A Sensory Journey Through Morocco, Africa

Morocco is a country in northern Africa that features unique sights and experiences for all travel styles. When I visited, I was amazed at how much there was to explore – the lively sounds of the markets, the tastes of flavorful spices, the feel of gentle hands during a neck massage and the spiritually felt at a sacred mosque.

More than just your average tourism trip, Morocco takes you on a journey of the mind, body and senses. Your eyes will be opened to a new culture and you will get the chance to visit beautiful and enlightening places that will transform your outlook on life.


Designed in the 1920s by French furniture maker Jacques Majorelle and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge in the 1980s, the Majorelle Garden (pictured) is a 12-acre botanical garden in Marrakech. The site is brimming with unusual tropical flowers, cacti and shocking displays of Yves Klein blue. Stroll through this exotic and vibrant garden, take in the unique aromas and visit Yves Saint Laurent’s resting place.Taste

Originated from the Berber people, the native inhabitants of Morocco, tagine is Morocco’s unofficial national dish. Cooked in a conical clay pot of the same name, tagine is comparable to a slow-cooked stew with different tender meats, vegetables and sauces.

A typical Moroccan tagine is made of chicken, preserved lemons, onions and potatoes. Learn to make them in a cooking class like the one at La Maison Bleue in Fez.


Relax in a traditional Moroccan hammam, which begins with a steam bath and is followed by an exfoliating body scrub and polish with black soap made from argan nuts. The experience ends with a relaxing argan oil massage. Visiting a hammam is part of the daily life in Morocco and is used to de-stress, cleanse and relax the body. Visitors can find hammams in almost every town in Morocco and in many hotels and riads.


Visit an argan oil cooperative near the coastal city of Essaouira and experience how all-women cooperatives make argan oil from argan nuts using the same technique that has been passed down for centuries. Argan oil is used in a wide range of beauty products for skin and hair, and for cooking. This area of Morocco is the only place in the world where the argan tree grows.


Make a trip to the majestic Mosque Hassan II set on the Atlantic shore of Casablanca. The seventh largest mosque in the world, Mosque Hassan II is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are permitted to enter. The mosque can hold up to 105,000 worshippers at once and guided tours are offered to non-Muslim visitors in several different languages throughout the day.


Enjoy the mysticism and magic of Marrakech’s famed square, Djemaa el-Fna. Djemaa el-Fna comes alive in the evening with music, cobra charmers, acrobats and merchants selling dates, dried figs, almonds, walnuts and other foods. As dusk falls, the square becomes an open-air dining area packed with stalls lit by gas lanterns and the air is filled with wonderful smells of Moroccan spices and plumes of cooking smoke spiraling up into the night.


Stroll the narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets of the souk in Marrakech, the largest in Morocco. Visitors can buy traditional Moroccan clothing and crafts from artisanal vendors selling from stalls and small shops. The most popular items – many handcrafted on site in the souk – include Berber carpets, hammered-metal lanterns and traditional Moroccan pottery.


While in Morocco, rest your head in a guest room at a Riad – a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard and fountain. Hidden behind an unassuming door in the Medina (old city) of Marrakech, Dar Les Cigognes is an example of a traditional riad-turned guesthouse. It features 11 guest rooms off a sunny courtyard with orange trees and a gurgling fountain. Marrakech is brimming with hundreds of riads that provide peaceful hideaways from the bustling souk.


Witness traditional male craftsman producing one-of-a-kind leather goods from start to finish. These artisans employ techniques dating back to the medieval times in the world’s oldest leather tannery in the Imperial city of Fez. Tour the famous tanneries and dye pits, bursting with vibrant color, in Fez’s ancient Medina, which date back to the eleventh century.


Morocco provides some of the most diverse options for outdoor adventures and sports – ski the Atlas Mountains in Oukaimeden, surf the Atlantic waves in Agadir or sand board the dunes of the Sahara Desert near Ouarzarzate. Due to Morocco’s unique location and terrain, travelers can visit a ski resort in the Atlas Mountains by morning and end their day soaking up the sun on the beaches of Agadir. Visitors to Morocco also have the option to golf, kite surf, horseback ride and more.

For a visual idea of this sensory and spiritual journey through Morocco, check out the gallery blow.

[image via Jessie on a Journey]


Serene sunsets and self-reflection in Southern California

Who doesn’t love a gorgeous sunset? While nothing compares to seeing one in person, these photos of Southern California sunsets by Nick Chill are just as good, if not better, than viewing a setting sun with your own eyes. According to Chill, the trick is getting away from the developed coastline and clean, sandy beaches.

