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Practical Tips to Help You Prepare for a Solo Trip to Cuba
black check Weather - It's HOT and HUMID most of the year. There will be days when showering seems redundant. Bring lots of bandanas and tie one to your bag to wipe your brow. Leave them behind if you like - they are coveted by many and will be appreciated. 17. Water - Bottled water is available widely, about $1-2 CUC a bottle. Many of the Casas will have boiled or filtered water available. Bring a good water bottle, fill it from big bottled ones. The water in your Casa may sometimes shut off without warning so make sure to not take it for granted, shower when you can.

black check Dance - Don't miss this opportunity to polish your salsa dancing skills. There are many dance schools in Havana and it's not pricey to take classes. I took dance at the Casa de Son in Havana. At the Floridita Hotel and some other hotels, they have Taxi Dancers, fellows who will dance all night with you for about $20 CUC. Organize it ahead of time. In Trinidad, I took classes from Cuban Rhythms - Yusel was the teacher. (Calle Jesus Menendez #51, Cell: +53 130 188) There is also a Spanish teacher at this same location, ask for Yoli. (twoforcuba@nauta.cu) She speaks English and Spanish and can tour you about as well as teach Spanish. Cell: +53 5412 6782.

black check Medicines - I don't take much more than vitamins daily, but I also brought Excedrin (headaches), Immodium A.D. (Diarrhea), Aveeno soap (anti-itch), bandaids and moleskin. I didn't even eat the meat and I had at least two days of the runs, so the Immodium A.D. came in handy. If you do get bug bites, anti-itch cream is needed. As in any humid climate open wounds can get easily infected so include polysporin. Bring bug spray and sun screen.

black check Safety - Cuba is a safe place. I never felt uncomfortable walking alone on the street - but I used common sense because there is no accounting for anti social behavior. Don't flash wads of money, keep your purse close (or use a travel purse strapped across your chest), avoid lonely deserted streets at night. As a solo female, I'd get some catcalls and a few fellows would walk beside me, chatting about becoming my boyfriend. I'd surprise them by speaking Spanish. If anyone's bothering you, just say, 'no, gracias.'

black check Unwelcome Attention - There are some fellows and gals that will follow you, trying to commandeer you to a certain place or restaurant - or offer to help you by following you about. Bear in mind, they expect a tip or will likely stick you with the check if they join you.

black check Be a Good Ambassador - There aren't a lot of U.S. visitors in Cuba yet (traveler vs. tourist) but no matter where you are visiting from, kindness and courtesy is a two way street. Speak Spanish if you can (try!), engage Cubans in conversations, be open-minded and open-hearted.

black check Be generous - Donativo (donations) are a wonderful thing to add to your luggage. Good items to include are bilingual children's books (rare here), small toys, art supplies , old cell phones, DVDs or CDs and clothing all make great donations. You can drop them off at Jakera's hub in central Havana and they will be happy to get them distributed to the appropriate agency. Look here: jakeracuba.com. However, any open traveler will find special new friends to give their gifts to, it's especially nice to leave a little something for your Casa Particulare hosts. I left a nice bag of mixed nuts, a box of tea and chocolates. For a list of other donations I'd suggest see the end of my book, Cuba for Mama. On the Prado Sunday afternoons there is an art fair and one teacher will have a table set up for teaching kids. If you've brought art supplies, take the teachers to the side and give them the goodies for them to distribute to the kids. (I brought little watercolor palettes and crayons which were appreciated.)

black check Flights from U.S. in particular - In terms of flights from the U.S. to Cuba (as of summer 2016) these are still up in the air (literally). I flew out of nearby Tijuana. AeroMexico lets you check 2 bags FREE (up to 50 lbs. each) so I loaded them up with donations and carried on my small bag. You also get peanuts, meals and beer/rum on the flight as well. Deal!

Happy travels to you!

Cuba for Mama: A Daughter's Journey...

Cuba for MamaWritten by Donna Starr, Cuba for Mama answers the question, What's Cuba like today? Many travelers want to know. The author offers over 22 insightful stories, many photographs, helpful travel tips & concerns all drawn from a people-to-people mission she took to Cuba during the spring of 2016. This is the real Cuba as she experienced it, one that Obama probably did not get to see. This isn't a travel guide with itineraries and maps and dry details. Cuba for Mama offers practical tips and ideas for the best things to pack, donations to bring, how to get to Cuba and what to expect when you are there. To listen to a chapter of the book, click here. To order the book, click here

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