“We will never travel again!” Those were the first words out of our mouths as my wife and I watched the fourth pregnancy test turn positive. (Yes, it took four tests to believe it.)
Coming as a complete surprise, joyous thoughts of raising a beautiful family together were far from our minds. Instead, we were grieving how our lives would drastically change. Having grown up traveling internationally and being the proud holder of a passport filled with more than 50 different country stamps, I feared I’d never travel again.
Then our daughter was born. Statements that once seemed merely obligatory, were true. I was in love. And as I held our little girl in my arms, a desire to show her the world emerged. I wanted this little girl I call daughter to experience different people and cultures, witness her parents live a fearless life, and start to make memories from the very beginning of her life.
What we decided, and then learned: Being new parents did not mean we couldn’t travel.
- - -
The week we left the hospital as a family of three, we booked flights to Havana. Why Cuba? Having spent our entire lives being told we couldn’t go, the moment we were told we could, we jumped at the chance. Bloggers say Cuba is one of the safest countries to travel with a baby, so why not test that theory? Just shy of her 12-week birthday, we boarded a flight to Havana for six days in the sun. (A huge sigh of relief, she slept on all flights and never made a peep. Breast-feeding her during takeoff and landing really did work.)
After almost a week of battling rubble and uneven Havana cobblestone streets with a stroller, Mom, Dad and Baby got the adventure we had hoped for. We watched the sunset over the Atlantic while walking along the El Malecon. We enjoyed paella as musicians serenaded us in the European-style plazas. These were all things we’d do traveling before kids, but now we had memories etched into our family story. From the very beginning of her life, we could tell our daughter that we showed her the world, unbound by fear or conformity, and we have the photos to prove it.
And yes, not to mention, it will only get harder to travel as she grows.
Rather than retreating into our safe, controlled world, we want to take calculated risks to build character and spirit into our daughter. The key word in that sentence is calculated. We don’t want to put our daughter at risk, so we read blog after blog, article after article, about others taking babies to Cuba. What sealed the deal was an enthusiastic, “How fun! Please go and take her, too!” from our pediatrician. The only advice was to be mindful of the hot Cuban sun and breast-feed her often to avoid dehydration.
We found that Cuban culture already takes the sun into account, making it perfect for young families. We woke up with the sun peeking into our room and joined the rest of Havana in finding a fresh breakfast. Satisfied, we’d wander the narrow streets using the building shadows as a natural sunblock. After lunch, the city retreats inside to escape the height of the sun. Museums and coffee shops became our best friends and great feeding grounds. As the sun escaped into the night, our adventure continued outside for dinner and more exploring.
There’s an old proverb that says, “When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.” We don’t want the sun to rise when our daughter is 3 years old; we want it to rise for her now. Each morning, she woke up with wide eyes ready to see a different world into which she was born. At 12 weeks old, we showed her that the world doesn’t have to be an unsafe, small place to be afraid of; rather, it can be greeted with curiosity and wonder. (And she can brag to her friends about having a passport before any of them.)
Now onto our next adventure: Israel!
Travel tips for Cuba with a baby:
Apply for your baby passport early giving it four to six weeks to arrive. This article walks you through the process:https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/under-16.htmlMost airlines include the required Cuban health insurance with your ticket. Call the airline and ask it to issue your baby a physical ticket as proof of health insurance.Your baby needs a visa. Order it beforehand and pick it up near the gate of your departure city at the airport. Americans can only travel for one of 12 reasons. Pick “People to people” as your reason. They didn’t ask or check at either border control, but just in case keep a copy of your itinerary to show you interacted with Cubans. If you stay at an Airbnb, interacting with your host counts.American credit cards and ATM cards do not work in Cuba. There’s also an additional fee for exchanging U.S. dollars into Cuban CUC. To avoid the hassle, call your bank at least seven weeks in advance and take out money in euros. We budgeted $100 a day while in Havana.If you pack the right things, you’ll have a less stressful stay in Cuba. Traveling in April, here’s what we recommend taking for your baby:- ThinkBaby sunscreen- Diapers for six days (We brought 66)- Baby wipes- Ergobaby for exploring the beautiful streets of Havana- Light stroller and car seat (We got this one free from our neighborhood parents network)- Travel baby sleeper- 10 summer outfits- One swaddle- Four burb rags- Baby soap- Baby thermometer- Night light- Fully stocked diaper bag- Baby Tylenol- A NoseFrida
We didn’t end up using or needing the baby insect repellent or mosquito net.
Stay in Old Havana. You can walk to everything and the streets are narrow, protecting your baby from the sun.
Men and women in Cuba love babies, proved by the fact that every person we interacted with paid attention to our baby. We could bump to the front of every line.
We checked two bags, which was a mistake. We were at the airport in Havana for an hour waiting for our luggage to come through on the belt. Once you have your bags, the money exchange is at departures rather than arrivals. Often there’s a very long line. Factor in two to three hours at the airport before you’re ready to head to your Airbnb or hotel.
Each morning, we’d put her in the Ergo. She’d fall asleep as Mom and Dad walked the historic streets of Old Havana. Go from street to street enjoying the vibrant street art, cheap mojitos, and beautiful plazas.
Turn your Cuba visit into a technology-free vacation. WiFi is controlled by the government and only a few parks and hotels have it. Once you find WiFi, you can only log on after purchasing a sometimes hard-to-find WiFi card. Once you log on, don’t be surprised if the WiFi is one of these things: 1) slow 2) shuts down after a few minutes or 3) doesn’t work at all. That said, do all your research beforehand while in the United States, including hours of operations of each place you want to visit. There were many times we walked for more than hour to an art gallery or restaurant only to find it closed.
The streets are very uneven and bumpy. This made taking a stroller a bit more difficult. We ended up using the Ergo for much of our stay. If you want to save space, leave the stroller at home, but take the car seat, as you’ll need it in the taxi to and from the airport.
Many Cuban taxis don’t have seat belts in the back. Factor in extra time and money to pay for a yellow taxi, which has seat belts for each seat.
Lunch was no issue with our baby, but Cubans eat dinner late, right when our baby goes down for bed. Many restaurants didn’t do takeout, so it took several tries before I was able to bring food back to our Airbnb. If you stay in Old Havana, a restaurant called Art Pub does takeout.
Graff works at The Washington Post and is a first-time dad. He’s on Twitter @AustinKGraff and Instagram.