“You can still find high cliffs, rocky surf, and other beautifully natural settings from which to view the warm Pacific sunsets,” he explains in an interview. “Another challenge to photographing sunsets in Southern California is the inherent lack of clouds. While this is a dream for tourists, photographers aren’t so enthusiastic about a clear sky. Clear blue skies tend to make for less dramatic images.”

While most people can agree sunsets make for moving moments, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is.

For Chill, it is a magical time of day. “As the sun gets low in the sky, it casts a warm light over the land that seems to make everything beautiful. It’s sometimes hard to see the beauty of life when you are toiling away, at work or at home, but the magical light of sunrise and sunset is always there to remind us that life is beautiful. To watch the sun set over the horizon reminds me of the impermanence of life. It’s really a very spiritual, self-reflective experience for me, and I do my best to try and share that experience with the viewers of my work.”

To get a better idea of what he means, check out the gallery below.


Galley Gossip: Improve your travel with Bruce Lee

The following quotes are from the book Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living by John Little.

1. Something for nothing “There is only something for something, never something for nothing.”

Think about that next time you feel nickel and dimed by an airline. Ticket prices are less than they were twenty years ago, so in the end you’re still paying the same price you were in 1992, maybe even less. Keep in mind the Barbie Glam Vacation Jet costs $119.99 at ToysRus. That’s more than most one way tickets.

2. Emptiness is the starting point “In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup. Drop all your preconceived fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is so useful? Because it is empty!”

Don’t let what happened on your last flight affect your next flight. Often passengers will board and immediately want to rehash the details of what went wrong on another trip. Things don’t usually go so well from here. How could it? I’ve just been linked to the worst flight ever!

3. “Is” vs. “Should” “What IS is more important than WHAT SHOULD BE. Too many people are looking at “what is” from a position of thinking “what should be.”

To become a flight attendant one must be flexible. Being able to quickly adapt to change is essential on the job. If there’s one thing we can count on in the aviation industry, it’s something is bound to go wrong. This is why we always have back up plans A, B, C, and D. So next time something doesn’t seem to be going right, do what a flight attendant would do and instead of getting upset about what should be happening, focus on what is happening, and start making alternative plans – QUICKLY! Before all the hotel rooms are booked and the rental agencies run out of cars.

4. Anxiety Anxiety is the gap between the NOW and the THEN. So if you are in the now, you can’t be anxious, because your excitement flows immediately into ongoing spontaneous activity.

I can spot a fearful flier a mile away. If they’re not asking about the weather, they’re clutching the armrest and sweating profusely. A little unknown fact is more people die falling off donkeys than they do in plane crashes. Remember that next time you start to feel anxious. Focus on the fact that you’re sitting in a somewhat uncomfortable seat and drinking the beverage of your choice. There’s probably even a very nice person sitting beside you. If that doesn’t work, tell a flight attendant what’s going on and we’ll do what we can to help. We’re trained professionals. That’s what we’re there for.

5. Not to think, but to do Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.

You know the saying, life is the journey, not the destination? Well it’s true. Your trip starts as soon as you throw your bags into the trunk of your car. We only get one chance at this life, so why not make the most of it, even if you’re on an airplane or stuck in the terminal after a breach in security at Newark Airport.

6. Life is the effect of feelings Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

This is the one I have to remind myself of when I start to feel guilty about charging passengers for food, drinks and headsets. Hey, that’s my job. And I love my job! I also have to remember this when I start getting all worked up over a passenger who was rude to me when there are 150 other really nice ones on board.

7. In solitude you are least alone – Loneliness is only an opportunity to cut adrift and find yourself. In solitude you are least alone. Make good use of it.

Passengers get all bent out of shape over the electronic device policy more than anything else these days. On a flight from Chicago to Oklahoma City I had to ask 16 passengers to turn off their cell phones after having told them three times already! Once the aircraft reaches its cruising altitude, passengers are free to turn most electronic devices back on. Until then why not relax or try meditating – while it’s still free of charge to do so.

8. Anger should be expressed Any anger that is not coming out, flowing freely, will turn into sadism, power drive, stammering, and other means of torture.

