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What Renewed Relations Mean For American Travel To Cuba

Franklin Reyes
AP Photo
FILE - In this July 8, 2013 photo, musicians play trombones as a tourist from Colombia takes their picture along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba.

As U.S. moves to restore ties with Cuba, Americans will shed some of the travel restrictions that effectively put the country out of reach for 50 years, says KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley.

“I can’t tell you how big this is,” said Brumley, who has led several trips to Cuba.

‘Sand-And-Sun Vacations’ May Be Possible In The Future

With the embargo in place, Americans have been only allowed to travel to Cuba on cultural or educational trips.

“So pretty much from 9 o’clock in the morning ‘til 5 o’clock, you’ll be busy visiting schools, visiting different institutions, learning about the Cuban economy, the Cuban government, the Cuban educational system,” Brumley said.

And these stops are great, says Brumley, but Americans weren’t allowed the more relaxing getaways that the Brits and the Canadians have been enjoying in Cuba.

The White House says Americans still must fall into a handful of categories to make the trip to Cuba. But relaxing many of the rules might clear the way for Americans to one day be able to enjoy what Brumley calls “sand-and-sun vacations” in Cuba. Not quite yet, though.

Americans Can Use Credit Cards In Cuba

Another big change comes in the way Americans spend money in Cuba. It used to be that Americans had to bring piles of cash with them, says Brumley.

“Meanwhile, the Brit sitting next to you at the restaurant is paying by Visa and going down to the local bank and local ATM, and accessing his cash that way,” he said.

But as President Obama said Wednesday, “It will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. And Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island.”

Americanization Likely, But New Friendships Possible, Too

With these changes, Brumley expects to see a quadrupling of Americans headed to Cuba. He also expects multinational companies to flock there, too.

“In a matter of time, you’ll probably start to see Starbucks, Niketown and you know, being so close, it’s going to be Americanized fairly quickly,” Brumley said.

Still, Brumley sees a huge opportunity for the people of both countries.

“I’m a huge believer in people-to-people experiences, no matter what government. I mean, people are all the same, no matter where I’ve traveled to, whether it’s the Middle East or South America, or Africa. You know, the basic needs and our basic desires are the same,” he said. "So I just see this as an incredible, wonderful thing in which more and more people will be able to meet up and discuss the differences in their daily lives."

The KPLU Travel Club has spots available for our trip to Cuba in March! Learn More >>>


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" is our new travel segment exploring all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B. Tell us what you think about responsible travel, or suggest topics for future installations of this series. Have a travel hangup or a tip? Let us know in the comments.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.