Travel Talk: Morocco and Portugal
It has been a wild few weeks and I'm already ready for my next vacation. A few months ago I wrote a post about traveling on a budget and these are tips I live by. Back in January, my best friend hit me up about a flight deal that allowed you to go to Morocco and then an additional country in Europe. A little configuring landed us with a ticket to Casablanca with a flight days later to Lisbon for only $350
I want to make sure I'm hitting the most important parts which for me is how you can have a great trip and not break the bank. I'm going to share a few of my favorite things from the trip just in case you're thinking about visiting either of these countries or planning a similar trip elsewhere.
It is important to know your budget before going on the trip. An international ticket of $350 is a steal and is much cheaper than some places you can travel domestically. I set a $500 dollar budget to spend while abroad which did not include things I had previously paid for like accommodations, transportation, and excursions. This being said, my math was wrong and I went around $500 over my travel budget which was a big mistake. If you have a strict budget then it's important that you properly track what you're spending before the plane even takes off. A lot of little things added up on this trip: tips, uber rides, liquor, and souvenirs ended up being a pretty penny.
Where to Stay
Relle did a great job of snagging us some beautiful places for our extended visit. The accommodations were a little over $200 per person which covered my entire stay from May 24th until May 30th. In Morocco, we stayed in a traditional riad attended by our great host, Victor, who was always willing to assist us even if it was just letting me grab one of his beers out of the fridge. The rooms were beautifully decorated, comfortable, and there was even a pool. Our space in Lisbon was a bit tighter but in the heart of the city. We were only a short distance from eating, shopping, tourist attractions, and popular clubs which made the trip run that much smoother.
I'll start from the top by saying transportation can be expensive and this hassle started in New York. Our journey started with a Megabus ticket from DC to NYC and while my ticket was only $11, I wish I would have opted for the train. Five hours on the bus which lacked the wifi it promised plowing over bumps on the highway was no fun. The uber from the heart of the city to Harlem cost around $70 which was split three ways, similar to the price we paid for the nearly hour long journey to JFK the following day. We decided to do Amtrak for the travel back to DC at the end of trip which flaunted a $49 price tag for a much more comfortable ride than before.
Once in Marrakesh(around three hours from Casablanca) , we were normally assisted with transportation by Victor who organized the majority of our rides. Instead of paying riders directly, Victor paid and these expenses were added on to our final billing.He even organized a ride back to Casablanca that was a bit more expensive but a great gab which helped us avoid the three hour train ride we had originally taken at the start of our train. Nevermind you that our driver to Casablanca only spoke Arabic and what was supposed to be a two hour ride became four.
Morocco is very bike and pedestrian heavy and it can be a little bit wearing on the nerves. The area has traffic lights,etc but moves at an incredible fast pace and reminded me of New York but amped up ten notches. If you're like me and have bad anxiety, I'd recommend a chill pill...literally, buy anxiety meds. I did see several buses which were probably extremely affordable but we opted for our own vans for the duration of the trip.
Lisbon was super easy because we were afforded the luxury of uber. As I mentioned, we were staying in the city so nothing was more than a 10 minute ride away unless we are referencing one of the cities that wasn't in the general downtown area . Our uber rides averaged around $25-$30 euros which wasn't a huge bank breaker but certainly added up. LIsbon also has a pretty flourishing metro system though I didn't get to take part outside of our ride to Sintra. You'd be missing out if you didn't take a ride on the tuk tuk which I'll liken to a car simulating a golf cart but a bit faster. For 20 euros, we had an entertaining and curvy ride to the top of the city which provided us with too many laughs. The laughs mainly came from my nerves still(read:always) being a hot mess.
