How to Fly Like a Professional

If you fly routinely you’ll begin to pick up on a few things that the people who breeze through the airports do.  Most importantly, they probably ignore most of the people surrounding them which would make life easier, but is difficult to do.  It seems when people fly, they lose half of their IQ points.

Here’s a few tips that will help make your life easier and also make you a better passenger to the other people flying with you.

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5 Tips for Bartering While Traveling

Something many people are not familiar with is bartering. In America it’s very rare to barter for any goods or services in a traditional marketplace. Of course things like eBay and Craigslist have changed the way we shop, but for the most part, Americans don’t enter a store and offer half of the advertised price and expect to get away with it.  In some countries, that’s exactly what you are expected to do though.

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When Traveling with a Friend Becomes a Problem

Fighting wolves

Most of my friends do not travel often but the handful that do always share stories about the nightmares they experienced with their travel partners.

Just the other day a friend was telling me how the two people she was traveling through Asia expected to be able to use their credit cards everywhere and refused to get any cash. That backfired when they were unable to buy anything to eat for a couple of days unless it was in a hotel or a tourist trap.

Another friend told me about how they are no longer friends with the people they traveled through Europe for a few weeks with. By the end of the trip they were at each other’s throats for various reasons, but mostly because they just spent too much time together and didn’t get enough space.

A recent trip of mine didn’t go a smoothly as planned with my travel partner and I realized we had quite different tastes and plans for our trip. We were able to solve these issues fairly easily though and I will give you some tips on how we did it.

Plan ahead of time

You don’t need to set dates or times, but discuss what you would like to see, activities you would like to do, and what you would like to eat. Don’t forget to take budget into consideration. Make sure that you understand each other’s desires and what they are financially capable of doing.

Notice when an issue arises

Do not ignore problems. When you see that something is beginning to become an issue, address it immediately. Talk about it. Explain your feelings, listen to their concerns and wishes, and try to find a compromise. Never force somebody into doing or going somewhere they don’t want to. They will inevitably have a terrible time because they had a poor attitude about it to begin with.

Split up

Sometimes there is no easy resolve and the best thing to do is simply go your own way. Maybe you just need to explore the area on your own or hang out with some people from your hostel. There is nothing wrong with this. Just be an adult and explain that it has become obvious you guys need some time apart.

This doesn’t mean you have to sever all ties from this person foe your entire trip. Maybe a day or two apart is all you need.

This is what we did in my situation that I mentioned earlier. I don’t think either of us minded. We were both mature enough to realize the issue and we enjoyed some activities together, and also had fun meeting other people to spend time with.

If you haven’t realized by now, the key is communication, understanding, and respect. Your travel partner has spent just as much money and sacrificed just as much time to be there. You both deserve to have fun and with these tips hopefully you can.

[tip]Have any tips or horror stories? Please share in the comments below![/tip]

From Casablanca to Tangiers – Morocco trip report

    Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco.  Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture.  Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.

    Time to depart – Morocco/Madrid, Day 6

    We all had to leave pretty early to reach our respective destinations so we had set the alarm for 4:00am.  Perfect timing as the morning call to prayer was just sounding as we awoke.

    It was freezing at that time of the morning but we started packing up and getting ready to leave as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up any of the other visitors.

    Unfortunately we had a last minute change of plans.  One of the girls had become pretty ill and didn’t feel she could make the 6-8 hour bus ride.  They already had ferry tickets booked from that port, but decided to take the taxi with me to Tangiers as it was only a 2 hour drive and they book a ferry from there.

    Once we were dropped off at the main taxi terminal it was time to say goodbye.  Our driver already grabbed another driver who would take me to the airport so the goodbyes were very short.  In fact, once I hopped in the taxi and started driving away I realized there was so much I didn’t get a chance to say to my new friends.  I am sure I would have enjoyed my trip just fine even if I did not meet them, but spending it with them was wonderful.  It’s amazing how you can meet people from halfway around the world and become instant friends.  We enjoyed several days together and shared moments that will last us all a lifetime.  Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you might not ever see them again.

