I never expected to return home with a collection of life lessons I learned in Morocco. In fact, I’m not sure what I expected from this exotic country I’ve wanted to visit for as long as I can remember.
I didn’t know much about it and didn’t do a lot of (ok, any) research beforehand because I wanted to just absorb it all when I got there. Basically, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I was prepared to be disappointed—no way could Morocco live up to how amazing I imagined it would be.
Instead, Morocco blew me away… from every direction. The landscapes, the sights, the history, the food, the culture, and, above all, the people and the things they taught me. My 2-week trip to Morocco has changed me in a permanent way and will live in my heart for a long time.
So, I want to share with you some of the things I learned during my weeks in Morocco. I want to get them down in a public space where I can reflect on them in hopes of never forgetting them. Because, as we all know, if it’s on the internet, it’s never going away.
Here are 10 of the life lessons I learned in Morocco I hope to never forget…
1. Be slowly to enjoy yourself
Pulling onto a dusty road leading to Erfoud, I saw painted on a wall: “Be slowly to enjoy yourself.” I repeated it aloud and my Moroccan guide Mohamed responded, “Yes, that is what we do!”
A few of us repeated this phrase for the rest of the trip. Partly joking at the grammatical error, but partly as a mantra as well.
You’ll read this a lot about Morocco—its slower-paced way of life. (You read that about most places outside the U.S., actually.) But only in Morocco did the command to “slow down” not make me feel white hot rage.
There were some in our group who regularly complained about things like the many photo stops our van would make or the number of shops we stopped at. But… what’s the rush?! What do you have to get to? This is literally the trip. THIS. The photo stops and the shopping and eating and wandering and tea and cats. If you’re not here for this, then why are you here?
Also read: What to Pack for Morocco: What to wear in Morocco as a Woman + Complete Morocco Packing List.
No rush needed
When I travel to major European cities, for instance, there’s always a rush—a full itinerary dictated by closing times, transportation schedules, reservation windows, and activities to check off. But in Morocco, time seems to slow down and you become comfortable just kind of letting Morocco happen around you.
Truth be told, in much of the country, there is nothing to get to. Nowhere to be besides where you are. And you start to enjoy—nay, appreciate—the slowness of it all. Morocco makes you feel like you have plenty of time for the other things, and that it’s only the here and now that need your attention. And the here and now in Morocco is simply mesmerizing.
Life lessons learned in Morocco
Try to remember that this is the trip. Not just the fun stuff or big moments, but all the stuff in between too. Try to make the most of every moment.
Book my exact Morocco tour here
2. Share in the happiness and share in the sadness
Never before have I garnered a better understanding of what “community” means than I did in Morocco. Outside Morocco’s biggest cities, community is tight. It may very well be everything.
Our guide Mohamed explained to us one day how weddings work in the countryside towns. He said, instead of having a guest list, you simply invite the entire village! And if you invite 280 people (already an insane number to me) and 300 show up, you just make more food and celebrate the gift of their presence.
Can you imagine? Twenty extra people showing up to your wedding without advance notice? And being happy about it?
But in Morocco, it’s not about the imprecise headcount, added costs, or the audacity of those last-minute guests (whom we would call “party crashers” here, among other choice terms). Instead, it really is the-more-the-merrier. It’s about feeling blessed that so many people want to celebrate the occasion with you! We should all be so lucky!
When learning about Moroccan culture, we constantly heard the phrase “…birthdays, newborns, weddings….” As in, “we bring [this item] to the family to celebrate ‘birthdays, newborns, weddings.’” In other words, your birthday/new baby/wedding is not only your reason to celebrate—it’s everyone’s.
It goes both ways
Similarly, your tragedy is not yours alone either. Mohamed explained how it’s not just the celebrations that bring entire villages together, but the hard times too. When a family mourns, the community mourns with them.
As Mohamed so eloquently explained it: “We share in the happiness and we share in the sadness.” And I don’t think it gets any more beautiful than that. Just think of how much brighter this world would be if we all had this sense of community. If we all had entire villages to celebrate our accomplishments and share in our grief. If we had 300 people to cheer us on and 300 shoulders to cry on, unconditionally. We would never feel alone, ever.
Life lessons learned in Morocco
Let others in, for both the good things and the bad things; celebrate the accomplishments of those around you and offer a shoulder in times of grief. We. Are. All. The. Same. (And, always have more food than you need.)
Check out some other super important things I learned in Morocco in this post: What You Need to Know About Drinking Alcohol in Morocco Before You Go.
3. Always a smile
Pulling into the Dades Valley we saw more funny but inspiring signs like: “Dades smile for you” and “Enjoy with Dades Valley.” The sign for the town had smiley faces on it. And when we arrived at our hotel, we understood why.
