Looking through the accumulated mail when we got home, Jack opened up their college savings plan statement. He was pretty shocked to see the amount because it would barely cover a semester of college at a state school. Yeah we have pretty much spent what could have been a decent start to a college fund, but it was a choice we made, a choice I feel privileged to be able to make. Those are two pretty good choices, right? Travel, help pay for college, renovate the kitchen......we couldn't do it all, so we put the money where we thought we could get the most bang for our buck. The hope and prayer is that the kids, and us as a family, will get more long term benefits from travel experiences than anything else. Travel is what helped shape the life Luis and I built together, so we passed on the gift.
From our conversations this time, I've gotten a little glimpse of what my kids envision in their future. Maya talked about careers that would put her on the front lines of helping people in other countries, working for an international aid agency or the foreign service. She dreamed of traveling as a career and lifestyle going abroad for longer and to more remote places that we ever did when we were younger. For Jack he learned more about what he doesn't want to do which is just as valuable. A desk job, an office, 2 weeks of vacation, and staying in one place are all things he does not feel attracted to. They may have learned this about themselves through experiences other than traveling but I can't help but think their perceptive about who they are and how they want to live is coming more intensely and at an earlier age becasue of traveling to other countries. For my teenagers who normally can't see beyond the moment in the day to day at home this soul expansion is truly priceless.
Speaking of priceless, this trip ended up being pretty affordable, as Nicaragua is considered a fairly cheap place to travel. Our tickets from Orlando cost about $400 each, and our daily expenditure worked out to be $154 a day for all four of us. The daily cost for 18 days included:
One week beach house rental 550
2 big hotel splurges 650
Surfboard rental 120
horseback riding 45
2 volcano tours 280
Fishing trip 130
All food, public transport, other 875
lodging & souvenirs
This trip could have been significantly cheaper with less expensive lodging and fewer tours. We planned on only one pricy night in Esteli but everyone got sick so we ended up staying 4 nights in a hotel that was twice the price we normally would have wanted to pay. I didn't have the heart to move sick people from a quiet and comfy place to a cheap and dirty one to save a couple hundred bucks. So if that didn't happen consider that the average hostel is 10$ per person and food is easily found for $2 per meal. Transportation is super cheap, 2 hour bus rides cost about $2.50. For backpackers, saving a few dollars a day means more time away from home and out on the road. It's like a game to see how little money you can spend in a day. But we were time limited with a specific budget so I didn't haggle for 50 cents on a taxi ride or need to tolerate crowded and loud hostel dorms. Maybe we could have spent $20-30 a day or even less on each person with those changes. Traveling with teenagers is really like taking another couple on vacation and footing the bill. We needed four of everything. It used to be that Maya would sit on my lap on the bus, we could split 2 or 3 meals between us, and only needed a double room becasue we could share the beds with the kids. But now everyone needs their own plate and bed. As it was, I thought we did pretty good money wise.
Another aspect to note was the feeling of safety we felt in Nicaragua. While I am sure things happen to travelers, we did not once experience a feeling of unease. Also notable was a lack of police presence. Other Latin American countries have armed police/military everywhere but not so much in Nicaragua. Also, I never knew what guidebooks meant when they claim the locals are friendly (and they always say this about practically every place) until I went to Nicaragua. Seriously, the folks we interacted with from bus drivers to street food vendors, everyone was pretty cheerful and kind.
As always we used a Lonely Planet guidebook. The best way for me to plan a trip is to pick a county, buy the plane ticket, and get the LP book. Then I read the book and Google places that sound interesting. I search the LP Thorn Tree forum for travelers insights and also use Trip Adviser and Booking.com. Another tactic I have used is to search "Gringo Trail" and then cross those places off the list. The places we went to definitely were off the beaten path and out of the way. Sure there are backpackers there and some tourist infrastructure but the places we went to were generally off the main Gringo Trail that the hoards are trodding.
All in all, except for everyone getting sick, this was a great trip. Even though it was our 6th Latin American country the kids were still very into it and had loads of high octane adventure, which is very good for their adrenaline craving teenage brains. I spent glorious hours becoming reacquainted with the amazing young woman my daughter is becoming and watched my usually cautious son embrace and initiate extreme sporting challenges. It was good, and I mean good in a bone deep these are my people kind of way, to reconnect and embrace these humans that are my family. Sometimes in life with teenagers it feels like game over, you hit a wall, you run out of lives, you can't believe the shit they are doing or not doing....and then you get lucky and find a deeply buried reset button and hit it as hard as you can.