    Well thank goodness for the internet at least so we can all keep in touch occasionally.

    The airport is about an hours drive from the center of Tangiers so I had a bit of time to chat with the driver.  The only problem was the language barrier.  Tangiers, being so close to the tip of Spain, has a heavy Spanish influence and many people from Tangiers speak Spanish.  Of course, the driver spoke Arabic, but to my surprise he didn’t speak French!  Nearly everybody speaks Arabic and French in Morocco.  Being from Southern California, I understand Spanish pretty well, but I don’t speak it all that great.  The same went for him with French.  So for an hour we talked about all kinds of things, Morocco, food, my trip, where I was from, and even American politics.  But the funny thing was that he continued speaking in Spanish, and I would respond in French.  It was the best we could do and we both understood eachother fairly well.  It was amusing to say the least.

    The Tangiers airport was small but hectic.  There were no assigned seats on the EasyJet flight and despite being in the first bording class, I was not able to get through the rush of people until the very end.  The Spanish passengers who must have all been on holiday were quite rude and didn’t seem to care for the airport’s procedures.

    The flight was only about an hour and I soon arrived in Madrid.  I found a payphone and called Vicky, a girl from Lithuania who was now living in Madrid.  I met her on CouchSurfing and she told me to call her when I arrived.  She was unable to host me, but recommended an area where I could find a cheap and safe place to stay.  I took the metro there and found a private room in a two-star hostel for 50 euros.  It didn’t seem to pricey at the time but once I did the conversion I realized it was about $80!

    Vicky and I planned on meeting up around 9:00pm to grab a drink and do some sight seeing.  Until then, I enjoyed my nice clean room and took a HOT shower.  It was nice to have a private room, bathroom, and hot shower for a change.

    Since I had an early morning flight and was only in Madrid for the night, I ventured out to see the city.  I was given a nice walking map at the airport and it came in very handy.  I walked all over the area near Puerto del Sol just gazing at the beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and amazing statues.  There was a food and music festival going on in one of the squares so I listened to a great jazz band and was tempted to try some fresh prosciutto (ham/bacon, a specialty of Madrid).

    I was quite hungry and decided to get dinner before meeting up with Vicky.  Madrid has more restaurants in such a small area than I have ever see before.  The choices were virtually limitless and I had a hard time deciding on what to eat.  Once I found a menu that looked good I grabbed a seat on the patio and did some people watching.  I was disappointed to find out that they were already out of the paella dish I wanted to try.  I was tempted to go somewhere else but I didn’t and regretted it.  My meal wasn’t very good at all.  A chicken and rice dish with a half-cooked egg yolk cracked over the top.  It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.  Unfortunately it upset my stomach later though so that was disappointing.

    I did some more walking around and ran across Cervantes statue in one of the parks.  Something about it really struck me.  Maybe it was that I had just finished reading Don Quixote a couple of months prior.  Or it could have been how my professor had told us about this exact statue that was erected for the great Spanish author.  Whatever it was, I had completely forgotten that it was there and found it only by chance.  Don Quixote was an amazing book and Cervantes a wonderful writer.  My only wish was that I was profeccient enough in Spanish to read it in its native language.

    It was time to meet up with Vicky so I headed to Puerta del Sol where all the young people hung out.  I found Vicky and we decided to go grab a drink.  We sat down in a bar that was playing some loud electro music and after one mojito for her, and one diet coke for me, we decided to leave.

    Vicky was fairly new to the area.  She moved there from Lithuania to study.  I was impressed that she could speak Spanish and English fluently, not to mention her native language.

    Madrid really is a wonderful city to just simply wander by foot.  We did that for a while and she pointed out a few popular landmarks to me.  Eventually we decided it was late and she asked where I was staying so she could take me there.  I told her that I had my map and had already mastered the city, so I insisted on walking her home and then making my way back.  Anyway, it offered me a bit more sightseeing before I had to leave.  OK, I got a little lost on the way back when I put my map away, but that’s OK.  Whenever I realized I didn’t know where I was, I just pulled the map out and figured out my location.

