Costa Rica Surf Trip: A Travelogue and Budget

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Although this blog is premised around financial freedom and early retirement, I don’t consider it to be the best place for one to come to receive nitty gritty down and dirty theoretically sound numbers and figures on how to best invest their money or leverage their earnings.  No.  I mean, you will get a fair taste of data still – after all, numbers make the world go round and one needs to support their arguments with facts – but I am here more to compliment that data or show it to you in such a way that encourages you to re-think the way you go about approaching your retirement.  Your finances.  Your freedom.  I am simply out to show you another model.  Not the only model, not even necessarily a better model.  Simply another model.

In addition, the fact of the matter is that my ideal for life beyond full-time work will include regular travel, even more than I have been able to do lately.  Thus, it is not inconceivable that this blog will eventually be considered a travel blog above all else.

A Freedom Blog is what I have come to call it.


In any case, after pooching a trip to Peru in May, I was finally able to flex some of my Freedom muscles in August with a two-week trip to Costa Rica, despite still being a working stiff.  I love my home in south Baja, but a trip to the jungle was a welcome and invigorating diversion from life in the desert (or work in the taiga).  Below I will try to break down some of the highlights and lowlights of the trip, as well as speak to tips for traveling on a budget and where I could have saved even more money.

The Highs

As mentioned in my August summary post, I got quite lucky in terms of swell and conditions for this surf excursion.  With a good incoming south swell set to arrive, I decided I would head to a world-class spot in the south that I have been wanting to visit for many years now.  It is fairly remote, and I knew there wouldn’t be much else going on besides surfing, but if the forecast held true to form, that wouldn’t bother me one bit.


I arrived to the town on a Sunday morning after an incredibly early flight from San Jose to Golfito, followed by a Taxi for about 40 minutes.  And from Sunday afternoon until Saturday afternoon there was amazing waves virtually all day every day.  As in, the best waves of my life!

Because it is such a world-renowned surf break, it could get fairly busy in the water.  This didn’t deter me much, as I tended to be getting quite lucky with wave selection and really only needed a few of the long, steep, walling lefts per day to put a perma-smile on my face.  Nonetheless, one morning I decided to try to rig the system in my favor.

I got up really early.  When you’ve been getting up between 5am and 6am 95% of the time for the last few years, ‘really early’ truly means something.  It means, like, 4am alarm.  First light in Costa Rica is around 5am, and I wanted to be in the water by then.

I got up and made my regular Fatty Coffee, and tried to slam back as much of it as I could quickly for energy.  I got my board ready and wandered down in the dark towards the beach.  And what I arrived to was beyond words (but I’ll try anyway).

Perfect, head-high lefts reeling down the point in the moonlight, like something out of a dream.  The water was glassy and warm, and there was no one out yet.  I rushed my pre-surf stretching routine and got out there as quickly as I could.  I had two amazing sets of waves to myself before anyone else even entered the water.  It was amazing.

But I must not forget that I also had my worst wipeout of my trip during that session as well.


The Lows

One of the most important pieces in re-framing your finances and garnering a new perspective on your life and the things within it that you value the most is remaining grateful.

We can make a practice of this.  A part of my quick morning journal routine is to write down a relationship I am grateful for, as well as something from yesterday, today and finally something ‘simple and near’.  This helps us to tune into it daily and remember just how lucky we are.  This starts to manifest as empathy for others whose health or wealth may not have the same prospects.  And the more we realize how much we have rather than being obsessed with what we don’t, the more generous we become.

As I described in my August resolution post, $40 can seem like a lot of money when you are trying to budget strictly and are counting every penny.  But when you really step back and take a look at the situation, $40 is relatively nothing to me.  However, for the Nicaraguan guy on the street in Alajuela, San Jose, Costa Rica, it was everything.

And This becomes cultural.  My friends in Mexico don’t do anything without offering that same thing to others.  If you’re going to your friends’ to drink some beer – bring twice as many as you plan to drink.  You’re going to be offering everyone a round as soon as you arrive (just as others will do to you when they arrive, or subsequently go to the fridge).  It feels like in North America we are so much more focused on our own prospects that we don’t stop to think about how helping others could make our own lives and communities richer.

We must derive pleasure from interactions and activities rather than from things, as the gratification brought by things is very short-lived and, due to its cost, financially unsustainable.