My friend Amanda got out of the van first and, through the window, I saw her greeted by a young Moroccan man as if they were old friends. There were shouts and high-fives and laughter as if among old friends. I was shocked and said, “OMG you know him??” to which she laughingly replied, “No!!”
And that’s Dades. There were lots of high-fives that day, and the next, and the next. For what it’s worth, the staff at Hotel Riad Bahammou was such a delight and deserves all the recognition in the world.
Check out all the Morocco riads, hotels, kasbahs, and camps I stayed in during my trip here.
Not just a Dades thing
But it wasn’t just in the Dades Valley that this happened. All over Morocco, everyone we encountered greeted us with smiles, hospitality, and graciousness.
This goes for our many local guides, the artisans we met, the restaurant servers, the local families who invited us (perfect strangers) into their homes, the shop owners in the souks, and even the people we passed on the street.
Traveling throughout Morocco was such an all-around positive and uplifting experience. ‘Twas a charm that was indeed contagious. And no one embodies the charm of Morocco than our very own guide, Mohamed—possibly the most endearing person I’ve ever met. Always smiling, always with such a positive attitude. If everyone in the world could be more like Mohamed, more like the many Moroccans we met, what a wonderful world it would be.
Life lessons learned in Morocco
Always be ready with a smile; focus on the good in people/situations; don’t rush to judge; greet everyone like an old friend; and don’t take everything so seriously. Life is meant to be FUN!
4. It’s about the journey, not the destination
In a similar vein to life lesson learned in Morocco #1 is the age-old sentiment that it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Everyone has heard this; most people understand it; but how few of us actually take its advice to heart? Say this to any frequent traveler and you’ll be met with daggers—no one enjoys the flights and layovers as much as they do their destination; the journey is rarely as welcome as the place they’re trying to get to. But, in Morocco, you might be surprised.
In the literal sense, the road trips between the many Moroccan locations I visited were some of the most interesting and exciting parts of the whole trip. When road tripping through Europe or the U.S., you see the same old stuff, ho-hum. But in Morocco, you see [cue soundtrack] a whole new world…
We all passed our van trips with our cameras in hand, snapping away out the windows constantly. We rarely slept for fear of missing more cool stuff, and we took about as many photo breaks and visited as many cool rest stops as we possibly could have.
There is just so much to see, experience, eat, smell, learn about, and take pictures of! In this way, our Morocco trip was every bit as much about the journeys between destinations as the destinations themselves.
That being said, you should definitely check out my full Morocco itinerary here to see all the awesome things I saw and did!
In the figurative sense, Mohamed summed it up perfectly. He commented one night on how traveling is not always about the scenery or the hotels you stay in, but about the fun you have and the funny things that happen. Those are what travel memories are made of and the things that stay in your memory of a place the longest.
And if that’s the case, Morocco will definitely live on to infinity and beyond. My friend Amanda and I (and the couple of new friends we made) had the best time in the entire world on this trip. Honestly, we have never laughed so much in our lives—our abs were sore every single day from laughing so much.
We have so many jokes and hilarious memories from this trip (and photo evidence of only about half of them unfortunately). I couldn’t off the top of my head tell you the names of the hotels we stayed at or many of the towns we visited, but I’ll never forget the time our elevator in Marrakech broke with us in it or the restaurant menu in Chefchaouen. (You had to be there.)
One of our hotels turned out to be somewhat of a dump. But, instead of whining about it (like some), it actually served as the source of many jokes, largely because of who I was traveling with. It really was the people who made this trip as fun as it was.
Life lessons learned in Morocco
Focus more on who you travel with then what you do there; learn to roll with the punches; and remember to find the beauty in every moment of the trip, especially the in-between stuff.
5. Relationships and reputations matter
One of the most interesting things I learned in Morocco was how jobs are landed, cars are rented, and people are hired. Everything in Morocco is accomplished through networking and word of mouth, not online. Yes, even renting a car.
When someone needs work, they ask around among their friends, neighbors, associates. When someone needs to fill a job, they ask around to see if anyone knows someone perfect for the job. Everything here is done through personal recommendation, not faceless online job applications.
Because of this, so much rides on your reputation. Anyone can say whatever they want in an online application and there’s really no way to know if they’re lying or not. But here, actions speak louder than words and your reputation as a hard worker/good person/honest employee/etc. tells people everything they need to know.
A better system
In our system, how do you know that who you’re hiring is going to be worth your time and effort, or trustworthy, based simply on their own declarations? You don’t. But if your best friend recommends someone who he/she fully trusts, you’ll probably have a better overall experience.
As a result, I would imagine job performance to be so much better and employees so much more trustworthy and amiable (because one day that person is going to have to vouch for you). And isn’t this the kind of face-to-face society we need to return to?
When I need work done at my house, my default is just to search Google for a contractor who will do the job for probably the cheapest rate I can find. And in the day of so many bogus online reviews, I really know nothing about this person I am letting into my home! This sounds so risky, but we do this kind of stuff every day.