There’s a difference between expressing yourself and throwing a hissy fit that results in getting escorted off a flight because you’ve been bottling things up for so long, you’re no longer rational and freak out over little things like a passenger reclining their seat or a kid who accidentally bangs the tray table. And you wonder why some flight attendants are no longer smiling. And why others become folklore heroes who’s stories last longer than their careers. Does JetBlue’s Stephen Slater ring a bell?

9. Happiness requires action Everybody is capable of obtaining happiness, but the matter of going on, or taking action to obtain it, is in question.

There are two kinds of people; those who love to travel and those who hate to travel. Sadly there are more and more complainers in the world these days. Yes, travel is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! For starters try arriving to the airport early so the stress of finding yourself in a long line at security doesn’t snowball into something worse, like a missed flight.

10. The importance of adaption The inability to adapt brings destruction.

Flying today is like being on an episode of Survivor. Only the fittest – er, most prepared – will survive. If you pack light, bring lunch, buy water, have reading material handy, and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, how bad can it really be?

(Read more about Bruce Lee on his website.)

10 travel excuses not to make in 2012

So, you’ve always wanted to travel, but you just haven’t done it yet. Why not? Do you think you can’t afford it? Or, that you don’t have the time? When it comes down to it, obstacles shouldn’t be getting in the way of you fulfilling your dreams. This year, stop making excuses and travel.

Excuse #1: I can’t afford it

This is one of the most common excuses people make for not traveling. Traveling doesn’t have to mean staying in 5-star hotels and eating at Michelin starred restaurants. In fact, using less-expensive accommodation options, like staying with locals for free through Couchsurfing, volunteering on organic farms in exchange for room and board with WWOOF, or doing a homestay can give you more insight into the local culture of the place you are visiting. Hostels, a simple yet social form of accommodation, can also help you meet fellow travelers while saving you money. And, eating at restaurants that don’t have a big “English Menu Available” sign are not only cheaper, but more authentic.

You can also help yourself before your trip begins by saving up some money. Stop spending money on little things that you don’t really need, like a $4 Starbucks coffee (make it at home) or a $10 sandwich from the eatery near your job (again, make it at home). Also, stop splurging on bigger things, like new clothes, makeup, sneakers, big nights out, etc… Obviously you don’t want to deprive yourself, but cut back a little and look for alternative and cheaper options that can also be satisfying.Excuse #2: I don’t have anyone to go with

You don’t need anyone to go with! I’ve gone on backpacking trips through Europe and South East Asia by myself and have never had a problem meeting people along the way. If you stay in hostels, you will easily meet other travelers. Money exchanges, airports, markets, and walking tours are other prime spots for making friends. If you’re more interested in meeting locals, try a homestay, volunteer, or just seek out the cafes and bars where locals hangout and strike up a conversation. The best thing about traveling alone is you never have to adhere to anyone else’s schedule. Instead, you can wake up when you want, see what you want, and do what you want without having to feel the need to coordinate with someone else.

Excuse #3: I’m too young/old

You are never too young or too old to travel. If you’re young, why not do something abroad to help build your resume, like volunteer, study, or intern abroad. If it’s a matter of your parents being worried and you want to appease them, join a tour group like Intrepid Travel or G Adventures so that you’ll be with an experienced guide as well as other young travelers.

If you think you’re too old, think again. There are plenty of older people out there, not just traveling, but backpacking and trekking their way around the world. In fact, just this past October, 84-year old Richard Byerley broke a new world record and became the oldest person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. And before him, the oldest person to do this same feat was 82-year old George Solt in 2010. If you still feel skeptical, there are tour groups that cater to those in their retirement years, like Road Scholar and Grand Circle Foundation.

Excuse #4: I’m afraid to fly

According to planecrashinfo.com, the chances of you being killed on a plane flown by one of the top 25 airlines is 1 in 9.2 million. And, even if you went with an airline that is deemed to have higher accident rates than the others, the chances are still slim at 1 in 843,744. If logic still doesn’t assuage your fears don’t get dismayed, you can still travel. Fill up your gas tank and take a road trip, pack a bag and travel by bus from city to city, or, for something a little more luxurious, opt for a relaxing cruise.

Excuse #5: My boyfriend/girlfriend/parents don’t want me to go

While it’s understandable that the people who love you will miss you, they should also try to be happy that you’re doing something that will make you feel fulfilled. There is so much technology available nowadays that keeping in touch is easy. Video chat on Skype, send e-mails, or keep a blog to let your loved ones follow your travels and know that you’re safe.

