When I was in middle school, I loved Anne Bradshaw’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Those books taught me a lot about things I just didn’t experience myself: divorce, the death of a close family member, problems with parents, young love and being a part of a tight-knit friend group. I had plenty of friends, but I was never part of a sisterhood. I was always a little on the outside, feeling too tied up with homework, dance classes and hanging out with my mom to feel bad about it. But in Costa Rica, I’ve finally found my group: the Sisterhood of the Traveling Fanny Pack.

The specific people in this group rotate based on the occasion, but you can be sure that the specific accessory by which it is defined never does. That just happens to be a light blue Jansport fanny pack. What kind of self-respecting, twenty-something travelers who are trying to blend in abroad carry a fanny pack with them? Those who don’t want to lose their money, phones and passport copies while frolicking along a canopy tour or raising the roof at a local bar — so me and my friends, that’s who.

The fanny pack has become a staple of my experiences traveling in Costa Rica. If my girlfriends and I are going somewhere on a weekend trip, we’re probably bringing the fanny pack with us. It’s just so versatile, and it’s so tacky that it matches everything. The adjustable waistband makes it perfect for any body size, just like Bradshaw’s mystical pants. Sometimes, we wear the fanny pack around our waists, and other times we sling it over our shoulders like a pageant sash. Either way, we look fierce (read: pretty stupid). There really is no better hands-free accessory.

Sure, it makes us stand out as gringas, but to be honest, our subpar dancing skills and light skin tones already do. And contrary to popular opinion, the fanny pack brings the boys to the proverbial yard. One of my friends, the actual owner of the fanny pack, gets bought several drinks every time she wears it when we’re at a bar. I wore it once when we went out dancing and managed to snag the best dance partner I’ve ever had. Before that night, I thought I knew how to merengue, but boy, was I wrong.

The defining element of this sisterhood might be the fanny pack, but the people in it are pretty important, too. The most significant bond we share is that we think that bringing a fanny pack to a bar is the best idea we’ve ever had. However, we are also joined by our love of exploring Costa Rica.

Putting on the fanny pack means you know you are about to have a good time. Maybe you’ll take a walk through the rainforest, swim in a waterfall, go on a motorcycle ride through the Costa Rican countryside, bike along the coastline, discover a beautiful empty beach or dance the night away. Not all of those things have been done with the fanny pack literally on my body, but it has always been there in spirit because that is what the fanny pack represents: letting myself truly experience Costa Rica while still being a safe traveler. I have been blessed with a group of friends here who are up for anything (as long as it doesn’t cost too much money) but who are equally as freaked out as I am about all the lectures we’ve received concerning safety precautions and stranger danger. I’m three months into my study abroad experience — I’ve had plenty of adventures, and I have plans in the works to have some more. What I’ve learned along the way is that you don’t need a paid guide or even a copy of your Lonely Planet book on hand to truly explore someplace new, just a mediocre grasp of the Spanish language and an obnoxiously American travel accessory.
Mariah Byrne is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. SURVIVING ENDLESS SUMMER appears every other Friday in the guide.

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