Packing an Open Mind and Inviting Heart: My Trip to Cuba

colorful clothing in Cuba

The following guest post is brought to you by Jordan Parra.

Packing is an essential component of travel. I’m sure we all know this on the account of the numerous “don’t forget this” and “this was a life saver” posts on HPL. Forgetting something like enough dry socks, a charger for your computer, or a water purifier can be extremely crucial to your trip. Forgetting one important item can impact your comfort on your journey, comfort being that one thing we are not always willing to sacrifice.

Forgetting something other than a materialistic item can be just as detrimental for having a safe, enriching traveling experience – something such as manners, an open mind, knowledge of a culture, a sense for adventure and an inviting heart.

My Trip to Cuba

My trip to Cuba would have been a sorely different experience had I not packed these precious non-materialistic items. Different cultures call for different mindsets. We have to learn not to judge a culture by our own standards, but to see that culture the way the people who live it do in order to be immersed and to fully understand. We have to learn how to use cross-cultural skills.

Don’t Expect Them to Accommodate You

Everyone stared wherever we went. You could feel their gaze, yet they were friendly and curious ones. When we needed help and made an effort to ask them in Spanish, they were kind and very helpful.

>> Check out these language tools for female travelers.

Cuban kids.
Cuban kids.

Don’t Be Afraid to Interact and Listen

A man named Pablo was selling bread on the side of the street and waved us down. Some of the girls in the group were skeptical about walking across to this strange vendor, but a friend and I did because he seemed pretty excited. He could speak a little bit of English and wanted to talk to us to practice. He was really glad to see Americans and asked us all kinds of questions saying that he never gets to practice his English as very few people in Cuba know it. He then proceeded to run inside what seemed to be a hole in the wall and came running back out with a New York Yankees hat. We continued to pick each other’s brains about our homelands. Before leaving, he gave us a free loaf of bread, and we grabbed a photo with our new friend Pablo.

We also met a young teenage girl who hated being in Cuba. She wanted to leave for the United States to become an actress. She spoke decent English and hearing her rant about Cuba was what we had expected from the majority of Cubans. But in reality, most of them loved living there, they were proud to be Cuban.

Do as the Locals Do

They believe that if you dance in the first rain of May, it will bring you good luck. At the beach, it started to storm, but the Cubans all ran in the rain greeting it while we ran for cover. Our guide told us that we should dance in the rain because it was the first one in May, and it would bring us great luck. So we danced.

banana bike cart

One of my favorite quotes that the Cubans say is, “Necessity is the tool for innovation.” They are always making the best out of what they have, and I learned to deeply appreciate that. We played “baseball” with them in the street and the bat was a stick and the ball was a rock. A guy turned his bicycle into a wagon for his bananas that he had to haul up the same hill every day. I even experienced this innovation when my charger would not stay in the wall socket because it was so loose, so I tied a lanyard around the charger and hooked it behind the wall socket and whooo la… my camera battery charged that way. We had the most amazing time.

stick street baseball in Cuba
Stick street baseball in Cuba.

Don’t Discount the Negatives; Try to Understand Them

Being in Cuba was like going back in time 50 years, the buildings, the clothes, the cars… it was astonishing and different. They have to be careful and mindful of what they do and say, their government not being as free based as ours is. Being American, I had to be very aware of where we were.

It’s important to read up on the destination and pack a good amount of knowledge before you leave the country so you are not culture shocked.

We got to witness some Santeria practices, as well as pass the goats that they were going to use for sacrifice. Some people got really upset about this, but again, you have to see their culture from their point of view. Even if it may not be what you would do, you must understand and appreciate this different way of life.

Santeria in Cuba
Santeria in Cuba

All of these little things are useful to know about a culture, especially if you are travelling alone and do not have a group to confess your embarrassments to (like accidentally going into the men’s bathroom), and to share what not to do — like to never forget your own roll of toilet paper, or to always order a specific type of water on the menu. These mishaps make great stories, but knowing more about the culture you are venturing into could help you immensely.

Visiting other countries requires a sense of understanding and acceptance. Once you are prepared to give this, your trip will be ten times more enjoyable and enriching.

About the Author: Jordan Parra is a 20 year old adventurer who wears mismatching socks, hardly showers, thinks food is a hobby, and who doesn’t want the world, but to travel it. She is just kicking off her blog, so check it out at Sprinkled with Adventure.

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Gear We Use


Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.

Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.

Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking! – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Karisa says

    This is a great piece! I love the idea of packing mentally and emotionally for a trip. Sometimes the right attitude is more important than packing the right clothes/shoes etc. 🙂

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