The Real Cuba

Cuba. A place that a lot of us truly no nothing about. A forbidden place. A place rich in history that’s been skimmed over in school over the years.

 

When you think of Cuba, what comes to mind? And why?

 

When I was getting ready for my trip, I lost count of the number of people who told me they were concerned for my safety and thought it was a bad idea to be going. I didn’t exactly know why other than that people didn’t know much about this place making it a grey area. I knew nothing about this destination other than something with the Cold War, the Cuban Missle Crisis, and that America was not cool with Cuba and us going there.

So there’s that version of Cuba we all think we know and then there is the real Cuba – and let me tell you the two could not be farther apart.

 

Cuba marks my 37th country visited. I’ll also go as far as saying that it is the second safest country I have ever been in. Thailand coming in first. I have not once felt unsafe or that I had to continuously look over my shoulder. I felt quite the opposite. Any time I felt lost or needed a recommendation or help, someone was always lending out a hand. We definitely stuck out like sore thumbs, being the only blonde women in the city and that still did not bring negative energy or attention our way. The people could not have been nicer, always asking where we were from, always smiling and telling us how Bonita we were 😊

Some of my favorite trips are ones that surprise me and the ones that are stuck on my mind for a long time. This is one of those trips. We are so blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to create, say and do what we want without having to give away 90% of that to the Government at an unfair and low cost. I can sit on this beach in Vadadero, Cuba, typing this out and know that I will be able to eat dinner tonight for a whole 10 cuc (roughly $10 US) at the nicest restaurant here and that I can take a shower tomorrow.

In Cuba, most people make between $20-$40 a month. Yes. A month. Everything around them though does not reflect that income. Restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels are not for them, it’s for the tourists, the government or the few rich. That was the strangest thing to me, I think. To go to a bar and you wouldn’t be interacting with the actual majority of people in Cuba.

 

As scary as it was to go off the grid we did. We only got WiFi every few days for about 15 minutes or so and that was lucky! The people of Cuba, just recently got access to WiFi but they cant even truly afford it, so I suppose it made sense that it wasn’t readily available. I finally had to cave and pay $2.99 a minute to let my mom know I was safe!

I am proud to say we really got to see the real Cuba… staying in Airbnb’s that had nicer amenities than an actual Cubans place but still nothing like we have at home. We saw a typical Cubans home, visited a ration store, a local supermarket, a coffee shop, rode in cars from the 50’s… maybe even older. We visited a tobacco farm that makes organic cigars and also makes their own rum and coffee beans. We walked the streets and interacted with the most amazing locals. We saw so much of Havana, Viñales and Varadero.

There were times I felt homesick and i didn’t recognize anything around me. There is no such thing as fast food. No such thing as a bag of chips. No American brands. No seat belts! This trip was not for the amateur traveler and even after all of the places I’ve been, there was nothing that could have prepared me fully for this experience.

With that being said, I would seriously encourage everyone to think about expanding their horizons if possible and taking the road less traveled to understand the world, different cultures and people more. It doesn’t even have to be Cuba, it could be taking a drive to an underprivileged neighborhood in your own county or making a detour on a trip anywhere. We are so lucky to live the way we do and I feel blessed to have gone on such a life changing trip with great people who appreciated all of these things as well.

Any questions or help with planning this destination or any others -do not hesitate to reach out!

As i lay under the stars at Nizuc resort in Cancun on the last night of my trip right now, I feel like a lucky lady for this experience- also definitely not going to take my comfy bed and down pillow and air conditioning for granted tonight …. or that nice roll of toilet paper in our bathroom that doesn’t have cockroaches 😂 yes it happened… yes at 3 am and yes while I was looking for toilet paper and shined my iPhone flashlight to find it. You could say I woke the whole neighborhood up with my screams.

 

Long live the adventure and all we have to be grateful for

 

Xoxo

 

Christy

P.S. for those who were worried.. I made it out alive, just a few rashes, some purple hair, and the desire to take all the dogs and cats home. Nothing unusual for this chica!

 

Two Days in Hurricane Krabi – (Pronounced Kerr-ah-b) but for this case (Crabby)

After having the most magical and busy 4 days in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, my travel partner Liz and I were beyond excited to have some r and r in our next spot – Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand. After having quite the weird morning ( I now realize this was just foreshadowing what was to come) our wheels hit land at the Krabi airport. At this point we didn’t realize you can’t get to East Railay Beach by car and that it required a taxi to a longtail and a short walk. After finally coming  to this conclusion with our Grab driver we were dropped at a pier and proceeded to get on a longtail to take us to Railay.  Now being me and knowing I’d be traveling to far off lands for 3 weeks with all sorts of weather, I brought a giant 50 pound pink bag with me and was pleasantly surprised how easy it had been to haul around… until now. After giving my 2 other bags to Liz, I proceeded to walk down a wood ramp measuring 1 ft wide by 3 feet long with my pink friend. Convinced I was going to trip and either lose the pink friend or me (not sure what would’ve been worse)- I made it to the longtail and off we went! It started to sprinkle on the longtail but we remarked how lovely and refreshing it was, not knowing this was to get 100 times worse throughout the next few hours.  

