Costa Rican Connections: Solo travelling with a group

Costa Rican Connections: Solo travelling with a group

15 years ago, Julie, the intrepid founder of Mountain Action Holidays, went on a life changing trip in the Costa Rican rain forest. In this first installment of the interview, Julie tells us about her experience in a group of adventure seekers mostly made up of solo travellers.

Can you share what inspired you to embark on a trip to Costa Rica?

It was not knowing or having friends that do the same things as you do, when I was mentioning it to people, I was just like, does anybody want to come and do this and they would look at you like you're completely insane. I did go with my partner at the time, however, the group of people that we met, there was probably only one other couple, and there were 12 of us so everybody else were solo travellers. So that was really, really quite inspiring. Everybody that I knew before was very much like, we'll go to Spain and we'll sit by the pool and just like yeah but, there's so much more to see. So that was really the reason. So I did a little bit of research. I started to look at different countries, but Costa Rica kept popping up saying, you're going to be with like minded people, and you're going to explore the whole of Costa Rica.

How did you feel about travelling to a foreign country initially, and what were your expectations?

Even though we did go together, neither of us had ever left Europe. So even though we were together, neither of us knew what to expect. We had to change flights three times going into countries where we didn't understand the language, our Spanish wasn't absolutely fantastic, it was actually more Costa Brava Spanish. My partner at the time wasn't a particularly great traveller either so I think I would have been better travelling on my own to be honest. So yeah, it was still quite an eye opener and when we first arrived in the capital, San Jose, it was a bit like, Oh, my goodness, what have we done? This is something very, very different. We felt quite exposed and have we made the right choice. We've just committed to three weeks of travelling around this country and it was quite overwhelming because of the time difference, jet lag and everything else.

Photo of Volcan Tenorio in the Costa Rican jungle
Volcan Tenorio in the Costa Rican jungle

Had you booked accomodation in advance or were you going to wing it when you got there?

It was already pre-booked. The only thing we had to do was book our flights and get to the first stop off of a hotel. So we had to make our own way there. I think we got in 2am. And it was a bit like, what time is it? We're meeting at 6am for a briefing to meet everybody else who's on this, is it 12 o'clock? Is it one o'clock? Is it two o'clock? That whole time difference was quite discombobulating. So we didn't sleep the first night. Everything else from there was arranged. So you had that security blanket even though you had the adventure of somewhere new but you knew when you met up with everyone that everything else was taken care of.

What cultural experiences or local traditions did you and your group participate in while in Costa Rica?

I think there’s an expression in Costa Rica, which is Pura Vida, meaning the simple life and it is very much like they go with the flow. It's very much that they don't do stress. We had a lot of people that had come along for whatever reason, who were very much city workers and stressed and that took them a while to understand that the cultural way of life of the Costa Ricans. I really liked that about it. We were in the middle of nowhere and there'd be a little shop and then we had to go and buy whatever we're cooking. There was only local produce and they're all very much family orientated shops, and I know that sounds like it's a thing that is everywhere now but coming from the UK, having never really stepped outside of Europe where you can go into any shop and buy anything, it was suddenly like, we're buying vegetables and we don't even know what these are and how do we cook them? I think yams were one of them. I thought they were potatoes and they were just completely different. So it was a really good experience and just how welcoming everybody was, I think how they were, it influenced us. At Mountain Action Holidays it's very, very important that people around you when you're on holiday influence the people that are on holiday, if that makes sense. I think one of the shockers was when we went to the market and there were chickens, and I just freaked out because there were actually chickens, live ones. A lot of people don't have fridges so they will come to the market and get the chicken and then the chicken gets eaten that day, and I remember just freaking out about that. It was just a real eye opener. They gave them to us dead but we had to pluck them. We had a lot of feathers in our food. So I can say none of us were very good at that. We decided to go vegetarian for most of the trip.

How has this travel experience and the friendships you formed influenced your perspective on travel and life in general?

There were so many solo travellers on that trip. When you come away on your own you're going to meet people that are the same as you, like-minded people, a lot of holiday organisers won't take solo travellers or they charge them an extra cost to come. We've had some lovely solo travellers come on the Mountain Action Holiday trips, some are more interesting than others. But some have been absolutely lovely and really fit in. I think they have a different outlook because they know they haven't arrived with a friend and they try harder. We've got a guy now who messages me saying, "Right, I've got holiday, where are you going to be?" And he just comes wherever we are, he's one of our favourites. He comes out and it's not like he's hasn't got any friends because people think oh, solo traveller, you haven't got any friends and that's not it. He says that all his friends are getting married, having kids and he wants to go out and see the world. Some of the friends that I met in Costa Rica were exactly the same. Maybe it was me who used to think oh, if you're going to solo travelling, you've got no friends. But actually it's not that at all.

Photo of Julie riding a horse
Julie riding a horse

What advice would you offer to others who are considering solo travel?

With Mountain Action Holidays all you need to do is book your flights and that's it. We take care of you. You don't have to worry about being on you're going to be on your own. Be brave, it's not like you're going to sit in a room on your own. You'll be ziplining or whitewater rafting or skiing or whatever, and especially in our groups, we do find that even if people come as a four, you know, some people are like, "Oh, I don't want to ski today." And then if you're a solo traveller, "I'll come out with you," that sort of thing. Don't worry about coming on your own because you're not actually going to be on your own. You're going to meet like minded people, you're going to have fun. You're always going to get the questions like "Why have you come on your own?" You don't have to answer it and who cares? No one cares. If we've got room then absolutely come.

Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica

Did your experience in Costa Rica lead you to pursue more solo travel adventures or group trips with newfound friends?

Very much so, I love the experience of meeting new people. Some of the friends that I think if I booked a holiday with and went away with them for three weeks, they probably wouldn't be my friends at the end. You know, you've got different friends for different things. So going away and not seeing anything definitely inspired me to pick other trips where I would, like I had for Costa Rica. We've been to the Pyrenees, been over to Bali, been to Malaysia, been to India and met all different kinds of people. It definitely makes you open minded when you're there. We find it when we've got groups with Mountain Action Holidays, the conversation is probably, over dinner, if people don't know each other and they come on holiday together there's more conversation that goes on then a group of friends that already know each other. And you know, it's really strange actually. But yeah, it definitely has inspired me which is obviously why we do it now.