When I was 19, I boarded a cheap flight to London with my best friend and embarked on a month of aimless travel across the Atlantic. Unlike some of our other pals, we had bothered to set a rough itinerary. At the time, we applauded our own maturity in having pre-booked airline tickets and packed the proper plug adapters. Looking back, all I can remember are the glorious hijinks of sleeping in airport terminals to save a few Euros, and then stuffing our purses with croissants from the free breakfast on nights we bothered to pay for hostels. I loved every second of that trip, but shamefully, it was the last time I left the country.
For our honeymoon in the spring of 2020, we planned to take a different sort of adventure abroad. You can imagine how that panned out. Luckily, we had trusted our trip to a local travel agent — Tina Sullivan. Tina and I met on the board of the Worcester Public Library Foundation. At our monthly socials, I relished the details of her worldly adventures and made a note to sit down with her and discuss our honeymoon. When I asked about her services, she explained that her own fee is minimal; travel agents make their commissions from the vendors they trust.
We let Sullivan Travel Service do the work and they did it well. Here are the reasons I will never again plan an extended international stay without a travel agent. Forgive the additions from my diary. I couldn’t help myself.
They Know the Rules and Regulations
Our original itinerary for spring 2020 took us on a grand tour of Italy. When the trip was delayed, Tina had to rebook everything more than once. Border regulations, travel advisories, and testing requirements seemed to change every day. Finally, Tina asked us: “Have you ever considered visiting Morocco?” With aggressive vaccine campaigns and open doors to American travelers, she thought Morocco could provide the escape we were looking for. We both replied by quoting Penny Lane and the deal was done. ‘Morocco. Seat by the window, please.’
They Plan a Well-Rounded Itinerary
Our trip took us from historic Fes to the vast Sahara Desert, and ended in elegant Marrakech. It would have been a mistake to move in the opposite direction. When we felt energized, there was plenty to explore. When we felt fatigued, there was luxury and comfort.
In Fes, we walked for miles with a scholar named Kamal. I told him I was having the best day of my life and he said, “That means it’s almost time to step back and let someone else have a turn.” At the brass gates of the royal palace, he ran his fingers along the geometric pattern to emphasize its ebbs and flows. “Happiness has to be impermanent for individuals, otherwise it would mean nothing,” he told me. “You can’t just keep going up.”
Kamal was born in the Médina, the biggest walking space in the world, and he knows all 9,400 streets by heart. He said you could live your entire life inside the Médina without ever leaving and you would have everything you need. He pointed out the irony of high society’s recent inclination to create pedestrian friendly urban areas while the Médina has been an exemplar of walkability since 789 with little fanfare.
It’s no accident that the walls of the Médina are all plain. Kamal explained its uniformity reminds us that beauty lies within. He opened the doors to some of the most opulent and serene spaces I have ever visited. Inside, we spoke about religion, addiction, misogyny, education, patience and joy. When we parted he said, “Remember that wisdom exceeds power.” I got schooled.
They Connect You With Kind Individuals
Tina had met most of our guides and our driver on her own trip to Morocco. We felt comfortable trusting strangers on her recommendation, and sure enough, we found meaningful connections everywhere we went.
On our first day in the Sahara, the owner of our hotel, Moha, invited us back to his home for lunch to meet his sister who is hoping to move to America. Their family is Berber, the indigenous people of Morocco. Moha showed us the irrigation system in his village; every family has a palm on the edge of the desert and they’re allotted six hours of water each week. He said people judge your character by the condition of your tree. Aicha, his sister, is getting married soon and the wedding will last three full days. She invited us to attend. I wish we could have stayed.
We stopped at a nomad camp and Moha asked the family if they needed anything from the market. They said no, but offered us mint tea. Fatima and her sister read me their science workbook; they speak Berber and Arabic. We giggled a lot about nothing and when Moha said it was time to go, I felt so sad because I wished I had a book to give them. I thought maybe I could mail an Arabic copy of “Bridge to Terabithia” to the village, but then I realized they would be somewhere else by the time it arrived because they move with the weather, herding goats from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara. The Berber culture is unique because in over 10,000 years, women were never accorded a low societal status. I hope Fatima becomes a famous scientist or whatever she wants to be.
I teased my husband because he said he hoped to discover a fossil in the Sahara, but then he actually found one. Moha said it was probably millions of years old and he finds them all the time.
They Provide a Sense of Security
The nature of international travel is to get outside of your comfort zone. Still, it is possible to explore new limits safely.
We rode into the desert on camels. Our guide, Saʽeid, taught me to sandboard from the highest dune. After dinner, he played the drums for us and laughed at our dancing. When we finally went to bed it was so silent. We slept under the stars and watched the sunrise in the morning. We kept joking that we must have fallen from our camels and died because the Sahara felt like heaven.
Our driver Omar stood by us for every leg of our trip. Riding through the Atlas Mountains, my husband and I both felt ill. Omar took us to his parents’ house in the Rose Valley where his mother made us tea and biscuits to settle our stomachs. His youngest nephew was shy at first, but by the end of our visit he was sitting beside me and playing peekaboo. The family gave us potpourri made from roses in their garden. I put it in a dish by our front door when we got home because scent is the sense most closely linked to memory and I want to remember Omar’s kindness.
Sullivan Travel Agency plans leisurely getaways, honeymoons, destination weddings, friend trips and milestone journeys. Find out more at https://sullivantravelservice.com/.