JetSetter Series – Cuba: Off The Beaten Path

In this week’s JetSetter Series, we catch up with Trusted Travel Girl’s Valerie Wilson on travel tips for a jaunt to the magical and mystical land of Cuba.

Being one of the first American women to legally  visit  Cuba when it was on the brink of change, I am often asked for advice on travel to the country. Well, my greatest piece of advice is, run, don’t walk. Things are changing quickly and it soon will not be the place you have heard about and imagined. Once you get there, here are some of the best ways to spend your time.

During the extent of a fifty-four-year embargo , Cuba has remained a mystery to the American public, yet with the recent move to re-establish relations with the US, curiosity seekers can now see what the country really has to offer.  What travelers will soon come to realize is that all of Cuba is a museum. Now that everyone seems to be jumping on the Cuba bandwagon, the best way to visit Cuba is to have some experiences that few tourists will have.

HersheyTrain_Cuba

Visit History

Take the train to Hershey. At the same time Hershey was in Pennsylvania, there was also Hershey, Cuba. Milton Hershey first visited Cuba back in 1916 and is said to have fallen in love with the country at first sight. He immediately purchased a plantation and a mill to produce Hershey chocolate. In 1946, Hershey moved out due to political instability in the country, however, there are some remains still intact (very few). Adventuring outside of the tourist zones will always be worth the trek, even if there isn’t much to see. This is the best way to make memories, engage with locals, and head out on an adventure. Taking the train to visit Hershey is a great way to do this.

Cuba_TrustedTravelGirl

Engage With Locals

Seek out and talk to the local Cubans about what they like to do, where they eat, where they hang out, what they think of new relations with the US, baseball, food, music. But try to avoid a conversation about politics. Learn where the best secret local hangouts are from talking to them and about what their lives are like.

Cuba_Casa

Support Cuba’s Growth

Stay at Casa’s instead of hotels. My favorite options in any travel experience are the ones that lead me to live like a local resident instead of a tourist. With the first tastes of growth and further development, Cubans are taking advantage of letting you rent space in their residence, much like a bed & breakfast. Spanish for “home,” casas are one of the most affordable options for lodging. This is an amazing opportunity to interact with the locals and break bread with your host family.

I always jump at the opportunity to interact with locals and see how they live their day-to-day lives. Concerning Cuba, it is an exceptional time in history for Cubans especially those venturing into the untamed waters of further growth in a still very much communist nation. The people that are renting rooms and working in tourism have quickly had their lives changed for the better. Most rooms rent for the equivalent of $30/night. Just to put that into perspective, the majority of Cubans make $40 a month. Although it’s taxed, that money is going directly into the pockets of the Cuban Entrepreneurs. Staying in a casa can offer any traveler an unmatched insight into Cuban culture. Even if you happen to be the type of traveler that enjoys the amenities offered by a hotel, one night at a casa for the experience certainly couldn’t hurt.

Cuba_Beaches

Get A Tan

The Cuban beaches are some of the best in the world, however, there are some local secrets. When interviewing my friend Frank Alpizar,  one of the most sought after tour guides in all of Havana I asked him what is the place most tourists don’t see in Cuba that they should. “There are beaches near Havana where tourists barely go because they consider it to be very Cuban, but they should go there. They should go to the beaches, both on the east and west part of the city, because they normally go to the islands, and they’re nice but they’re very touristy. You should go to the beaches where Cubans go”. His suggestion is a beach by the name of Santa Maria.

However you decide to spend your time in Cuba, make sure you understand that you are visiting a place that has been largely closed off to much of the world for decades. Remember that it is not a glamorous destination, however, with its expected growth and development, the country is changing quickly. Streets and buildings are in disrepair, hotels are oversold and having a hard time keeping up with demands from guests. Bring your patience, an open mind and you will be sure to have one of the most incredible life experiences. Bring too many expectations, and you will ruin it. Most importantly, get away from the other tourists and discover the real Cuba.

Cuba_Valerie

To learn more and connect with Valerie Wilson, visit TrustedTravelGirl.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TrustedTravelGirl.

Thanksgiving Travel Survival Guide

Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. The increased traffic can lead to fuller flights, longer security lines and increased stress.  Below is Victorinox Swiss Army’s Thanksgiving Travel Survival Guide full of helpful tips and tricks to make your holiday travels easier.

