so others can flush (Not flushing paper is a common practice throughout Costa Rica)
  • I have learned that if I’m not conscious and careful I will let a week of training go in an instant
  • I have learned that I must get my passport stamped at least once a year; preferably every 6 months
  • I have learned that memories are priceless
  • I have learned that over-packing is over-rated, but an extra pair of shoes is essential in case of emergency
  • I have learned that Costa Rica December 2010 – January 2011 SAVED ME!



2 Comments on “Travel Tales

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  2. Hello,I log on to your blog regularly. Your story-telling style is witty, keep up the good work!

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