Our recent Real Deal on Morocco for Less really ticked off an ex-pat who lives in Morocco and blogs at Cat in Rabat. In a post titled, Morocco for More, she writes that it's outlandish for us to consider $125 a day per person to be a "budget" trip. She says $125 a day isn't budget travel, especially for a place that's not as expensive and popular as, say, many Western European destinations.
Cat in Rabat makes a larger point, too: Even if we had really wanted to plan a budget trip to Morocco, we'd be hard pressed to succeed. Here's why:
Morocco is not a cheap country. And not that it should be--although it would be nice if it were--but there is an expectation that, as a developing nation, it is. Or ought to be. In truth, some things are cheap: rent is cheap (although rents are on the rise), local transportation (with the exception of domestic airfares) is still cheap, and anything made of leather is risibly inexpensive, but it pretty much ends there. Between holiday housing developments sprouting like poisoned mushrooms along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines and the Western predilection for building guest houses and renovating derelict ryads in Morocco's medinas, real estate is starting to go through the roof. All this, in conjunction with the hoards of cash-carrying tourists disembarking from cut-throat European airlines, is serving to not only test the local infrastructure but to ensure that prices will go up up up.
Meanwhile...the blogger Morocco Savvy makes the following comment:
Worse yet, their site says "The Real Deals." Travel around Morocco, even for my slightly older and slightly picky parents, still averaged around $125 a day--FOR TWO! As for myself--unless I'm stuck in a 4-star hotel paid for by the conference I'm attending and forgot to eat dinner so must order the nasty 75dh chawarma that isn't even really a chawarma but more like chicken and cabbage in a baguette--travel around Morocco is more like 125 DIRHAMS [$15] a day.
Hmm...Well, as the guy who wrote the Morocco for Less piece, I was surprised by these reactions. Here's my response:
1) As always, "budget" is in the eye of the beholder. Not every package Budget Travel's editors recommend will be right for everyone. We know that some travelers are willing to pay a little more for an escorted trip to avoid having to research reputable companies that offer activities such as a mountain-bike ride or a nine-hour hike through the mountains of the Tamatert Valley. And some travelers like the idea of a tour company using its size to make sure that an activity, such as a valley tour, will happen at an appointed day and time. Yet if you're an independent soul who prefers simple, or ineffable, pleasures, by all means, know that you can enjoy many aspects of Morocco for as little as about $10 a day. Many travelers have done it, and if you're one of the travelers who have, feel free to share your travel suggestions by posting a comment below.
2) If this package costs too much per day at $990 for eight-nights (plus airfare and some meals), then consider instead a 20-night tour of Morocco that costs only $1,218 (including a local payment of $408, but excluding airfare and all meals). This latter deal, which Budget Travelspotlighted in its July issue, works out to about $61 a day. The cheaper-per-day trip is best for travelers who feel comfortable navigating Morocco on their own. The more expensive-per-day trip will provide assistance to help you maximize your time in the country by arranging in advance for bike rides, tent stays, and sightseeing. Why does the one trip cost twice as much per day? The extra cost is to help ease your way into a country that has a very different culture than America's--and an unfamiliar language to boot. (There's additional value provided by this package, too. Keep reading to find out.)
We use local operators who help us piece together some of the arrangements like our Camel Safaris into the desert, the mountain biking, etc. We could probably do it cheaper if we did it ourselves but as Intrepid's number one core value is Responsible Travel. It wouldn't be very responsible of us not to support the locals. Therefore, we use their local services, even if it costs us more money.
Dyan also points out another advantage to spending a extra money on an Intrepid Travel package, instead of piecing together an itinerary as a backpacker. For a single traveler such as herself (who is female and doesn't speak Arabic nor French), getting around Morocco is not as easy as it might seem to some people. Intrepid specializes in making solo travelers comfortable in its small groups. It doesn't charge a single supplement, unlike most tour package companies. And in a country like Morocco, Intrepid's group leaders can make female travelers feel more culturally comfortable--and culturally aware of how their actions are received locally.
Finally, Dyan added one relevant note. Intrepid Travel's package includes a homestay with a Moroccan family.
Independent travelers can't just turn up to someones home in remote areas and ask to stay. (Though I am sure the very experienced traveler has but generally travelers wouldn't.) We offer them a once in a lifetime experience.That's cheaper than the budget hotel but we like to support the family while we are staying with them. Allowing their children to get an education, assisting in farming and agricultural support, etc. Again this is in accordance with our core values--we want to give our clients that special experience but don't take for granted that these families who are letting us into their lives.
In hindsight, I realize that I should have included more of the above details when I described the value of this package. I'll know better next time. And if any reader still thinks I'm in need of correcting, please post a comment below. Thanks.