1.      Organize Your Suitcase

Keeping your clothes sorted in your suitcase saves time and keeps you organized when you reach your destination. Items like the Victorinox Swiss Army Packing Cube Set are great for packing multiple people’s clothes in the same suitcase because they keep each person’s items separate and sorted. This makes everything easier to find and keeps your clothes less wrinkled during your trip. Packing cubes also let you easily separate your dirty clothes from clean, unworn clothing on your trip back home.

2.      Check-In Early

Online check-in allows you to check in up to 24 hours before your flight and print your boarding pass before leaving for the airport. This can be a huge time saver if you aren’t checking a bag. To keep all your documents in order, carry a Victorinox Swiss Army Travel Organizer with your boarding passes, identification and credit cards to make your trip go more smoothly.  If you can’t print your boarding pass in advance, utilize an electronic boarding pass. Simply display your online boarding pass from your online app or email and use it just like you would a paper boarding pass.

3.      Stay Up-To-Date On Your Flight Status

Leading up to your departure, keep up to date on your flight status to avoid unexpected delays. There are a variety of mobile apps like tripit.com, flightstats.com, FlightTrack, or Flight+ to help you stay informed before takeoff.  Most airlines also have their own apps and will send flight status updates via push notifications. If you don’t download an app, give the airline your cell phone number when booking your flight so they can notify you of changes via voicemail or text message.

4.      Protect Yourself From The Inconvenience Of Lost Luggage

Last year, over 42.5 million people traveled on over 116,000 flights during the Thanksgiving holiday. All this chaos can lead to delays, cancellations and sold-out flights. This increases the risk of lost luggage if you’re checking a bag. Fortunately, 98% of lost bags get reunited with their owner, and most within 24 hours, but having your essentials such as medication, toiletries and a change of clothes in a carry-on helps you survive your holiday if your bag is temporarily lost. You can also use a Tracking ID Tag or a Victorinox bag with the Swiss Tracker™ Bag Tracking Program to help reunite you with your lost luggage.

5.      Travel In Comfort

It’s always a good idea to bring a travel blanket and pillow with you when you’re flying or traveling with kids. Having items like the Victorinox Swiss Army Deluxe Travel Pillow and the Deluxe Travel Blanket make for a more comfortable trip and will be more sanitary than borrowing one on the plane. Some airlines are even starting to charge extra for these amenities, so bringing your own can also help save money. If you’re on a long road trip or your flight gets canceled or delayed, a pillow and blanket can make the journey much more comfortable.

6.      Avoid Baggage Fees

Checking your luggage can cost you as much as $50 for the first bag and even more for additional luggage.  To make your trip more cost effective, try packing everything in a carry-on bag. In addition to saving money, carrying-on saves you from having to stand in line to check your bag, or wait for it at the carousel after your flight.

7.      Speed Through Airport Security

To quickly get through U.S. security checkpoints, use a bag with Security Fast Pass™. These bags let you leave your laptop in your bag when you’re going through airport security. Find out more ways to speed through security with Victorinox Swiss Army’s Top 10 Tips for Getting Through U.S. Airport Security Faster.

8.      Escape The Crowds

If you need to escape the hectic crowds at the airport, you can typically purchase day passes into the airline clubs or lounges to relax before your flight.  Besides comfortable seating and ample outlets, these areas have specialized airline agents who can help you reschedule your flights if they are delayed without having to wait in the general line.  The Thanksgiving travel season is a great time to splurge on this. Just visit your airline’s website to learn more and purchase your pass.

9.      Keep Your Electronics Charged

With the increase in travelers, the airport power outlets and charging stations can fill up fast.  To make sure you don’t lose power before reaching your destination, fully-charge all your items before leaving for the airport. You can also bring a Travel Power Strip to charge multiple electronic devices all at once. The Travel Power Strip also lets you share an outlet with someone if they’ve all filled up. This can be extremely useful during long delays and cancellations and could even help you make a new friend.

10.      Use Your Smart Phone to Navigate the Airport

There are a variety of apps that help you find restaurants, shops and other amenities in different airports. This lets you find what you are looking for quickly and easily to save you from wandering aimlessly around the airport with your luggage. Some of our favorite apps are GateGuru, iFly Pro, Airport Transit Guide and FLYSmart.

Wherever your travels take you this Thanksgiving holiday, we hope you have a wonderful time with your friends and family. If you need help finding the perfect bag to take on your trip, be sure to check out the Victorinox Swiss Army new Bag Finder tool.  Happy Thanksgiving!