Belle Needs Your Best Travel Advice

Sep 30, 2016

In less than two weeks, I will be leaving on my first overseas trip.  My friend Sarah and I will be heading to Cuba.  And while I am tremendously excited, I am also a bit nervous.

Having never traveled out of the country before, and as this is only my second trip to a real beach, I have no idea what to pack.  I know some of you are seasoned travelers, so I’m hoping you can help me out.

I’m already aware that taking my beloved hot rollers will be out of the question.  (I guess it will just be the trip of the updo.)  A regular suitcase is probably a bad idea.  Basically, let’s just assume I’m clueless as to what to pack.

Any help would be appreciated regarding best travel tips–esp. Caribbean travel tip–as well as what to bring and what to avoid.  And if any of you have been to Cuba, I would be deeply grateful for your advice.

xoxo, Belle


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  1. Colleen says:

    I bought a cheap pair of hot rollers @ Target for travel and those babies have worked on five different continents – well worth the $15 investment!

    This isn’t a packing item but my friends and I will sit down every night over drinks on a trip and talk about our high of the day, low of the day and our most memorable moment. Sometimes we do it on camera but it also is fun to just jot down in the notes section of your phone (or in a journal). It’s so fun to look back months or years later and revisit all of those memories.

    • Em says:

      Get a cute cover-up/wrap. I just went to the Caribbean for the first time and was super jealous of my co-traveler’s.

  2. Kitty B says:

    My parents and my brother all took trips to Cuba this year, and while you’re going to the Caribbean for sure, you’re going to a 3rd world country. Bring a lot of single $1 bills to tip and practical things that are hard to get in Cuba if you have hosts (packs of Hanes T-shirts, etc). , Be sure to take a DEET based insect repellant, even if you don’t normally get consumed by mosquitoes. Loose fitting clothing, and nothing too revealing – this is a very conservative country. The meals will be heavy and meat based, so if you have dietary concerns, pack some Luna bars or stuff like that. If you drink, drink beer and bottled water. Take your own sunscreen. Internet service is spotty, but you can go to an Internet cafe and get some fairly slow dial-up service. A camera and a back-up battery for photos, comfy shoes (streets aren’t well paved) and you should be good to go.

    • Neelofer says:

      Pretty surprised at this description but I suppose it depends on where in Cuba you’ll be. I spent three weeks there on a research trip in 2012 (Havana, Santiago, Santa Clara). It wasn’t dissimilar in services to anywhere I’ve lived in the US (transport, roads, facilities) especially in any part you’d end up in as a tourist.

      The food options are slim compared to what you might see elsewhere (meats, rice, root vegetables) but casa particulars often cook for their guests and that’s a nice way to get a meal.

      Because travel from the US was more restricted then, I carried cash for my full trip because I couldn’t use credit cards. This was a bit nerve wracking but ultimately I felt safe everywhere (petite woman of color for reference). I made sure not to Carey a lot of cash at once and changed US dollars periodically rather than all at once. I also brought that in a combo of 20s and 100s to give flexibility when exchanging money.

      When we went out it seemed like a group
      Of friends would split a bottle of alcohol rather than buy individual drinks so we saw lots of rum and sofa bottles that people mixed at their table. But I also went to places with happy hours/individual cocktails.

      I didn’t find it to be any more conservative a place to dress than other places in the Caribbean. I was there in June/July and wore short dresses that were sleeveless.

      Wifi is fairly non existent so I would anticipate skipping the internet tho you can access it. I didn’t use a phone while there but often when I travel I will purchase a SIM abroad (pick up at airport) and then switch it with my US based one (change them back when I return).

      I also echo the travel copies and meds below. I bring copies of all travel docs (passport with visa page if there is one, greencard, itinerary, reservations, etc) all printed and saved online (password protected).

      Finally for this 3wk trip I brought a backpack and a carry on bag. If you are able to pack that lightly I highly recommend it. Sucks to lose baggage or have it delayed.

      Hope you have a fun trip! Cuba was one of my fav places to visit (so much beautiful art to see, all the dancing, lovely beaches, and really smart people–it was a shock to my senses when folks like cab drivers were casually talking about watching the plenary from the conference I spoke at there)

  3. Erica says:

    Depending on what you’re doing/where you’re staying, I would definitely skip the hot rollers…and any other hair appliance, for that matter. 🙂 I spent almost 2 weeks in Cuba earlier this year and would be happy to give advice–I can email you if you’d like.

  4. Carrie says:

    LOTS of sunscreen. I also bring a sun shirt for when I inevitably start to burn, and if you’re prone to sunburns, you’ll likely begin to burn more quickly in the Caribbean than you’re used to. Also, a large hat that will stay on your head when the wind blows. Lastly, check to make sure the voltage and the plugs match for the items you’re bringing (you might need converters/adapters). I don’t know what it is in Cuba, but the voltage in Europe is different and tends to fry things like straighteners.

  5. Lindsay says:

    Luggage: Anything Briggs & Riley- they have a lifetime warranty so even if airline staff destroy your bag they replace it- for free: I have the Baseline Line both the large and carry-on of these:

    Noise cancelling headphones: I used to wonder why everyone in economy plus and business had the same headphones. now i know. noise cancelling headphones are the best. they get rid of the airline hum and make it easy to sleep peacefully on long flights (i go to asia and south africa 4-6 times a year). Those headphones everyone wears: Bose Quiet Comfort 15:

    Medicine: I carry with me at all times a little pouch with hydrocortisone, bandaids, immodium, advil, benadryl, claritin, and newskin (and a few others). I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me. For instance twice this year i’ve had an allergy attack to smog and a poison ivy attack that came out in countries where hydrocortisone is regulated. Having my own supply saved me.

    Copies: Always make a copy of the front and back of your drivers license, credit cards, and passports. That way if anything gets stolen you can easily have that information on hand.
    Travel wallet: I have a zip around Michael Kors in plain black leather. It can hold and zip in my passport and boarding passes. Makes it easy to keep everything in place and hence less chance of getting lost/stolen. I can’t find the exact one, but this one is similar: Accessories;;Wallets%26sp%3D1%26spc%3D35%26ruleId%3D77|BS%26slotId%3D1

    Purses: bring one that’s cross body with a zipped top (not open or a flap which are easy to be pick-pocketed)

    Foreign transaction fees: Make sure your credit card doesn’t charge them. For those that travel alot, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the industry leader. But there are tons that avoid FTFs.

    Loyalty programs: Probably less likely to have them in Cuba, but I stay with 1 airline loyalty program and 2 hotels. Having status is king these days and can easily get you free breakfast, executive lounge access, room upgrades (I once got a suite twice as large as my entire DC apartment).

    Power: I have bought 110/220v blowdriers and straighteners. I learned by blowing out my $100 Chi on my first work trip and having to slog for a week in humid southeast asia looking like Hermione from Harry Potter. This is my blowdrier (Conair Folding Handle Travel Hair Dryer 1875 Watts 127): and this is my straightener (U9 1 Inch LCD Digital 450F Ionic Titanium / Tourmaline Ceramic Dual Voltage Hair Straightener Flat Iron)

    Power adapter: I have both the REI Compact Travel Adapter Kit and 2 Kikkerland Universal Travel Adapter (container store).

    Other little tips: I always have in my suitcase an umbrella, space saving bags (to keep dirty clothes separate from clean and make space for souveniers), small tide pouch for cleaning clothes in sinks, back-up battery (NewTrent brand is what I have ) for when you’re cell/computer is low and you need a juice and TSA approved locks.

    And thanks to you a few years ago- my Lo and Sons bag which I use as a carry on!

    • Liz says:

      Seconding copies of important documents.

      • Meg says:

        I echo Benadryl from personal experience and also an extra bag (fold-able duffel or longchamp) for souvenirs!

        • Crystal says:

          Thirding copies of documents. Also–despite internet service potentially being slow/rare–I highly recommend taking pictures of your passport and keeping them in safe place online (Gmail, Google Docs, Box, etc.).

  6. Mary G. says:

    My only advice is to lay out everything you’re planning to pack, and then pack half of that and bring double the money 🙂

  7. Stephanie says:

    Hey Belle, as someone who loves traveling, I’ll see what I can do.

    1. depending on how long your trip is, seriously consider not checking a bag, or bringing enough in your carry-on to tide you over a few days. I’m usually willing to risk a carry-on on an international trip, but given it’s your first time, I would stick to a carry-on to be on the safe side.

    2. Always bring flip-flops (or shoes that can get wet while you’re walking around), a swimsuit (duh, you’re going to the beach, but bring one no matter where you’re going, you never know if there’s going to be a pool or a hot tub), and a sarong/ scarf (this’ll keep you warm, work as a coverup, etc.) and a bit TMI, but ALWAYS bring 1-3 pairs of extra underwear.

    3. Don’t bother with too many clothes during the day. I find that I tend to just throw on a bathing suit and a coverup and then take off the coverup the moment I get to the beach/ pool.

  8. Erica says:

    Travel[ing] tips for the trip there & back: I always bring the following on long flights- large scarf for a blanket; neck pillow; misting water (Evian); moisturizer and vitamin C emergenc packs.

    For when you’re there: I’m assuming it’ll be a mix of beach & checking out Cuba. (How cool by the way). Loose clothing – black maxi dress; flow-y cotton skirts, ect. and walkable shoes. I go to Hawaii regularly and usually stick to light dresses (easy 1 item outfit) with a couple cover up options for the evening – if I go for the week, I bring 3 sweaters or light jackets. But not sure what evening weather is like in Cuba. I’d also recommend going with travel size, necessary beauty products. I go lighter on make up, ect when I go on vacation as a way to give my skin a break – usually the extra sun helps camouflage the less make up. Also, no need for extra bulk of regular size.

    For the ‘travel smarts,’ as always, more important than ever to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t over pack, the more you bring or carry around with you, the more you have the possibility of loosing. Do bring your own meds in case you catch something. Cross body bags or backpacks help tremendously with hands free exploring. Again, walkable shoes.

    For the beach, my favorite thing to bring – along with a towel, good book and a large hat – is a large sheet (like this: so that you can spread out and keep sand in your stuff as minimal as possible. Also, I bring a cheap larger tote specifically for the beach so that I don’t worry about getting sand in anything nice.

    Also, I have a friend who went to Cuba recently – rely on cash more than your credit/ or debit cards. Hope this helps & Have a wonderful time!

  9. Anna says:

    I’ve found The Points Guy to have pretty comprehensive advice about travelling to Cuba. This is a good primer, though they have a lot of other posts too: Despite only being 90 miles away, this is pretty adventurous for a first overseas trip. You’ll definitely have your fair share of culture shock. I hope this is your first of many trips. I think it’s so important for people who are able, to get out and see the world. There so much amazingness out there to explore and experience!

    • Belle says:

      Yeah, I’m kind of wishing I had tried London or Paris first. But this is where Sarah was going, and she’s a fairly experienced traveler, so I’m hoping I don’t regret not starting with some training wheels.

      • D says:

        I went on my first international trip under the same circumstances a year ago (with a very good friend who is an experienced traveler) and don’t regret it one bit. We did Copenhagen, London, and Iceland – mostly her picks. Granted, not Cuba, but I was just amazed by the entire experience. We’re headed to Vietnam together in December and I’m really excited!

        It’s not packing advice, but my two cents is to be open to everything the country has to show you, and avoid comparing what you see to what you thought it would be like/what’s back home. Don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing (as long as it’s comfortable and weather/culturally appropriate). Enjoy the experience!

      • Anna says:

        Haha, yeah. I guess it’s technically a third world country, but at least it isn’t the kind of place where you have to be very worried about your safety (which I think is one of the things that really complicates travel as a young, white-looking woman). You’re going to have to deal with a lot of weird quirks, relatively little connectivity, and some everyday things might be oddly complicated, but just see them as part of the experience. Most places after this are going to seem like a cakewalk. With wifi and English speakers everywhere, Americans are really privileged in most parts of the world in how easy we can get around and experience other countries.

  10. Brittney says:

    I’ve been on many hot holidays. If you’re staying at a resort the entire time, a suitcase is perfect. Bring cash. Make sure you use the safe in the room or have your passport/cash on you AT ALL TIMES. Cuba is a relatively safe country.