    Finally I returned for the night and fell asleep quickly.  In the morning it was time to pack my bag and take the metro back to the airport.  The week had flown by and I had an amazing time.  I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to my job and school.

    Madrid at night
    Madrid at night

    Journey to Chefchaouen – Morocco, Day 4

    4/1/08

    I was planning on staying in Fes for most of the week and taking day trips to the surrounding area. I suggested visiting Bhalil and Volubilis to Rob, Lauren, and Lizzie and they seemed interested. After some thought, they decided to head to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif mountains, and invited me. While I was looking forward to seeing the Roman ruins in Voulubilis, I decided that Chefchaouen did sound very nice and that I’d prefer the company of my new fronds than trekking it solo. So we packed up our things and headed for the CTM bus station.

    When we arrived we were told that all the buses were sold out for the day and that we should try the station located in front of Bab Boujeloud, the entrance to the old medina.

    There is one thing to understand. CTM buses are generally what tourists take, and are priced higher than the buses for the locals that we were about to use. On a positive note, they were only a couple of dollars.

    When we arrived at the station we were told that there wasn’t a direct bus and we had to go to Ouezzane and “see” if there was another bus to Chefchaouen there. Without much choice, we paid for our tickets and spent an hour or so grabbing lunch at one of the vendors at the station. Supposedly I had a chicken sandwich. To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of meat that was in the bread but it was definitely tasty. The cook was very friendly ad patient with my mediocre French but wanted to practice his English by complementing the beauty of our female companions.

    Shortly after finishing our meal we were approached by a man who said he was the driver and told us our bus was boarding soon. He took us to the bus, loaded our bags, and then demanded 10dh for each bag. We paid and took our seats. After sitting there for about 30 minutes and never seeing him again, we realized he was just hustling us for some change. The small amount was so trivial that we just laughed that somebody would go through so much trouble for pocket change.

    The bus wasn’t the most comfortable and broke down twice. I’m not sure what was wrong but the driver managed to fix it after a few minutes.

    A 20-something Moroccan man struck up conversation with us after hearing that we were going to Chefchaouen. He said he lived there and we would need to take a taxi because there was no bus going there that afternoon. We were a little hesitant to trust him but we went ahead and accepted his help in finding a taxi. He negotiated a very good deal for the taxi and asked if he could ride with us. We were happy to share it with him and we covered the cost. For over an hours drive up a small mountain, I think we only paid about $10-15 between the four of us. The only bad part was that the four of us had to squeeze in the back seat

    Eventually we  arrived in Chefchaouen and mentioned that we were going to find a room at Pension Znika.  Our new Moroccan friend Youssef, told us that he lived next to Pension Znika.  We didn’t quite believe him, as we have already had our fair share of people doing anything they can for a tip, but we were too tired to try and navigate Chefchaouen with our guide book’s map and we let him take us there.

    After walking up several hilly streets we finally arrived at Pension Znika.  Youssef came in with us and spoke to the owner.  After a short conversation, he told us the price for two rooms which was considerably cheaper than the guide book listed.  We each paid about $7 per night. I thanked Youssef and went to give him a tip for his help.  He immediately told me that he would not accept and that he was just being a friend by welcoming us to his town.

    After that, he asked if we would like to go get some tea with him after we got settled and cleaned up.  We agreed and went up to our rooms.  Pension Znika is in a very nice small pension with a handful of colorfully decorated rooms.  The best part is the roof terrace and its beautiful view of Chefchaouen.

    View from the roof terrace of Pension Znika
    View from the roof terrace of Pension Znika

    We met back up with Youssef and went out for some tea.  We spent a good hour or so asking him many questions about Morocco and Chefchaouen.  When we were finished, Youssef insisted on paying  for our drinks.  I believed he was being genuine but there was no way we would let him do that.  As we were finishing, he asked if we would be interested in going to his place that night to enjoy a tagine for dinner. We couldn’t believe that this guy who we just met could be any more friendly and welcoming.

