Building Wellness in Travel through
Connection, Simplicity & Authenticity
You don’t need to go farther than the most superficial Google search to see that mental and emotional health crises are on the rise for most age groups, children and adults, starting even before the pandemic sent most people reeling. Be it COVID, the general busyness of life, increased use of technology and the resulting dwindling of presence in the world around us, whatever, there is a clear pattern of disconnect in our lives between a whole slew of things:
The health of our (whole) selves
Our connections with each other in a meaningful way
Our connections with nature & our interdependent world
Being able to stick to our true priorities
Our desired pace and flow of life and our actual schedules on a day to day basis
Kamika's Personal Testimony: A University Student's Stay in Rural Costa Rica
By simply rekindling some of those simple, back-to-the-basics ways of living, we can really improve our overall well-being.
There is loads of research to show that sometimes even small changes can help us improve overall well-being, things like:
We at Go Tico! truly believe that those connections we had back in the day (those moments we reminisce about “when we were young”) are what is missing in so much of how the world is now operating. We believe that bringing back those face-to-face connections, those times and spaces to truly explore, and the lack of necessity to be logged in and reporting back on everything that is going on around us at all times are what truly contribute to the rejuvenation and awesomeness that we look for when we travel.
How We Integrate Contributors to Wellness
into our Travel Experiences
Connecting travelers with locals to the extent that makes sense for the particular group. At the foundation, human connection truly allows us to learn about each other and the world around us and to share culture.
This community can also be right within the travel group. Families who feel like their getaway is meant to help them reconnect with their kids or each other can find that benefit through our trips. We provide ample time to just sit back, take time with each other, enjoy what makes Costa Rica awesome while still making time to truly enjoy your travel companions.
Most people seek out travel to Costa Rica because of the natural amazingness that exists pretty much all around: waterfalls, mountain ranges, rivers, streams, volcanos, hot springs, jungles, beaches, and wild biodiversity (5% of the world’s total, to be exact). Something about truly seeing the world all around you come alive is incredible and engaging in that, truly engaging, is a part of all of our trips.
We truly believe a bit of disconnection isn’t going to kill anyone (at least no Google searches have turned up any such news to date…) On our student trips in particular, we encourage participants to truly be present in their experience and get off their phones. Enjoy what is sure to be a very uncommon period of “technology down time” that we rarely experience during our daily lives. By engaging extensively in the community, having time to truly take in the nature and peace around you, curling up with a good book should you choose or coming together for a pick up game of soccer in the plaza, the opportunities are, not surprisingly, endless in what you can come up with when you remove the ease of pulling out your phone to get online.
Simplifying Life & Being Present
International travel, by nature, is a learning experience. We learn how to navigate language barriers, try foods we don’t recognize, traipse through terrain we don’t have back home, and a whole bunch of other new experiences. Our goal at Go Tico! is to deliberately incorporate opportunities to really learn about not only amazing Costa Rica on a surface level (great beaches! many national parks!), but instead experience the culture and nature and as a result, gain a greater understanding and appreciation for what you are a part of when you travel here.
Our Own Quest for Wellness and Connection
Our Go Tico! Family took a big leap back in 2020 to move to Costa Rica and the life we'd always known and pretty much loved back in Madison, Wisconsin for the simple fact that, despite all that was good, something just felt like it was missing. Read a bit about our own process here:
When I was a kid growing up in the countryside on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin, my family had a spot that we visited for long weekends two - three times per year called Serendipity Farm. This little farmette, operated by an older couple, Susan and Garrett, was nestled along the Kickapoo River in a beautiful valley in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. It was in the middle of nowhere, so much so that I remember going to the corner store once with my dad to pick up milk that had expired over a year prior! We stayed in a cabin, the only accommodation, next to the farm house.
I have no idea what my parents did during the day on those weekends. Us kids were totally free - to run, create, imagine, explore, appreciate nature and animals, and of course, be totally disconnected from (in those days TV) and any other distractions or stressors we might have had back home. What I do remember is that we’d all meet up in the cabin at dusk, usually have watermelon seed spitting contests off the balcony and end the night with a few rounds of Yahtzee before tucking into bed. Each morning, we’d awake to the “meow” of one of our beloved farm kitties and freshly baked pastries on our front step from Susan.