    If you hate bland food, consider bringing salt/pepper/preferred seasoning. Cuba has nice seafood but everything else is rice and beans and bland. I’m not a picky eater but I found it difficult to be in Cuba for a week with the food.

    Make sure you take some after sun gel for if you get burnt. Sun hats are great! Also consider taking some standard pharmacy items – advil, tylenol, upset stomach remedies, ect. They have pharmacies but probably not the products you’re used to and if you’re ill, you may not have an opportunity to seek these places out. I would recommend getting a travel clinic or doctor to prescribe a small dose of pills for travelers diarrhea. Gross, I know, but you have to be prepared!!

    Enjoy your vacation!

  11. Liz says:

    Haven’t been to Cuba (what a wonderful first trip abroad!!) but having been to similarly hot and sweaty destinations in Asia:

    -carry on only, at least on the way there — I get excited buying gifts for family, and will often pick up a cheap, cheap bag in-country if I’ve gone nuts — because a lost bag on an international trip is no beuno.
    -bring sunscreen. It’s expensive on location and you don’t always know what you’re really getting (at least, this has been true in SE Asia). Last trip my liquid-ziploc bag was 75% SPF.
    -if you wear contacts, don’t forget to bring saline solution — it is always either remarkably simple or absurdly difficult to find.
    -in my youth I simply wore no makeup — now that my skin is a little less perfect and I’m maybe a little more vain, I bring tinted moisturizer, a vitamin c serum, and waterproof mascara (andddd there goes what little room was left in the liquid bag). You’ll probably sweat off any more makeup anyway.
    -this will depend on where you’re staying, but: anything that can be hand washed and hung dry within 24 hours is useful…especially underwear. Stuff gets sweaty and dusty, and sending out laundry in a hotel can be pricy. If you’ll be walking around a resort rather than walking around the city, this won’t be as important.
    -I like to pack everything in a big backpack, but: again, this will really depend on where you’re staying. If it’s a resort, a wheeled suitcase shouldn’t be a problem.
    -At least two bathing suits, so if one’s wet you have a dry option.
    -Floppy hats look awesome but are terribly impractical to pack.
    -If you don’t want a specific pair of shoes to get sandy, don’t bring ’em. I’m a fan of sandals all the time: your feet will get dirty, but they’ll get dirty in closed-toe shoes, too, and sandals are so much more comfortable!
    -looking back, your favorite pictures will be of you and your friend. Scenery photos are great — my favorite to take — but honestly, better scenery photos can be found online, and I’m always kicking myself for not taking enough solo and group photos.

    I am so, so excited for the two of you! And would love a post on any Cuba-highlights when you get back 🙂 Have a great time — don’t let perfect-packing stress you out too much, though if you’re having any first-time-abroad jitters, debating the virtues of a floppy hat is great place to redirect your anxiety 🙂

    Can’t wait to hear other commenter tips!

  12. Elle says:

    Print off turn by turn walking directions from points of transport (i.e. the airport) to your hotel/important spots. I’m assuming you won’t be able to use your phone there (or shouldn’t) so you won’t have Google maps. You never know where cabs or public transport is going to drop you off and it’s a nice back up. Can’t tell you how long I’ve spent sometimes trying to find my hotel, carrying my luggage, dazed from the plane ride, cursing the world because I just want to be there and put my stuff down! Plus, if you have overall directions, you can tell if a cab is taking you unnecessarily out of the way.

    Also, for electronics, bring a universal charger with a long charge life! Avoid plugging important stuff into the wall even if you have a converter (again, tales from learning the hard way!).

  13. Megan says:

    I went to Jamaica for my first trip this past April. I strongly agree with the few others on here who packed their own medicine- like advil, immodium, and emergen-C, not just for fighting germs on flights but to help with hangovers as well. Also- I bring my own aloe vera bottle as well and have a long sleeve rash guard that I use to protect my pale skin when I go snorkeling.
    I bring extra gallon ziploc bags, so that if there are things that need to be protected from sand while in the beach bag, or if any shells or something from the beach- to protect the rest of your items from sand.
    And cash- depending on where you are staying, I stayed at an all-inclusive, so we needed constant cash to tip all those who helped or served us. Make sure to utilize the safe in the room. And if the two of you are traveling together, you can each take a carry on, and have one person check a bag so if there are a few products that are over 4 ounces, or to fit all those extra shoe options- we checked the bag, but made sure it was filled with items we could actually LIVE WITHOUT while on the trip. And in every bag- either carry on or checked- print off your itinerary copy and place it in the bag, so in case mishandled or lost, your name and place where staying is with the bag.

  14. k-t says:

    Learn to love your hair as-is. It will be too hot and humid to want to deal with heat styling. I find the humid salt air gives me more body than DC humidity, which makes me look like a drowned rat.

    If at all possible, don’t check a bag. The majority of your quart-size baggie should be sunblock. A good sweat-proof one.

    You can use the hotel shampoo for washing clothes in the sink, if necessary.

    Pack knits that are don’t wrinkle too much, and are forgiving of vacation food and drink.

    Good walking shoes. I would skip the heels altogether and just bring dressier flat sandals for evening.

    Lots of good sample packing lists on Pinterest. Search something like “one week island vacation carry-on only”.

  15. Cait says:

    For shorter international trips I’ve had good luck with a carry-on duffle as my major bag. I’ll use a big tote (think chic beach tote) for my personal item and save the hassle of checking luggage through customs. As a bonus, it’s easier to fit a duffle in a crowded overhead bin and I’ve rarely been asked to gate check a non-standard suitcase.
    For power, I’d recommend pairing a simple adapter with a standard power strip/surge protector. This ends up being cheaper and gives you more outlets than the adapter/surge protector combination gadgets as long as you make sure not to overload it.
    For the beach, I’d recommend bringing a Turkish towel like this one
    I’ve found that I don’t always like hotel towels, or that hotels don’t like you to take their towels on the beach. Some in this style are pretty enough to use for a blanket on the plane and thin enough to easily fit in your bag.
    To echo what others have said, I’d choose dresses that you can easily transition from the beach to the town. Crossbody bag, sturdy sandals for walking, a cardigan or wrap if you need it, and you should be set.

  16. SARAH says:

    Hi Belle! So I haven’t been to Cuba (yet!) but have done my fair share of overseas travelling including to the Middle East and Africa (Uganda and Rwanda which has a similar climate to Cuba). However, my first overseas trip was Israel – I went on Birthright in college – so hey, Cuba isn’t too much more adventurous! A few packing tips that I think might be helpful as well as general tips- some of which I’ve learned from friends who have been to Cuba!

    1. Bring strong SPF and DEET bug spray – you’ll definitely want to be protected as possible, that sun gets hot and bugs are fierce in those climates!

    2. Bring cash. Try to plan on using exclusively cash if you can – it’s a developing country and it will be hard to use your card and could be risky (doubtful, but you never know – cash is best, small bills).

    3. For the beach, get one or two great cover-ups that could also double as sundresses

    4. Bring your own meds – Imodium and Pepto especially if you have any sort of stomach issues. I usually pack Advil, bug bite cream, stomach meds, claritin and

    5. Shoot for two bags, tops and a small crossbody. Try not to check but I know lots of people who have checked bags to Cuba, you’ll be as fine as you might be in any other developing country TBH. I always figured if I was able to check bags through Mexico and Rwanda, I could work out checking a bag to anywhere. As I type this, I’m certain the next time I fly and check I’ll lost my bag 🙂

    6. Light jacket – two if you can fit (I like variety). Just in case it’s cooler at night or if it rains.

    7. Consider going with shorter dresses, it will get HOT.

    8. Opt for comfortable shoes and flats! The streets are super old and might not be the best to walk in while wearing heels.

    9. Be careful with any drink with ice in it – some/most places might sanitize their ice at this point but, trust me, be careful. stick to bottled if you can!

    Have fun, you’ll enjoy it! It’s definitely an experience.

    • M says:

      YES to Pepto (I like the tablet, no issues with liquid rule), even if you don’t have stomach issues. On trips abroad, new foods may not always agree with you.

      • Jo says:

        I second that. Always bring stomach meds!

      • Penelope says:

        I am so excited for you! It has been 10 years since I was in Cuba and I am sure things have changed quite a bit in the last few years. Everyone else has given good advice (yes to small kleenex packets of toilet paper and cotton/llinen clothes…less is more) but my one additional (TMI) recommendation is to bring fiber bars/start taking Colace a few days before your visit. I travel to developing countries often for work and I have a very clear memories of the heavy Cuban diet messing with my digestive system for weeks afterwards. I hope have a wonderful learning experience and some adventures along the way.

    • Anna says:

      US ATM cards still aren’t accepted in Cuba, so cash is the only option. You really won’t need a light jacket in Cuba. It’s tropical, like Miami. There aren’t many temperature fluctuations.

  17. SarahT says:

    I would echo most of what has already been suggested and just add this: take a Kindle.
    I used to be one of those people who insisted on hard copies instead of a device, but for trips and flights, it’s SO worth it! Here’s why:
    1) the battery life on a Kindle is ridiculously long compared to a laptop or iPad (I’ve done trans-Atlantic and cross-country flights + 10 day trips on a single charge)
    2) you have more entertainment options as most people can only download a limited number of movies or TV series on a laptop or iPad (especially important if you won’t have internet)
    3) a Kindle is so small and super light
    4) unlike a laptop, flight attendants won’t yell at you to power it down during takeoff and landing (provided it’s in Airplane Mode)
    5) it’s perfect for the beach because the brightness of the screen is suitable for outdoors (unlike a phone) and you don’t have to worry about losing your page in the wind, sand, etc.

    Oh, and Cottonelle wipes 🙂

    • Gabrielle says:

      I recommend you bring a book and a magazine for the plane and then give them to fellow travelers or your host when you get to the destination. For the rest of the trip, use your eReader, Kindle wins hands down for battery life, or iPad if you don’t have a Kindle.

      Your local library should have an eBook lending option, so you can stock up (20 books from my library) for free! And you can download new ones easily if you need, mid-trip.

      Baby wipes for your face, washing your hands, and in case there isn’t any TP.

  18. Meg says:

    I hope this trip gives you the travel bug! My best life experiences have been trips overseas. Be smart (as always) but try to be flexible and open, some things may not go according to plan and sometimes going off plan results in the best experiences.

    Echo the recommendation for a crossbody, hat and comfortable walking shoes, makes it so much easier with all the walking, exploring and sun. Bring clothes that are comfortable and breathe well. Use your itinerary to help you pack – I just got back from Hawaii and definitely overpacked nice dresses and underpacked casual beach clothes. You’ll need more sunscreen and less make up/hair products than you think with the heat and humidity. My skin and hair love the break from heavy make up and heat. Bring a heavy moisturizer (I slather glossier’s moon mask) for the long flight. I also highly recommend noise canceling headphones, you never know when you’ll be seated behind people carrying on loud conversations or crying babies.

    My one packing regret from my recent Hawaii trip – not investing in a Go Pro. Lots of fun adventures that I would have loved to capture. Depends on the type of trip you’re taking!

    HAVE FUN! Hope you’ll post about your trip.

  19. Minnesota says:

    I was in Cuba for 11 days this June. It was amazing. We were on a trip that went all around the island and did not stay in tourist hotels. The Cuban government only allows very limited private enterprise, but people can establish restaurants and lodging in their homes. That is mostly where we stayed and ate. We did go to a tourist beach hotel one afternoon and it was like all inclusive tourist resort in Mexico (except there were jellyfish and one of our friends got a bad sting).

    A few specific tips.

    We did not need adapters for any of our electronics.

    There were very few places with decent wifi, and no free wifi. Even at the tourist resort you had to purchase a card for wifi by the hour.

    Verizon has the only real cellular network on the island. Calls are expensive. Data is more expensive. But it worked nearly everywhere.

    The weather is like south Florida–hot, warm in the evenings and the sun is strong.

    You will need cash–Canadian dollars, US dollars or Euros–to exchange at the airport on your arrival. America credit cards generally do not work and it is still very much a cash economy.

