I Came Prepared, Not Paranoid: Downsizing for Living and Working Abroad in Costa Rica

rachel downsizing before after

The following downsizing story was submitted by Rachel Eubanks.

I had been traveling all day from Atlanta to London — two flights down and one tired, anxious girl on her first solo trip abroad. Even with the exhaustion, I felt excited to zip through customs and find my way to the tube, hoping to make it safely to my hostel in Swiss Cottage. I was so busy chatting with a fellow traveler that I walked straight past baggage claim, forgetting my backpack and inciting the first snafu of my two-month trip.

Instead of forgetting my backpack on the carousel, I wish I had forgotten half the things I’d packed.

For two months I traveled to Oxford, London, Brighton, York, Edinburgh and the highlands of Scotland with a heavy 60-liter Osprey pack. And while this brand crafts high-quality backpacks with breathable back panels and supportive hip belts, my pack proved to be more cumbersome than helpful during my trip.

>>Check out our guide to choosing a backpack.

Rachel in Timbuk2

Compared to a year ago, I travel much lighter now. Back then I brought my big 60L backpack, a leather laptop bag and a purse (all high-ticket items that easily could’ve been targets for theft) for only a couple months. I wanted to travel in style, meet other young travelers and absorb British culture — but I could have done this without so much heavy luggage on my back and each shoulder.

One month ago, I left on my latest trip to Costa Rica where I will be for a six-month stay. Even though I’ve brought with me the same number of bags (each with their own purpose), I’ve cut my main pack size in half from 60L to just 30L!

This is a huge achievement for me seeing how I’m living abroad for many more months and working on top of it- work that required packing a fair amount of tech gear.

In order to make this happen, I poured over the posts on HPL about Costa Rica and created my own pared-down packing list for Central America. Here’s how I lightened my load and became a better traveler in the process:

I Chose a Better Bag

  • The bags I brought with me to Costa Rica were the 30-liter Timbuk2 Aviator, the LowePro Slingshot camera bag, and a small hand-me-down duffel. Even though I traveled to Costa Rica with the same number of bags, I cut my pack size in half so that my belongings could feel more manageable.
  • My main pack is the 30L Timbuk2 Aviator versus the 60L Osprey I once carried. Now when I take a trip from my new base in Costa Rica, I am toting around a backpack that is small and conducive to freer travel, and that can’t be filled with tons of unnecessary gear.
prepared not paranoid - downsizing for living and working abroad
A local from San Luis, Monteverde, Costa Rica prepares granizados for patrons at the celebration for el Día de San Luis on Sunday, June 19, 2016.

I Came Prepared Instead of Paranoid

  • Even though I’ll be here at least six months, I know that I can wear the same clothes again and again and still feel happy as long as the pieces are simple, comfortable and express my personal style.
  • I brought a few items that I knew would come in handy, like this rain protection for my DSLR and a high-quality headlamp. Triumphs aside, I still could have left a couple items behind, like my yoga mat and a baseball cap. Each trip is a learning opportunity. Remember: If you don’t use it at home, you’re unlikely to use it abroad. And if you really get in a pinch for a specific item, you can usually buy or borrow it from a nearby store or fellow traveler.

I Knew My Body Would Thank Me

  • As somebody who grew up with scoliosis and a big advocate for chiropractic care, I know that the repetitive stress of an oversized technical pack could lead to big problems for my body later on. Keep in mind that the better your body feels, the more enjoyable your travel experience will be (that goes for late-night hostel parties, too).
prepared not paranoid - downsizing for living and working abroad
Exploring the main market of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

I Kept My Tech Gear Minimal and Efficient

  • Currently I work as a digital nomad for a university ecolodge in Costa Rica. I shoot and edit photos every day, managing the organization’s social media and blog, so I needed to bring a fair amount of equipment with me, like my MacBook Pro, external hard drive, DSLR, headphones, memory cards and more. In order to pack my valuable equipment efficiently, I needed a commuter-style bag with plenty of pockets and a thoughtful organizational structure.
  • I use the Timbuk2 Aviator every day on assignment, using the laptop pocket and ample space to bring all my tech gear with me when I’m working. The large front pocket allows for easy access, the hip belt helps with stabilization (especially when running to catch that connecting flight) and the pack even comes with a rain-fly. Plus it fits perfectly into the overhead bins, so I can carry on my most valuable items like my camera and ensure their safe handling.
  • If I wasn’t working during my six months abroad, I would have left the small duffel with my clothing behind and primarily packed using the Timbuk2 30-liter backpack to transport my belongings to Costa Rica. I only checked one small bag on this trip, and it was filled with my least valuable items, which gave me peace of mind in case the airline lost my duffel or its arrival was delayed a few days.
prepared not paranoid - downsizing for living and working abroad
Watching a game of carreras de cinta in San Luis, Monteverde, Costa Rica

When I leave my campus home base to tag along on a coffee tour or visit the city, I only bring one backpack, a few outfits and my camera. I can work from the road with my smartphone or iPad mini, plus the wifi capabilities on my camera make photo sharing a snap. I feel more mobile, less like a sore thumb type of tourist, and incredibly independent now that I’ve downsized.

>>Read more stories of luggage downsizing on HPL.

Because I pack light, I have more energy to explore.

No matter where you go, from the beaches of Nicaragua to the streets of Singapore, downsizing ensures that you keep only what you need, leaving behind the burden of a big bag and enabling you to focus on the raw experience of travel.

prepared not paranoid downsizing luggageAbout the author: Rachel Eubanks is a visual journalist and social media manager currently based in Monteverde, Costa Rica. After growing up in Atlanta and studying photojournalism at the University of Georgia, Rachel escaped the South to live with sloths and drink more coffee than she ever thought possible. In addition to Her Packing List, you can find Rachel blogging for UGA Costa Rica or sharing her personal photo work on Instagram.

how i downsized for more enjoyable travel

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

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