    We of course obliged and after a short walk around the main square, we headed over to his family’s place.  We realized by his “family” he actually meant his good friends.  Since they don’t have their own families there, they spend most nights together enjoying dinner and company.  When we arrived, we were surprised to see an American couple who another one of the guys had met and invited over.  There were at least 10 of us enjoying dinner.  We had a giant tagine with beef and an amazing an interesting base of peas and other vegetables and tasty juices.  I personally don’t eat beef so I enjoyed scooping up the peas with my bread and dining on that for the night.  It was very interesting sharing one big plate of food with everybody using nothing but our hands.

    Remember, when in Morocco it’s polite to use your right hand ONLY for eating.  You can imagine what the left is commonly used for.

    We must have spent several hours at dinner.  Everybody was incredibly nice.  Some of the guys spoke good English, some did not.  There were three languages going around the room, Arabic, French, and English.  In fact, the man responsible for the cooking started speaking some basic Japanese to me since I said I knew a few words.

    Probably the best part was the corny jokes that one of the guys was telling.  Meeting travelers is obviously a common thing for them and he likes to have each one tell him a joke or cheesy pick up line.  My favorite was, “Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?  Enough to break the ice.  Hello, my name is Abdulsalam.”

    We were cracking up to say the least!

    Dinner in Chefchaouen
    Dinner in Chefchaouen

    When we returned to Pension Znika all four of us were in awe of how our day had transpired.  Stressed beyond reason earlier, we ended up having an amazing night with some extremely friendly people.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life.

    We were wide awake so we quietly went up on the rooftop terrace and gazed at the stars for about an hour.  The sky was so unbelievably clear.  Nothing like what I am used to at home.  It was truly breathtaking.

    Night in Chefchaouen
    Night in Chefchaouen

    Arriving in Casablanca – Morocco, Day 1

    Hassan II Mosque
    Hassan II Mosque

    3/29/2008

    Four flights and 18 hours after departing Los Angeles, I finally arrived in Morocco.  I landed at Casablanca airport and immediately walked out of the terminal to get a taxi into town.
    The first thing I noticed is how green the area is.  There were lots of trees and vegetation.  It was much more beautiful than the barren desert I had imagined.

    This would be my first experience utilizing my French here in Morocco.  I’ve been to Paris and Quebec, but both times I was not very fluent (I’m still not fluent, but I can get around well and carry on a basic conversation).

    “Combien aller au terminal de CTM s’il vous plaît?” I asked.

    “Deux cent cinquante (250dh),” he said.

    The sign said 230dh but I didn’t care to argue.  The difference was less than $3 and it’s a long drive.  The guy I spoke to grabbed my bag and then took me to another man.  It turns out that the second gentleman was actually the taxi driver and the first guy just wanted to help with my bag to get a tip.  I gave him a whopping 10dh (about $1.50).  I could already tell that everybody here will try to nickel and dime you to death.  The thing is that they are literally getting nothing more than nickels and dimes from you.  It hardly seems worth the hassle they go through just to get some pocket change but, c’est la vie… en Maroc!

    I was astonished how beautiful the countryside is.  So many fields, trees, hills, etc.  My favorite sight was all the kids playing football (soccer to us Americans).  It seemed that every mile down the road you’d see at least one group of kids playing in a random overgrown field, behind a building, or even in the street.
    When we got closer to town I started to notice the beautiful French architecture.  It really was impressive.  But soon enough we entered the city and were caught up the traffic that seems to come second nature to all large cities.  Actually, the traffic probably wouldn’t be so bad in Casablanca if the drivers just followed the rules of the road.  I guess in Morocco they’re really just guidelines.  Every taxi I took centered their car over the lines that divided the lanes.  They would also pass other cars in the middle of intersections and while going around traffic circles.  Everybody loves to honk his horn as well.  The funny thing is that they wave and smile when they do it, unlike here in the ‘States where we tend to point a special finger in the air and yell obscenities.

