Almost a decade ago, with memories of relatively recently departed Jordan fresh in my memory, my parents asked if I had any interest in going to Morocco. My old boss at Entity Green, Aaron, had done Peace Corps in Morocco before working with Philip and Wajih, and I’d heard many (mostly) pleasant stories about the country’s mix of Arab, Spanish, French, and Berber culture. There was a small Moroccan restaurant on the west side of Madison whose owner made annual trips to his home country to restock his spices and replace any ceramic dishware that had broken in the past year, and he often gave guided tours at the same time. We attended an informal ‘trip planning’ meeting with him to talk about potential itineraries, but a year later, I heard (via my parents) that the restaurant had closed, and no further progress was really made on any Morocco trip plans.

Over the years that followed, my parents developed an annual, sometimes even biannual hobby of international travel with my mother’s sister in law, my Aunt Betsy. While all three of them had traveled quite a bit throughout Europe and the USA, my parents’ visit to Jordan to see me in 2009 had awakened a hunger to see less touristed parts of the world, and Betsy was eager to do the same with some travel companions.

Every year since then, I’d hear about their trip to Tanzania, or Vietnam, or Cuba, or Croatia, or some other interesting area, and feel a little jealous that Christine and I couldn’t go with them. Unfortunately most of their travel would happen in the spring or the fall, exactly when Christine and her teaching schedule absolutely wouldn’t allow her to go anywhere.

But Morocco was always brought up, and I’d always (semi-jokingly) remind them that I was supposed to go with them on that trip, and we’d laugh, and they’d jet off somewhere else. But finally, as the effects of the pandemic started to wind down (at least for our demographic), my parents started talking about taking a big international trip again. And at long last, talks of Morocco turned from joking, to serious. And I said well, even if Christine can’t join me, I’d like to come along.

Where to start planning such a thing? Now that my parents are both retired, the duration of the trip was no longer a deciding factor – for them, at least. I told them that I’d max out at 3 weeks, tops, before my bosses would wonder if the servers were actually administering themselves better without me. The trio of retired people took the lead on planning, and reached out to a typical luxury tour company, Odyssey Tours. As Betsy and I would each have hotel rooms to ourselves, rather than sharing a room like my parents would, the dreaded “solo traveler surcharge” applied, and their two week tour estimate (including airfare) would be over $7000.

I balked at this; it was a bit too rich for my blood. I spent an entire night researching the itinerary that Odyssey had presented to us, figuring out how much it would cost for me to replicate (almost) all the stops on the trip, stay at the same hotels as them (if not the luxury suites in said hotels) plus buy my own airfare and rent my own car. Then I’d simply follow behind their tourist bus and stop where they stopped. I proudly presented it to my aunt and parents – it cost about $3,000, and I’d still be able to come “with” them.

Their reactions were immediately negative. Driving? In Morocco? Zach, you barely drive in the USA. Would you need to be constantly bribing the police? We wouldn’t see you at the private dinners the dinner talks about either then! Zach, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy ourselves on the trip, we’d be constantly worried about you driving through the Atlas mountains. I was somewhat exasperated at this, but at least I’d made my point – I was serious about going with them on the trip, but I was also interested in it not costing me seven thousand dollars.

The point was taken. Betsy and my mother immediately started looking into other tour companies that were smaller and more a la carte. Although it took a couple weeks, they eventually found Odynovo, which despite the similar name was much more in my price range. A two week tour with them ended up costing (without airfare) about $3500, but still staying in all the same hotels and cities as the Odyssey tour.

We would be joined by a friend of Betsy’s, a travel agent named Nicole and her mother, Connie. Like me, Nicole was still in the workforce and had a maximum number of days she could take from work, so in the end, the four family members would come out 3 days ahead of time, visit the seaside town of Essaouira on our own, then come back to Marrakesh to begin the tour with the other two.

Flights were purchased on Iberia for the beginning of November. Our travel agent with Odynovo, John Yu, was wonderfully responsive. Now it was time to wait!