    Much of the island is stunningly beautiful. Havana is a gorgeous city that is falling into ruin.

    As tropical countries go it is very safe–theft but hardly any violent crime.

    Feel free to email if you more info.

  20. Addie says:

    Be extra aware of your surroundings and your belongings to avoid being the victim of pick pockets. Also, Cuba is a developing country so it’s a good idea to be extra vigilant about your health and safety. On my return flight from Mexico, a very ill American woman who had to seek treatment at a Mexican hospital went into respiratory arrest due to the treatment she’d recieved. The tap water is also not reliably safe (although it will be if you’re staying at a resort) and don’t forget that ice is likely made with tap water. Make sure to check whether the CDC recommends any extra vaccines before visiting Cuba

  21. Sara says:

    I would definitely appreciate a blog post about traveling in Cuba when you get back as I want to go! Only thing I generally recommend is to pack your bags with some sort of mechanism that makes it harder for a thief to grab items out of it. For example, my Osprey backpack has a bunch of zippers and adjusters with clips so I loop the zipper pull through the adjuster straps and secure everything with a hair tie and put a clip over all of it. The idea is to make it harder for someone to just run up, unzip your bag, and grab anything out of it. I also second the idea on writing down memories in a journal. I did that when traveling in China for 5 weeks. So grateful to go back and read things I’d long forgotten.

  22. Melinda says:

    I live in South Florida – aka North Cuba. Plan on loose-fitting clothes, hats, beach hair, and water purifier tablets might be good. Also, we have major Zika concerns going on here. I would recommend serious bug spray. And I agree with the medicine recommendations. Have a great time!

    • Anon says:

      Specific bug spray recommendation: Off! Deep Woods towelettes/wipes with DEET. We took these on a safari and now use the leftovers for hiking around our house because they work so well. And have been safe for me to use throughout pregnancy.

      I also recommend checking out Athleta and the like for any clothes you might need to purchase. Any of their quick dry hiking or active-y wear is helpful and can be washed in a sink and dry overnight – helpful if you’re switching hotels quite a bit on the trip. It’s amazing what hotels will charge you for laundry, even if the rest of the items are super cheap (hello $75 couples massage for 60 min in Zanzibar!) .

    • Anna says:

      I bought mosquito repellent bracelets on Amazon before a recent trip to Thailand. The ones I got look like leather, so they’re a little hippyish for my tastes, but don’t look like a 5 year old’s slap bracelet. They last for two weeks after opening. I also got DEET wipes. Mosquitos weren’t a huge problem (except at one airport bathroom where there were at least six in the stall alone), but I didn’t get any bites the whole trip.

  23. Tess says:

    Hey Belle, I also took my first international trip to Cuba last year and would be happy to give you advice or answer any questions you have. It was an amazing experience. Feel free to email me or I can email you directly.

  24. Victoria says:

    Just dropping in to say, embrace the backpack. No, don’t cringe. Give it a second. I live that backpack life, even when I’m traveling for business, even when I’m traveling with my boss. I love the peace of mind that comes with not worrying about checked luggage and having my hands free at all times. I’m sure you don’t live the hiking backpack life, and for business, neither do I. I have a Timbuk2, all black, that is very similar to the Aviator Travel Pack. You can definitely fit a weeks worth of warm weather clothes and 4 days of cold weather clothes. With any travel backpack, you want a clamshell opening as the top-loading packs force you to dig through them. Also, backpacks are measured in liters. You can definitely fit a 45L backpack in an overhead bin even on the strictest airlines. I have a 55L that I’ve never had issues with and a 65L that will fit if it’s not stuffed full. All of my packs have the hip belt, for comfort, but it does make them look hike-y.

    If you’d prefer a roller, I still recommend a backpack as your carry on or personal item. If the backpack is your personal item, it needs to fit underneath a seat. Any laptop sized bag will do it and there are way more stylish options for those. I’m also considering a convertible bag, you know, just for myself. Bu there is nothing is worse than your cross body bag slipping while you’re pulling a roller or walking up stairs with a suitcase in one hand and a tote bag falling off your shoulder. The freer your are, the better, because struggling makes you look like a target.

    Don’t bring your laptop/iPad, you won’t use them anyway. Bring a Kindle — it doesn’t hurt so much to lose/break a $100 reader. Also accept that your hot rollers will do you no good and will take up unnecessary space. Buy a couple travel sized mousses. Embrace the beach hair.

  25. Ruchita says:

    Lots of great tips already. Here’s what I can think of from my last international trip.

    1. If you’re checking a bag, make sure to pack a change of clothes and toiletries in your carry-on. If I’m traveling to the beach, I always pack my swimsuit and cover up in the carry on.

    2. Packing cubes! I got mine from Amazon. They really help keep things organized.

    3. Use contact lens cases to store liquids like face wash and moisturizer instead of having to bring the entire container.

    4. Most hotels have hair dryers. They’re not always the best quality so bring your own if it takes a long time to dry your hair. I don’t need much drying time so I only bring my flat iron.

    5. You can get electrical adapters on Amazon for styling tools and electronics chargers. It helps to have multiples of these.

    6. Call your bank to notify them of overseas travel. I’m not sure what Cuba is like, but in Europe I use my check card to get Euros from the ATM.

    7. Sunscreen. Make sure it’s not expired.

    8. Cross body bag. I have one from Le Sportsac that I got from Zappos.

    9. When packing, I try to pack one outfit per day and then one for night. Most times, I end up wearing the same thing the entire day. I’m not a shorts person, so I’ll wear a comfortable dress and sandals.

    10. Sunglasses and a hat if you have room.

    11. If you’re concerned about weight restrictions on checked luggage, you can buy a travel luggage scale. I found mine in the checkout aisle of TJ Maxx of all places and it works great!

    12. For long flights where I know I’ll want to sleep, I like those foam, u-shaped neck pillows.

    13. I always get cold on flights so I bring a big sweater or scarf to cover up.

    Have fun and looking forward to seeing your trip report!

  26. Tonya says:

    Hi Belle,

    I’d like to add to bring ear plugs (just in case your room is over a noisy spot like the pool side bar), sanitizing wipes, a few of your favorite snacks – kind granola bars, pack of nuts, etc. (you do NOT want to end up paying $5 for chips because you felt peckish at the beach), and a reusable nylon Baggu bag – it can serve as your tote to the beach (and super easy to clean out any sand) or if you guys stop at the market, a bag to hold your fruits and veggies. Oh and bring loads of patience. 🙂 In the US when served food we’re served quickly; however, in the Caribbean, meals are typically very social so the food comes out sometimes at a glacial pace. If you’re drinking, chatting, and relaxing, you’ll be enjoying yourself so much you won’t take much notice. Have fun!!

  27. Erika says:

    Such great advice above and best of luck on your trip (so jealous!).
    While a few mentioned laundry, and it’s a great idea for some things, who wants to be doing laundry while on vacation. My best travel advice is to clean out your underwear drawer when traveling. Bring all your “period panties” or just the uncomfortable extras you still have but never wear (we all have them, right?) and throw them in the garbage after you wear them that day. You lighten your bag, don’t have to worry about toting dirty panties around, and clean out your underwear drawer in the process. It’s a win-win!

  28. Denise says:

    I have not been to cuba, and haven’t flown to a beach location in over 5 years (gah, my vacations need an upgrade!), so I will focus on airport / general travel tips.
    (1) I second the Kindle recommendation My battery lasts FOREVER and its easier to read than a phone or ipad, especially in the sun
    (2) My preferred luggage combo is a large tote and a carry-on size spinner. After having a bad experience in June I now no longer check bags when traveling internationally. The tote can sit on the spinner and you can tool around the airport with ease – bags with 2 wheels get uncomfortable to lug behind you quickly.
    (3) You’ll want a crossbody purse with a zipper close to walk around your destination. Totes are so easy to pickpocket!
    (4) Pack travel size containers of Tylenol, cold medicine, etc., as you cannot pick that kind of thing up at the grocery store in many countries and the ‘pharmacies’ are not well stocked and have crappy hours.

    Have fun!

  29. Kat says:

    No specific travel tips (besides have fun!) but Cuba is on my travel list for 2017. Would love to see a recap of your experience on the blog after the trip.

  30. Kayleigh says:

    I love the inflatable neck pillows. They take up almost no space (especially compared to the beanie ones), can be packed in your bag / don’t touch things at the airport (I was always dropping my beanie neck pillow or it would touch airport seats, etc.), and you can adjust how firm / soft you’d like it to be. Super inexpensive and a total game changer in my opinion.

  31. stephanie says:

    Haven’t been to Cuba, but I went to Turks and Caicos in July, Belize in 2015, and have traveled extensively in Asia, Europe and Central America. I’ll try not to repeat what others have said:

    -Don’t spray DEET on your feet while your sandals are on– it will ruin them and some of the sandal will stick to your foot. Spray barefoot, then put your shoes on. Note that there are DEET wipes you can bring that can be in your carryon without triggering the liquid restriction.

    -invest in sturdy walking sandals. Naot makes some that aren’t hideous and you’ll be so glad to have the good sole and support if you need to walk on uneven streets, especially if you get a little lost and have to go an extra mile or so. Also bring more pool friendly flip flops. Don’t take up packing space with high heel wedges, no matter how cute they’re going to look with your sundress, etc. Total waste, not comfortable for walking long distances. Unless you’re getting dropped off at a five star resort and don’t plan on moving much, which I doubt.

    -Loose linen pants. Sometimes covering up is good for sun and bugs. Also Lululemon studio capris, not sure if they still sell them. They’re like a looser fit, quick drying material.

    -Probiotics– start now. Go to like Whole Foods or something and tell them you’re traveling, they’ll hook you up. Helps fortify you against stomach problems. Drink only bottled water and drinks, no ice, stick with freshly cooked food and fruits and veggies that you can peel, boil or bake.

    -OMG don’t bring your hot rollers. Insane for real travel. Check the voltage type for any flatirons or curling irons– they may not work and it may ruin them. Bring ponytail holders and a cute baseball cap. Seriously. As someone else said, they’ll have a hair dyer so bring a round brush.

    -Canvas or fabric crossbody purse. I have one from Lululemon that’s black fabric, basically waterproof, fits a ton but isn’t big. I love it. I also throw in a tiny thin clutch for going out to dinner.

    -Pare down your makeup– you won’t want it when it’s so hot anyway. I do tinted moisturizer, bronzer, mascara, maybe throw in an eyeliner.

    -Same for jewelry. I pick a delicate necklace/pendant, tiny studs, and my watch/rings. I pack like one pair of bigger earrings and maybe a long or more prominent necklace.

    -No denim. Too hot and takes forever to dry in the humidity. One pair of jean shorts is ok though.

    -the outfit for a flight to a super hot place should be something layered– maybe capri pants or leggings of some sort, tshirt, and a thin cardigan. I use a Splendid waffle knit draped cardigan for this. Sometimes I wear tennis shoes if I know I’ll want to bring some but don’t want them taking up luggage space.

    If you’ll be going to the beach, bring a small bag to put sunscreen and stuff in. Like a little foldable canvas tote or one of those drawstring bags.

    Have a great time! Travel is addictive- watch out!

  32. Michelle says:

    I second what others have said about making copies of your important documents, and want to add that you should leave original documents in your safe and carry around the photocopy of your passport when you’re out of the hotel so you have ID on you.
    I recently got back from Colombia where Zika is an issue. I’m not sure the accuracy of the rumors, but I packed carry-on bug spray because I’d read that full size bottles were going “missing” when luggage was inspected.

  33. Becca says:

    Belle! Looks like you aren’t short of advice here, but as a frequent international traveler and beach goer, my best piece of advice is to BRING LESS CLOTHING. I’m somehow always less stressed on the trip when I bring LESS — this means you have less to choose from and less to carry. And somehow I always end up re-wearing the same things at the beach.

    Just make sure to have:
    A wide brimmed hat that is tight on your head
    A cover up T shirt that is cotton and covers your shoulder and chest (I use J Crew vintage Ts as cover ups at the beach — they make so many cute cover ups yet they never seem to actually protect your shoulders and chest from the sun and never seem to wash well)
    Lots of sunscreen (I never trust sunscreen bought in other countries…)
    Photo copies of your travel documents & passport!

