How My Trip to Cuba Made Me an Adultier Adult
As soon as I landed in Florida, I made a panicked call to my boyfriend. After what seemed like incessant ringing, I hung up the phone and texted him, “Call me back, it’s urgent. I’m okay – but it’s important.” In less than .05 seconds he called me back. That’s when I decided to word-vomit out of my news to him.
I shared with him that I lost my sorority sister in the security line in Cuba, with less than $7.00 to her name. Although my travel group arrived at the airport, safe and sound, only two of us cleared security. Oh, and we all got food poisoning and had to battle it out for the one bathroom in our apartment. Oh, and the luggage I borrowed from him? I lost day one on the trip.
"Oh, my God, that sounds awful! I was hoping you’d have a good time.” He exclaimed.
“I had the time of my life. Cuba was a trip of a lifetime…” I said.
So I'm sure you're wondering how that could be humanly possible. Between potentially losing an American abroad, getting sick, losing luggage and clearly being flat broke at the end, this trip probably sounds cursed to you.
What can I say, Cuba changed my outlook on things. I've always viewed travel as an excuse for adults to tap into their inner child, helping them learn and grow up.
Here are a few of the many life lessons I learned while in Cuba.
You Need To Have Faith Everything Will Work Out
Okay, so back to what happened when I got separated from my friend.
After waiting, and waiting some more at security, it became clear that my friend wasn't coming through. Frantically in broken Spanish, we tried to figure out if security detained her. When they assured us she wasn’t, we made the staff make an airport announcement to locate her, we checked bathrooms and still couldn’t find her. The Havana airport isn’t that large, so it was obvious she wasn’t there.
The group was in bad shape. Between the two remaining travelers, we only had six Cuban pesos to our name. I couldn’t afford to look for her or miss my flight.
Since I’m 99% sure it's unsisterly, and against every sorority's mission to abandon your sorority sister in foreign airports, the decision to leave Cuba wasn’t easy. But she had a flight several hours after ours, so I prayed she would resurface and arrive in America.
Well after all that panic, it turned out she wasn’t missing at all. Security wouldn’t let her pass through the checkpoint because she was too early for her flight. She thought the guard told us what happened and went to use the restroom before the checkpoint, and never knew we were looking for her!
It all worked out. I shouldn't have been surprised, that was the theme of our entire trip. Without cell phones or the internet, I really had to trust my instincts and put my problem-solving skills in overdrive. After that, I realize I needed to learn how to let things go. With technology, many of us have a false sense of control. Cuba made me realize I had minimal control over things and I needed to have faith.
I also learned, pay attention and make sure your party is always together so you don't have panic attacks at the airport.
You Don’t Need A Lot To Have A Blast
So I arrived in Cuba and discovered I had someone else’s carry-on bag. The kicker is that I had no idea whether it got switched in Cuba or Florida. (Mini-lesson of the day, put your name and number on everything, even carry-ons.). Without the internet, I was unsure how to call the airline in another country. Great, I was stuck with this bag, and how was I going to recover mine?
I was devastated. I had packed the perfect outfits for Cuba, and now they were gone. And since we had a jam-packed traveling schedule, I had no idea how I would get my stuff back. Unfortunately, since my travel mates didn’t pack too many extra clothes, and our credit cards didn’t work in Cuba, replacing my entire wardrobe wasn't an option.
My tour guide frantically took me to the mall so I could buy underwear, a new dress, and some flip-flops. My choices weren't abundant because sizing options are limited, not to mention that Cuban clothes do not have elastic, (something almost every 30-year-old woman needs). But as I forked over more and more money, I realized I was wasting resources. I wanted to ride a horse, dance, explore Cuba, not to spend money on clothes.
That's when my First World bougieness gave way to Second World practicality. When my friends first suggested that I use clothes from the mystery bag, I was appalled. The thought of wearing a stranger's clothes was gross. But by day three, I had a different attitude. Thanks to the art of handwashing, I repeated outfits, borrowed shirts and even made use of the mystery luggage bag.
It turns out I didn’t need a ton of clothes to have a fun trip. I wore a going out dress with beachy flip-flops to dinner, and no one cared, least of all me. What I remember, the fabulous dinners I ate and laughs I had with my friends.
Go With The Flow
If you knew me, you’d know I plan everything. I have lists and spreadsheets for days. I have several scenario budgets based on different salaries that I can access at the drop of the time, just in case. Imagine my annoyance when my Cuban tour guide emailed me a vague itinerary without meeting times, addresses or phone numbers. I know my annoyance seeped through my emails because of my guide, Papo, later told me he was worried I wasn’t going to be the fun loving girl that I truly am.
Rest assured, Papo had my trip planned perfectly and was a beyond helpful guide. Aside from hiccup of me losing my luggage, causing us to reschedule a tour, we arrived at all of our destinations on time.
I essentially had to shed my American ways and go with the flow. I will say, it was a nice change having someone else in charge and to experience some surprises on our arrival.
For example, Papo took us to a fabulous family restaurant, that was roasting pork so yummy, it would make you slap your mama. This place wasn’t on TripAdvisor, and while tourist complained about the bland food in the city, we were eating like queens.
Disconnecting Is Uncomfortable but Therapeutic
Although it’s possible to get the internet in Cuba, you need first to buy an internet card. Before luggage-gate, I was going to check in with family, post to the 'gram immediately. But since we didn’t have time, I had to live in the moment. I’m not going to lie; it was hard. Out of habit, I kept checking my phone, but obviously, there weren’t updates. My phone was only good for taking pictures and using my Yandex app to communicate.
As the days went on, I felt the stress leave my body. I had no idea what Trump was tweeting about. I didn’t have any knowledge about the latest celebrity scandal.
Instead, I got to bask in the joy of getting to know my friends better and exploring Cuba.
Appreciate Your Blessings
Now that Cuba is the “IT” spot, (until Trump closes the border), I hate the advertisements touting Cuba as a place that’s stuck in time. Although the throwback Thunderbird cars from the ‘50s are awesome to take a picture with and there’s not a McDonald’s to be found, many Cubans dream of progress. Censorship and oppression are real and many Cubans we met expressed their anger for being deprived of things you and I take for granted. Many Cubans have never been permitted to leave the island and are so curious about living somewhere else. My guide wanted me to describe in detail every country I’ve ever visited, no matter how mundane. That's how curious he was about traveling.
Also, count your blessings for freedom of speech. While at a little shop I showed some Cubans photos from the Women’s March in Washington and to say they were shocked was an understatement. Negative talk about the Cuban government is illegal and can land you in jail. There were a few incredulous people in the shop, confused why people were marching against President Trump. In their opinion, we voted and elected a president. As one man put it, “I’ve never been allowed to vote for anything my entire life. You voted and got Trump; he's President. Get over it.”
Despite the chaos, Cuba is my favorite trip to date. It wasn’t the fanciest trip I’ve ever taken, and it clearly wasn’t drama free. However, it allowed me to tap into my inner child and explore.
As adults, we’re very set in our ways. Cuba forced me out of my comfort zone and helped me look at the world in a new light. I firmly believe all travel is the adult version of recess. Recess is where you can play keep growing as a person, becoming a better you and who knows, an adultier adult.