I’ve arrived in Costa Rica!  Bought a one way ticket from LAX to LIR (Liberia, but not THAT Liberia).  $174, which wasn’t bad.

And, as predicted, not everything went as planned with a volunteer abroad adventure.   As I’ve been doing this process I’ve learned that I’m happy with it, AND…I also need to improvise. It’s as good a structure as I can think of, for a Do It Yourself adventure.

I didn’t give myself enough time, this time, to set up a partner organization, I was so busy with wrapping things up in the States. So I arrived in Costa Rica without a clear plan. I have two organizations who emailed me back with some interest, and I am still pursuing them. But a thing to realize, as a Lean Volunteer, is that we offer something that is new to their operations. As I write about in the book (sign up for your discounted copy here!), very few small social enterprises have experience with volunteer business consultants. Those that work with people on volunteer vacations tend to place them in programs, not capacity building. When I did my first round in 2014-2015, I had friends who introduced me and made it easier to get the Director’s confidence. For this exercise, I wanted to do without such connections, to show how to do it anyway. What I’ve found was that I needed more time to go back and forth with a Director to explain what I can do in a relatively short amount of time (in this project, just 4 weeks). They want to know who I am, do I have relevant skills, can I leave them with something useful and sustainable?   In short, can I really help them, or will I just muck things up?

So I flew into Costa Rica’s Liberia airport and, since I didn’t have a host partner set up, improvised.  Here’s what I did.

  • I booked a hotel (TripAdvisor) on my own for the first 7 days in a seaside resort town, Tamarindo, about an hour from the airport.   I’ve found that transitions go easier for me if I just have a nice place to land, call home for a few days, and get my bearings.   The price per night is more than I like to pay when I travel ($75/night), but I’m willing to pay it to ease my way in a country I’ve never been to before. The hotel is 100 meters from the beach, and it’s high season here, so that’s what you get.  I could have paid MUCH more for a US style resort, like the Hotel Diria (US$220/night), but I prefer local places, and I like to keep my burn rate low when I’m volunteering.  And who doesn’t want to stay in a place called ‘El Mono Loco’ (The Crazy Monkey)??
  • I arranged for someone to meet me at the airport with a sign with my name on it (searched on “transfer from Liberia to Tamarindo”, found a few, looked at their sites, and chose one).   I don’t want to negotiate with the gaggle of “taxi” drivers. I just don’t want the hassle. While I often ask the my host organization to arrange this, I didn’t have that option this time.  So I booked a shuttle and Gustavo met me with my name on a piece of paper, and drove me to my hotel.   Gustavo had spent 7 years in New Jersey, so English was not a problem.
  • I arranged for a friendly person on the ground.  Since I’m traveling on my own, I like to have someone on the ground who I know before hand.  How to do that?  Well, since I was sincerely curious about renting a place for a month and possibly buying a place as an income property, I reached out to the Tamarindo Coldwell Banker and asked for help. One of the Realtors responded by sending me a bunch of helpful articles and links about Tamarindo, invited me to join her one night after work to watch the sunset (a local “thing” here), and then show me some properties. She also confirmed that my hotel and the shuttle service were okay. My first day here I stopped by to say hello, and she was very friendly. So I had my “someone on the ground” for my landing.   You might think of some other honest way to arranging this, possibly the proprietor of your lodging, if you don’t want to look at properties!
  • I continued trying to set up something with one of the two social enterprises by firing off new emails, giving them my plans and explaining my now-faster timeframe.   I didn’t sell hard, I just got clear about what my boundaries were. If neither come through in the next few days, then I’ll go to Plan B, which is do some local exploring for social enterprises.  I did this successfully in Thailand but hitting up the local Digital Nomad Facebook group.
  • I made plans.  My #1 enterprise target happens to be in Quepos, a 6+ hour drive south along the coast. In anticipation of closing that deal, I decided to leave Tamarindo and go to Quepos next week. Quepos is also near a really nice national park, and the ocean too, so even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be in a nice place.   I decided to book a room at a hostel rather than a hotel. Not as nice accomodations as a hotel, but since I’m traveling alone, and feeling a bit lonely, I kind of need more people around me. Even though I’m probably older than the typical hostel crowd, like “Dad’s age” older, so what? I’ve booked a private room because I don’t want to sleep in a dorm room. I’m not THAT young.   Price for a private room in the Quepos hostel with good reviews overlooking the jungle, $37/night.  (Update: The hostel, Villas Jacquelina, has a kitchen, which lets me keep costs down, but it is a 10 minute walk to town, which isn’t such an interesting town without work to do.  Also, this particular hostel doesn’t really cater to the college age crowd, so the people here are older, some with kids in tow.  Still no word from the enterprise, which is disappointing after a promising start.)

– As I arrange all of this, and try to get things going, I’m going to do some exploring. I chose Tamarindo because of it’s proximity to jungles and ocean adventures. I’ll spend the next few days seeing how I can see the jungle without paying $150 for the privilege (tourist rates).   Might rent a car for $20 / day, and go myself. But I will also ask my Realtor friend if she knows anyone who might want to tag along with me. I did this in Cambodia (took two hotel receptionists who hadn’t seen Angkor Wat in private car yet, no charge aside from lunch) and in Uganda (paid my driver $30/day to show me the Murchison State Park – elephants, giraffe, lions, hippo, etc.). I think it’s fun to find ways to be a tourist without paying tourist rates.

That’s it for this week’s post.

For those interested, I’m also keeping a more personal, self indulgent blog for my friends and family at http://world2017.davidmeader.com.


For much more useful insight into how all this works, please sign up for a discounted copy of my book, The Lean Volunteer: Traveling The World While Doing Good With Your Business Expertise here.