    Have fun!

  34. Larissa says:

    1 – roll your clothes!
    2 – layers are your friend
    3 – make a copy of your passport to keep somewhere else in case something happens to it. Email it to yourself too before you go
    4 – bring your own bugspray, sunscreen etc.
    5 – everything toiletry item wise in a ziploc bag is key for your checked luggage

    My inlaws went to Cuba in March, I’ll get recommendations from them.

    Finally, TSA Pre is a must if you can get it in time!

  35. Kate says:

    Exciting! I did a 3 week sailing trip in the Caribbean earlier this year, but we were a lot further south than Cuba. Same advice as everyone else: bring cash and don’t plan on using credit cards, DEET bug spray (maybe even treating clothes with DEET before leaving- there is a DEET wash you can use), plenty of sunscreen, bring your own meds. I know everyone is saying “carry on only! no checked bags!” but that can be hard when you want the good, trusty sunscreen and hella powerful bug spray. Especially with the threat of Zika! So, my advice: check a bag to circumvent the liquid rule BUT take a small suitcase. You need way, way less than you think you do!!

    Keep in mind that the amount of sunscreen you’ll be applying will ruin a nice bathing suit, so don’t bother bringing something pricey. I always take a couple cheap Target or Victoria’s Secret bikinis and mix and match. Bring your Clarisonic to really get the beach gunk and sunscreen off at the end of the day. Bring a small, foldable towel that can work as a wrap, too- Turkish towels are perfect for this ($30 on Amazon). Actual beach towels take up so much room! We always bring a small toiletry bag filled with meds and med supplies- pepto chewables, afrin, advil, alcohol wipes + bandaids, medical tape, etc. Easy to throw in bag. A small, foldable tote (Baggu or whatever) is great to have on hand while traveling in case you pick up something at the market or need to tote more stuff around. Beach totes look super cute but take up a ton of room in suitcase. I pack a lot of things in Ziplocks and use them throughout the trip to carry around sunscreen, snacks, waterproof something in a pinch (good for beach!). Bring a kindle!!! So much better than lugging around books, and it’s not the end of the world if it gets stolen. For the Caribbean, you really, really, really don’t need as much clothing as you think. Seriously, half of whatever you’re planning on. A few tops, couple pairs of shorts, some bathing suits, a couple dresses and like two pairs of shoes. I usually pack a couple unfussy sundresses and wear those as both street clothes and cover ups. It’s a different way of life down there, and literally nobody will notice if you repeat outfits.Tourists who are too done up look silly, feel self conscious, and make themselves an easy target for crime.

    My husband and I are super light packers- we did our three week trip with one duffel and one backpack between the two of us and didn’t feel like we needed anything else. I’m projecting here, but I imagine it’s hard for a blogger to do that since every blogger I follow seems to have the “right” accessories (those big sun hats with words on them, 6 cute beach totes, a million cover ups). Whenever I see that, I just feel so sad for them! Not only would it be a pain in the ass to keep track of all of that, but it’s such a “keeping up with the Joneses” situation. I hope you enjoy your trip and don’t worry about any of that (that was the projecting part!).

    Best piece of advice: if you have a medical condition, learn how to say it in the native language OR carry something with you that explains it in the native language. I have allergies to two common antibiotics and I never travel abroad without knowing how to tell doctors that!

    I had to laugh about the hot rollers. If you haven’t spent much time at a beach, you have no idea how your hair will react. Don’t fuss with heat styling in this type of climate, it’ll be ruined before you even leave the bathroom. You may think you know humid from DC, but it’s totally different down there! Embrace the sexy, beachy, natural waves! Or throw it back into a bun. Tourists with super styled hair look goofy. Same thing with your skin- it’ll react differently that you’d expect, don’t worry about trying to fix it and just embrace it.

    Finally, Hitha On The Go is a great blog with a ton of travel and packing tips. Check it out:

  36. Cait says:

    How exciting!

    I travel overseas often for work (not as fun as it may sound and definitely no beaches) but these are my top travel items:

    -noise cancelling headphones (in reality, depends on how long of a flight, if shorter, you will survive, anything over 4 hours, I have to have them)
    -scarf on plane and for heavily air conditioned buildings
    -FOOD – snacks like crackers and peanut butter, granola bars, anything you might want to munch on but not always readily available
    -leave your itinerary and copy of your passport front page with a trusted relative or friend (I leave it with my husband or my mom) just in case (better safe than sorry and it takes literally 2 min to do)
    -outlet adapters (not sure what Cuba uses but if you buy the smaller ones, I like to bring at least 2 to charge multiple things like phone and laptop)
    -Meds like Tylenol, Imodium AD (seriously, don’t forget that one)
    -If its going to be that special time of the month, don’t forget those items (found out the hard way on that one once – side note to anyone traveling to India – tampons are hella hard to find there)
    -I’m sure you’ve got your luggage situation covered. I always bring a carry-on and if you have to check a bag, make sure you’ve got a change of clothes with you
    – I love Flight 001 packing cases but check your airlines weight limits (international flights are stricter about carry on weight limits, in my experience)
    -easy on logos, you’ll stand out as it is, no need to make yourself a bigger target
    -cash for tipping, cabs and restaurants (check to see what the situation is on using credit cards at Cuban restaurants, you might find the area you’re going to is heavily cash only)
    -Call your credit card companies and put a travel notice on your cards so they work
    -extra camera card
    -check to see if your hotel has a hairdryer in room, no need to lug one if you don’t need to
    -when traveling to a 3rd world country, I usually just bring a disposable toothbrush and throw it out at the end of my trip. Read up on water practices (like keeping your mouth shut in the shower, only using bottled water to brush your teeth, etc)

    Have fun!!

  37. Megan says:

    I’ve never been to Cuba, but do have some experience with third world country traveling. Here are a few tips from what I’ve learned:
    1) Bring a cross body purse to be safe and avoid pickpockets. I took a money belt with me on my first trip and found it really unrealistic to use. No one wants to pull up their shirt to get money out…
    2) Learn a few basic phrases. People will appreciate the effort and treat you nicer because of it.
    3) Bring a bag that can fold into itself. It’s a life saver to have in your purse while you are out exploring a city.
    4) If you plan on using a debit card, remember to call your bank. Let them know you’ll be in Cuba (or any other country including layovers) that you wish to use the card in. That way they won’t accidentally freeze it.
    5) Remember that whatever you forget, you can always buy. Really! It may not be your favorite band but stores will carry whatever sunscreen, advil, sweater, etc… that you end up forgetting.

    • Minnesota says:

      Re: your number 5.

      In my experience that was not true in Cuba. In many of the cities where we traveled there were no stores with basic items and no tourist hotels. Perhaps if you are staying at beach resorts that target European tourists you will be able to find basic toiletries but in my experience traveling across the island there are many things that you just cannot find. Cuba was very different from other places I have traveled in this regard.

  38. IRMcK says:

    Repeating the advice to have copies of all your important documents, both with you and with a trusted friend of family member back home. Also make sure to leave your hotel/lodging information with them. (I also like to let my friends on Hill know where I’m traveling).

    For Cuba, be aware that your American debit cards may not yet work in the ATMs, so make sure to bring enough small bills to get where you need to go.

    It may not yet be available for Cuba, but for all other internal travel, I register with the State Department ( You put in your travel dates, your lodging, and how to reach you. If there is an emergency in country (Mother Nature or Man-made), the US Citizens who have registered are the State Department’s first priority for aid. Fortunately, this has never been needed, but it’s free and easy to do.

    You’ll need fewer clothes than you think you will. You’ll need more OTC medicine/ feminine hygiene products than you think you will. (Tampons are often difficult to find in drugstores in conservative countries, and I’ve heard of them being used as currency). Sunscreen, bugspray, benadryl, cortisone, advil, tums, Pepto. I use the Off! wipes, since that doesn’t count as a liquid and I can put oh so much of it in my carryon.

    Once in country, I leave my Lo&Sons in the hotel and use a special crossbody travel purse with a pickpocket resistant lock when we’re out and about. Mine also has wires built into the lining so it can’t just be slashed, but I think that’s more marketing than actually needed (it obviously worked on me). For clothes, Road Warriorette has some of the best advice – you will want to use the capsule wardrobe idea so you can wear the same things a bunch without making it obvious. But make sure it’s all clothing that is forgiving and extra comfortable. Between the flights, eating strange food and walking around a lot, retaining water is pretty normal. I’m happiest when I’m not dealing with a tight waistband on top of other travel stuff.

    Good luck, don’t stress, and have fun! The best part of travel is realizing that while many things may look different, people all over the world are really, really similar.

  39. Meg Danger says:

    I don’t have anything ground-breaking to contribute… but I always travel with baby-wipes. They are great for a re-fresh on the plane, and also for general hygiene if you are not sure about the plumbing when you get to Cuba. Have a wonderful trip Belle.

    • Lindsay says:

      Yes. Seconded. Baby wipes are the best. They can double as face wipes (body wipes on super long flights), hand sanitizers, stain lifters, and toilet paper (many places in Asia don’t stock public bathrooms).

  40. Gina says:

    Having lived in India, China, Israel and other places (haven’t traveled to Cuba yet though! Very excited for you!) I second a lot of what has already been said travel hair/makeup wise. Less is more, you’ll have a lot of other things to keep you busy so fussing with hair and makeup won’t be high on your list. Also its very hard to anticipate how your hair will do in any given climate so don’t stress too much on that – up-dos, hats, and dry shampoo are your friend! I also completely agree with bringing your own over-the-counter meds, not only because it could be impossible to find your trusted brands but also because in a pinch you don’t want to have to go out and shop around for something when you need it.

    If you do check a bag, pack a change of clothes/underwear in your carry on. I have taken to always packing my essentials (prescription medications, contacts replacements, etc) in my carry on in the event that my bags are lost or delayed. When I travel internationally, I don’t use any specific luggage when I check my bags for travel and have managed to do fine. Its never a bad idea, however, to pack a collapsable duffel in the event you do a lot of shopping:

    Bring flats, and only flats. I have never been in a situation abroad where i wished I had on heels, or where heels were the only appropriate option. I have, however, wished time and time again that I had brought more comfortable shoes. I know your stance on Tieks as daily wear shoes, but I have had great luck traveling with them in Europe and elsewhere – the cushion and collapsibility have been a life saver at times. I generally take a sneaker, ballet flat, and sandal or two depending on where I am going and how much room I have. In addition to anti-chafe sticks/spray, you may also want to consider blister band aids since shoes can fit differently in different weather/after flights:

    Although it will likely be hot in Cuba, bring light layers to pile on if desired and carry a cover up and/or scarf with you in your bag. You may be in areas where you wish you could cover yourself more (public squares, public transportation, etc) or ducking in to churches or religious sites where it would be disrespectful to be uncovered.

    Cuba’s national currency has gone through a lot of back and forth changes, so I’m not sure if this currently applies, but future travel info: Exchange money beforehand as rates can be high in resort areas/airports and banks can be hard to find at times. Even if you are staying at a resort that is all-inclusive, bring local currency to tip staff in their own currency. It doesn’t matter that the USD is stronger – tip the equivalent in local currency – if you are a local you still have to go exchange the money to make it count and there are often fees and other costs such as time.

    I also always have a reliable back up charger with me in my bag during the day. Especially when living in India and using Uber to get around, you never want to be without a charged phone in case of emergencies. I have this one (as well as in the larger dual port size) and love it:

    Importantly, I feel like I cannot stress this enough as I currently work in public health and do some Zika-specific work: Carry a DEET based repellent and protect yourself. I have no shame being the person in DC spraying their legs on the sidewalk before I dine outside, forcing my boyfriend to do the same, or stopping multiple times on a recent hike in Hawaii to re-apply bug spray. There is so much we do not yet know about Zika, and protecting yourself also protects others.