    After about thirty minutes we arrived at the CTM station.  He assumed I was departing on a bus and dropped me off near the departures.  This confused me though because I wasn’t sure exactly where on my map I was.  I began walking in the direction of the hotel I chose form my guidebook but it was difficult to pinpoint my exact location.  They are slowly changing the streets from their French names to Arabic ones.  So even though my map was made only a few months earlier, some streets weren’t correctly labeled on it.  For example, the king recently renamed two of the biggest squares in Casablanca.  He changed Place Mohamed V to Place des Nations Unies and the old Place des Nations Unies to Place Mohamed V.  Yet some people still refer to the new Place des Nations Unies as Place Mohamed V so things can really get confusing.  Can you tell?

    Eventually I landed on Rue Abdallah and found the hotel I chose, Hotel Touring.  The owner was very friendly and put up with my French.  The best part was that the room was cheaper than listed in my book.  I paid only 125dh (about $17) for a room with a shower.  The owner told me, “Votre chambre est sur la premiere étage.”  Well I forgot that in France (and apparently Morocco) the first floor is what we consider the second floor in the States.  They say “ground floor” for the lowest level.  So I said, “c’est sur la premiere étage? Merci!” and then proceeded to pass the stairs and walk down the hall.  He quickly came out and said, “non! Premiere! Premiere!  Vous comprendrez?”  So I embarrassingly walked back to the staircase and thanked him.  This small hotel even has a small prayer room facing Mecca for the employees and guests to pray in.  My guidebook called it a mosque but it isn’t much more, to me at least, than a small room large enough for three or four people to say their prayers in.  Pretty neat though.

    I dropped off my things and decided to explore the area.  I was extremely thirsty so I set out to find a bottle of water.  I stepped into a cafe and one quick glance at a can of Coke Zero made my mouth water so I purchased it.

    Out on the street I heard somebody yell, “pas sucre!” which means “no sugar!” in French.  A man with some missing teeth came up to me and kept exclaiming, “pas sucre! Pas sucre!” while pointing to my can.  I don’t believe that diet sodas have been very popular in Morocco until recently.  Looking at most people’s teeth can reaffirm this.

    “Où vous êtes de?” he asked.

    “Je suis d’Aux Etas Unis,” I answered.

    He exclaimed, “Oh you speak English!  I am learning.  Can we talk?”

    In America we certainly don’t stop people on the side of the street very often just for conversation but he didn’t give me a choice.  A bit odd, I thought, but what the heck.

    Eventually I realized that he just wanted to practice his English.  He started out with the basic formalities: “How are you? Do you like Morocco? Where do you live? How old are you?”  The conversation quickly died when he ran out of things to say in English.  I watched as he searched his brain for something to say.  Eventually he came up with, “I like horses.”  I decided we didn’t have much else to talk about and told him I had to leave.

    A few minutes later another man stopped me, also commenting on my Coke Zero. His English was much better and he gave me his address to come visit him and his family if I had time.

    While these encounters were very friendly, I realized I would never get anywhere if kept getting stopped every block.  I threw the can of soda away and oddly enough, nobody else stopped me to chat.

    I found pay phone (they’re located in small shops with several private booths for customers) and called two friends who I had made on CouchSurfing.com, a social-networking website for world travelers.  They had offered to meet up and have some dinner with me while I was in Casablanca so I called to see where and when we should meet.  The place they chose was easy enough to find on my map but it was quite far, so I opted to take a taxi.  The fare was 10dh (about $1.50) and took me across the entire city.  What a steal.  In New York City you can’t even get into a taxi without immediately paying $2 or $3!

    I arrived at the Twin Centre in the heart of the city and waited around for my friends.  The Twin Centre is two skyscrapers and looks huge in the Casablanca skyline but pale in comparison to even the smallest towers in large American cities.  At the bottom is a three-story mall that connects the two buildings.  It is a popular place for young people despite having very few interesting stores.

    I waited for over an hour because my clock was set incorrectly.  It turns out that the entire world doesn’t observe day light savings time on the same date.  Whoops.

