“You’ve had a landscaper and a house keeper since you were born
The sunshine always kept you warm
So why see the world, when you got the beach
Don’t know why see the world, when you got the beach
The sweet life”
Prices for most things (groceries, coffee, dining, etc…) are roughly the same in Costa Rica as they are in the States, at least in the touristy area where I’m staying. So I’ve made a point during my month here to buy groceries and eat in as much as possible in an effort to save some money. However, in the Airbnb that I rented, the kitchen is limited. Even making a simple pasta dish proved difficult. There are two gas burners but one doesn’t work. There’s very limited counter space for cutting vegetables… plus the knives are about as sharp as spoons. The pots don’t have handles and get scalding hot, and there are no oven mitts here.
But, here’s the thing: I didn’t let any of that small stuff bother me. I worked around the “problems” and it ended up being a pretty decent meal. Now if I was at home and my stove didn’t work, my counters were cluttered, and my knives couldn’t cut melted butter, I probably would’ve lost my mind! But here, I just rolled with it…
(Side Bar: I realize this article is coming from a place of privilege. In reality, the kitchen was perfectly adequate and likely more than most people in the world have access to. I’m quite fortunate to travel the way I do and to have access to all of my basic needs wherever I go. Definitely first world problems.)
Anyway, travel is full of little life lessons like this and the idea of not sweating the small stuff has been a recurring one during the last few weeks. Here are a few examples of issues I’ve faced over recent weeks and how I’ve handled them here compared to how I might handle them at home.
|“Problem” I Faced During My Time In Costa Rica:||How I Have Solved These Problems in Costa Rica:||How I Likely Would’ve Solved the Same Problem Back Home|
|Fitted sheet doesn’t quite fit the bed that I’m sleeping on||Do my best to pull the sheet over the corner of the mattress each night before I go to sleep.||Spend 2 hours Googling sheet and mattress sizes trying to figure out what went wrong. Then run to the store demanding a refund.|
|Small TV with only a handful of English-speaking channels||Turn off the TV and do something else.||Buy an unnecessarily oversized television and spend hours on hold with Comcast until they provide better channels… and throw in 3 free months of HBO.|
|Slow internet that regularly shuts down completely||Step away from whatever electronic device I’m on and go for a walk.||Spend hours on hold with Comcast until they fix the problem… and throw in 3 free months of HBO.|
|There are only two plastic cups and two wine glasses||Wash dishes daily and/or drink out of the (water) bottle.||Do a Google search for “Best glassware.” Spend 2 hours online trying to find the best deal. Probably dehydrated during this time.|
|Don’t have my usual assortment of food options||Eat whatever is available.||Agonize over what to eat every day at lunch. Chipotle? Blaze Pizza? Jimmy John’s? Potbelly? Spend 2 hours strategizing my meal choices for the week.|
|A/C doesn’t seem to have a “medium” setting||Turn it off when it gets too cold. Turn it back on when it starts to get warm.||Spend 2-4 hours Googling possible causes for poor temperature control. In the end, probably pay $250 for an HVAC company to come out and tell me to turn it off when it gets too cold and turn it back on when it starts to get warm.|
|Water pressure in the shower isn’t great and shower head sprays water everywhere||Take a shower when I need to.||Absolutely stop any sweat-inducing activity so I can postpone showering until the problem has been resolved. In the end, probably pay a plumber $250 to tell me to buy a new shower head. Spend 2 hours Googling “Best shower head” and another 2 hours shopping for the best deal.|
Too Many Choices
In the consumerist society that we have in the States, people are overwhelmed by choices… in TV stations, lunch options, glassware, knives, bedsheets, and showerheads. All that choice causes stress and reduces our ability to make good decisions. “Decision fatigue” is a real thing that major CEOs and even our former President took very seriously (cool article… give it a read).
I’m now realizing that I’m wearing myself out when I’m at home by worrying about unimportant details. Though intended to be slightly exaggerated (but slightly true), the examples above have showed me that I shouldn’t get so worked up when everything isn’t perfect (i.e., stop sweating the small stuff). It’s causing me unnecessary stress and in the grand scheme of life, my problems are absolutely classified as “first world problems.”
Becoming a Minimalist???
I know some people live truly minimalist lifestyles and I’m not sure I could ever adopt that lifestyle completely; however, I do think there are lessons to be learned from that way of life. Obviously, being a minimalist suggests a reduction in material possessions. Living away from home and away from all of those random things that I’ve bought over the years has made me realize that (A) I don’t miss them and (B) I don’t need them.
But being a minimalist goes beyond reducing material possessions, it’s really a change in worldview. According to this article, being a minimalist means getting more comfortable with saying “I don’t care.” The authors stated: “You don’t need to have an opinion on everything, and you don’t need to “optimize” every damn thing in your life.”
I wrote in my bio for this site that I like to solve problems (i.e., I like to optimize everything). For the most part, that trait has served me well… except I’m realizing now that I need to pick my battles a little bit more carefully and not obsess over the small stuff that only adds to my stress. For example, it’s nice to have different glassware for beer and for water… but making choices about what glasses to buy and what glasses to use is likely not a process that is making my life any better. In fact, it’s probably giving me some degree of decision fatigue, meaning that I’m likely making worse decisions in other areas of my life as a result.
Learning From Traveling
I mentioned in an earlier post that travel has the power to educate people and reduce intolerance and closed-mindedness. However, the educational power of travel doesn’t stop there… at least for me. Over the years, travel has absolutely helped me learn about myself and make productive changes in my everyday life. I’m sure this 6-month sabbatical will be full of more great life lessons.
Lesson #1: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!
What lessons has travel taught you in the past? Please share below!