    Finally, its ok to experience culture shock and travel fatigue. Listen to your body and nap if needed. You don’t have to do it all, and often times FOMO stress isn’t worth it when you are competing with other personal needs in a new cultural context. Try new things – you really don’t know what you do and do not like unless you dive in – and you will have more fun looking back and saying ‘wow, that food was terrible’ or ‘I looked so dumb dancing that night!’ then not even giving yourself the chance to fully experience your trip. Most of the time you will surprise yourself and find a new part of your personality come out 🙂

    Hope you have easy and safe travels, and make wonderful memories!

    • T says:

      Actually, the state controls the exchange rate, so it’ll be the same wherever you change money in Cuba. It’s about a dollar to dollar exchange rate, and I believe they just did away with the 10% fee on exchanging American dollars. Get CUCs, no pesos. We had an Air BnB host who wanted American dollars, but generally anyone you encounter will want CUCs.

  41. Sof says:

    If you’re going to a resort that includes bottomless drinks, I recommend bringing your own (large) refillable water bottle. The trick to the all-inclusive resorts is that their bar cups are TINY, so unless you bring your own big cup you’ll be headed back to the bar for refills constantly.

    On my last international beach trip, I found that the item I packed that I used the LEAST was my giant floppy hat. Plus, it took up a ton of space in my suitcase. I’ll ditch it the next time around, but I also LOVE to get some sun on my hair, so you do you.

    Bring TONS of sunscreen and aloe vera. I thought I packed plenty for my last international beach trip, and ended up paying an arm and a leg for an extra bottle at the resort that lasted for–I kid you not–three uses. Bogus.

    If there’s any chance that you might want to rest your knees/feet/head at any point, I love refillable ice bags for travel (something like this: I can’t vouch for the specific one at the link, but I love mine and use it frequently for travel since I have a bum knee that gets aggravated after sitting on airplanes. The ice pack is collapsible + easy to pack. If you have any meds that need to be kept cool on the beach, it’s also great for that purpose (I also use it for my insulin).

  42. La Florida says:

    Bring mosquito repellent that is strong enough to work, but smells nice enough you can stand to wear it all the time. Also, After Bite gel, Benadryl cream, Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide, and band aids. Heck, bring the whole first aid kit for good measure.

  43. Caitlin says:

    One thing no one has mentioned yet, if you’re planning on taking tons of pictures (and I hope you are!), check what you’re photographing very carefully. It’s easy for tourists to get swept up in the “quaintness” of an impoverished country and not remember that the adorably painted shack with the cute little girl sitting in front of it is actually someone’s daughter sitting outside their home. It should go without saying to NEVER take photos of people without the person’s express permission, and make sure you aren’t that tourist constantly waving around your phone/camera.
    I’m sure you’re very respectful and wouldn’t do any of these things, but it’s my soapbox so I had to say it. I’ve seen too many pictures where local people (especially children) are just props in the background of vacation photos and aren’t recognized as actual humans. I’ve also gotten in very uncomfortable conversations with people (usually in a language I don’t speak well) when a traveling companion snapped a picture without their permission. In some cases, showing them that we deleted the photo sufficed, but in others we ended up having to pay them, and one time local law enforcement got involved. Be smart. Take pictures of landmarks, the beach, and especially you and your friend. But remember that real people live there and they aren’t just part of the scenery.

    • Anna says:

      Love this. Being half Cuban (though very much in support of opening relations), it bugs me that some people look at Cuba like some sort of freak show to gawk at. I hope people who go, don’t just ooh and aah at the old cars and crumbling colonial architecture but actually consider that this is still a country under a communist regime with a questionable human rights record where personal freedoms remain severely limited.

      • Belle says:

        I certainly felt a little conflicted about going given the political and human rights record. But I thought this was a good chance to experience the country before Disney and Marriott loot and pillage. It’s one of the reasons we’re only spending 1.5 days in Havana. We wanted to see more of the country than just what the gov’t wants us to see.

        • Anna says:

          That’s good to hear. Don’t get me wrong, my personal view is that while some of the money you spend in going there will go to a corrupt regime, it also goes into everyday people’s pockets, especially if you’re staying at AirBnBs, eating at paladares, etc. I hope you enjoy the country and meet lots of interesting people!

      • Belle says:

        Caitlin, I’ve noticed this too when bloggers go to Peru and other countries. It really bugs me. I’m not much of a photo taker, so it’s not really a concern for me. But the last thing I would want is to be one of the poverty tourists I see popping up on Instagram. I think it’s a good tip.

  44. JNick says:

    I second everything others have said already related to:

    – Fewer pieces of clothes than you intuitively think you’ll need, particularly shorts/skirts/bottoms/anything that isn’t legitimately gross after 1-2 wears. Versatility is your friend. The exception here is underwear; no one regrets having extras on hand. You’ll be elevated as a saint if you’re travelling with girl friends and end up being the one to save someone else on this front.
    – Kindle–I’m normally not a fan and only break mine out to save space while traveling. It’s huge, proverbially.
    – Decent flip flops and good walking/hiking shoes are really all you need for footwear unless you have nicer dinners or activities planned.
    – Mini medicine cabinet to cover stomach stuff, headaches, blisters, lips, sunburns, germs, etc
    – Extra phone charger/battery
    – As few beauty/hair products as possible. Hard to leave these things behind but I usually find that my hair, skin, and mind actually all end up enjoying the break.

    These things may have been mentioned but I didn’t notice while I was skimming:

    – Waterproof money/ID/credit card holder case–they’re not glamorous, but it’s good to play it safe with things like room keys, credit cards, and cash, assuming you and your friend may want to go swimming at the same time at some point. Amazon has a good assortment for under $10.
    – Insulated water bottle or thermos. Sounds like you may want to mostly stick to bottled drinks, but insulated containers are still nice for A) filling at the airport en route B) filling with and keeping cold bottled water or juice C) distinguishing your drink from other people’s–sounds silly, but I’ve woken up from short in-flight/poolside naps before to find my water bottle and my neighbor’s suspiciously close. Can’t ever bring myself to guess.


  45. Krista says:

    I know some people mentioned bug spray- That is a MUST! Living in Texas, I always hate putting bug spray on. I hate the smell and the airplane liquid rule makes packing it a hassle. My boss introduced me to these bug spray cwipes a few years ago and I love them!

  46. Kimiko says:

    It would be a good idea to consider waterproof eye makeup (if you decide to wear any). The most important thing I would do, though, is watch the forecast. Hurricane season isn’t over yet. No need to panic–most likely nothing will happen, but tropical depressions/storms often do happen. They don’t typically last a long time, but it’s a good excuse to have some backup plans for indoor activities. Have a great time, Belle!!!

  47. Tricia says:

    Beach hat, cute sunnies, a beach towel (believe it or not, it is nice to have your own too!), plastic baggies to store electronics in if you take them to the beach! Have so much fun!

  48. meaghan says:

    Reapply sunscreen often – I’m talking 60 minutes, maybe 90 minutes max. Especially if it’s cloudy. The sun is so much stronger that far south. That kind of sunburn can ruin a trip, and then to top it off, cause uneven skin tone for months. Don’t forget your ears and part/hairline.

    I also keep a travel size baby powder in my beach bag – sprinkle it on to wipe off sand.

    A turkish towel is great for the beach because it’s thin and will dry more quickly in the humidity.

    Have a blast!

  49. Nellie says:

    Sunscreen sunscreen sunscreen. You’ll be closer to the equator than you’ve ever been and will be surprised at how quickly you burn.

  50. Lisa says:

    I traveled to Cuba with my church in 2010. You don’t state whether you’re traveling business class or not so I’ll give you my advice based on my very basic accommodations. Definitely bring gifts for the locals: clothing and toiletries are always appreciated. In fact, I left all of my clothes and toiletries for my hosts when I left. Take toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Bathroom facilities may be very basic. Water is VERY precious on the island. So bring whatever you need to keep your showers VERY short. DO NOT DRINK THE WATER. And bring imodium just in case. Your meals will largely be meat and beans and rice. So bring snacks accordingly. I was offered lots of fruit for breakfast but really missed salads and veggies! Bring gifts for kids. Small packs of crayons, glow sticks etc. Prepare yourself to appreciate home, but also appreciate how Cubans are very happy with less.

  51. TKANE says:

    Hi there! I have traveled overseas a ton , did a stint living in Europe, AND i went to CUBA this summer. Here are my tips:

    1. start taking probiotics before the trip and bring some with you. You never know how your tummy will react, and it’s best to prepare for the worst by planning ahead.

    2. bring a lot of cash, just in case. It can be hard to find ATMs that take american cards, and you might spend more cash than you think…trust me, we only had enough money to get back to the airport at the end of our trip…not good. And cuba isn’t really that cheap compared to the US.

    3. PACK LIGHT. if you dont pay to get a special car, and you are just taking “taxis”, they are usually small cars.

    4. If someone offers to show you around, or tells you to follow them, dont do it, they are scammers and might bring you to a tourist trap type of restaurant with high tourist prices.

    5. We had a tour guide for a day, and he picked us up from the airport, gave us a cell phone and gave us a tour of havana. SO WORTH IT. His name is Elio, his email is

    6. Spend a day wandering old havana, there is a ton of art and shops and good restaurants.

    7. Go to La Guardita, the best restaurant in Cuba in the most beautiful building (we couldn’t get a reservation, but Elio had an in and got us one).

    8. Spend a night out at Fabrica de Arts. AWESOME!!!

    9. There is a huge indoor market for art and souvenirs in old havana. Must go to pick up cheap buys, but be prepared to hear “Mira Mira” (“look look”) a million times…you’ll see.

    10. Don’t expect your US cell phones to work anywhere, and internet is what we had in 1995…so yeah you wont be getting wifi anywhere.

    I would add, talk to people! People are happy to talk and discuss the revolution. No better way to learn than to travel and make an effort to commingle with the locals. Might give you an interesting perspective on the US and world!

    • Minnesota says:

      Fabrics de Artes was fabulous!! Where all the hip young people from Havana go (definitely NOT a tourist trap).

      • Blair says:

        Ooh I left recommendations below, but a third vote for Fabrica! Its a really interesting venue that’s a combined art gallery and bar. Have dinner at El Cocinero first, which is directly next door and delicious.

  52. *cracks knuckles* I have written a ton of posts on packing lightly. Never to Cuba, but I have been to very hot countries in the middle of summer (Spain, Portugal, etc)

    10 Rules to Packing Efficiently and Minimally

    Bare Bones Packing List

    Packing with a single carryon for 2 months

    Tips when packing a suitcase

    Perfect Carryon Essentials

    Bare Bones Packing List


  53. Jess says:

    I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said, but just this – don’t even take your debit card. Take a credit card. If something gets stolen and charges get run up, you don’t want your checking account to be all hung up because t takes the banks a while to credit your account back. When we travel outside the US, we do everything on a credit card. And definitely call the bank and let them know you’re traveling – they WILL freeze your account if there is a question. Have a great trip!

  54. Lucy says:

    I, too, am a hot roller junky…I bring these for travel:

    With the humidity (I imagine) in Cuba, they probably won’t help during the day, but good for in a pinch when you want to look nice at dinner.

    Tuckernuck also has a wonderful packable sun hat that is great for the beach. Roberta Roller Rabbit makes my favorite coverups (the chicest tunics on earth).

    I also get a gel pedicure before beach trips to make sure my toes stay shiny and clean when I’m in sandals nonstop.

    Can’t wait to hear about your trip! Enjoy 😀

  55. maureen says:

    The key to traveling with ease is taking only what you need. Don’t over pack. It only weighs you down. Think you only wear 10% of your clothes most of the time. Same applies to packing. Take one rolling carry on bag. You’ll be amazed at home much you can fit in there. Not the most stylish, but I always travel with a Kavu bag. It’s the perfect all day bag for site seeing, hiking, beaching, etc. You’ll be amazed at how much you can fit in there as well. Check out the youtube packing videos. For night, you can use a small over the shoulder bag or clutch for cash/lipstick/phone. I highly recommend eBags packing cubes. Keeps like things together and organized. Take cheep/old underwear that you can throw away after use. Frees up space for small souvenirs. Don’t take your best bras. Or, your best swim wear. They tend to get trashed from getting sweaty and wet. Take advantage of hotel dry clean bags for dirty cloths. Separate from clean clothes in your carry on. Have fun!!!