If it’s a significant other that’s keeping you from traveling, ask them to come along with you. And if they can’t, you still shouldn’t give up going on a trip that will enrich your life. As for your parents, it’s only because they are worried about you, so try to ease their minds as much as possible. Call regularly and send them photos, make it clear how responsible you plan on being, and show them blog posts and articles from other travelers who have been to the same cities. Despite the fact that I’ve backpacked myriad countries alone, my parents still worry, and that’s something that will never change. But, these trips have helped me have experiences I never would have otherwise and have helped shape me into the person I am now.

Excuse #6: Traveling is dangerous

While I hear this one a lot, it’s always amazing to me that people can put such a blanket statement on traveling. Isn’t life in general dangerous? I’ve also heard that driving, smoking cigarettes, playing contact sports, drinking alcohol, and eating fatty foods is dangerous, but I’d say majority of the people I know do most of those things. You need to take risks in order to live a full life. Of course, you should take precautions. Walking back to your accommodation alone and drunk at 3AM in a foreign city (or even your hometown) probably isn’t the best idea. But if you use your brain, you should be more than fine.

One thing I always find, too, is that people perceive other cities as being more dangerous than they often are. On a recent trip to Ghana, Africa, my friends were extremely worried for my safety. On a hike in the Volta Region I asked a local who I had befriended if he would ever come to New York to visit me. His reply? “Isn’t New York one of the most dangerous cities in the world?”

Excuse #7: It’ll ruin my career

Most jobs give you time off (and if they don’t, maybe you should try looking for a new job), so use it. If you get two weeks take two weeks vacation, and try to plan it around holidays and weekends so you can add extra days into your trip. If you’re looking to go for longer, don’t look at it as the end of your employability. Traveling can help build and enhance your skills and also shows how adaptable you are as a person. You may also discover things about yourself along the way that can lead you into a job you didn’t even know you wanted, like teaching abroad, travel journalism, being a tour guide, or working for a nonprofit or travel company.

Excuse #8: I have a family

Take them with you! Just ask Meg Nesterov who writes Gadling’s Knocked Up Abroad, chronicling her travels with a baby. There will be challenges to traveling with a family, but with the right attitude and some planning it isn’t impossible. If your kids are a little older, they will be introduced to unique cultural experiences at a young age, and you can seek out destinations that have opportunities for learning. There are also tons of hotels out there that cater to families, and many homestays and volunteer programs that will accept families with children, as well.

Excuse #9: I’m scared of being culture shocked

Even the most well-traveled individuals can experience culture shock, and it’s completely normal. However, you shouldn’t let the possibility of some discomfort abroad stop you from seeing a foreign land. If it’s your first time traveling, start with a country or countries that are more Westernized and speak English. Once you get more comfortable with being away from home, you can start to branch out little by little. If you get to a place where you really feel uncomfortable, don’t run away but instead face the obstacle head on. Realize the unique experience you’re having and try new things that you never imagined you would. You can always sneak back to your hotel room and write your thoughts in a journal when you need a break.

Excuse #10: I don’t know a foreign language

Obviously, you can solve this problem by traveling to destinations where they do speak your language. However, by only sticking to primarily English-speaking countries you can miss out on a lot of great cities. You’d actually be surprised how many people in non-English speaking countries can, in fact, speak at least some English. And when they can’t, using hand gestures, pointing, and carrying a pen and paper to write down the names of landmarks or draw pictures can be very helpful. And just to be safe, a pocket dictionary never hurts.

Chinese artist creates sculptures from suitcases

Ever packed so much in your suitcase that it felt like you were carrying around a whole city? Apparently you’re not the only one. Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen had a similar feeling during her recent travels and decided to turn it into art. Xiuzhen has recently been using suitcases and discarded travel clothing to recreate miniature model cities in a project she calls “Portable Cities.”

The idea for Portable Cities got its start when the artist was waiting at the airport baggage carousel for her luggage. Xiuzhen began thinking about how we carry our homes around with us when we travel; the natural extension of that thought was to think about suitcases as the symbolic “home” of the global traveler. Ever since her revelation, Xiuzhen has been recreating intricate sculptures of her favorite cities like Seattle, Berlin, Vancouver and Beijing using pieces of random travel clothing as her medium.

For a generation of travelers groomed on round the world trips, AirBnB and Technomadic lifestyles, Xiuzhen’s art makes perfect sense. What is a home when you’re constantly packing your life into a suitcase? Is it a physical place? Or simply a state of mind?

[Photo via DesignBoom]

[Thanks Liz!]