The mom/daughter trio behind Our Family Passport recently went on their eighth trip with us to Morocco: Marrakesh, Essaouira and the High Atlas Mountains. We spoke with Shani Smith and Savannah Hegerhorst about their trip, the challenges of family travel and their Morocco vacation tips.
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MARRAKECH, MOROCCO ⠀ ————————⠀ We visited Morocco last November and had a blast!⠀ ⠀ We can’t wait to share our tips and advice when it comes to traveling to Morocco with kids as well as share all the incredible things we learned about the country and Islamic culture! ⠀ ⠀ What specific questions do you have about Morocco or traveling to an exotic place with your little ones? ⠀ ⠀ Xo, Shani, Kam & Sav
Can you talk about your Instagram page, @ourfamilypassport, and how you started traveling internationally with your family?
Shani: We’ve been traveling internationally as a family for about 15 years. We started our blog and our Instagram page almost 3 years ago. We include as much of the family as we can, there’s 10 of us total. We know how to travel as a family, that’s what we love to do. We want to inspire other families to do the same thing.
Savannah: A huge thing for us is education. Learning about different cultures, different histories. That’s one reason we loved Morocco so much. We learned so much about ourselves and other people. We want to show people how they can do that as well.
Why do you think it’s important that families travel together?
Shani: Nobody can take away our experiences from us. It’s part of who we are. It’s in the fabric of our being. We have these experiences together as a family where we laugh and we cry and we learn. They’re bonding experiences.
Savannah: What I love about travel is that you’re challenged in a completely different way than you’d expect. You really get to know your family members on a deeper level because of all of these different, shared experiences.
What have you learned through your travels?
Savannah: With Morocco, an Islamic country, I was so shocked to see how many similarities I had in my religion and their religion. It just makes me have such a greater appreciation for everybody.
Shani: I love learning about different cultures too. You can study Buddhism in a book, but going to a country that’s predominantly Buddhist, that’s very impactful.
How did your guides help you navigate Marrakesh, the markets and Morocco in general?
Savannah: We loved Mohammed, our guide. We loved, loved, loved our guides! They were just the best.
Shani: We loved him so much. He had a great personality, very patient. And we had lots of questions about culture and social problems in the area, government and religion, and he was really open.
Savannah: He gave us a lot of context that helped us understand.
Shani: We’re lucky we had a guide who was willing to take all of our questions and talk about the social problems they have.
Savannah: At the leather tanneries, someone was trying to get us to buy this leather jacket. He was really good about saying, “That’s not authentic. Don’t spend your money here. I’ll let you know when it’s a good buy.” I felt really safe with Mohammed. I felt like nobody was going to take advantage of us.
What was your favorite moment from the trip?
Shani: One of them for me was riding on the camels. That was fun. Beckham loved that. We knew that would be a highlight for him.
Savannah: One of my favorite moments of the trip was the argan oil factory.
Shani: That was a cooperative of women, run by women, where they make this argan oil and sell it and support their families that way. We went into this dark room, and these women were cracking nuts, one by one, by hand. We also had lunch there with the lady and her family that ran that cooperative. We were able to ask about the women. It was a touching moment.
Savannah: Getting to know the people is one of the coolest things.
Shani: To be women, working together, helping each other, helping support their families, it was a good experience. I loved the souks in Marrakesh.
Savannah: That human element, meeting different people, those things are what makes it really cool and what sets the experience apart from others. If I didn’t go with Thomson, just tried going on my own, I wouldn’t have known where to go or what to do to find those people. Introducing that personal element of meeting the locals makes the experiences so special.
How do you make sure your multi-generational travel is fun for everyone?
Shani: We’ve realized that adults can have fun doing kidsy things, but kids have a difficult time engaging in too many adult activities. If we’re doing a museum or something that’s adult-oriented, we try to keep it short, so kids don’t lose focus.
We prepare: “These are the things we’re going to see; this is what we’re going to learn about this day,” so there’s a foundation, and they can connect the dots.
Another thing, we try to get everybody involved in the planning process. Everybody can feel that they have skin in the game. It makes you be more patient with things you may not really want to do. It makes for a well-balanced trip.
Savannah: My husband is the biggest outdoorsy person ever. Loves mountain biking and skiing. I think it’s miserable. I like art, classical music, and he thinks that’s miserable.
When we plan a trip together, we have a good balance of outdoorsy and culture. It helps – I get to see my husband in his element and it makes me appreciate the activity so much more. And he gets to see me at the symphony, and it makes him appreciate that experience more. It makes you like other things more when you see your family members getting so giddy about it.
Shani: There’s one more thing. The key to having a successful trip is to have enough space. You can’t try to cram 10 people in one hotel room. That makes for a miserable experience. When you have space, somewhere to go, that’s another important element.
What activities did Morocco have to keep everyone engaged?
Savannah: In Marrakesh, we went to a cool photography gallery. Then you have the camel ride, where you’re totally out of your element. It’s a totally new experience.
Shani: Then you go to the souks, you see the local way of life.
Savannah: Then we went and got massages. [Laughter]
You really need a balance when you’re traveling. We try to get the most out of our experiences, the most learning. Sometimes it’s so much, you need a day off, and we had a good mix of relaxing activities and things that were educational and meaningful.
Shani: We went to the markets, where in the daytime, they have the snake charmers and the games. Then at night, in the same exact spot, toooooootally different experience. Oh. My. Gosh. Totally different experience.
What was different between the day market and the night market?
Shani: In the day, there was the snake charmers, not as many people. There are little stalls set up with people selling fruit and things like that. It’s calmer in the day. In the night, it’s loud music, tons of people, food stalls, storytellers and people playing games.
Savannah: One guy was playing music with a chicken on his head! It’s like Times Square during the day versus Times Square at night.
As someone who has traveled the world with us eight different times, what keeps you coming back?
Savannah: We’ve traveled with Thomson enough to know that we’ll get good accommodations, good places to eat, guides that will take care of us and that we’ll have a safe, enjoyable experience.
Shani: The guides are a huge part of it. We’re not going to be staying in some sketchy part of town, we’re not going to have a bad guide.
Most of the time, we’re traveling privately. I love that Thomson has that option – taking a normal itinerary and making it a private trip, adding things that we want to do, taking out things that we don’t want to do. I like that flexibility a lot.
Obviously, we wouldn’t be coming back over and over if we didn’t feel we got good quality and good value out of our experiences with you guys.