Tag Archives: trip planning

Planning for Cuba

Cat on the beach in RioAnyone who knows me, also knows that I plan my travel and have extensive documents filled with suggestions, maps, metro tips, plus just all the basics like how am I getting there.  I even have an extensive packing list that includes how and where items will be packed. I like to say that the research part of my travel planning is because I am a librarian and I’m all about the research.  The packing list that is colour-coded and even maps out the various outfits I can have with the clothes selected … I think that started because I was trying to cut down my packing from needing sherpas to cross the airport to being more efficient and using carry-on as much as possible. It may also be my weird Aquarius need for strange organizational schemes. All of the documents I create as part of my planning, including any e-Tickets and travel vouchers, are organized into a pdf file that I can access via my computer, Kobo, smartphone or now my tablet. One place for all the documentation I need!

So, when I started planning for my trip to Cuba, I started the same way — researching, organizing and figuring out what to pack (like do I really need 3 cameras because each one does something different???). And, like all places, Cuba has some unique things to know before you go. Being Canadian, I can travel solo with no restrictions, however here are some of the things unique to planning for my next adventure to Cuba!

Entering Cuba
The Cuba Customs web page is a good place to find out what to expect when you enter Cuba for the first time. Some of the things include

  • Passport, of course, along with proof of health insurance
  • Information on the Tourist Visa. All tourists to Cuba need to have this.  It is usually provided by the airline, however if it is not provided, it costs $27 CUC and you can get it when you arrive (leaving costs $25 CUC — so I need to remember to tuck this aside!).
  • Foreign money exchange — there are two types of money used in Cuba. Visitors need to exchange money to CUC. It is easier to exchange cash — Canadian or Euros preferred, although there will be changes as travel from the US increases.
  • There are few ATMs and currently none accept credit cards issued from US banks, although this is quickly changing.
  • Lists and description of what is considered “personal items” that may be brought into Cuba. for example, I’m opting to not take my smartphone, but I am taking my computer, as there is WiFi in my hotel and I want to be able to store and share photos.

A bit on Health  and Health Insurance
This is the first time I’ve been required to show proof of health insurance when I traveled. I have travel health insurance from my credit card, so I called the credit card insurance provider and requested a letter of proof that I had the coverage required.  I also travel with a booklet from the insurance agency that describes the coverage and includes emergency phone numbers.

A visit to a travel health doctor is a good thing. They can advise you on any health concerns when travelling.  In this case, it was recommended that I do a two-dose of Dukorol. In Ontario, you can get this from your pharmacist and it is easy to take — but I think it really activated my allergies after the first dose. I’m better now!

Register with the Canadian government
This is a habit I’ve done for most of my traveling aboard. There is a web site allows you to register your trip and will send you advisories, if needed.  You can also register an emergency contact. While I have never needed this when I traveled, I think it is nice to be prepared.

Packing
So, what am I taking?

  • 2 dresses (one will also work as a beach over-up)
  • 2 skirts (may cut this down to one)
  • 3 pants / shorts
  • 6 tops
  • 2 swimsuits
  • 2 sandals
  • 1 walking shoes
  • hat (folds-up)
  • Scarf / sarong
  • 2 cameras (one that I don’t mind handing to someone to take a picture of me)
  • tablet (which also functions as an e-book, photo storage, and entertainment on the plane)
  • suntan lotion (travel size acquired!)

And, if my planning works, it should all go easily in a carry-on!

Where am I going?

  • Havana for my first two days
  • Cuba Cruise on the Louis Cristal
  • Hologuin
  • Santiago de Cuba
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • Cienfuegos & Trinidad, Cuba
  • Punta Francis on the Isle of Youth

Can you tell I’m really excited!

Planning for the next big adventure

Planning for a trip

For me, planning for a trip is part of the whole experience. My friends say that I am constantly in “cruise control” – either planning for a trip, going on the trip, and then sharing my experiences and starting to plan the next one!

So how do I start planning for a trip?  The first step is asking myself where – and how – do I want to travel. Is it time for me to get a brief taste, or am I ready for a deeper experience?  For me, both are very valid experiences. The “brief tastes” allows me to sample and see how a place feels to me.  And, since I do most of my travelling solo, it is important for me to have a bit of a safety net when venturing to places unknown. Some people are fearless – and some people think I am fearless – but really, I do know what my comfort level is.  So, my first taste will probably be as part of a cruise or a travel experience with someone else. Cruising allows me to know where I am going to stay, I meet lots of people, and I get a “taste” of many places.  The ones I like go on my “I’m going back there to spend more time” list. I also try to include a few days before and after to explore and to things that would be not part of being on a ship.

The next step in my planning activities are pretty much the same: I’ve decided where to go – now let’s find out more! I usually start my research looking at where I want to stay once I “arrive” at a destination.  Trip Advisor is a good source for reviews, and is usually one of the first places I check for good information on prices and neighbourhoods.  While I like hostels, I also like a little more privacy than some hostels offer.  I tend to go to ones where I can find a private room so I can find the best of both – friendly people to chat with but my own space for comfort. I also like to stay in near transit and downtown centres. It makes getting around less of a hassle. A couple of my favourite hostels that have private rooms include Hotel La Bohème in Amsterdam, the Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon, and Hostel Mare Nostrum in Barcelona.

I love using local transit and study the transit maps before I go. A really good practice of mine is to get a copy of the transit map and really get to know the layout – especially of the area where I am staying. Being able to show – at least outwardly – that I am confident about where I am going makes me feel better. I cannot tell you how many people ask me about where to go or how to use the local transit because I do seem to know what I am doing!

Next, I create my own Trip Navigator – a travel guide with information on each place I will visit and includes notes on places I want to see, how to get there, maps, pictures, contact information – anything that I may need.  The Trip Navigator for my next adventure is ~124 pages and includes all the basics I would want “at my fingertips”, including hotel, flight, and train confirmations; a list of embassies or consulates; and extensive tourist information – places to see and things to do. Since this collection of documents can get large, I collate everything in a pdf document that I can keep on my Kobo e-reader – with other copies available on my cell phone and computer.

I also update an “oh s***” list and leave a copy with the person who house-sits for me as well as taking a copy for me. This list will have emergency information (emergency phone numbers, ticket information, hotel addresses and phone numbers, travel and health insurance information, and credit card info). It turned out to be quite useful when I lost my wallet in Barcelona.  While waiting for a train, I pulled out this list and cancelled my credit cards – all in less than 10 minutes after I knew the wallet was gone. I also make copies of my passport and credit cards – I tend to carry the copy of my passport while I am out and about exploring instead of the real one, unless it is strictly enforced that a traveller must have the original passport with them at all times.

It may look like I over-plan for a trip, but I think the planning is almost as much fun as the going. I am a librarian by training, so researching new things is important!