Travel To Cuba, Fame Not Required

While travel to Cuba has come a long way recently, not everyone can visit as easily as Beyonce and Jay-Z who chose Havana as the place to celebrate their anniversary. Still, even for super stars, travel to Cuba is not like buying a ticket from New York to Chicago and there are a few hoops to jump through. But a new program by a trusted source might just be the answer for travelers who want to visit Cuba.

People to People Ambassador Programs, the educational travel experience company that sent students to Japan after the earthquake/tsunami is back with a new twist on an old way of traveling to Cuba.

People to People is the company that partnered with actress Holly Robinson Peete to award five students with travel scholarships and helped college students complete degrees with international travel programs designed to do just that.

Applying their expertise of sending students around the world for global educational experiences, People to People acquired a travel operator license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for adult travel programs in Cuba starting in July 2013.

That travel operator license is required to satisfy requirements of the Trading with the Enemy Act, which is the major roadblock to unrestricted travel to Cuba. Exceptions to the ban are allowed by licenses issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department.

People to people will not be the first enterprise to do this. USA Cuba Travel specializes in travel to Cuba and arranged for over 100,000 Americans to get there last year.But People to People’s Citizen Ambassador Programs are designed not for college-age students, but for career professionals who want to get a first-hand look at Cuba for business reasons. Those “business reasons” open up an extremely wide field that many would-be travelers to Cuba can qualify for. Enrolled in medical, educational, business, law or sociology-related programs, delegates have an immersive cultural experience through the program that sounds a lot like an ecotourism trip.

Taking part in a walking tour of a village, going to a street party, interacting with locals or being part of a local community project are all bona fide activities and part of the curriculum. Being in the program, on the ground in Cuba, will also require sleeping and eating there, much like a trip to any other destination around the world.

Trips are seven nights in country with regularly schedule departures from Miami in July 2013 through December 2013. People to People programs typically cost from $4,500-7,999, depending on length, destination and itinerary but are all-inclusive. Transportation, meals, accommodations and activities are part of the deal. Good news, the price range for Cuba programs currently run $4,699-$4,999.

Not part of the deal? Cuban cigars – so here is a little video about how they are made:

Busy Completing Your College Degree? Travel Abroad Can Help

Approaching the finish line on completing a college degree, students often struggle to pick up a class here or an internship there. Between the need to graduate on time and summer jobs, travel abroad for a whole semester is not realistic for many. Now, a new alternative promises to give students that same international experience in a program that fits their timetable.

People to People Ambassador Programs has sent over half a million students in grades 5-12 abroad. Now, with an eye on college level students, the nationally recognized travel provider has created a suite of college level programs that focus on volunteerism and service, cultural immersion and adventure.

The two to three-week programs include a heavy focus in developing the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) of students who earn upper division college credit in what seems to be an increasing need.

“We have seen heightened interest from students and parents in the past couple of years to extend our product line into the university domain to continue that experiential learning track,” Peg Thomas, president of People to People, said in a statement.Accompanied by specially selected leaders from various colleges and universities, the organization promises that students will leave the program with an enhanced global perspective poised to enter the work force with a competitive edge.

“A two- to three-week educational trip with People to People Ambassador Programs increases CQ as much as a full semester of study abroad from an Ivy League school,” boasts People to People on its website.

The inaugural college study abroad program took students to India in December 2012 experiencing diverse cultures and visited iconic monuments such as the Taj Mahal and Jama Masjid Mosque. Upcoming trips will take students to India, Japan, Vietnam and Antarctica.

People to People Ambassador Programs is the exclusive educational travel provider of People to People International (PTPI), a nonprofit organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote peace through understanding worldwide.

[Photo credit – Flickr user Thompson Rivers]

People To People Partners With MTV, Give Back

People to People Ambassador Group will be sending over 100 students to Japan in July for the first time since a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011. This week, People to People launched the Act for Japan contest in partnership with MTV Act to give away one full tuition travel scholarship.

Platinum selling recording artist and People to People alum Jordin Sparks will act as the final contest judge selecting one student to travel to Japan to provide aid in communities devastated by the 2011 tsunami.

“MTV Act is all about connecting young people with opportunities to take action and celebrating incredible organizations like People to People,” Liza Vadnai, director of public affairs for MTV said in a release. “We’re honored to partner with them on this initiative, and know that this opportunity will be a life-changing experience for the winning student.”Students interested in entering the contest and participating in hands-on service projects through the Spirit of Japan program must submit a video explaining why they love Japan and want to give back by May 18, 2012. Jordin Sparks, who participated on a People to People program to Europe last summer, will select the contest winner. The contest is open to full-time students in junior high and high school ages 13-19. Contest submission details can be found at

“MTV Act is dedicated to helping teens engage and take action. We couldn’t ask for a better partner to work with us to give one deserving student the opportunity to live out their dream by traveling to Japan and giving back to this amazing country,” Peg Thomas, president of People to People Ambassador Programs told Gadling. “Japan was a natural choice to launch our Service in Action programs, which we are organizing as part of our heightened commitment to building a better world through service.”

[Photo by PeopletoPeople]

5 student travel programs that are hiring this summer

Want to get out of town this summer? Leading a student travel program may just be your ticket. The requirements vary from program to program, but often include foreign language proficiency, in-country experience, previous work with adolescents, a keen sense of adventure, and a whole lot of patience.

There are dozens of programs out there, but this list is a good place to start. Plus, we know they’re looking for summer leaders.

People to People
The Program: Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1965, People to People’s mission is to promote cultural understanding and world peace among middle and high school students. Programs focus on cultural exploration, leadership, and sports.
Cool Itineraries: Road to the Himalayas in India, South African Adventure, Modern and Ancient Civilizations in Italy, Sicily, and Greece.
Leader Requirements: Teacher leaders must be 21 or older, with preference given to educators and students majoring in education.
How to Apply: Step one is to create an account on Compass, P2P’s leader hub. You’ll then need to complete an online application, which takes around 30 minutes.Putney Student Travel
The Program: Geared toward high school students, Putney Student Travel’s summer trip offerings emphasize education and cultural engagement. Trip themes include community service, cultural exploration, global awareness in action, language learning, and summer school. Putney also coordinates National Geographic Student Expeditions, which include explorational expeditions, field workshops in subjects like photography, and community service projects.
Cool Itineraries: Cultural Exploration at Kilimanjaro, Community Service in Ecuador and the Galapagos, Excel educational courses at Oxford and in Tuscany.
Leader Requirements: They vary from program to program, but generally include a college degree, relevant language proficiency, and travel experience in the target country/ies. The program is selective, and reading through former leader profiles can help you get a sense for whether you’d be a good fit.
How to Apply: Complete the online application and upload your cover letter and CV. Putney starts accepting leader applications for summer employment each December, and interviews are held between January and April.
Note: I previously led for this program, and it was awesome.

Travel for Teens
The Program: TFT offers a wide array of trips focusing on cultural exploration, language learning, and community service, as well as a number of “specialty” trips that involve activities like photography and surfing.
Cool Itineraries: Fiji Service and Adventure, Language in Paris and the South of France, Thailand Photography.
Leader Requirements: Leaders must be least 21 years of age; commit to at least two summers; have experience working with teenagers, particularly in a camp environment; have experience living, traveling, or working in the target country/ies; and possess foreign language fluency, particularly in Spanish, Italian, French, Mandarin, Thai, and German.
How to Apply: Complete the online application and upload your CV and a photo.

Westcoast Connection
The Program: Specializing in “teen tours”, community service programs, language learning, pre-college enrichment, and family adventure trips, Westcoast Connection focuses on both personal and group experiences, with an emphasis on fun.
Cool Itineraries: Major League Baseball Madness Tour across the East Coast, Midwest, and California; Israel Experience; Global Adventure in China.
Leader Requirements: There aren’t any concrete requirements for employment, but Westcoast emphasizes teamwork as a key leader attribute. Available positions include Trip Director, Food Director, and Trip Leader/Specialist.
How to Apply: Complete the online application.

Where There Be Dragons
The Program: With longer itineraries than most of the other programs, Where There Be Dragons emphasizes immersion in physical and cultural landscapes through experiential education, active pursuits, service learning, and language programs. Youth Programs are focused in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.
Cool Itineraries: Cambodia: Studies in Development and Peace, Jordan: Arabic Languages and Cultures, Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa
Leader Requirements: The ideal applicant has unique in-country experience, relevant foreign language skills, experience leading groups and/or working with teens, dedication to education, experience in a relevant field, and a Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician certification.
How to Apply: Complete the online application and upload your CV.

[image via Putney Student Travel]

Seven ways to experience Bahamas culture

When most people think of the Bahamas, there are only three things on their mind: sun, sand and sea. But in between dipping your toes in turquoise waters and sipping down a Bahama Mama or few, there are several ways you can get to know the local culture of the islands and some of the friendly, welcoming people who live there. Instead of bypassing the real Bahamas, here are three ways you can immerse yourself in Bahamian culture on your next trip to paradise.

People to People: Organized by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, the People to People program (pictured above) connects travelers who are interested in learning about local customs with Bahamians who are ready and willing to share. While in Nassau, a generous ambassador of the program invited several other guests – locals and travelers – into her home for traditional meal composed entirely of Bahamian-grown food and items from local vendors. “It’s food from our backyard, swimming in our ocean,” said our host ambassador Lesley as we ate dishes like plantain and conch meatballs and Bahamian-style macaroni and cheese. Even better than the food was the company, a warm and friendly group who fielded all our questions about Bahamian life and culture. If interested, the experience can also be extended to include a church service, visit to a local school, boating excursion, or tour of the island. Did I mention it’s free?Arawak Cay: Nassau residents call this collection of multicolored, seaside restaurants and bars “The Fish Fry.” Once a series of shacks where fishermen sold their catch, this is now one of the best places to sample typical Bahamian dishes such as conch salad, fried snapper, and more. Mingle casually with the locals while you knock back a Kalik, the local beer, or if you’re bold challenge one of them to a game of dominoes. Nights and weekends are the best times to drop by, but no matter when you visit this is one place that is dominated by locals and not travelers.

Graycliff Hotel: There is no better place to take in the grandeur of the “Old Bahamas” than at the Graycliff Hotel. Built in 1740 by a real pirate of the Caribbean, the pink mansion was originally the site of the first Anglican church in the Bahamas. Over the years it has been a post for the American Navy, a favored spot of Al Capone during the age of prohibition, and a private residence for royalty. Today, it is home to an elegant hotel and restaurant, an in-house cigar factory, and the third largest private wine cellar in the world (with 250,000 bottles and counting). Ask a guide to show you the “million dollar rack,” a collection of bottles totaling a million bucks, or if you’re lucky he’ll let you catch a glimpse of a single bottle worth $200,000. At night, the Graycliff lounge becomes a smoke-filled piano bar with a gangster feel that takes visitors back to another era.

Junkanoo: Bahamians will use pretty much any excuse for a celebration, but the colorful holiday of Junkanoo is the most elaborate festival of the islands. Parades of people in brightly colored costumes take to the streets on Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Year’s Day. If visiting over the winter holidays isn’t an option, visit Junkanoo’s Educulture Museum, which contains historical items from previous Junkanoo celebrations and is a great spot to get kids interested in the history of the Bahamas. There are also several Junkanoo costumes at the Bahamas Welcome Center, where stalls are set up selling authentic Bahamas souvenirs.

Rake and Scrape: Combine the beat of a sheepskin drum with the scraping noise of a carpenter’s saw and you have “Rake and Scrape,” a musical style that originated when slaves began creating instruments out of whatever was available to them. Ask the locals where you might be able to catch a band, or head to Cat Island in May when the Rake and Scrape Festival takes place and you can catch traditional dances such as the Bahamian Quadrille and the Hell and Toe Polka. Calypso, a style of Afro-Caribbean music, is also popular throughout the Bahamas.

Potter’s Cay Dock: Tucked under Nassau’s Paradise Island Bridge – quite literally in the shadow of the Atlantis mega resort – is Potter’s Cay Dock, a Bahamian food marketplace composed of rudimentary stalls. A beehive of activity, the vibe here is different from the famous Straw Market, where Bahamians cater to tourists by hawking straw hats and baskets, mugs, key chains, shirts and other souvenirs. Locals come to Potter’s Cay to buy the daily catch or pick out produce from stalls that are stacked high with fresh plantains, cassava, papaya and more. Potter’s Cay is another perfect place to test local cuisine.

History or Culture Tour: Many of the islands – especially Nassau and Grand Bahama – offer an array of tours of historical landmarks and important cultural heritage sites. Tours are offered by boat, car and foot and cover everything from the days of pirates to the emancipation of slaves and beyond. Check the official Bahamas directory for tour listings that are sanctioned by the department of tourism.

[Photos by Kirsten Alana and MissChatter/Flickr]