I published this article in 2011 after a short trip to Morocco and Madrid. I did not have to travel thousands of miles to learn these travel lessons but the trip helped reinforce them.
8 Great Travel Lessons
Limit Trip Research and Enjoy Travel
Too much planning results in less fun. Be spontaneous. See what happens. Before the trip, I spent too much time reading guidebooks and trolling message boards. I hardly (truly!) used much of that advance knowledge. In fact, I left half my notes at home and did not miss them.
Locals Rule: Rely on Their Travel Advice
Having someone local (a new contact through Couchsurfing) show me favorite spots in Casablanca made a huge difference. Plus, I had FREE lodging for a night.
Explore Destinations By Walking As Much As Possible
Take time to explore by foot. Get lost. Especially in the Moroccan medinas, it is easy to get lost; it is scary, adventurous, exciting, but also safe. Two of my recent travel BFFs, Samantha Brown and Bruce Northam, are huge walking fans. So, believe them if not me!
Prioritize Experiences Over Money
If your home currency is strong, don’t stress about getting the absolute best deal. I spent too much time worrying about 10 Dirhams (about $1.25). I paid the equivalent of $75 for my own luxury car, driver, and tour guide for a day. The cheapest rental car was $70. I still spent too much time wondering if I was paying too much. Silly!
Immerse in the Moment and Detach From Devices
I also spent too much time looking for wi-fi locations. Why? To update Facebook and Twitter? I should have limited online time to a few minutes in the morning and evening–which is what happened anyway. I spent too many minutes searching for wi-fi during the day.
Travel the Back Door
Rick Steves has long preached traveling “through the back door”—trimming expenses by using local resources, including lodging, eating, and sights. I had a glass of mint tea for 1 Dirham—about 12 cents—on the beach served by Berber women with local music playing in the background. I also could have paid 40 Dirhams for a glass of mint tea at the Hyatt.
Later I had the below fruit smoothie from a hidden market stall that my host in Casablanca knew of. This cost less than $1. Amazing.
Those are just two examples.
Avoid Seeing Too Much
I have a tendency to want to see too much. On my first trip as an adult to Europe, I practically drove straight from Amsterdam to Courmayer because I wanted to see everything. As a result, I saw nothing. I decided to only see Casablanca and Marrakech during my three full days in Morocco.
Professional Musician is an Oxymoron
(WARNING: rant) Watching any act in Marrakech’s Djemaa el-Fna is an unwritten invitation for a collection plate being thrust into your face within seconds. Forget about trying to take a picture or video without hassle. Yes, that is the price for being a visitor here. I could not help but compare it with two nearby performances.
First was a child’s chorus in the amphitheater at Arsat Moulay Abdeslam (Cyber Parc). The group had unabashed joy and infectious songs.
Second was a drum circle group around the fountain at Parc Lalla Hasna. This group of young men were superior to the many drum circles in the Djemaa. They had more energy, better variety of tunes, and females danced alongside—acts in the Djemaa are more, let’s say, “traditional.”
I listened to both groups for more than 15 minutes and remain highlights of my trip. I would have gladly given these groups several times the amount of Dirhams that the Djemaa acts requested but neither group wanted money; they simply played for the love of music. Fantastic! Unfortunately, most the portions that I recorded are on the Flip Camera that I left on the train. Below is one shot of the crowded Djemaa just before sunset.
See also 3 Powerful Habits of Happy Travelers.