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.

JetSetter Series – A Guide to Some of Summer’s Best Festivals

(Photo: Wilderness Festival by Andrew Whitton)

Summer’s finally here and let us all collectively rejoice. The days are longer, the temps are warmer and it’s the most ideal time to take advantage of the countless festivals around the globe. Whether the festival is local to you or a plane ride away, you can enjoy everything from live music, cinematic masterpieces, delectable eats and treats, or even enrich your mind. With the help of our friends at Conde Nast Traveler, The Zoe Report, Fodor’s, and The Independent, we’ve compiled an ultimate list of summer’s best festivals – near and far. If you can’t make it this year, don’t fret, just take notes and plan accordingly for next year because these festivals only get bigger and better with time. Enjoy!

Roskilde

Where: Roskilde, Denmark

When: June 25-July 2, 2016

Created by two Danish high school students, Roskilde has evolved from a hippie gathering ground to a mainstream music festival. The four-day extravaganza attracts an international following and features performances from more than 3,000 artists. Bands include a mix of contemporary and lesser-known performers, and visitors can watch their favorite artists perform inside large tents. Don’t be surprised if you see a few scantily clad attendees; on the Saturday of the festival, Roskilde Festival radio hosts a naked run around the campsite.

(Source: Emily Wasserman, Fodor’s)

Montreux Jazz Festival

Where: Montreux, Switzerland

When: July 1-16, 2016

Set on Lake Geneva’s picturesque shoreline, the Montreux Jazz Festival attracts a global audience. Founded in 1967 as a jazz-only festival, Montreux has since evolved into a two-week-long showcase that attracts more than 200,000 music enthusiasts. Jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, and Miles Davis were early performers, but blues and rock artists such as Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, and Prince have also made appearances over the years. Performances don’t end on the shore; visitors can catch themed shows from boats and train cars.

(Source: Emily Wasserman, Fodor’s)

Panorama

Where: Randall’s Island Park, New York City

When: July 22-24, 2016

Can’t make Governors Ball? We got you. This year brings us the first-ever Panorama festival, which also takes place on Randall’s Island. From the peeps behind Coachella, the event promises an interesting fusion of music, art and technology. Expect great bands (Arcade Fire, Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, LCS Soundsystem and Sia among them) as well as technology-inspired installations and awesome food, all taking place from July 22 to 24. Is it just us or is Randall’s Island the new Indio?

(Source: Sari Anne Tuschman, The Zoe Report)

Traverse City Film Festival

Where: Traverse City, Michigan

When: July 26-31, 2016

Believe it or not, Northern Michigan is an incredibly beautiful part of the country. Film buffs can find that out for themselves by heading to the Traverse City Film Festival, July 26-31. Founded by Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, the event reels in independent, documentary and foreign films. Moore’s goal is to preserve the art of cinema while screening truly great movies that “entertain and enlighten.” What a novel concept. This one’s for you, movie buffs.

(Source: Sari Anne Tuschman, The Zoe Report)

Lollapalooza

Where: Chicago

When: July 28-31, 2016

Few music festivals carry the same name recognition and star power as Lollapalooza. Created in 1991 by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell as a farewell tour for his band, the festival has since evolved into an extravaganza of musical performances, dance, comedy, and crafts. Lollapalooza hosts more than 160,000 visitors over a three-day period and has helped popularize artists ranging from Pearl Jam to Ice-T. Although the festival initially focused on alternative and indie rock, it has expanded with eclectic performers and smaller sub-genres. This year’s headliners are Paul McCartney, Metallica, and Florence + the Machine.

(Source: Emily Wasserman, Fodor’s)

Osheaga

Where: Montreal, Canada

When: July 29-31, 2016

As summer nears its end, Osheaga gears up in Montreal. Held annually at the scenic Parc Jean-Drapeau, the three-day musical festival includes five stages and performances from a diverse lineup of artists. Festival-goers can jam out to popular indie rockers or listen to mellow, up-and-coming folk artists while taking in the city skyline. Set times vary based on the status of each performer, with emerging artists opening the show and headliners concluding with longer, 90-minute sets. Consider getting to town a week early, as the city hosts concerts and exhibitions prior to the main event.

(Source: Emily Wasserman, Fodor’s)

Wilderness Festival

Where: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

When: August 4-7, 2016

Head to Oxfordshire for a taste of rural paradise at Wilderness, which this August features exclusive UK sets from Robert Plant and The Flaming Lips. Music aside, mouthwatering food is served at famous long table banquets great for meeting like-minded people. Wellbeing workshops, a carousel and boutique camping strike the perfect balance between relaxation and revelry.

(Source: Jess Denham, The Independent)

Outside Lands

Where: San Francisco, CA

When: August 5-7, 2016

If Coachella is a little too much of a scene for you but you love music, Outside Lands might be your jam—literally. From August 5 to 7, Golden Gate Park becomes the site of this beloved San Francisco music festival, which boasts headliners including LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead and Lionel Richie this year. A few things are practically guaranteed at this Northern Cal fun fest: The crowd will be littered with tech guys sporting tees emblazoned with their start-up’s logo, and the weather is always unseasonably cold so pack layers (like down layer—seriously).

(Source: Sari Anne Tuschman, The Zoe Report)

Flow Festival

Where: Helsinki, Finland

When: August 12-14, 2016

Summer doesn’t last long in Helsinki, which may account for the especially appreciative vibe that permeates the Flow Festival. Located in an edgy, industrial section of the city, the fest will feature those trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack, Iggy Pop, Sia, and the neo-‘80s Brit-rock sensation, Savages.

(Source: Jim Farber, Conde Nast Traveler)

The Nantucket Project 

Where: Nantucket, MA

When: September 22-25, 2016

If you want to expand your mind or change the world and TED seems too intimidating, The Nantucket Project–taking place on Nantucket, Massachusetts September 22-25–is for you. Some of the best minds of our time (last year that included Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, musician Neil Young and, ironically, TED founder Richard Saul Wurman ) are tasked with giving the lecture of their life, many of which turn into TNP Idea Films. The topics covered and lectures given are not only fascinating and often brilliant, they’re thought-provoking–like, really. Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? Think about this for a second: In 2014, the festival featured an appearance by the hologram of Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where she has been given asylum. If that isn’t the weirdest, coolest thing you’ve ever heard, we don’t know what is.

(Source: Sari Anne Tuschman, The Zoe Report)

Desert Trip 

Where: Indio, CA

When: October 7-9 & 14-16, 2016

We thought someone was joking when they told us The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Paul McCartney were on the same bill. Then we realized Desert Trip was a real thing, and all of our dreams were coming true for two weekends in October (7-9 and 14-16), on the same grounds–and produced by the same team–as Coachella in Indio, California. Tickets sold out fast, but as anyone who was ever lazy with their Coachella tickets knows, there is always a way. Some people are calling it “Oldchella” but we prefer, “Woodstock, The Redux.”

(Source: Sari Anne Tuschman, The Zoe Report)