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Before leaving, I scoured the internet on how to stay safe and be prepared. While my research did help, I also didn’t totally listen to it or use the knowledge I picked up in the correct way, or at all. Some of it just went out the window after and few days and some of it I just never knew. This is my advice to you from what I’ve learned in two and a half months on my own in a lot of new places.
ALWAYS ask how much a cab is before getting in. I got stuck paying $30 for a five minute ride from Rivas to San Jorge on my way to Ometepe. I did try and ask before I got in, but they were rushing me so I wouldn’t miss the ferry. I got out and he said $30 “because it was a private taxi.” I tried for less, but he wouldn’t take it. Since I was alone I didn’t want to get stuck there and have something go really wrong, and hey, I was going to miss the ferry! I didn’t miss the ferry. Not at all. I ended up waiting on it for about an hour, but one did leave right as I walked up, so I may have missed that one.
Make sure you have enough money to get across borders. I’ve had a few close calls, but managed to have just enough pretty much every time. It varies by country so ask before you leave.
Make sure you know where your bus is leaving from. That’s important. Only a few days in, I went to the Tulum ruins with someone. We already had our tickets back to Cancun and thought we would be leaving from the same place we were dropped off. Instead, it was the central bus station. Thankfully the guy working got us new tickets. We still had to pay, but not as much. All we had to do was waste another hour, so things worked out.
If you’re the first one in a dorm room, find the bed closest to the outlet. This might sound silly, but on Ometepe in my room with six beds there was one outlet. Even the light posts outside the church had their own outlets. These are a rare commodity so take advantage when they are near your bed.
Take advantage of good Internet too. This can be hard to find sometimes too. It’s a good time to download anything. Movies, games, books, music, you name it, you get it. It’s a good time to upload things too. I’d say this is mostly for pictures. And if you need to research anything, this is a good time for that too.
You can get by without a guidebook. There’s usually someone else that has one you could probably borrow or you can find them in book exchanges. That was how I got my Nicaragua book, which I then traded for a Central America on a Budget book that was missing the Panama section. You win some, you lose some. The Internet is also your friend in this case. Next time I would bring one though.
Baked goods and sweets are so much better when you’re not at home. I’ve had more chocolate cake and brownies in these two and a half months than the last two years at home. I’m not sure what it is, but they’re just better here. And they’ve all been good! That was a little surprising, but definitely not upsetting.
The trip to the corn islands in Nicaragua isn’t the total nightmare everyone says it is. At least it wasn’t for us. It was actually pretty fun (just time-consuming at a total of four days, but that also includes poor planning) and if we had more time, we would have gone back by land too instead of taking the terrifying flight to Managua. (There will be a whole post about this soon!) The islands, especially Little Corn, are 100% worth the effort to get there.
As unpleasant as they might seem, take night buses. They save you a night of accommodation and don’t take away from daylight, that can be minimal depending on the time of year, that can be used for exploring. I only had one at night, and it left at two in the morning, not quite enough time to sleep though since border crossings were involved early. (More on this soon too!)
One last one. If you’re a fellow Chapstick addict, bring enough with you, especially if you lose it a lot. It was extremely hard to find in Panama and the one I did find is a weird texture, a bit grainy. So bring enough or something else close to it that will work if you run out. It’s been a rough last few days without it.
what do you wish you knew before traveling? What advice would you give?