23 things I learned by traveling to Cuba

Late afternoon sun in Trinidad, Cuba
  1. Be grateful for the existence of choice in your life. So many people live without any options.
  2. A real mojito is made with hierba buena, not with mint.
  3. Speaking the local language opens up a world of opportunities that would otherwise be totally off-limits. Put in the time and effort to learn a second (or third) language. It’s well worth it.
  4. If you’re not good at budgeting, get better. When credit cards and ATMs aren’t available, sticking to a plan becomes all the more critical. Especially if you want to eat food or catch a cab to the airport to return home at some point.
  5. People really don’t need money to be happy. We hear this all the time, but sometimes it takes seeing it in action for it to really hit home.
  6. 90% of the time we spend on our smartphones is mindless distraction. When that distraction isn’t available to us, we’re forced to live in the moment. And it’s very liberating.
  7. History always has two sides and it’s important to learn both. Listen with an open mind and an understanding that the story our culture tells is just that — a story written from one perspective.
  8. Emotional authenticity is a beautiful thing to be surrounded by.
  9. Not all developing Latin American countries are dangerous. I’ve rarely ever felt safer in my travels than I did in Cuba.
  10. Buy a good pair of flip-flops. It’s worth the investment. I highly recommend Havaianas.
  11. Appreciate good customer service when you have it. In most of my interactions in Cuba, I was met with what I coined “aggressive indifference” (patent pending).
  12. When it’s swelteringly hot outside, walk slowly and find shade.
  13. Know your leverage in any negotiating situation. It’s often better than you might realize.
  14. Just because people aren’t smiling doesn’t mean they aren’t kind or happy. Sometimes they’re just really hot and tired.
  15. Strike up that conversation that you’re not sure about. If you’ve thought about it more than once, you ought to do it.
  16. Community is often strong out of necessity. The necessity itself is often sad, but the results are beautiful.
  17. Appreciate your soft mattress.
  18. Music and movement are the lifeblood of Cuba and the rest of Latin America. Learn how to dance.
  19. It’s really ok to just do nothing sometimes.
  20. Jellyfish stings suck initially and suck even more after 24 hours. And peeing on them doesn’t help much.
  21. If you’re scammed or otherwise ripped off, once the anger has subsided, remind yourself that that person probably needed the money more than you.
  22. A telling sign of a failed movement is when the people behind the movement are idolized more than the ideas they once represented.
  23. If you don’t smoke regularly, don’t try to take down a whole Cuban cigar on a swelteringly hot, humid day while foregoing water for rum. That’s a road map straight to puke city.
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