    Eventually I met up with the three guys I chatted with online, Abdel, Hichem and Mostafa.  They brought two other friends so we had quite the group.  I felt very flattered and welcomed by them.  How many people arrive in a city on the other side of the world and have five people waiting to spend time with them?

    We introduced ourselves and we began to walk down the road.  I didn’t ask where we were going but instead enjoyed the conversation.  Hichem was quite versed in English and I later found out he works for Reuters News Agency and has traveled quite a bit.  After walking for quite a while I noticed the minaret for the Hassan II Mosque.  I had planned on coming back the following morning to see it during the day but I was pleased to be introduced to it by my new friends.

    Built overlooking the ocean, the Hassan II Mosque is truly magnificent.  It is the second largest mosque in the world (some say third, I can’t figure out the truth), behind only Mecca, and holds 25,000 worshipers.  It is also the only mosque in Morocco, and one of the few in the world, that allows non-Muslims inside.

    While we were enjoying the view, the final call to prayer began.  It was loud, but beautiful.  I asked my friends if they wanted to pray and told them that I didn’t mind waiting somewhere for them.
    “No, but thank you for asking.  We pray and attend mosque often, but in Casablanca, we aren’t very traditional.”

    It was dark by this point and the light at the top of the minaret, which shines towards Mecca, was glowing brightly.

    We continued on our walk and eventually ended up at a small cafe that they frequent.  We sat down and they ordered me some mint tea.  I had heard about it but was afraid it would be too sweet for me.  Boy, was I wrong.  It was amazing!  My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it!

    We must have sat there for at least two hours talking about our travels, language differences, what we do for work, and our educations.  The thing that struck me the most about them, with the exception of the well-traveled Hichem, was how curious they were about America and the rest of the world.  They told me that they don’t get to travel often because it is very difficult to get a visa to most places.  I think that is something Americans take for granted.  We can go nearly anywhere without a visa yet much of the world does not have the same luxury.

    It was quite late by this point and I was starving for food.  I was enjoying the company very much, but I had expected to eat dinner much earlier and I was beginning to feel sick.  They decided to finally get up and we continued to walk around the town.  Soon we came upon another small café and sat down at a table outside.  They asked what I wanted to eat.  I had no idea so I said I would have whatever they are having but that the only meat I like to eat is chicken.  They all ordered some chawarma.  I had no clue what was in it but it was pretty tasty.

    After eating we decided it was time to part ways.  The only problem was that I had no idea where we were.  I figured I would just grab a taxi but Mostaffa told me he lives near the area I am staying and would walk back with me.  I thought that was incredibly nice of him and of course I accepted.  Mostaffa’s English was not the best compared to the rest of the bunch, but he was very eager to talk and practice.  I found out he was a huge fan of rock and roll.  Mostly the classics like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and even Johnny Cash.  He told me that he plays guitar and can play a lot of Dylan songs.  It was one of those moments where I realized that even though we can live on opposite sides of the planet, practice different religions, and have cultures that are vastly different, we still have many things in common.  It’s funny how music can bring so many people together.

    Along the way we walked through part of the medina where many of the locals live.  I was surprised to see quite a few young people out playing football in a cement park.  It reminded me of the basketball courts in New York City.  Even though I don’t play, I found myself wanting to just go run around with them and kick the ball a bit.  Immediately the ball came flying at me due to an errant kick.  I kicked it back towards them but it hit a telephone pole and came bouncing right back to me.  I guess I’m not the most talented soccer player!

    Eventually we arrived at the street for my hotel and I realized where I was.  I thanked him for his generosity and told him I hoped to see him again.

    Even though there wasn’t much in Casablanca for me to see as a tourist, I found myself overwhelmed by the kindness of these strangers who welcomed me to their city.  I was certain that had it not been for them I would have had a disappointing night in Casablanca.  While it is likely one of the only Moroccan cities most Americans can name, there aren’t many reasons to visit.  I was glad my new friends gave me a reason to be there, if only for a day.