We’re starting a new series!
Jennifer Turnbull-Houde of Two Weeks in Costa Rica is the first in our interview series. We ask five questions to female travelers and expats who can offer unique perspectives on the transient or foreign lifestyle. If you or someone you know falls in this category, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. The interview questions will be tailored to your specific story.
Some background on Jenn: she and husband Matt began vacationing in Costa Rica a decade ago and fell in love with the country. Eventually, they began journaling about their adventures there. This journal developed into their first book, Two Weeks in Costa Rica, a travelogue-guidebook covering their time spent there. Now, they have moved to Costa Rica full-time and are gearing up for the launch of their second book on Central America, this time focusing on Panama.
The Interview with Jennifer Turnbull-Houde
SGT: Was there a turning point in your lives that led to your decision to move to Costa Rica? How did you break the news to your friends and family?
JTH: Both Matt and I have always loved Costa Rica. We started coming here about ten years ago and felt at home practically from day one. Over time, we started thinking more and more about buying property. It was really just dreaming though at that point. We knew that it didn’t make sense to buy something when we would have only a couple of weeks a year to spend there on vacation. So we carried on for a while in our jobs, both of us working a lot, and more so, the higher up the totem pole we advanced.
I loved my job as an attorney, but would find myself sitting in my cubicle, dreaming of our next trip. Matt would do the same thing from the seat of his landscaping truck. One day when we were thinking out loud about the future, we started throwing around the idea of moving to Costa Rica. At first it was very casual but then it started to get more serious.
By this time in my life, I had already lost both of my parents and understood the importance of enjoying life while you’re young. In the US, that was somehow more difficult because of our busy day-to-day lives. That’s when we decided to make the move. One day, we realized that we didn’t have anything to lose and just went for it.
Breaking the news to family and friends was tough, but we started talking to them about it a couple of years in advance, which helped. At first many of them just didn’t believe it—we’re both very responsible and don’t jump into things without thinking—so it seemed out of character. But eventually most of them understood and embraced our decision. And I think now they’re happy to have a warm, sunny place to visit like Costa Rica
SGT: What has been the most challenging part about living in Costa Rica? Have you had any issues securing long-term visas?
JTH: It’s mostly small stuff that has been challenging; things that you really shouldn’t complain about but that can be bothersome over time. At first, it was adapting to the food, not being able to find things in the grocery store, having our clothes get moldy because of the humidity, and bad Internet connections. Living away from our family and friends has been tough too, but we’ve been fortunate to have many visitors.
Visas haven’t been an issue for us. Costa Rica gives tourists a 90-day visa and then you have to leave the country to renew it after that. Since we travel a lot anyway for our jobs as writers and bloggers, it has been a great excuse to see the rest of Latin America. We’ve visited Panama and Nicaragua and are going to Peru for a month in December to fulfill one of Matt’s bucket list dreams of hiking Machu Picchu.
SGT: Has language been a barrier for you? Do you both speak Spanish? Do people treat you differently because you’re English-speakers?
JTH: Costa Ricans are so friendly that the language barrier isn’t much of an issue. We’re both learning Spanish—we try to study every day—but are far from conversational. As long as you make an effort and are respectful, we’ve found that the Ticos will work with our bad Spanish. Because tourism is so big here, a lot of them speak English too, though we try not to fall back on that unless we have to
SGT: How long did the book take to publish? From the idea to writing to sending it to press? What spurred the decision to start a publishing company?
Like the story of why we moved, the idea for writing Two Weeks in Costa Rica started as a dream. Neither of us are writers by trade, but we wanted to share our experiences and knowledge about Costa Rica with others. On one of our trips, Matt kept a journal and would write down our day-to-day activities and observations, not really thinking it would turn into anything.
Then when we got back to the US, it was February, so the middle of snow-covered winter in New England. Part of us wanted to be back in tropical Costa Rica, back to its warm beaches and relaxed atmosphere. Writing about our experiences, in essence reliving our trip, was a way to make that happen. We started by typing out his journal and then added to it slowly. Over the course of the next year, we had transformed his notes into an entire travelogue. The whole process took a little over a year, mostly because we were working on the book on the side of our full time jobs.
We decided to start a publishing company after hearing so many success stories from self-published authors. The royalties were much better than traditional publishing and getting the book to market was much faster too as we didn’t have to submit proposals to publishing houses.
SGT: I read on your blog that you’re constantly moving around the country. Do you think you will eventually pick one place to stay? If so, are there any major contenders right now?
JTH: It’s true, we have been a bit nomadic over the past year. We’re currently on our eighth house and seventh town. It has been very tiring to move this frequently but awesome at the same time to see so much of the country. Ironically enough, we think we’ll end up right where we started. The first place we visited in Costa Rica was Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific Coast. This is where we fell in love with the country. Just south of there is the Southern Zone, where we lived when we first moved to Costa Rica. It’s where we’re living now and likely where we’ll end up and be—for a while, hopefully.