  56. Pam says:

    Take a look at the blog for travel fashion girl. She has great tips and packing lisys!

  57. Babette says:

    I travel a lot (Europe at least once a year, sometimes more) and have been to Cuba three times, though it has been a number of years since I was there last. I do not believe their electrical current is different and did not need plug adaptors, but you can easily check that online. Here’s my advice:
    1) a light, rolling suitcase. I could never use a backpack or a carry-on, my toiletries alone take up too much room! I bought packing cubes and I love them! They keep things organized and I roll my clothes (takes up less space) and put them in the cubes. Nothing wrinkles. They are fabulous.
    2) a large Longchamp tote for the airplane with my travel documents, wallet, etc, small makeup bag (keeping in mind liquid restrictions) and my noise cancelling headphones. If you are bringing a laptop or iPad that has to obviously come in the cabin with you
    3) I usually pack a smaller cross-body bag if I am going to be touring through cities and when I go out during the day I bring minimal cash with me in case of thieves. I put a photocopy of my passport in there and keep the original locked in my hotel safe. I never walk around cities with my passport, if I can help it. That is not something you want to lose. Having said that, I found Cuba safe. I’d be way more worried about pickpockets in cities like Barcelona or Paris, to be honest. Just have your wits about you and look like you mean business, people will leave you alone. I found the Cubans to be really friendly and lovely.
    4) check whether you need cash to leave Cuba. I am Canadian. We used to need to pay an exit tax or some such nonsense when leaving the country, and it had to be in cash
    5) bring lots of small bills for tipping. I did bring US dollars, as they preferred it
    6) you should pack your own medications as they are hard to find there: bandaids, tylenol, immodium, benadryl, gravol, I even brought an antibiotic with me. It’s not like Paris where you can pop into a great drugstore and buy what you need. If you have a sensitive stomach, bring medications. I never did get sick in Cuba from the food, but I have to say the food is not terrific there. It’s okay, it’s edible, but some of the meat has an odd taste due to what the animals are fed, and for an island in the Caribbean, they don’t have great vegetables either. Drink bottled water, although I have heard that one cannot necessarily trust that either.
    7) bring mosquito repellent, if you are like me and attract them. Bring After-Bite.
    8) if your hair goes frizzy, bring products to tame it down. It’s humid weather and that makes my hair crazy.
    9) keep the clothing and makeup really simple – light sundresses, bathing suits, and cover ups. I am cooler in a dress than in shorts or capris. I did not find evenings got chilly, but I was there in March both times. You should check the evening temperature to see if a sweater is needed. A small umbrella is a good idea, though I’ve never been there during a rainy time. Sometimes just a quick shower that passes quickly, but no more than that.
    10) I double bag my toiletries into ziplock freezer bags and then put in my toiletry kit, as I have experienced “explosions” from the pressure, and was glad none of the shampoo or other items ended up all over my clothes. This may be the best single piece of advice I can give you. Ziplocks are your friend. Pack extras in all sizes.
    11) SUNSCREEN! Again, you may not find what you like there, so bring it and use lots. The sun is really strong. Bring a big hat. I saw lots of people with awful burns, and that is just so painful, not to mention really bad for your skin.
    Feel free to email me directly if you have any questions.

  58. Laura says:

    Commenting to second the Neosporin and probiotics (to take now), and if possible, add antimicrobial wash if you’re checking a bag. When I was in Mexico on my honeymoon, despite the copious amounts of DEET-laden bug spray, I still got bit by something. And talk about an infection! My ankle was the size of a softball and bruised and painful to boot…tap water from showering got in a very fresh mosquito bite, or at least that’s what the urgent care back in the States surmised. If I’d had Neosporin and antimicrobial wash, I would have been fine! Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen on your trip! Also, for probiotics, definitely get refrigerated ones. I swear by the Jarro-dophilus brand in the purple and yellow bottle (not certain offhand the exact strains).

  59. Blair says:

    – Visit El Museo de la Revolucion
    – Have a drink on the back patio at Hotel Nacional
    – Eat dinner recommendation at El Cocinero
    – Don’t go to the famous ice cream place. The ice cream is nothing to write home about, and frankly it’s an uncomfortable experience all around. (Cubans wait in enormous lines because it’s rationed, but tourists are able to walk right up.)
    – Keep a travel roll of toilet paper in your purse. Public restrooms/restaurants either charge for it or don’t provide any.

  60. gigi17 says:

    i’m going to echo the two who said packing cubes. however, for what it’s worth, if you’re near an ikea, you can pick up a pack of four for $8, versus the $30+ on ebags or amazon. they’re awesome for keeping things corralled. cheap waterproof joto universal case for your phone – also only $8, invaluable and so easy to bring for water activities versus spending the money on a lifeproof or otterbox you don’t actually want. last tip – it doesn’t sound like you’ll be using credit cards, BUT, whichever ones you do bring, let your bank know you’re traveling. nothing is worse than stopping at an atm with a waiting cab driver, at 1 am in the morning, and finding out that your bank has frozen your accounts because they don’t know you’re abroad versus in your usual place.

  61. Kay says:

    I have never done Cuba but I do travel internationally a lot. My one tip is to carry a bag for souviners. There are so many beautiful, one of a kind things you wIll find and want. I have a bag similar to this It folds up in my suitcase for the trip over and I have brought everything from a case of wine to hand made leather pouches back in it.

  62. welovetotravel says:

    1. Take a card or piece of stationary from your hotel and keep it with you at all times. If you get lost, show it to someone. Always carry: (1) this piece of paper and (2) enough cash to take a taxi “home.”
    2. Call your credit card companies in advance and tell them about your travels.
    3. Bring your own tampons, sanitary pads and condoms. They are sometimes hard to find and/or expensive.
    4. Not all bathrooms are clean/created equal. Wear closed-toe shoes (because, sometimes, ick), skirts (they can be hiked and so won’t drag on the floor like pants) and backpacks (there is not always a place to put a bag).
    4 1/2. Never pass up a clean bathroom.
    4 3/4. If you need a nice bathroom or a place to pull yourself together momentarily, try the fanciest hotel or restaurant you can find.
    5. Forget about hair appliances; wear it up. It’s so hot and humid, that it won’t really matter anyway.
    6. Carry a broad range of currency denominations (especially smaller ones); change can be hard to come by.
    7. Upload a copy of your documents (passport, ID, credit cards) on your Google drive, iCloud, whatever. Or email it to yourself. Keep extra copies in each bag (in the lining).
    8. Don’t drink anything unless you personally opened the bottle. Related: no ice, no vegetables that have not been peeled or cooked since they were washed, no street food unless the vendor is super busy and your portion was just cooked in front of you.
    9. If you take prescription medicine, bring the medicine (more than you will need, in case you are delayed returning) and the prescription. Carry it on your person, in your carry-on. Do not check. Ditto for prescription glasses.
    10. Leave the jewelry at home. Truly. Wear a waterproof watch (I wear an Ironman when I travel internationally). When you get on the plane, change your watch to the time at your destination; eat and sleep as if you are already there.
    11. When you arrive, stay awake until it is bedtime in Cuba. If you arrive early in the day, drop off your bags, freshen up and then go outside all day. You will be tired around late afternoon, but resist the temptation to sleep until it is really bedtime. This is my best trick for avoiding jet lag.
    12. Buy a guide book and either carry it with you or slice out the pages for the things you will see that day and carry only those page with you.
    13. Items made out of fabric make great gifts because they pack small and don’t break.
    14. Carry non-meltable snacks.
    15. Consider that you should not go into churches with your shoulders or knees showing. When it is so hot, not wearing shorts and carrying a shawl does the trick.

  63. Katie says:

    The one thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet are the Ziploc travel space bags ( They really do work, and you can reuse them over and over many times so if you’re traveling around in-country and will be packing and unpacking, you don’t need to worry about them being single use. Just try to pack knits or other clothes that don’t wrinkle easily. I use them for domestic travel sometimes, too – they’re a good investment.

    I traveled to South America earlier this year and went with a carry on spinner suitcase (this one, often available at Macy’s on sale:, a North Face backpack that fit under the airplane seat (grudgingly, so it was all black and with minimal school-like inner pockets for stupid things like protractors and calculators), and a black nylon Tory Burch cross body that was slim and fit easily in the backpack laptop sleeve during travel (this one: I just couldn’t bring myself to spend money on an ugly theft-proof travel bag when I could get a lightweight cross body I’d actually use when not traveling and that didn’t make me look more like a tourist when out at night.

    The only other tip I can think of that applies to both domestic and international flights: check out your airline’s checked luggage size requirements. Many luggage manufacturers advertise their suitcases as carry-on compliant when in fact they are not. A 22 inch suitcase is often bigger than 22 inches tall with the wheels. Although these suitcases always fit in the overhead bins, I’ve found several U.S. airports cracking down on the size limits in the past year, and on a domestic flight had to get out of the TSA line to go check my 22 inch bag because it was one inch bigger than the rule allows. I bought the Victorinox above for my South America trip to ensure I wouldn’t get tripped up by size issues on an intra-country flight.

    Good luck and enjoy the adventure!

  64. Heather says:

    Spent a semester in Havana 10 years ago, and then returned two times 5 years ago.
    -I wore the same pair of Birkenstocks every day for four months. Maybe add a waterproof pair of shoes and maaaybe sneakers
    – little to no beauty products.
    – bring a bunch of travel size tissues. Don’t ever leave your hotel without a package. Other than hotels and tourist spots, most bathrooms have NO toilet paper. You also won’t encounter many toilet seats.
    – maybe I’m remembering incorrectly, but I don’t remember a single mosquito in my time there. The ocean breeze seemed to keep them away.
    – don’t even bother with Internet. Maybe one quick email home, but it’s just not worth the time hassle and expense of getting online there
    – if you’re willing, plan to leave your belongings behind. Trendy clothing, jeans, nice sneakers, your hairdryer, even half used bottles of sunscreen or shampoo are appreciated. If you don’t know who to give it to, leave it for hotel staff and/or guest house owners.
    – clothing-wise, Cuba is NOT a conservative country. Spandex, shorts and tank tops abound.
    – plan on using cash only and bring plenty. Wear a money belt if it makes you more comfortable. Even if ATMs exist on the island, you won’t be able to use your American credit card at them.
    – when you’re there, just relax. Cubans are very friendly and crime is extremely minimal. Enjoy a mojito, expect things to run late or be delayed, and go with the flow.

  65. SN says:

    I’ve been flying internationally for 61 years. Any suitcase that works for you in the US should be fine. I myself only bought a new roll aboard 6 months ago- until then I had an REI bag I took to the UK 2-3 times a year. It worked fine. In some ways a bag is more convenient than a roll aboard, for example packing. The one thing I do do wherever I fly is buy chocolate for the crews. It’s as good as an upgrade. I also occasionally use a luggage delivery service. Luggage Free. I also have Priority Pass so I can use VIP lounges most places. This makes flying more comfortable. I’m a pilot myself so I think it’s important to treat the pilots crew and ground staff well.

  66. Amparo says:

    Being from Latam and traveling around the world constantly this is the one time I can give advice!!

    Overall – think pretty and fun, not glamorous or uncomfortable (opposite of NY, wear colors if you want to blend in)
    Bags – remember beach bag, small hobo bag
    Makeup – some bright red lipstick is the best travel companion, instant glamour (also people in Cuba wear quite a bit of makeup)
    Accessories – a few earrings, fun necklaces but not expensive
    Clothes – sun dresses, shorts, blouses, comfortable sandals a packable sunhat
    layers- long sleeve shirt, sweater, rain jacket and scarf/pashminas (wear on plane)
    Cosmetics – sun lotion, repellent and other toiletries will be expensive so bring your own
    Electronics- if you want to impress the locals bring them, if you want to blend in, leave behind

    Attitude – get off the beaten path, follow the music
    Food – you can survive on rice beans and bananas, many bananas for an upset tummy, be careful with water (even if it is clean it is different from the water at home) and avoid raw veggies (if the fruit grows on trees it is safe so mangoes are fine for example but lettuce is not since it is easily contaminated)

  67. Erin says:

    Two quick things to add based on travel to SE Asia.

