Striking Out on Your Own as a College Student

It's 3:32 PM and I'm running through the madness they call traffic in downtown San Jose.

“It’s only 2 minutes after 3:30, there’s no way the bus left without us. Tico time, right?” I thought to myself.


When we arrived to the bus station, my stomach sank at the realization that we had missed the bus. 

We had planned an entire trip to Tamarindo Beach for the weekend, and just like that they left without us.

Now what?

I talked to the man working at the station, and he said we could wait for the next bus to Santa Cruz.

"Where is Santa Cruz?" I asked 

“It’s close to Tamarindo, maybe like 45 minutes.” He responded.

“Okay, well is there another bus when we get there?”

“No. But you’ll be able figure it out.”

Wow, I must have looked like I actually knew what I was doing. 

So we decided to wait for the next bus, to a city we didn’t know, through a foreign country, with hopes that we would MAYBE “figure it out” when we got there. 

The bus arrives and we sit… On the floor. For 7 hours. We left right in the midst of rush hour traffic which meant we arrived to Santa Cruz at 11:00 PM.

When I stepped out of the bus, I came to the realization that Santa Cruz was a ghost town. A ghost down that didn’t have taxis, Uber, or WiFi. 

I walked over to one of the men unloading the bus.

“Hello, do you know if there are taxi drivers nearby?” I asked.

The man looked at me like I had just spoken French. I might have. I don’t remember at this point.

“Taxis?” He responded. 

“Yes, we need to get to Tamarindo.” I said as I was thinking about how we were probably going to be sleeping on a bench that night. 

Don't try this at home...

After that, a man named Daniel who was in a parking lot nearby approached me and told me he could take all of us to Tamarindo for $30.00. He seemed like he wasn’t a serial killer, so we agreed to go.

It actually turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to practice our Spanish and make a new friend, but we were extremely lucky! 

When we finally arrived to Tamarindo, Daniel pointed to the right and told us that we had arrived at the beach. He then asked if we wanted to go, and of course we said yes! We got out of the car and I sprinted down to the water to put my feet in.

As I was standing there with my feet in the ocean, I felt relieved, accomplished, and at peace with the world. I soaked in my surroundings, the presence of my friends, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the smell of the salt water.  I couldn't believe that we had traveled across a country, negotiated a cab ride (in Spanish!), and actually made it to our destination. 

Though this might all sound scary and impossible, I have found that independent travel is something that is easy, gratifying, and makes for the best stories. Here are some tips for traveling on your own!

Timing is Everything

So you don’t end up like my group, BE ON TIME. Plan to arrive at the bus station at least 20 minutes before your bus or train leaves so that you have plenty of time to get yourself situated. The stars aligned for us somehow, but sometimes people aren’t so lucky and either have to wait until the next day to leave or buy another ticket. Make your traveling easier and stress free and plan ahead! 

Pack Snacks

Snacks for long bus rides are extremely important. Sometimes the bus won’t stop for a few hours, so it’s nice to have something with you to snack on. This can also save you money throughout your trip so that you don’t have to go to a restaurant for every meal. 

Stay in Hostels

Yes, I know there’s that one scary movie about hostels, but in actuality they can be a cheap and easy way to travel while you are abroad. We stayed at a hostel in Tamarindo, and it ended up being $16.00 for two nights. Our hostel was a room of 6 bunk beds, and there were 5 of us so it ended up only being us in the room. It was fun, cheap, and a great way to travel!

Keep a Positive Attitude 

Trust me when I say that I can be a bit of a Debbie Downer sometimes. I can be pessimistic and have a short fuse when a situation doesn’t go as planned. But it’s crucial that you maintain a positive attitude throughout the trials and tribulations of independent travel. 

Not everything is going to go as planned and things won’t be how you expected them to be. Keep in mind that there is always a silver lining to whatever might be taking place. For us, the silver lining of missing the bus was that I had the opportunity to practice my Spanish with Daniel for an hour. I also felt so much more accomplished when we actually got to Tamarindo. 

When the going gets tough, remember that at the very least you'll have a good story to tell years down the road. 

College can be a scary time in life as it is the first time you are striking out on your own, but if you have put the time in to learn as much as you can and prepare yourself, you have everything you need to succeed! 

Get started learning how to find the best college for you! 

Taylor Hunter has been updating us with her experience studying abroad in Costa Rica this semester. Read the rest of the articles in the series: