Now that our Morocco trip is over, and we're back home, I thought it was a good time to tie up some loose ends, and maybe talk about some stuff that's been on my mind, but didn't really fit within the narrative of a travel journal. I'm going to talk about our experience in Morocco and say some things about traveling in general.
When we first announced we were going to Morocco, we got the question, "Why Morocco?" The answer to this question was, and always is "Why not?" We (mostly) hadn't been there, we knew people there, and we had places to stay. Any one of these reasons would've been good enough. The fact that they speak French in Morocco didn't hurt either, but not speaking the language hasn't stopped us before (Greece, Italy, Korea, etc.).
The best way to see any foreign land, in your own country or out, is to stay with locals. Every time we've done this, without exception, our hosts have been extremely generous, gracious, and very eager to show off their culture and their country. Our Moroccan friends, even ones we had never met before we got there, went to a lot of effort to make our stay comfortable and enjoyable. They invested a lot of time and effort into preparing tremendous meals for us. They shared their homes, and really went out of their way to make sure we got where we needed to go on all the planes, trains, automobiles, buses and petit taxis on our journey. They included us in one of the biggest events of their lives, a wedding, and made us feel like we were part of their family. We were never treated like tourists, we were close friends, or maybe even cousins from The States.
Once we've arranged to visit some place where the people are generous and hospitable, we have to make sure that we're prepared on our end. And so long as we're flexible, and able to keep open minds, we're able to make the most of our travels. They do things different over there (wherever "over there" is), and you have to remember that just because it isn't your way doesn't mean it's wrong. If you find yourself getting upset at how people do things differently from you, remember, it's probably more your hang-up than anything.
For example, the chaotic traffic scene in Marrakesh. After two days, I was ready to kick over the next moped that careened within centimeters of my elbow, but looking around, I noticed that I was the only one with an issue. No one else was getting bent out of shape. Maybe my white-people adherence to arbitrary rules tendencies were getting the better of me, so I decided to relax and do as the Romans do.
Another example were the beggars. There were tons of beggars in Marrakesh. In Islamic culture it is not shameful to beg, plus their religion says you should give money to beggars. The beggars were annoying the crap out of us, but that was something we just had to let go. While their morality tolerated begging, ours did not, so we just ignored them, but refused to get upset about it, or try to force our beliefs on them.
Along those lines, the best way to make the most of your travels is to try to be as little like a tourist as possible. Granted, in certain places you're just going to stand out, but you still want to minimize that as much as you can. It was hot in Marrakesh, but I didn't wear shorts because Moroccan men (generally) don't wear shorts. Interestingly, as pale white people (Moroccans also consider themselves white) in Morocco, we were generally assumed to be French. In fact, we hardly saw any other Americans the whole time. Now there's nothing wrong with being American, and we're very proud of our nationality, but it's pretty cool to present an ambiguous appearance, and maybe avoid some of the negative stereotypes associated with your country of origin. Stereotypes are an evil thing, especially ones about people from other countries. (As an aside, it seems to me that most of the negative stereotypes about other countries and the people in them are perpetuated by people who usually a) don't personally know anyone of that nationality, and b) have never been to that county) I don't want to be assumed to be loud, rich, and have a cultural superiority complex because I'm American. Granted, the French stereotypes aren't any better (rude, smelly, bad tippers) but at least they're different, and since they don't apply to us at all (we smell very nice), we're not offended by the assumption. Do what the locals do: awake when they do, eat and drink as they do, dress like them (as practical), greet people like they do, and try to learn at least a few words of their language. That last tip will go a long way to ingratiate yourself with the locals, and they'll really appreciate the effort, and gracefully forgive your missteps.
One of the best things you can do for yourself as a traveler is to travel light. I saw a great quote somewhere that said "There are two kinds of traveler; those that pack light and those that wish they did." I couldn't agree more. Having too much stuff and luggage is an easy way to overburden yourself, tire yourself out, and put you in a foul mood. You're much better off with less, more versatile stuff that gives you more freedom. Not checking luggage is the only way to go for many reasons. Having clothing components that you can mix and match allows you to have more distinct outfits with less clothing. Buying good quality travel gear and clothing that you can hand-wash in a sink and air dry will lighten your bags tremendously, and give you a lot more flexibility when you don't need to find a laundromat, or run out of clean clothes. Good travel gear is usually more comfortable, stain-resistant, packs smaller, dries faster, and has more pockets. It shouldn't need to be said, but shoes take up a huge amount of space in your luggage. Try to get one pair of shoes to meet all your needs if possible, and if you're visiting a culture where they remove their shoes upon entering a room, get slip-ons.
If you're reading this, it's because I think documenting your travel is pretty important. Buy a good quality journal (the TravelingRoths use Moleskine journals exclusively), take it with you everywhere so you can write when you get a free moment, and never get more than 24 hours behind on your writing (you'll start to forget important details if you do.) Get a decent camera, and learn how to use it. Read some websites on photography (here's a good one) to learn how to take interesting, good-quality pictures under a variety of situations. Definitely learn how to turn off your flash so you can take pictures where photography isn't strictly permitted. Have extra memory cards and batteries (and a way to charge them) and be very liberal with the shutter release button. I recommend at least 100 pictures a day, regardless of your skill level. You'll never regret having too many pictures, only not having enough.
Travel is important, and necessary, in my opinion. And with a little forethought, preparation, and an open mind, you can really make the most of your time away. You'll be a better person for it.
(Next post: Some travel gear specifics)
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