    1. Insect Repellent – Get mosquito-repelling LOTION, not spray. It is much more pleasant! I’ve always used Off! Lotion, but my travel has been to areas where Zika wasn’t a concern. Consumer Reports recommends Sawyer’s Picaridin for Zika, which comes in a lotion.

    2. Hair – when I’m in humid climates with limited options for heat styling, I put my hair in a cute side braid. No fuss, and as the day wears on and it loosens a bit and gets a little frizzy, it still looks cute.

  68. Ivanna says:

    People have already mentioned anything and everything. Here are my short tips:

    1) Bring only clothes that don’t need to be ironed.
    2) Leggings are the best travel comfort.
    3) Hair conditioner. No hotel conditioner has ever been enough for my insane frizziness.
    4) No amount of pseudoscientific emergenC is a substitute for washing your hands, not touching public surfaces, and not putting your hands near your face. Also, only drink pre-packaged fluids.
    5) Things WILL go wrong. Switch your mind to a “no worries” mode immediately, because there will never be a perfect trip, and no amount of stress is worth ruining your enjoyment on a holiday. Figuring how to get through set backs can be fun if you don’t let it ruin your trip, or can turn you into an anxious mess.

  69. Jill says:

    Great tips. I love Patagonia underwear for travel. They dry quickly after washing in a sink. Patagonia nylon backpacks weigh nothing. Can be stashed in a bigger bag. A waterproof shoe bag is great for keeping sandy shoes away from the rest of your items. Benadryl pills are critical. I had a bed bug attack and itchy reaction (big, angry welts) right before I got on a flight in Tanzania. Couldn’t wait to get to Heathrow to find Benadryl so I could sleep on the next flight.

  70. Jill says:

    Forgot to add praise for Global Entry. Really nice to avoid a long Customs line after a long flight. Global Entry lets you check out ar a kiosk and be on your way. Fantastic.

  71. Janine says:

    I’ve really started traveling a lot more in the past few years and have realized a few things while unpacking when I get home. The biggest thing I have noticed is that I don’t use everything I bring and I go a lot more minimal than I do at home. I tend to pare down skincare and makeup, and never bring jewelry unless there’s a specific event. I pick my most versatile bottoms (for two weeks I’d probably choose 6) and then choose tops that coordinate with most of the bottoms plus 2 more than the number of days I will be on the trip. I also tend to be ruthless when it comes to shoes. For a week in Mexico in June, I only packed three pairs of shoes: running shoes, rubber flip flops for Just around our lodging, and nice flat sandals for going out. I’m also super Type A and make a spreadsheet for every trip so I have minimal chances of forgetting something. One final thing I do is to follow the local weather for about a week leading up to departure. It may cause you to throw extra things in your suitcase (umbrella, sweater, etc).

    The one biggest piece of advice I have is to put a couple important things in your carry on, just in case of luggage issues. For Mexico, I put my swimsuit, clean underwear and a shirt, and my glasses.

  72. GoGoGo says:

    Have an amazing, amazing time Belle!

    From a crazy backpacker…

    Bring a some just-OK clothes you’ve been meaning to get rid of, and leave them in Cuba. Like, fly down in an old dress from your “donate” box. Then toss it, instead of carrying around laundry. Make room in your bags for new stuff you find, like a big cool hat.

    I tie all my undies together with a couple of hair elastics. Voila, neater luggage, spare hair elastics.

    Sometimes, day drink, then do your pensive sightseeing in town at night.

    Last trip I took, I wore a big gold flash tattoo on hand. When people asked me about it, usually like other women in bars, I kept some cut up in my purse to share. Light, cheap gift, occasionally magical.

    Everyone’s advice above about Cuba sounds great and it sounds like you’ve really put thought in.

    Enjoy every bit of this, from the packing on outward. Have a fabulous trip!

  73. Lydie says:

    You have received some great advice here. I wanted to add that before a trip, packing and ensuring you have all the small to pack items can take up lots of “mental”space– so as a frequent traveller esp to Europe, I start to assemble all the Advill, sunscreen, earplugs, medications, lip balm, moisturizer, etc…on my dresser a week or so before the trip, and begin to place them all in a variety of makeup/ toiletry cases of various sizes. If necessary I buy smaller sized versions of the item, decant, or take almost used up creams in smaller sized so I can leave them behind. Samples sometimes work, but for me, this is not enough for a longer trip. The pills, medical stuff, toothbrush, smaller sized moisturizer, hand creams, and sanitizers( I wipe down the tray table on the plane with wipes, even in premium / bussiness seats) all go on the plane in a small make up bag, which lives in my tote. I always take a microbead travel pillow and scarf on the plane, as well,as a refreshing essential oil, such as lavender, or any other gentle, but calming blend.
    Take great walking sandals and runners that actually have support for walking. You may be walking many km a day, so be kind to your feet. Personally, I find ballet flats useless for travel…something more like an ecco sandal, or simple naot / or spanish brand like el naturalista, with a rigid sole, but that has cuishoning, or a soft cork footbed will work best. I have travelled with sketchers, and various types of dressier runners, and they work too.
    Take care of your stomach ( be wary of water/ drinks) and feet( pick shoes cleverly), and wear lots of sunscreen– and have a lovely trip!

  74. Jmp says:


    We are like ships in the night! I’m heading there on Thursday. Looks like you’ve got lots of advice, but here is my two cents:
    -off wipes–they’re easy to apply in the morning and don’t count as a liquid
    -lip balm with sunscreen
    -comfy shoes (I’m bringing my keds)
    -a few extra pair of undies (I find myself going through 2 pairs per day in the tropics)
    -don’t wear makeup on the plane for long flights. Just bring some face wash and apply fresh when you arrive. Otherwise you’ll end up with great skin, itchy eyes, and dark mascara circles)
    -comfy socks for the plane if you plan to take your shoes off
    -the flat travel packets of Kleenex double as toilet paper and fit in your back pocket
    -plan on only using cash (what I’ve heard from our guide and everyone who has been there)
    -a wide brimmed hat of some sort
    -a positive attitude and some patience. It’s going to be an adventure but it will be so worth it!
    -if you’re looking for a good read to put things in perspective from a Cuban exile and journalist, I recommend Finding Mañana–it provides a balanced presentation of Cuban history from the eyes of a child living through it and her ongoing trips back to the island.

  75. MsZ says:

    I went to Cuba this past spring. It’s a great trip, but a tough first international trip. Things I didn’t see when skimming above: be ready for no toilet seats in lots of places (and def carry toilet paper and small change for tipping the ladies who work in the bathrooms); don’t bring tweezers or a razor you love (ours were confiscated by airport security when leaving…it’s not TSA rules!); do not check a bag if flying into Havana since it will take hours to get it; be aware there’s no equivalent of going to a US drugstore–try to bring things you might need, esp if you are not staying at a high-end hotel (ours did not have soap or shampoo); Cubans are really, really nice and much more pro-US than I ever would have imagined, but young women are cat-called constantly on the street–it’s like a construction site 30 years ago.

  76. Rachel says:

    When you’re done packing, take out one of each type of garment to leave behind (i.e. one shirt, one pair of pants, and definitely take out one pair of shoes). We all end up overpacking, but less is more when traveling and you can wash things in the sink if you’re really in a jam. It also frees up space for souvenirs. Try your best to pack just a carry on! Besides worrying about a checked bag getting lost, you save time (and possibly money) waiting for your bag to come through.

    If you’re staying in a hostel, find out if they provide a lock for your locker or if you need to bring one. Ditto for sheets and towels.

    If possible, limit yourself to one piece of technology, such as your smart phone. Less to worry about breaking or getting stolen.

    Since it’s your first time abroad, I recommend bringing plenty of snacks like granola bars. It’s hard to know how your stomach is going to react to new cuisines.

  77. LeesaS says:

    Pinterest has some great posts on how to build a travel capsule wardrobe for all seasons and travel destinations. If you’re going for a week you should easily be able to pack in a carryon. Key us to bring pieces that mix and match. Ditto the recommendation to leave your hot rollers home. Cuba will be hit and humid. Best to bring a few cute scarves and a hat. Rock the high poney and you’ll be fine.
    I would also recommend bringing Imodium and pepto in case you slip and have ice in a drink off resort. Most resorts desalinate so you should be safe.

    Remember the 3oz liquid rule applies universally. In some countries they’re also very specific that you have your carrying liquids in the correct size clear plastic bag.

    I have colleagues from Montreal that have been traveling to Cuba for years. You’ll have a great time.

    Bring an extra copy of your passport and make sure you have at least six months before it expires.

  78. Jill says:

    On the bathroom preparedness front, a zip lock bag with toilet paper and another with a travel bar of soap could be helpful. I also had a little envelope of soap “sheets.” Very helpful in China where sometimes bathrooms had sinks but no soap.

  79. Sam says:

    My husband has travelled to Cuba twice in the past year. Pay for the plastic wrapping service of your checked luggage when going there and back.

  80. VWY says:

    I went to Cuba last year. I’d second that mosquitoes were not a bother. +1 for hand sanitizer as not all bathrooms equally clean. Day shoes that are comfortable for waking. It was quite hot when we were there around Thanksgiving last year, so pack for humidity and heat.

    Honestly wouldn’t bother with internet but did download app which allows you to save locations/save a map and access offline. Was a huge help when navigating to dinner.

    Food/Drink: Really enjoyed Fabrica de Arte (for evening event, drinks) and the bar/restaurant next to it El Cocinero, Atalier, VIPHavana, cafe Laurent, drinks at Hotel Nacionale, San Cristobal, a night at the Tropicana cabaret (worth the splurge). Paladars were far better than the state run restaurants as a rule.

    We did lunch at the old expat country club in Havana (cool to see, food just ok), and a day at Hemingway’s estate which was very cool. And old car trip down the melecon is worth it for the photos/experience.

    Found Havana very safe. Taxi fares should be negotiated, and when we went we got a far better exchange rate with Euros than dollars, so we brought euros and exchanges for cucs at the airport. Unless it’s changed, no US banks service the island, so credit/debit is out.

    Happy to share more, including more recommendations, via email. It was a really wonderful trip.

  81. Alleira says:

    Not sure if you’ll even read this, but I spent two weeks in Cuba about two years ago. We had a great time and I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself. One thing I noticed was that there was often insufficient TP in the public bathrooms. So consider bringing some bathroom tissue in case you run into this issue.

  82. Katie says:

    Forgot to mention compression socks for long flights, which I think I’ve seen you mention before so I’m sure you’ve already considered it. I purchased some surprisingly cute ones from Vim & Vigr:

  83. LB says:

    For inspiration on what to pack, I always recommend checking out – it’s a great blog with sample packing lists and outfits for different destinations.

  84. Anne says:

    Hi Belle!

    I hope you don’t mind sharing your tips with me when you return. I’m in the process of planning to take a delegation of state legislators to Cuba on an agricultural trade delegation at the beginning of December. I’d love to hear about your experience as I prepare to staff this delegation.

    I’ve had a lot of conversations with the State Department and with my “fixers” on the ground in Cuba. A lot of their tips have already been shared above, but here’s a additional details:

    – CDC recommends a number of vaccines for travelers to Cuba. Since you haven’t traveled abroad frequently, you’ll definitely want to get the Hep A and Typhoid vaccination. Typhoid usually isn’t covered under your heath insurance, but at most pharmacies, it’s only about $100 (cheaper than the cost of contracting Typhoid!). You’ll need a prescription for the Typhoid vaccine, so give your doctor a call first.

    – Power outlets in Cuba are European style (round) so take an adaptor with you

    – If you don’t speak Spanish (or aren’t traveling with someone who does), consider hiring a translator for a day or two while you do touristy stuff.

    – As other readers have echoed, bring bug spray. Zika is endemic in Cuba.

    – You can bring up to $400 in souvenirs back from Cuba, but only $100 of that can be alcohol and tobacco (combined), so if you’ve promised rum and cigars to everyone you know, time to start walking back those promises…

    – Expect customs to take about an hour at the Havana airport. To ease things a bit, bring as much supporting documentation for your trip as possible, it can’t hurt to have a letter (in Spanish) stating your reason for visiting the country.

