Joy, Tears and Tea as Countries Reopen Their Borders
There’s one big unexpected thing that frequent traveler Susan Kipers carried away from her March trip to Morocco—and it wasn’t a rug. (Though she did bring home one of those too.) Instead, it was the heartfelt outpouring of happiness that many people she came into contact with had at her very presence in the country. “The hotels, our guide, our driver, everybody expressed gratitude that we were there, but Tarik [a Classic Journeys host who owns a farm near Fès] was particularly sincere,” she recalls. “He told our group multiple times, ‘I’m so happy, I’m so, so happy to see you.’”
“And we weren’t a huge crowd coming from the U.S. during Covid-19; we were just three people—and I felt like a rockstar,” she goes on to say. “With Tarik, you could tell it was coming from a deep place and that he really missed making connections with people.” That experience, she believes, was such an illustrative moment demonstrating that it’s not just travelers themselves that are energized at the return of tourism; guides, hosts and everyone involved in making those trips a success truly miss those interactions too.
Kipers chose to travel to Morocco for a very straight-forward reason: “Because they’d let me in,” she laughs. There’s more to it than that, of course. “Whether you’re willing to travel right now is a personal decision, and I’ve just made the decision that I’m going to put my faith in the vaccine. And I know it’s not a hundred percent, but I don’t really want to wait to get back to living,” she explains.
Travel is a huge part and a major source of pleasure in Kipers’ life. A professional college counselor, coach and consultant based in Southern California, she’s taken part in Classic Journeys tours to Normandy and Brittany, Tuscany and Cinque Terre, Bhutan, Prague to Budapest, Norway and now Morocco, often traveling solo or with a friend. And that’s in addition to dozens of other countries and continents she’s traveled to on her own or through other companies. She’s one of those rare individuals who has set foot in all seven continents—yes, including Antarctica, a place she loved. “As I’ve traveled, a lot of times I’ll hear people say, ‘Well, I’m ready to go home now,’ but I’ve never once said those words,” she explains.
Morocco had long been on Kipers’ destination bucket list (she maintains a lengthy wishlist, she’s quick to admit). And it’s likely that the Morocco she saw is one that not many others have. “There were no tourists, the medinas were not crowded, the famous square in Marrakesh was pretty much empty, there were no snake charmers and no lines anywhere,” she recalls. Though her group’s actual Classic Journeys day-to-day itinerary from Fès through Erfoud, Merzouga, Ouarzazate to Marrakesh didn’t necessarily change–save for wrapping up dinners by 8pm to comply with the country’s Covid curfew regulations–their experience of moving through the cities more fluidly differed from the country’s typical bustling, riotous scene. “While in a lot of ways the lack of crowding was a positive, it just really struck me how everyone in the entire world has been so impacted by this pandemic, and how everyone’s just trying to get through it and hoping the day comes when we can be together again.”
Kipers imagines a growing interest in small or even ‘micro’ group travel in the near future, primarily for cautionary reasons as the world re-opens. (Classic Journeys trips typically average around 8 guests, but go as low as three.) But there’s another reason why she particularly enjoys small group travel herself—and it’s a surprising one. “I’m an introvert,” she states. “If I’m traveling alone without a group I’m not the type to just go start talking to strangers at a restaurant or wherever. Once a while I do, but that’s not my normal mode. But on a Classic Journeys trip, you make automatic connections and everyone hangs out together.” She’s traveled with couples and with friends, and has always felt comfortable whether or not she’s had her own “travel buddy” with her.
She’s eyeing other international destinations this year, avidly following openings, policies and Covid caseloads. Iceland, Portugal, Poland, Wales and northern Patagonia are all spots on her short list. And she’s hoping that she’ll be among many people with tickets in hand this year. “If you travel, you understand people more, you realize that they are all like you, and it’s harder to have hate towards anybody—your world is so much bigger,” Kipers says. Her sphere, similar to so many others, has felt so constricted and small over the past year. But that’s rapidly changing, much to her relief. It’s something she’s excited to push the students she works with to explore as well. “I love it when I work with students that are a little more adventurous and are willing to leave Southern California because to me, it’s like, there’s a whole big world out there,” she says. “Find out about it, you know?”
Kelly Phillips Badal is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor and world traveler who writes about travel, lifestyle and design. The former editor in chief of Interiors California, her work has also appeared in Sunset, Angeleno, BBC Travel and CondeNastTraveler.com; and she’s held staff positions at Better Homes & Gardens and Country Living. Kelly is married to travel and lifestyle photographer Tanveer Badal. Together they split their time between New York City, Los Angeles, and wherever their travels take them. Follow her at @kellybadal
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