Completed on a Budget

Before I went, I had budgeted around $2000 CAD for the entire trip from Airport (SJD) to Airport (SJO).  The trip came to be as I was looking for flights to join friends in Nicaragua in July to surf but the tickets were quite expensive.  I ended up searching for flights to San Jose, Costa Rica instead and saw that they were much cheaper.  I then started looking for flights on other dates that I had free, and found some even less expensive tickets in August, and decided to book more or less on a whim.

I paid  $438 CAD (about $335 USD) for tickets from San Jose Del Cabo to San Jose, Costa Rica.  That was my only fixed cost before the trip.  After doing some research and considering my budget goals and preferences for my trip, I decided I would budget about $40 CAD per night for accommodation, and $40 for food, beer, and other miscellaneous expenses (i.e. near-daily Trits Ice Cream Sandwiches!).  I wasn’t totally sure of my destinations within Costa Rica until closer to the trip, or during the trip itself even, but I knew that I would have to spend some money on transport as well.  I had decided that I might just splurge and get a rental car to make the most of my relatively brief time in Costa Rica, and budgeted about $500 CAD ($35/day) for this.  If my plans changed, I knew I could get buses throughout the country for within $20 for a one-way trip, and that Private Transport and Group Shuttles would be available.  Below is a breakdown of my spending during the trip:

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I could have done this trip much cheaper.  It is possible to stay in dorms and cheaper accommodations for about $10-20 USD per night, but most people that do that end up spending much more on food and drink due to the inherent party culture those types of accommodations tend to promote.  I ‘ate in’ about 90% of the time, and enjoyed having private rooms where I could get a good night’s sleep before getting up at the crack of dawn to surf my brains out again.


I also took a flight to the south of Costa Rica with Sansa instead of taking a Bus.  If I were on a longer trip I would almost definitely have bussed, but with a swell set to arrive and a low-key, relatively inexpensive week or so ahead of me, I figured I would splurge on the $90 USD flight from San Jose to Golfito.  After all, I wouldn’t be renting a car anymore now that I was going to head to Pavones in the south and just stay put for a while.

On my way back to the airport, I ended up taking a ‘Private Shuttle’ instead of a bus. There are “Shuttles”, which will pick up you and others in the area that have booked it and take you to your destination.  They are less expensive, generally more busy, and often don’t pick up and drop off as specifically as do “Private Transports”, which are booked just for you.  However, because it was off-season, my “Shuttle”, for which I paid $50 USD from Dominical to Alajuela, ended up being a very comfortable and private experience, as no one else had booked the same trip at the same time as me.

Surfboard fees are a cost that many won’t have to consider, but do very much add up for surfer.  I paid about $200 in total to get from San Jose del Cabo to Costa Rica and back, including the domestic flight within Costa Rica.  But to have my own boards with me and to be entertained all day every day that there are waves probably adds up to a lot of savings in the end.  It was the main purpose of my trip.  In fact, it’s the main purpose of every trip.  Tourist activities and transport can add up, especially in a place with such a highly developed tourism industry such as Costa Rica, but I didn’t feel compelled to indulge in much of that.


I could have also done this trip much more expensively, of course, with eco-resorts and luxury villas abound throughout Costa Rica, as well as a highly-developed tourism industry that, like all tourist hot-spots, is designed to suck out every dollar that it can from visitors.

The bottom line is, everybody can do anything in whatever way they want.  The most important thing is that you take action, get out there, and find out what works for you and what doesn’t.  “Too expensive” or “too dangerous” or “not enough time” is no one’s story but your own.

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Would you like to keep track of your costs on your next trip more carefully?  I’ve created a blank template of the spreadsheet used above.  You can access it here in Google Sheets format.



5 thoughts on “Costa Rica Surf Trip: A Travelogue and Budget

  1. Brett

    Thanks for the insight. I have to come to think similarly about trips – weighing the added time cost that less monetarily expensive means of transport like busses usually bring. With the limited vacation days available on this side of FI we are forced to pay up for some things to get done quicker, to maximize the enjoyment of the period. I am trying to compile my costs from a recent trip to Spain – is the excel you screenshotted available for use?

    Thanks I enjoy your writing

      1. I have added a link at the bottom of the article to a blank template version. Let me know what you think or if you have any questions or problems with it!


      2. Brett

        Thanks! Totally plugged in our recent trip details, now better prepared to budget for the next one!

  2. Pingback: The Travel Necessities of a Professional Surf Bum – Freedom 33

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