I stood on the sandy incline last week in front of small, breaking waves—squatting down as I took in everything. Sand flies were gnawing at my feet. The sound of howler monkeys glared behind me. Rays of light beamed through the clouds. The sun began to drop behind the bay and the Pacific Ocean. I stood in a profound moment of introspection, a moment similar to the one I had had three years earlier among the same beaches on my last trip to Costa Rica, which had changed my life. That’s when I realized how far I’d come. 

I wasn’t the only one to notice this growth; even my Costa Rican friend, Marvin, upon seeing me for the first time in three years, said , “My Spence, how you’ve changed.” The entire week I had been traveling around Costa Rica remarking about how much it had transformed; and it had. But it wasn’t only Costa Rica that had evolved with the time. I had changed, too.

The last couple months has seen each of our bloggers take storybook trips around the world. For some, it was rediscovering romance in Ireland, for others, following a passion to Europe, and for others, a dream family adventures. Well the last installment comes from me, the Editor-in-Chief of the Expedia Viewfinder blog. But my storybook goes back much further than the last few weeks.

I’ve had the travel bug since I was a child. Growing up with a father who loved to road-trip, and an older sister who is a flight attendant, I was lucky enough to travel frequently. By the time I graduated college I had been to 45 of the states in the Union and several countries. Travel was as central to my life as day-to-day things such as going to school. I had come to see my life’s story as one big trip—the ultimate trip on which I was the ultimate adventurer.

But following college, I got off track. I adopted the philosophy that travel only was for the young, wealthy, or retired.  It was all downhill from there. My life started snowballing out of control. My post-college resume included thousands of dollars in student debt, the deaths of my father and grandmother, the loss of my dream job, and a marriage (and subsequent divorce). What had been missing during this period of my early to mid-20s was the one thing that I loved more than anything: Travel. I longed for it. I fantasized about it. The divorce was the last straw. Following it, I booked a one-way flight for Costa Rica and didn’t return home to the states for several months.

Costa Rica beach sunset then and now

My June 2014 visit was the first time I’d returned. As I stood on Playa Panama, the beach at the El Mangroove, in that moment of introspection, I thought of the week I’d had on this second visit. In the beginning of the week, I stood on my balcony at the Royal Hotel Corin and looked straight up at Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal, as the clouds had parted just long enough to see the peak (I hadn’t seen it before). Following that, I checked in at Rio Perdido, a resort set amid a rare dwarf forest and with its own thermal river and a zipline course (with Tarzan swings to boot). Toward the end of the trip, I stayed on Papagayo Bay, and spent my time watching sunrise from the beach, fishing in the surf, kayaking around the bay and watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Viewfinder Tip: Don’t hit Costa Rica’s beaches without applying bug spray. Your feet, especially, will thank you. 

This was a storybook trip that hadn’t come just once for me, but twice. Yes, I ate from some of the same restaurants, hugged some of the same necks and walked some of the same beaches that comprised so much of my experience three years ago. I also saw parts of Costa Rica for the first time ever: La Fortuna Waterfall and the Arenal Hanging Bridges among them. I’ve said I only want to visit international destinations once because there is so much of the world I yearn to see. Yet in revisiting Costa Rica, I found a significant personal connection I never could get from a destination I was visiting for the first time.

Costa Rica, without a shadow of a doubt, changed my life three years ago. Following a low time in my life, it brought me to a new high, teaching me more about myself and the world than any experience ever has. It showed me that the world was beautiful, that my life had meaning, and that if there was something I wanted to do, I could do it. The visit gave me a new lease on life—a life I have pursued ever since. This trip to Costa Rica only continued to affirm the quality of life I want to pursue, but also a life in which I’ll continue to be the author of my own storybook.

What one destination would you like to revisit?