Life lessons learned in Morocco
We have so intensely become a faceless digital society that we’ve forgotten the value of personal relationships. Morocco has reminded me of the importance of reputation and to prioritize personal recommendations and relationships over quick access and cheap rates.
6. Less is more. Keep it simple.
It’s true—some of these lessons are not new. But my trip to Morocco certainly gave them new meaning.
We have SO MUCH here in the U.S. Just so much… stuff. So much unnecessary shit clogging up our lives. We don’t need 99% of it!
In trying to figure out how to explain this massive epiphany in just a few short paragraphs, lemme start with this example…
Somewhere just past Erfoud we stopped to check out some khettaras, Morocco’s centuries-old desert irrigation tunnels. The entrance to the tunnels is marked with the word “Visit” written on the wall in what I’m guessing was a Sharpie. That’s it. That’s the entrance.
I took a picture of this because the idea was so profound to me. Had this been a stop somewhere in the U.S., the entrance would have been designated by too-large and illuminated signage. (And let’s not forget the 10 miles of billboards that would line the highway in an attempt to attract passing roadtrippers.)
When the bulbs go out on that sign, they need to be replaced. When that sign breaks, it will need to be fixed. Don’t you see? We repeatedly create unnecessary problems for ourselves. The word “Visit” on the wall did its job—it told us where to enter. And there are no working parts that will need fixing/replacing/maintenance.
This really got me thinking about how much unnecessary waste we create here in our Western lives. Not just physical waste (but wow is there a lot), but also wasted time, money, effort, stress. And for what? It’s like we’re working backwards as a species, people.
I noticed this kind of simplicity all over Morocco. From the spray painted mile markers, to the no-frills local weekly markets, to the man-powered luggage porters, to the baker who bakes the bread for everyone in town each day.
Another example: tajines—the simple clay pot used to cook, well, tajines. Tajines are delicious and you can do so much with them, and they are SIMPLE. There’s no intense need to buy air fryers, complex dual ovens, toaster ovens, slow cookers, microwaves, electric stove tops, instant pots, and beyond. I know people who have ALL these things! This is insane to me!
In our attempts to make our lives easier, faster, prettier, “better,” we’re stressing ourselves out, breaking the bank, and creating so much more work (and clutter) for ourselves. It’s time to calm down, folks.
Lessons learned in Morocco
Less is more – less complexity, less stress, less unnecessariness. Keep it simple. Clutter-free space = clutter-free mind.
7. Find the beauty in everything
This is where I’m going to sound like a hypocrite, but hear me out. Just a second ago I went on about keeping things simple and avoiding the unnecessary. However, that goes directly against what I’m about to say about Morocco now. And that is… that Morocco’s attention to detail and aesthetics is truly something to emulate.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot while trying to get my thoughts straight, and what I’ve come up with is the difference between filling our lives with unnecessary junk/processes and creating beauty. And that difference is money.
When we create the unneeded crap we feel we have to (like elaborate signage at a roadside attraction), that’s driven by a hope for money. Big signs bring people in; those people buy tickets (hopefully), spend money on snacks (hopefully), and buy crap they don’t need at the inevitable gift shop (hopefully).
Beauty over greed
However, in Morocco, that same energy is instead spent on making ordinary things beautiful. No, the endless variation of mosaics isn’t necessary. Sure, we could survive without all the color and carvings and flowers. But this energy and unnecessariness is driven, not by greed, but simply by a desire to create beauty.
Everything in Morocco is beautiful, even down to the most mundane stuff. (I mean, have you seen the Marrakech train station???) Utility boxes and ceiling panels, public restrooms, rest stops, the spice aisle for crying out loud. Even the light given off by their lamps is something to behold. Our lamps are so boring! Imagine how much more lovely this world would be if we let a passion for beauty, not greed, take the wheel for a change.
Lessons learned in Morocco
Don’t be afraid to create art for art’s sake. Lean in to the things that bring beauty to your life, not just money.
8. Not everyone in the world means you harm
It’s true—I have a collection of emotional baggage I take on every trip. Most likely this can be traced back to the time I was robbed in Italy, but there have been a few other instances that contributed to this as well. Regardless, I am on my guard 110% of the time when I travel.
And I don’t feel this is a bad thing. I will never tell you to not travel with a complete travel safety kit. But, perhaps a shift in perspective is just a wee bit necessary sometimes.
My first instinct when a stranger talks to me abroad is [jumps into karate stance]. I won’t make eye contact with anyone, I won’t let anyone talk to me, I will avoid all human contact at all costs. Sure, I’m safe, but I’m also wicked stressed out like all the time. This is no way to live. Luckily, I visited Morocco.
