Friday, November 30, 2012

2 Months in Panama and Costa Rica—$29 a Day

2 Months in Panama and Costa Rica—$29 a Day
By Mike Hopkins
When I retired in 2011, I wanted to continue my travels. I’d spent most of my adult life working outside the U.S. I enjoyed exploring, learning about new cultures, and meeting new people. But now, with only a pension as income, I had to figure a way to supplement my travels.
Researching online, I ran across this thing called "house-sitting." I’d helped friends out by watching their homes and pets while they went on vacation, and I realized that house-sitting is basically the same thing. After looking at some websites designed to introduce home owners and house-sitters, I liked the idea.
I started with a place in Costa Rica. I like the Latin American culture and lifestyle. Apart from that, my only requirement was warm weather for the winter months.
I found an expat couple looking for someone to watch their pets while they returned to the States to visit family and friends. So I packed my bag for a three-week stint in paradise.
The house I was sitting was just outside the town of Atenas in the mountains, about 30 minutes from the capital of San José. Atenas is home to expats from all over the world, and the locals welcome everyone with a friendly smile. The temperatures when I visited ranged from the low- to mid-80s F during the day and a comfortable low- to mid-60s F at night.
In addition to keeping the house and property looking as if the owners were still home, I walked the owners’ dog and took care of their four guinea fowl. I spent a few hours a week gardening, too.
All this didn’t take much time, so I found other ways to keep busy and entertained. During the day I met and talked to expats and locals. I visited the local expat hangout (Kay’s Gringo Bakery), attended an expat Christmas party, and went to nearby tourist spots. At night, after either going out to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant or cooking at home, I worked on an online course for certification to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) and started a blog about house-sitting.
Overall, for my three weeks in Costa Rica, I saved $1,615 in lodging alone (I figure accommodation would have cost me $85 a day for 19 days). Mind you, I had a full three-bedroom house, with a pool, to myself. This was not a hotel suite with a kitchenette, it was a home. If I’d rented it on a monthly basis I would have paid more.
About a week before I was due to leave Costa Rica for the States, I made contact with another home owner looking for a sitter, this time in Panama. Since I was already "in the area", she picked me.
So I rearranged my travel plans to include six weeks in Panama. This house-sitting gig was quite different from the one in Costa Rica—it was a hostel rather than a single-family home. The owners had four Spanish-teaching schools, three in Panama and one in Costa Rica. This house was used mainly as a transit point from the international airport in Panama City to the outlying schools.
As in Costa Rica, I had time to take in some of the area’s local attractions. On previous visits to Panama City, I had visited the Panama Canal. I also visited Casco Viejo (Old City).
If you ever get there, I strongly recommend both. But on this trip, I wanted to see something new...and just a short walk from the house was Cerro Ancón.
This hill is a jungle oasis in the middle of a modern, thriving city. It has titi monkeys, sloths, toucans, as well as several other species of birds, and an abundance of flowering and non-flowering plants.
Combined, my house-sitting assignments in Costa Rica and Panama lasted a little more than two months. My biggest expense—$620—was for the 11 nights spent on lodging. My out-of-pocket expense totaled only about $1,700 (that’s a little less than $29 a day).
Since then I’ve completed two house-sitting assignments in the U.S. and I’m currently escaping North America’s cold November weather in Costa Rica again. That makes five house-sitting assignments in eight months. Not a bad way to travel!