Tell us about yourself! How did you become @Ameliaearoundtheworld
I honestly never traveled growing up, other than visiting grandparents; my parents didn't have the money for traditional travel or the education to really pull it off on a shoestring either. But the month my dad died, when I was 19, I bought my first plane ticket—to Mumbai. I mean, I really ripped off the travel Band-Aid there, ha. India is such a strange (to Americans) and wonderful and complicated country that I've been lucky enough to visit many more times thanks to my friends who live(d) there. But that was it; I was hooked on learning about the world.
I studied in Europe for about eight months and bought every $20 RyanAir flight I could. I schlepped on a train from Budapest to Belgrade and another one through Croatia to Ljubjana; I hiked the Scottish isles and highlands and slept in a Dresden train station (do not try this, kids!!). That was an era of so. many. hostels.
When I finished college and started working one big job instead of three small ones, all my extra income went to travel—I did it all on a budget but still, I didn't open my first savings account until I was about 29. Again, don't try this at home! Nowadays I'm smarter about saving, and since moving out of NYC, my cost of living has gone wayyy down. I started travel writing as an editor at Refinery29 circa 2014, and then moved to SheKnows and created a series of city guides for traveling families called Mom Voyage. Then I transitioned to Meredith to launch their personal finance content across a bunch of publications, including Real Simple and Parents; on the latter I've started a budget-travel series called Funding Fun.
And as a single mom for most of my son's life, the need to travel on a budget has remained paramount; it's always been easier and cheaper to just bring Silas with me on work trips (and fun trips) than leave him at home with a sitter. He's been to, I think, 33 states at this point (the pandemic really helped motivate us on the road trip front) and four continents.
So of all these places, why is Marrakech the city you're sharing travel recommendations for?
I’m recommending Marrakech, because visiting this city has been one of my biggest adventures with my son. We also brought my little brother who was a delightful travel buddy / "manny"—and ended up being a lifesaver to have around when my son contracted bronchitis, sinusitis, and pharyngitis in Morocco and I had to haggle in French over antibiotics that I bought out of some doctor's car trunk. You can't make this shit up. I was so grateful I had my brother to watch the sick kiddo while I went on the dramatic medicine hunt.
Other than a very unfortunate sick little guy, what was most memorable for you about Marrakech?
Other than the dramatic medicine hunt? Everyone probably says this about Morocco, but the colors; it's such a visually vibrant, textural place. And everyone we met was really warm and welcoming, and especially accommodating of Silas. I had previously gotten a lot of questionably racist "warnings" from western travelers about how I wouldn't be welcome in a Muslim country as a single, unmarried mother. But I didn't experience anything but kindness from Moroccans.
What did your son like the most about Marrakech?
No matter where we go, if you ask Silas what his favorite part was, it's always a food. In Morocco, he was two, and already had a serious love of olives, of all things. In the market stalls around Jemaa el-Fnaa, in the Marrakech medina, I bought him so many olives and he just chowed down.
Now for allll your tips. What is your on your “Best of Marrakech” list?
The bright blue-walled Jardin Majorelle is a must-see, as is Anima Garden, which offers a free shuttle from the medina. During our trip I was lucky to have an incredible local pal, Sarajane Bizzou, who lives in Marrakech with her husband and new baby. The family runs a beautiful shop that's also a tour company, Ansmoon, and they should absolutely be your go-to, whether you want to book a family camel ride through the Atlas Mountains or buy some handcrafted local treasures to bring home.
Best Part of Town to Stay in:
Staying in the medina is the classic choice. There are so many riads that are just like, these magical secret gardens you can sleep in. And speaking of, there actually is a literal secret garden in the medina—the Jardin Secret—which is just another reason to stay nearby and explore. There are also plenty of lovely resorts on the outskirts of town that are cushier, all-inclusive and the like—we spent a few days at the Iberostar La Palmeraie while kiddo was sick and it was so nice to have everything we needed on-site for those difficult days—but you really can't beat the culture of the city center. Just don't bring your stroller, though, because cobblestones (and motorcycles).
Of the riads, Dar Doukkala. It's family-run and they'll whip you up a simple, remarkably delicious dinner no matter how late you may be dragging yourself in from the airport. But hands-down one of my favorite hotels worldwide is El Fenn. It's an almost indescribable combination of riad, boutique hotel, and understated rock-and-roll glam. We checked in during a rainstorm, stumbling in all soggy, and in no time our luggage was whisked away and we were seated in El Fenn's impossibly chic cafe in front of steaming sweet mint tea and all was right with the world. When I look back at this photo of my son napping in the El Fenn courtyard, I can still hear the birdsong.
Places to Play/Family-friendly activities:
Other than the various gardens I already mentioned, Also, my son's favorite day trip outside Marrakech was to Essaouira, a beautiful blue-and-white beach town on the coast. It's a couple hours by bus but well worth the schlep for some beach time; you may even get to see some goats chilling at the tops of trees along the road.
Best Places to Eat:
My friend Sarajane gave me a weirdly delightful local tip: "Gas station restaurants are a thing here." Believe it or not, you can actually get a great outdoor lunch at various local gas stations that have outdoor seating and a small playground for the kids. But you likely need a local to find out which ones have this, so hit up Ansmoon! Another great restaurant is the Amal Center which also does cooking classes. For a treat, grab a fancy coffee or hot chocolate for the kids at the Musee Dar El Bacha, the old palace in the medina. And of course I'll never stop singing the praises of El Fenn's food, including their rooftop restaurant for a breezy breakfast.
You really can't beat the various stalls in the winding aisles of the Marrakech medina, whether you want to shop spices or rugs or an incredibly realistic toy snake to terrify your fellow airline passengers on the flight home (my son is definitely #sorrynotsorry). I will say, though, if you make that day trip out to Essaouira—everything is cheaper there. My brother and I bought three gorgeous handmade wool rugs for around $120 total.
Best Grown-up time Entertainment:
This is going to be a weak point for any traveling single parent—unless you're staying at a resort with a kids' club where you can drop them off. I did leave my son with my brother to attend a yoga class, and another time to pop into one of the local hammams for a (super-cheap, by U.S. standards) full-body scrub. Those scrub ladies don't hold back! I'm pretty sure I emerged from that hammam an entirely new person.
And finally, if readers can't go here, they should consider going to....
My home city of New York has the largest Moroccan population in the U.S, and Cafe Mogador or Zerza on Essex Street will make you feel like you're eating in a riad. And if you want to practice your French but can't get to Morocco (or, you know, France), one of my other favorite multicultural-hub cities is Montreal—it's hard to believe you can get to a French-speaking country in about a four-hour drive from Poughkeepsie.
Photo credits: El Fenn Hotel, Walker Edelman and Fabian Moller via Unsplash