I admit it took me a while to get used to letting my guard down, but Morocco was persistent in teaching me a lesson.
The service culture
As soon as I arrived to my hotel in Casablanca, I caused a scene. The concierge just wanted to take my bag to my room for me. I fought hard, he fought back, but in like the nicest and genuinely most confused way possible. He just wanted to take my bag to my room for me. He explained that it was his pleasure and his job and why won’t I just let go of the suitcase?!
I quickly learned that the service culture in Morocco is LEGIT and people really do just want to help you. Like, honestly, that’s it. They’re not trying to rob you.
Not everything is a scam
While shopping in the souks, you have to haggle for the things you want to buy. It’s a process we’re not used to and one that can be intimidating. And, if done wrong, you’ll end up paying more for your item than it’s worth. When it comes down to it, this is really not a big deal because the prices are reasonable anyway. But, this whole process certainly triggers the SCAM alarm.
At first, after I would haggle for something and walk away with the bagged item, I would catch myself checking to see if the item I haggled for was the same item I left with. In my traumatized brain, I was expecting a bait and switch. Like I haggled for one item, and when he bagged it for me he actually replaced it with something cheaper.
But the thing is, haggling is not a scam. It’s just the Moroccan way of life. It’s a kind of game—some are great at playing, others suck miserably. But, you are still walking away with the item you paid for. There is not a grander deception at play here.
There were numerous times when I felt my guard go up unnecessarily, and I did start to feel bad about it. Everyone I came across in Morocco was so nice, and welcoming, and kind. Yes, even the men I haggled with in the souks were all so friendly, fun, and warm.
Lessons learned in Morocco
I’m not sure how permanent a change this has created in me, but Morocco has certainly taught me a thing or two about unfairly judging a situation and people. And even though my guard hasn’t completely come down, maybe I’ll take a beat before [assumes ninja attack position].
9. Some destinations are better on tours
To get into the more practical lessons I learned in Morocco, I learned loud and clear and that some destinations are better visited on tours. And Morocco is a prime example.
Until recently, I had never been a “tour” person. I took trips either alone, with my husband, or with friends. Morocco is one place that’s been at the top of my travel wish list for a long time, but it was somewhere I didn’t feel safe traveling by myself or independently. (That’s a story for another post.)
So, I signed up for an Intrepid tour to Morocco and I could not be happier that I did! Because I visited as part of a tour, I was able to see, eat, and do things (and meet people) I wouldn’t have if I’d visited independently.
We had numerous meals with local families that have relationships with Intrepid. They welcomed us into their homes, fed us, and showed us what real, everyday life is like for Moroccan families of all sorts.
We spent a day with the Gnaoua in their Saharan village. They cooked for us, played music, and danced with us. We visited numerous small local markets throughout the country. We got to contribute to women’s cooperatives and watch demonstrations on weaving, pottery making, mosaic design, tea ceremonies, tajine cooking, and more. And… we made it out of the Fes medina alive.
Lessons learned in Morocco
Don’t shy away from traveling as part of a tour. There are lots of tour operators out there for all kinds of travelers, too. This will vastly open up the destinations you can visit and/or feel more comfortable about visiting.
I’ll be the first to tell you that not every destination needs to be visited on a tour. But some, like Morocco, are experienced so, so, so much better as part of an organized tour group. I’m so glad this is how I chose to visit this dream country for the first time.
Book my exact Morocco tour here.
10. The world is wide and endlessly surprising
Just when you think you can’t be surprised anymore, you visit Morocco. After traveling a good bit (maybe I’m being humble here), you start to think you can’t be surprised anymore. Even visiting new countries starts to seem repetitive. But then you visit a place like Morocco that reminds you there are still new and exciting experiences to be had.
Maybe because I spend so much time in Europe, but it all starts to feel like more of the same after a while. And maybe you start to feel like no matter where you go it will feel the same. But what you’re forgetting is that there are continents you haven’t even set foot on yet! There are at least a hundred more countries you haven’t visited yet! Duh.
I thought I knew Morocco; I thought I knew what it was going to be. I mean, it’s just one hour from Spain (by boat). They speak French there. How different can it be? But WOW will Morocco surprise you.
Lessons learned in Morocco
And what Morocco has taught me is that I was crazy to think I’d see it all. I really do feel like the world just re-opened up for me. My passion for exploring unknown lands has been completely renewed now that I’ve been reminded of how huge and endlessly interesting this world can be.
More info for visiting Morocco
- Heading to Morocco? Read reviews and find great places to stay here. (See all the places I personally stayed in this post.)
- Want to take a tour? You can book my exact Morocco tour here.
- Looking for day tours while you’re there? Check out these great options from Viator and Get Your Guide.
- Don’t forget a Morocco guidebook and this must-have customs and culture guide!
What life lessons have you learned on your trips?
Tell me about them below!
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