After checking into our lovely resort – Bhu Nga Thani Resort and Spa, Liz and I went to the pool while we waited for our room to get ready. We sipped on the most delicious piña coladas at the swim up bar and we’re taking in all the views of East Railay. That’s when it started to rain again. Our hotel suddenly had a room available to us and so we went up and got situated. Side note to this story: if you are ever in Krabi (Railay Beach) the Bhu Nga is amazing and so cheap!! We were so happy to have this be our resort given the weather and craziness. 

Continuing on, we had a nice big lunch… a massive Cheeseburger and fries (not knowing that was our last supper for the day.. also this cheeseburger comes in handy later). Upon getting back to the room it started to pour rain and it was so windy. We decided to take a nap given we had been up since 4 am to catch our flight and we hoped by the time we woke up we could escape the rain.  That never happened. In fact, the rain just kept getting worse and worse and we lost power multiple times throughout the afternoon and evening. Fast forward 16 hours later and we were still in the room and it was the next morning. Since we had each slept 12 hours we figured why not start the day early and we hit the breakfast buffet at 6:30 am when they opened. After that we walked to West Railay Beach and admired the beautiful beach and cliffs and scoped out some cute restaurants and shops for our days adventure. After that we headed back to the hotel to change into our swimsuits and get going. As we were walking out our door to head back to the beach… it started raining. Again! So we proceeded to watch The Staircase on Netflix for a solid 3 episodes until it stopped raining and then we moved very swift to the pool to test out the weather. After having a nice swim and laying out we were convinced we could beat the rain and we decided to head back to West Railay.

As were were approaching and approximately 100 feet from the sand the hurricane started again! We took cover at a nearby restaurant hoping to wait the storm out but it seemed to be getting worse by the minutes with table cloths flying, center pieces moving, tarps flapping and flying out of control. We decided to make a run for it (a long run) back to East Railay. It was a crazy adventure getting back and so wet and wild that rain soaked through my rain jacket!! On the home stretch of our travels back the wind picked up so strong I thought I was gonna blow away… this is where I was thanking god I ate that massive cheeseburger yesterday as I believe it was the only thing anchoring me to the earth at that time. For Liz it was the chicken sandwich. If you know Liz you are not surprised.

Anyways, I am writing this back in the comfort of our beautiful room where we have lost power twice since returning. Given we have not ate much today and the fact we have a massage in 4 hours- I am hoping this clears up soon! Until then…some more Netflix and watching this hurricane play out from a nice dry place 😊

Planning the Ultimate Euro Trip

Planning the Ultimate Euro Trip

Last summer, I went on the trip of a lifetime to Europe.  I began planning this trip in October 2016 and left for my two-month adventure across the pond on July 3, 2017.  As much as I love being spontaneous, I knew I had to have almost everything planned in advance to —

  1. Be able to afford being on the road for 2 months
  2. Be able to see as much as possible in that time
  3. Be able to enjoy every leg of the trip without the last minute stresses of thinking about lodging and transportation.

So how did I do this?  I will break it down by categories to ensure you can get through the long hours of trip planning as smoothly as possible.

Creating a Timeline and Itinerary:

When I am planning a trip the first two things I decide are how long I am going for (of course after taking into consideration my budget and work situation) and where I am going to go in that amount of time.  My favorite way to decide where I am going is to look at a map of the continent I am going to and start planning a route that makes sense.  Along with this comes making sure these areas are accessible by some form of transportation… and as much as you would think they are, I definitely found myself amazed at the routes I took.  There were planes, trains, boats, rental cars, ferries, buses and cable cars!

Once your locations are decided, I like to do research on which major airports are the cheapest to fly in and out of and then I book my flights and set my itinerary with pretty locked in dates!  Doing this makes it very easy to book other transportation and accommodations when I find what I am looking for.  Here’s what my itinerary looked like!

Los Angeles, CA –London, England

London –Dublin, Ireland

Dublin –Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos –Athens, Greece

Athens –Santorini, Greece

Santorini –Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor –Sicily, Italy

Sicily –Naples, Italy

Naples –Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona –Rome, Italy

Rome –Basel (Murren), Switzerland

Murren –Munich, Germany

Munich –Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg –Lake Hallstatt, Austria

Lake Hallstatt –Vienna, Austria

Vienna –Prague, Czech Republic

Prague –Berlin, Germany

Berlin –Paris, France

Paris –Brussels, Belgium

Brussels –Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam –Los Angeles, CA

Booking Flights & Transportation

I feel like I have become a flight connoisseur over the years as I am very picky and don’t do well on long flights.  I probably spend way too much time studying prices and cities and options, but I always get a great deal!