Of all the adventures I took, both alone and with my family during my first 40 years of life, Serendipity is the one that is always front of mind. When I met Johel, whose background and childhood was entirely different from my own many years later, we connected very quickly over deeper shared values of family, love of nature and freedom to explore, and connection with people.
Zoom ahead to sometime in early 2019, where we now had three kids, jobs, a house and were in our 30s. I was sitting in traffic one morning. Stuck in traffic to be specific. On the Madison, Wisconsin Beltline. In winter. Chugging along, taking my then five and eight year olds to school 25 minutes away. It was waaay longer than 25 minutes on that particular day due to rush hour and winter weather. It wasn’t a memorably miserable drive in any way, but it was mundane enough that my mind started to wander (or maybe focus?) just a bit on how routine this was for us. Going through my head was "Oh. My. God. I have three kids. One isn’t even in school yet. I love their school. They love their school. But man, it’s far. And it’s K-8. That means….quick math…I’ll be doing this drive thousands of times, usually 2 times per day, for the next 12 years."
The Daily Grind
That commute was only the start of the craziness that was every weekday for us. After we made it, I’d drop off the kiddos, drive to work, work, then drive to pick up my youngest at daycare (right behind my own house) to then drive back (in the opposite direction again) to pick up my older kiddos before embarking on an evening of either running to the gym, a frantic dinner before running to the gym, trying to get outside if it was nice (or even if it wasn’t) and getting everyone in bed at a quasi-reasonable hour. And those were the easy days without playdates, violin lessons, after school activities, or other commitments.
Johel had his own schedule of child-wrangling, getting three of us out the door before cleaning up the disaster we left behind, heading to the gym with little Leo in the morning before getting back in time for a quick early lunch and off to drop him at home daycare for the few hours of parental work overlap we could afford before heading off to work til about 8:30 or 9 p.m. Most days, he crossed paths with his older two kids for 30 hectic minutes in the morning and then kissed their sleeping heads at night when he got home.
Each week day, that feeling started all over again. Tired. Driving. Pick up. Drop off. Schedules. Rushed meals. Meals in the car. And we weren’t even a family with kids involved in all that much (violin and periodic swimming lessons). But my desire to get my kids active, outdoor time each day (after hours of sitting at school) plus my own need for some physical activity and fresh air in a life of shuttling and screen-time plus the general running around of life required for one mom with three kids was just crazy. It just didn't feel right, even though many of the individual moments were enjoyable.
The more I thought about it, it was so much more than that daily commute and the shuttling back and forth that led to this "ah, ha" moment. It was taking a pause to ask the question of if this is how we truly wanted to live our lives. It was what that routine, on top of all the other (sometimes unwanted) obligations, made us feel - like something key in our lives was missing amidst all that hustling and bustling we did each and every day. Acknowledging the feeling that something was missing encouraged us to look at how we could take a true step toward making a drastic and positive change in our lives that would bring us closer to what we truly valued instead of what society or other pressures made us feel like we should strive for.
Skip ahead several months after many long, what-if conversations over this simple question: could we leave this, all of it, to move backwards to a simpler life that would give us a chance to refocus on what we really valued? Ultimately, we arrived at the answer of yes. Yes, we could. And so we decided to give it a try. We would move to La Flor, Costa Rica, Johel’s hometown, a 300-person, dirt road community in the middle of pineapple country and see what happened, just to give us a chance to get out of what felt like a rat race and refocus on what we really, truly cared about.
The minute the decision was made, we didn’t look back, despite what seemed like endless hiccups, concerns, and challenges. It took awhile, but we were convinced that this was the way to really refocus our family on what we really valued and escape the rat race that was the life we were living: by experiencing the world, giving our kids a bigger world view outside of their own (beloved) community, developing their language skills, spending more quality time together, and working toward our own (however small) goals for our career paths. Basically, doing what my mom once so perfectly described as “so you want your kids to have the childhood you had?” Exactly. Instead of chugging away down a path we didn't feel was our own, I wanted their lives to be Serendipitous. Read the entire reflection in our blog.