How to Pack to Go to CubaSo you’re going to Cuba for a week eh?Want to avoid being that guy in the baggage check who finds himself checking the items he planned on carrying onto the plane? or who ends up paying $100 in extra fees?
Here are Rob & Kim’s tips for packing smartly for Cuba.
Luggage: – best bet is to take cheap light weight baggage. Verify your weight allowance and details! Typically it is 20kg max, but sometimes it is maximum 2 bags and sometimes it is more. If your fancy luggage is hard shell and weighs over 5kgs empty then you might want to not use it. Travel is not a fashion show. Nobody cares if your bags match or color coordinate. An ugly black or green suitcase flies just as far when kicked by a luggage handler as a pair of matched Prada bags, and is less likely to get stolen. We have some ugly vinyl suitcases we bought at the thrift store, they are light weight, roomy, strong zippers and straps, and easy to spot on the luggage carousel. Often we leave the luggage behind and donate the contents, so we think of the bags as being disposable.
Tag your luggage, outside and inside. Might never be needed, but the one time it saves you from losing your stuff you will be glad you did.Mark your bags so you can spot them among a carousel of 40 similar bags, take pic of them even.
Pack the following: photocopies of your documents/tickets, washcloth, pepto, aspirin/tylenol, gravol, immodium, gum, bandaids, safety razor, pen, sunblock, aftersun, afterbite, bug spray with deet (not the fancy fruity crap, it aint perfume baby), a small flashlight, travel size toiletries (NOT FULLSIZE), floss, toothpicks, a needle and tweezers, an insulated travel mug, hand sanitizer, toiletpaper, small tissues, wetnaps, ziplock bags (put all stuff in zippys), a lighter, a watch or alarmclock, voltage converter. This is the minimum basic necessities for a smart travel pack.
Club Class/First Class: – if you are over your luggage allowance or if you are concerned about seat selection on your flight, consider paying for the upgrade in seat category. With seat upgrade comes additional perks and it might cost the same as the penalty you pay for being over the luggage limit or for having to preselect your seat. With the upgrade comes double the luggage allowance, free drinks, priority boarding, etc.
Sporting goods: – some airlines allow sporting goods either included or outside of the regular luggage limitations, check with yours. If you have clubs, bikes, scuba, etc. Pack it separately and check your limits.
Carry-On: – carry-on luggage is subject to restrictions, frequently size limits (23cm x 40cm x 55cm) and sometimes weight limit (10kg). The size is almost always enforced and the weight limit almost never. Avoid carrying liguids, gels, sharp items, etc in your carry-on. Smart strategy is to pack your heaviest items here. Heavy shoes, denim, batteries, etc. Do remember to take some small snacks, ear phones, and a pen as you will surely need all 3 on your flight.
Purse/Camera: – in addition to your carry-on you are allowed a personal bag. This can be a purse or camera bag. Of course this needs to be small, but again saves more space in your other bags are reduced your chances of going over weight limit.
Pack smart: – Your going someplace hot. Leave the bulky and heavy items behind unless its worth $10 per Kg to take them with you. We take the lightest fabrics we can and half as many clothes as we think we are going to need. Remember you are going to be barefoot in a bathing suit and shorts 80% of your trip. If 100% of your clothing does not fit in your carry-on and a single 10kg suitcase, your over packed. Take the opportunity to clean out your closet, there are many charities, churches, and individuals un Cuba who welcome the donation of your items. Take those ugly shirts your Aunt Ethel bought you for X-mas and those t-shirts your kids gave you for Father’s Day that are at least 1 size too small, and give them to someone who needs them. Its easy to donate them, ask your hotel rep, ask your bartender, ask your cab driver. Don’t be afraid to leave at least half of what you take down there behind! It is easy if you prepare and pack for it.
Ideal situation to meet most airline limits: – 2 checked bags each weighing 10kg. 1 carryon each weighing 10kg. One personal bag/purse/camera bag each (small and exempt from limits) Weigh them when you pack. Verify your carriers limits though.
Tips: – Cubans are a proud people, but are poor in material goods and $. Some common items are very expensive in Cuba and others are extremely rare. The embargo against them prevents the average Cuban from obtaining many basic goods. Don’t be shy or afraid to help out. This is a personal choice and not a political one. $$$ of course are always a welcome tip, it is easy to pack and one size fits all. The currency of choice is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Try to avoid tipping in coins of any kind, $US or $Eu, it is still welcome but an inconvenience for the recipient.
Gifts: – The items which are in short supply in Cuba are endless. The most basic and needed are good shoes, socks, and clothes. Other items like toiletries, medicine, nylons, batteries, flashlights, household goods, etc are also needed, but since you are already taking down 20Kg of the first items, it makes sense to give it away as gifts. Baby clothes and childrens clothes are a huge hit and always get passed along to someone who can use them. I highly recommend taking down gifts that suit you. If you are a car guy, take car guy gifts and you will meet some cool car guys. If you like to fish, take fishing stuff and you will meet up with some cool Cuban fisherman along the shore. Take what you have available to you and what you enjoy sharing, it will be the highlight of your trip I guarantee.
Customs: – Never lie to customs about your contents. The worst that ever happens when you tell them the truth is that your item is denied or taxed. That being said, on the way to Cuba you will avoid delay and stress by not packing things which cause any sort of suspicion. As of now, the only things that seem to be a big deal to Cuban Customs (Aduana) are GPS, satellite stuff, and walkietalkies. Other than that, most any other items seem to pass without incidence. When you arrive and when you depart Cuba, your carry-on bags are x-rayed. Anything with a power cord tends to get checked out, but is allowed. If you have an item which causes concern, usually escalating the issue up the chain of command creates more paperwork for them than it is worth and you will likely find yourself pushed along. Don’t be shy or intimidated, be insistent that the item is for your personal use. If you have items that you identify as gifts and their value exceeds $50 you may be assessed a tax on those items. I always ensure my gift items have pricetags on them as a precaution and to avoid excessive tax, but I have taken hundreds of weird gift items without problem. Even on your return to Canada, when you exceed your personal exemption limit (as I always do 100% of the time) you will find that customs agents have better things to do than collect petty amounts of tax and most often you are pushed through without any extra tax. If you ever get caught lying to a customs agent you will be flagged and it will be a pain in the butt for you forever. Dont do it! Tell the truth, pay a little tax every once and a while, but breeze on through without any stress or hassle.
That is your basic guide to happy packing for Cuba. Remember, keep an open mind and a relaxed attitude. Yes it will be hot, there might be mosquitos, and you wont find a Big Mac or a Tim Hortons. Try the rum, buy some cigars, admire the history. Get off the resort, meet some real Cubans, take some gifts and donations. Be prepared for some delays, some communication problems, and people who will do whatever they can to make sure you have a great time regardless.
Rob n Kim