Nothing like the sun kissed Cuban skin, clear blue waters, cigars, retro cars, coconut trees and the very intoxicating rums. Even if we agree that all these are elements synonymous in everyone’s visit to Cuba, it is imperative to note that your Cuban experience may be different from mine or any other person’s.

I visited Varadero, Cuba this past year and that was a surreal experience. From arriving at the international airport in Matanzas and feeling the surge of humidity after taking off from Winter in Canada, to seeing a 50s classic Pontiac taxi whiz by on the road. It felt like I had travelled back in time and for a split second, it all felt a little surreal.

I am like most people, specifically the type of tourist that errs too close to the edge of caution. At the time I booked my trip, I didn’t think of experiencing the city of Varadero any other way than booking an all-inclusive resort with a plan to not leave that resort.

The comfort of the resort seemed to be enough and I was 100% certain anything I wanted to do outside the resort was in fact already provided in the resort i.e. entertainment, dancing, food, drinks, you name it. People even encouraged you for safety reasons to stay in your resort and not out of it. But it wasn’t enough, I began to feel suffocated day in, day out at the resort and I wanted to experience the true Cuba not the pre-packaged version. So I rebelled and left the resort most days to either go sight seeing, shopping, or simply breathing in the beautiful Cuban air.

Before I left for Cuba, I had a checklist of things I wanted to do & see, an emergency first aid kit of some sort that I had packed, a bag of goodies and souvenirs for my soon-to-be Cuban friends, and in fact everything commenters on trip advisor and Lonely planet advised for/against for me to do I adhered to some extent.

But upon returning from my trip, I began to hear stories of people who had also been to several places in Cuba including Varadero and how they had hitch hiked their way through the country. They didn’t book a resort and I couldn’t help but feel cheated. Questions like did I mostly experience a pre-packaged version of Cuba at my resort? Sure, I left my resort some days, but did I exert as much freedom in exploration as other non-resort tourists did?

These people talked about staying at hostels every night or being invited by Cubans into their homes and even learning more about the religion of Yoruba first hand from the people that practise it. I was in awe of how a trip of the same duration to the same country could feel like I hadn’t experienced Cuba at all. I realized that my entire trip was a packaged bubble and that made me feel insecure.

I started too think, why do we travel?

Do we seek travel as an extension of our lives or an escape from our lives?

What do you think?

I do know one thing though…Next time, I’ll go the extra mile to explore someplace new.