One of my favorite parts of vacation is eating. Morocco provided pretty cheap eats especially if you were outside of tourist heavy areas. We spent the majority of our time in Marrakesh and I quickly noticed a lot of meals(when I did eat) averaged around 55 dirhams. It is important to note that one dollar equals a little over 9 dirhams which gives you the freedom to ball out. Breakfast was bread heavy and includes pastries, loaves of bread, various jams, and what I'll liken to an American style pancake. The lunches/dinners gave you a fusion of flavor and it normally included veggies, beef, and couscous. I'd recommend medicine for travelers who may experience an upset stomach since we aren't always accustomed to the spices, meats, etc of other countries. I tend to think I'm a very adventurous eater and even found myself with a painfully upset stomach the first few days of our trip. We had a treat on our last formal night in Morocco once we arrived back in Casablanca thanks to the accommodation Simms had hooked up. We were welcomed into the home of a family who let us stay there(all ten of us) and provided us with a wonderful homemade meal.
Lisbon provided me with a much needed change from the Moroccan cuisine I had been eating. The means were pretty inexpensive and for the most part had fairly large portions. My first meal was at the mall and for 7 euros, I had port steak, fries, fried egg, and black beans with a delicious garlic sauce. What I soon realized is that this is an extremely popular dish in Portugal and I ate it several more times. I also find myself regularly indulging in caldo verde which can be found everywhere from the local cafe to McDonalds which also serves beer for a little less than 2 euros. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the custard tart, pasteis de nata, and queijo da serra which may be the most delicious cheese I've had. Both of these can be found all around the city just like the popular port wine and Ginjinha which is a cherry liquor that is served up around the city in shot glasses made of chocolate.
This was probably my most excursion heavy trip which is why I think my budget was completely disrespected. While in Morocco I went camel riding which was around two hours of riding through the desert and included traditional moroccan mint tea and snacks drizzled in honey and sesame seeds. It's only right while you're in a country full of desert territory that you hop on an ATV which had me feeling like a bad ass as I followed the crew up and down hills and through what seemed like man-made curves. My most enjoyable experience was the Moroccan Hammam which is a huge part of Moroccan culture as locals visit there habitually. The steam room experience included me being washed down by what I will assume was someone's Moroccan grandmother after argan oil and black soap was applied to my body and then all the dead skin was scrubbed away. This was all topped off by a hour massage after I received a short foot massage, cucumbers applied to my face, and more tea.
Lisbon was a bit more chill and less free as the only real excursion was a boat ride. This wasn't just any boat ride but included a four hour ride in the ocean with us blasting Future and other super American music as we passed by landmarks near the shore. The ride included our captain, a boat hand, beer, wine, and a light dinner and dessert to hold us over. A few of us even stumbled upon what I'll dub a private beach since we were the only ones there. For 30 euros per person we had our own cabana and indulged in various types of sangria, gazpacho, brownies, toast, sandwiches, beer, calamari, and were waited on like true queens(tilts crown). These excursions came in at right around $230 which is more than I normally spend but was well worth the pricetag.
The Bottom Line
Needless to say, my trip was blast. Morocco which is in North Africa is like stepping into a history book and reminds me of how different the world can be. Being a Muslim country, we had the opportunity to hear the call to prayer, viewing the gorgeous traditional garb that men and women wore, and having a chance to take part in various activities that the country is known for. We also had a chance to experience what this country is like as it heads into the holy time of Ramadan. Portugal reminded me of America but gave me much needed historical flair with the old streets and strong European vibes from the architecture to the vehicles being driven.
I got some much needed relaxation in(not really) and was able to to explore a new place and be reminded of how beautiful this world is. The flight to Morocco is around 6 hours from America and a little over 7 when making your way back. The flights between Morocco and Portugal are pretty short averaging a little bit over an hour which is enough time for the flight crew to give you some water and Royal Air Maroc's famous cheese sandwich. I've included some pictures here but check out the gallery for an even further inside look to all the fun of my long adventure to two different continents and two different countries in a week.
Side Note: Not all of these photos are my own as different travelers in my group uploaded photos into a shared album.
If you only have $500 to spend, where are you traveling?