For the initial big flights – my favorite applications and sites to work with are Hopper, SkyScanner and Expedia.  Hopper is where I initially start and I plug in my dates and look at a year overview to see when the cheapest time to go is.  I then set an alert to keep me posted when flights are low.  I have never officially booked through Hopper because they only show roundtrip prices and I usually always do a multi city trip.  I also like to book through the airlines site to get points and miles or on Expedia for convenience and the best prices.  Once I have an idea of some great dates, I move my search to SkyScanner.com and filter out the airlines I prefer not to fly.  From there I keep an eye on things for a few weeks to a month.  Using this method, I always get a great price with good airlines and travel times.

For Domestic Transportation – depending on the continent you are on there are a variety of options when it comes to traveling.  Since this post involves planning an epic Euro Trip, I will stick to what I used for Europe.

*Flights: EasyJet, SkyScanner, Vueling and Expedia

*Busses: FlixBus, RegioJet

*Trains: RailEurope or specific countries rail website (ex: SBB for Switzerland)

Booking Accommodations

I think the biggest decision I always have to make when it comes to accommodations is whether I am going to stay in a hotel, Airbnb, or hostel.  For Europe, these three are all great options and depend a lot on budget and preferences.  All three of these options can be found in great locations (my #1 requirement) and at all different price points.

Hotel

Pros: Concierge, Maid Service, easy to get to and find, ample payment options for international guests, security, in room safe, privacy, overall an easy experience, amenities such as restaurants, gym, pool etc.

Cons: More expensive, no kitchen or fridge

Airbnb

Pros: Kitchen/fridge/cooking facilities, larger groups (esp. in Europe), more space, interaction with host and locals, affordable, can experience city like a local, laundry machine

Cons: No elevators and usually many stairs in Europe, no maid service, often no air conditioning, less security, can be difficult to find, and no extras or amenities

Hostel

Pros: Budget friendly, very social, great place to meet people, fun, in great locations, events and a lot to do

Cons: No room locks, shared bathrooms, can be dirty, loud, shared rooms, lack of privacy, no maid service

I think a great way to evaluate which option is best for you is to consider your budget, who you are traveling with, your preferences and non-negotiables, and lastly how long you will be in that destination and what you want to accomplish while there.  For my style of travel, I usually travel with my significant other and we are usually on the move frequently.  Because of that, we prefer hotels and Airbnb so that we have more privacy and security while still being in a great location.  I think for more long term stays Airbnb is fantastic and a great value since it gives you the options to cook and do laundry throughout your stay.

Recommendations

  1. Book through the same site to collect points and stay well organized (I use hotels.com or Agoda)
  2. Pay in advance if possible to save some money
  3. Location is everything – you will ultimately have a better experience staying in a great location and can save time and money on transportation if you can walk
  4. Many a times our accommodations are just where we lie our head, so it is not always worth splurging on a 4/5 star place – sometimes it is but not always!

Activities

I don’t like to over plan before I even get to where I am going.  This is the one area I leave to spontaneity that way I can enjoy the moment and take in recommendations as I go.  On this particular trip, I had an idea of certain things I wanted to see in each place and I did book a few tours and excursions that had great reviews.  The rest I left to when I got there and I am so glad I did it that way.  I think a good rule of thumb to follow is plan one or two things and have an idea of what else you want to do with an open mind in case other opportunities present themselves.  For the things I do book in advance, I like to use Viator.com.  It is always best to do some research on each location and find out what things need to be booked in advance and what can wait to arriving.

What to Book in Advance

  1. Eiffel Tower in Paris (multiple months in advance)
  2. Cliffs of Moher (in high season a few weeks to a month in advance)
  3. Santorini tours
  4. Naples (Capri and Pompeii tours)

Overall Recommendations

  1. Start Booking things in advance and as soon as possible
  2. Pay for hotels and pre-booked excursions as you book to avoid a bigger cost all at once on your trip
  3. Qapital is my favorite saving app to set travel goals on
  4. TripIt app/website is amazing to stay organized
  5. Pack lighter than you think – you can always shop while there J
  6. Watch prices on everything for a few weeks if they seem high, you will get an idea of the going rate for comparable things and know a good deal when you see it
  7. Over budget
  8. Ask for the locals recommendations, you will not be disappointed!! (Flight attendants, hosts, hotels, coffee baristas, servers, bartenders etc.)
  9. Research basic things for each country you go to – it is always great to be able to say “hi”, “bye”, “please” and “thank you” in their language as well as know tipping customs and the cultural customs of where you are along with the conversion rate and how to pay.
  10. No matter where you go in the world, safest country or not, always be alert and watch your surroundings!

This is my first blog post and I am still trying to find a flow for what you all want to know and how I can help you in your travel journey and adventures.  Please post any questions for me to get more specific and dive into a topic or email me for help in planning your next adventure!