    – If you’re staying at a resort, you probably don’t need hotel recs, but in the event you do, let me know, I’ve got some solid options for you (including the one where John Kerry stays on his visits)

    Now, when you get back, I’d love to hear any practical “getting around Cuba” tips you have. And, if you find yourself in Havanna and have any delicious meals, I’d love to get the name of the restaurant(s).

    Have a great time!

  85. n says:

    Assuming your trip is still on with the hurricane- here is my go to packing list for tropical destinations (tested in over 60 countries, thank you very much). Forget the stylish tote, you want a back pack for carryon into which you can slip a stylish wristlet that holds your passport, mobile and wallet- i.e. the can’t live without essentials. Pack the tote in your suit case. Go for all linen and cotton clothes- who cares if you cannot iron them, synthetics will be the end of you. Get light colors, and day to night cotton dresses are great. So are ruffled skirts (forget pencils- actually forget all the dressing for work rules- vacation is the diametric opposite). I like bringing a good number of tank tops (bonus points for built in bras) and cap sleeve t shirts, and a couple of pairs of shorts (khakis, 4 inch, bermuda, etc). Running clothes if you plan to, and even running shoes will do in case you go to Vinales to hike. I like packing goggles for swimming. Even if you don’t see a ton of tropical fish in Cuba, it will spare your eyes with the salty caribbean water. This is the place that all of your SPF enhanced, waterproof make up was made for. And the one random thing you will really struggle to find in Cuba are tampons. Finally, look around the guayabera shops in Havanna for a guayabera dress- like a shirt dress only much much cooler. Cohiba coffee can also be found in the Cohiba store. Bon voyage!

  86. KR says:

    Learn to say your occupation in the local language! That often trips me up in customs.

  87. MargaretO says:

    I haven’t been to Cuba specifically but from experience of living in and traveling to extremely hot and sticky places – leave the hot rollers, foundations, heavy makeup, etc. at a home. Anything elaborate you do to your hair or face is going to melt right off as soon as you step outside. Just get your hair off your neck and put on a lot of sun screen and call it a day. If you burn easily I suggest also using SPF chapstick and reapplying whenever you reapply your sunscreen (every two hours! for real!). I like to bring a moisturizing sheet mask to the beach and apply mid week when my face is feeling super dry, and then have one ready to use at home. I really like this spray for your body post sun – I also bring a travel size of a heavy duty moisturizer on the plane and put it on my face at the beginning of a flight to keep from drying out (I have oily acne prone skin but I do this anyways). If you are staying somewhere with a mini fridge and air conditioning – keep a little face of face/make up removing wipes in the fridge and wipe all of the gunk off when you get back to the room at the end of the day. Cold face wipes feeling amazing.

  88. Rebecca says:

    After making all the preparations for my bosses to go to overseas to Krakow, the thing they raved about and said they couldn’t live without was the fact that I downloaded the city maps to their phones via google maps – enabling them to get directions and maps without an internet connection. Go download the city or area of cuba that you’ll be in so that you can always find where you’re going! A good tutorial on how to do this can be found here:

  89. Colleen says:

    Depending on where you’re staying, roller bags can be a huuuuuuuge pain if you have to walk through cobblestone areas or poorly paved streets. I always opt for a tote or backpack if possible!

  90. ChicaJay says:

    Belle, I am a Cuban-American, own a Cuba travel company, and have been going back and forth to cuba most of my life. I’d love to help, can I send you a note? Off hand, I’d say leave the hair appliances at home (it’s too humid anyway), light breathable cottons – skirts, as even shorts will stick – comfortable open toed walking shoes, linen, one very light layer for nighttime. Leave the jeans at home. Advil, tampons, condoms, deodorant, toothpaste, hairspray and nail Polish remover are all very (read: EXTREMELY) difficult to find in cuba.

    • Belle says:

      I’d love that. Just drop it to the blog email:

      I am going to take a blow dryer just so my updo can get some volume and leave the rest. I will sadly, heartbreakingly, annoyingly be on my cycle, so tampons will be a must. Dammit.

      • Ava says:

        Seriously, don’t bother with the hairdryer! I’ll take up precious space in your luggage, and like ChicaJay said, it’s humid anyway–volume shouldn’t be an issue! 😉

  91. Caroline says:

    I haven’t been to Cuba but am a seasoned traveler.
    Forget about doing your hair and makeup. You think DC is hot and humid? Your hair will never look like you want it to, and your makeup will melt off. At the most, mascara and lipstick.
    Roberta Roller Rabbit for cover-ups and Rickshaw Designs for long-sleeve, lightweight cotton shirts. I never understood the concept of wearing long sleeves to block out the sun until I started traveling in the Caribbean / Southeast Asia. Super cute and you’ll feel fashionable but they are lightweight and comfortable. No amount of sunblock can protect you like some lightweight cotton can.
    Don’t check a bag there. If it gets lost or delayed even for a few days you will be in trouble, and moreover do you want to spend your first 24 hours (or more) arguing with the airline about where your bag is? It will ruin your trip. It will be all you remember. I always bring my bag on the plane to my destination, and check it back. Who cares if it gets misplaced for a few days once you’re home.
    Pack your bag. Zip it. Then go in, and take a few things out. Less is more. Except when it comes to underwear and sunblock. More is more for those two! I always bring two pairs of underwear and two tshirts per day. I like Ann Taylor Loft Ts, I pair them with a black skirt and I can do everything from sightsee to go to a nice bar or restaurant.
    On that note, you need to be able to comfortably drag your bag and carryon yourself quite far. Practice. If you can’t, or your carryon/purse keeps sliding off your bag, you’ve picked the wrong bags to bring.
    Same for shoes. Even the most comfortable flats feel awful after some unexpected walking. I haven’t been to Cuba but imagine there are some cobblestone streets—heels will be trouble. Even kitten heels. Don’t bother. Toms can be a cute alternative. You want to be comfortable, but I will also say that shorts/sneakers will make you stand out as an American tourist in a way that skirts/sandals won’t.

  92. Jamie says:

    I would HIGHLY recommend checking out Hitha On The Go’s website:

    She tackles many different traveling situations and tells you what to bring/how to pack.

  93. Kimberly says:

    Haven’t been to Cuba, but I do travel quite a bit. I usually rotate between developed countries and developing ones. My pack list for Cuba would be:

    – Money belt

    – Travel purse -I have something very similar to this and its robber proof. You will want something that is big enough to hold a bottle of water and has a few exterior pockets you can open easily for you to slip sunglasses in and out of without having to open the whole thing up.

    – Tea tree face wipes (trader joes or body shop brand) -super refreshing and excellent stand in for a shower. The tea tree oil literally kills under arm sweat. It’s so much better to use these than a 2nd application of deodorant.

    – Pashmina & eye shade – both useful on the plane, pashmina can dress up an outfit if need be, and eye shade will help you sleep better in strange places

    – Already broken in close toed shoes

    – Kleenex – I cannot express how many times I’ve been glad to have them.

    – Turkish towel – super packable which means your super secure travel purse can potentially double as a beach bag. Also, they are generally better than cruddy hotel towels and dry quicker than a regular beach towel.

    – Aquamira – After a nasty bout of sickness in Peru, I realized that sometimes bottled water can come from an unsanitary source. I use this even on bottled water. You should go to your doctor and get a prescription for cipro which will kill any nasties that make their way into your system.

    – Sass – realize that no matter what is in your suitcase, experience always trumps things.

  94. Linsey says:

    I went to Barcelona in 2013 when the economy there was, and still is, pretty shoddy. Lots of unemployment, especially in our age range. Wear a crossbody with a strap that can’t be cut easily with a box cutter.

    Other things: pack your clothes in a big, black trash bag before putting it in your suitcase. My roomie in Barcelona had a suitcase full of wet clothes when we arrived in Spain… her suitcase must have been placed in a puddle on either a plane or tarmac. Carry around a photocopy of your passport, but leave your passport in your hotel room safe.

  95. Chrissy says:

    One other important thing I brought to Vietnam this year was electrolyte/vitamin packets. I brought them in case I got a stomach bug but ended up drinking one in a bottle of water each morning. Maybe it was a placebo but I felt better and thought it helped with the jet lag. I also drank a lot of mineral water, it can’t be tampered with.

  96. Suzanna says:

    Hi Belle! I haven’t been to Cuba, but I have done a ton of extended travel in Latin America and the Middle East. I try to balance the need for practicality with the need to not look like a zip-off pant wearing, gore-tex swaddled tourist.

    Here are some of my recommendations:
    Luggage: The Patagonia MLC is my go-to bag when I’m traveling light and don’t want to use rolling luggage. It holds quite a bit, and will fit in the overhead compartment. I combine that with a smaller cross-body purse for day-to-day. I picked up the Lo & Sons Pearl before a recent trip and loved it. A reusable folding tote from somewhere like Baggu is helpful in case you do some shopping. I wouldn’t check a bag on this trip– if it gets lost, you might have a hard time tracking it down.

    Shoes: flip flops, chic flat sandals (I like Ancient Greek Sandals), and cute sneakers. The New Balance ones you’ve featured on the site would be great. Limiting yourself to three pairs of shoes goes a long way towards minimizing the weight of your luggage.

    Beauty: As much as I’d like to, I can’t completely eschew makeup when I travel– I feel naked without it. I try to keep it minimal. Bobbi Brown Cream Shadow does not budge in heat and humidity. Waterproof mascara is a must or you’ll have raccoon eyes by 11 AM. Removing it and all the sunscreen works best with an oil-based cleanser, which can take care of everything in one step. I like DHC’s, especially because it comes in a travel size. Truffle makes great clear pouches for getting through airport security. They can also be used to keep chargers and cords organized.

    Health and Safety: Tylenol or Advil, Imodium, and Pepto Bismol– enough for 3-4 days. If you can get a Cipro prescription from your doctor, bring that as well. Band aids and blister pads are also good to have handy.
    Photocopies of your passport–keep them in separate locations. Plenty of cash. The contact and address information for the U.S. Embassy, written down (not just on your phone).

    Happy to chat more if you need to. You dish out so much advice, it’s great to be able to return the favor!

  97. Sarah says:


    I love this blog and love your point of view on so much, which leaves me so perplexed when it comes to why you would choose to go to Cuba. I’m the daughter of Cuban exiles and the idea of vacationing there (or anywhere with an oppressive government, frankly) would make me sick to my stomach. I cannot imagine that you did not consider this when booking your travel, so when you post about your trip, I’d like to hear a little more about your decision process to go to Cuba. I’d also really appreciate it if you didn’t gloss over the hardships the people face (like so many travel bloggers often do). You’ve shown a refreshing integrity in all aspects of your blogging over the years and I trust that you will extend it to this area as well.


    • Belle says:

      It was certainly a consideration. My boss traveled there a few times when he was in Congress and he went from being pro-Cuba trade to against it, while the Castros were in power, as a result. I kind of wanted to see for myself, not just the beauty of the culture but the other things as well before the corporate tourist entities wall off the visitors from the rest of Cuba. This is one of the reasons we decided not to stay in hotels for the majority of the trip and to use as few government entities as possible. I don’t really plan to cover the trip on this blog–I’m not a travel blogger after all. But my friend Sarah is, and I’ll link to her posts, and maybe add some of my own thoughts.

  98. Shauna says:

    As one of your Canadian readers, I’ve been to Cuba several times. It’s really safe, the water at the resorts is certainly fine, and the people are lovely. I find that the sand fleas and mosquitoes can be pesky and they get my ankles – it’s terribly itchy, so I highly recommend some antihistamines as well as something soothing/cooling for your legs (calamine lotion and/or aloe for example to deal with the itch). Many of the resorts have cats as a natural pest protection, but if you are allergic you will be happy to have the antihistamines. The food can be a little bland so you may want to have your own pepper/hot sauce. Finally, we always bring along some personal items for the housekeeping and cleaning staff as well as some small bills for tipping (even in all inclusives, we tip the wait staff). The items to bring are things like bottles of aspirin, personal toiletries, school supplies, things like that are hard to find there. Cuba is great. The people are happy. They have a great health care system. It’s just a little different than Canada or the US, and that’s a good thing.

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