There’s a lot they don’t tell you about marrying into a foreign culture.

To some extent, it’s a big roll of the dice. For as much culture as you think you know, there’s always something you’re not expecting. In my experience, that has been traveling with my wife.

It always starts with my wife, but usually, as we get everything set, the phone rings. Cousin so-and-so heard you were going there and wanted to go, too. Then the in-laws inquire, aunts, uncles, etc. – and soon it’s a group of 15 and I’ve become a tour guide.

I don’t think we’ve ever traveled alone outside of our honeymoon.

Just to be clear, I’m not complaining. I used to have a bucket list of destinations, but now they don’t matter so much as the journey. We could go two blocks down the street to McDonald’s, and everyone would be content as long as they were following.

The biggest “conflict” we have on family vacations is deciding what to do because everyone seems indifferent and wants someone else to be in charge.

Once the pandemic hit, those trips went away – for a while. Over the summer, my wife and I decided to plan a trip to an exclusive beach via ferry for the two of us to get through the pandemic blues, and … well, you know where this is going.

Long story short, we got to the ferry with 10 people in two vehicles, only to find out there were no spots left for vehicles and we’d have to either wait four hours for the next one or drive around the peninsula to get to our destination – which also would have been four hours.

I thought we’d just drive around and enjoy the journey. However, this was a rare instance where nobody wanted to follow my lead.

We weighed those options and decided on a third choice – park our vehicles, get on the ferry and take the public bus to our destination.

I didn’t like this plan because we had coolers and backpacks to haul, and our destination was at least an hour by bus from where the ferry arrived. We also had no idea what transportation options would be available for the return trip.

But with the ferry idling, we made the call in less than two minutes.

Once we got on the ferry, all the “we” decisions became “they” decisions, as I made it clear I was no longer in charge.

The American inside me was screaming. We had 10 people at a rural Pacific beach with no public transportation, no information on availability or cost of private transport, we were over an hour from the ferry, which would completely strand us if we missed it.

Thankfully, no one would be coming to me for answers, but I pondered the entire afternoon how we would get back home.

They did eventually get in touch with a microbus that would later drive us to a restaurant we had no idea existed, and it got us back to the ferry with time to spare. By then, I was so worn out from the early morning and the stress of voluntarily going with the flow that I conked out on the ferry coming back.

Once we were back on dry land and in our vehicles, it hit me: My travel companions didn’t even notice or care that I wasn’t in charge. They never had. They just assumed they’d leave things right up until the last minute and then figure something out.

Even when we took a trip in the U.S. from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, this group would have figured it out a few hours beforehand, rather than plan it a few months ahead of time like I had.

The simplest way to describe this vacation is the Costa Rican lifestyle phrase pura vida, which loosely translates to “simple life.” Pura vida can be applied to many situations, and I unknowingly experienced multiple pura vida moments that day.

While I’m not quite as comfortable as the rest of my family with spontaneity, it did make for a fun mini-adventure that had been long overdue.

Dustin Dresser is a 2004 Verona Area High School graduate living in Costa Rica.

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