From the first year that I lived in Marrakesh, I dreamed of leading a travel writing retreat there. No country has been a muse to me like Morocco. I wanted to share inspiring experiences with women who also need to write and explore. The pandemic postponed my dream. But while waiting for borders to reopen, I wrote a memoir about my years in the Red City.
Meanwhile, a woman named Laila Krattiger was trying to fulfill her dream — a haven for travelers that offers Morocco’s warm hospitality, Switzerland’s pristine precision, and Italy’s dramatic style. She opened the doors to Riad Luciano in Marrakesh… and pandemic slammed them shut. The world was on lockdown. As she discusses in the interview below, she shook off the shock with optimism and then used the time to make a major renovation and assemble a dream team.
The word quarantine is derived from the Italian quaranta giorni which means “40 days.” During the Middle Ages, passengers were detained on ships in ports for this length of time to quell the spread of bubonic plague. The Black Death killed one-third of the world’s population. However, in the next era, survivors celebrated life and were more creative than ever before. During the Renaissance, which means “Rebirth,” art flourished.
Likewise, post-pandemic we’re traveling like never before. We recognize our need for adventure, beauty, and connection. Riad Luciano reopened and is a work of art even more beautiful than before. Laila’s tenacity paid off, and her vision was realized. I’m so glad I could experience it.
My writing retreat finally happened. Before it started, I set aside three days of solo stays in Marrakesh. Since becoming a caregiver to my mom over a year ago, I’ve valued solo travel more than ever. Since 2013, I’ve featured my favorite resorts, boutique hotels, and Moroccan riads on this blog. Every property has an essence — the souls, the people who are the brand. A place of beauty has heart. It’s the product of hard work, tears, and tenacity. The realization of a dream.
I read websites and reviews on about a hundred resorts and riads before choosing Riad Luciano for my first night back in Morocco. It promised Moroccan warmth, Swiss precision, and Italian style… and delivered. I still dream of living in Italy, and I fell in love with Switzerland on my first trip to Lucerne. The stay was even better than I anticipated. Take a tour of Riad Luciano below. Meet Laila who lives her life in Zug, a city between Zurich and Lucerne, and Morocco. We talk about living cross-culturally and she gives must-dos in her cities. Hear her advice to younger people on seeing the world.
If you prefer listening to the podcast, the audio is here. You can book Riad Luciano on the website link above or here.
Disclosure: I was a guest at Hotel Luciano. I only recommend accommodations I’ve stayed in personally and HIGHLY endorse. As always, all opinions on this blog are my own.
Disclosure: Some posts on this blog have affiliate links to offset my cost at no additional fees for the consumer.
Below are photos of Laila in Morocco and Switzerland with family and colleagues with whom she designs excursions.
Choosing accommodations when you’re a solo traveler in a new city is especially important. And yes, a vital consideration is location, location, location. As Laila points out in our interview, guests aren’t forced. to stay in their rooms or go out when there are plenty of public spaces for relaxing. As in any large city, I don’t typically go out alone on foot after dark. Having a balcony and rooftop allows me to enjoy city lights, cool breezes, and full moons.
Planning new adventures can cure post-holiday blues and cabin fever. Intentional travel can provide what you need and value most for a happier, healthier new year.
Vowing to make travel a priority this year is more than a resolution. It’s the means for fulfilling goals and desires. Time away improves mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Paradoxically, journeys are essential for leading us home to the people we’d like to be.
Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.
Time away gives space and perspective to…
bond with family and friends
meet kindred spirits
learn something new
rest, reset, or reinvent your life
scout where you want to spend a gap year or retire
providing a new lens to reevaluate ourselves and our home culture
motivating us to continue something we enjoyed on vacation once we’re home (i.e.) language, cooking, Latin dancing classes or Meetups
When I started this blog, my focus was to encourage moms to take time outs. Mentors taught me the foreign concept of self-care when I became a single parent. They urged me to take a walk, eat on a pretty patio, or go to a movie when the kids were at their dad’s. I eventually took annual solo trips to a Tennessee B and B and volunteered with strangers in New York City, Ireland, and Italy. Teaching literature is fun, but even better is leading students on educational tours because Saint Augustine was right: “The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page.”
Moving 4400 miles away to survive the empty nest is not for everyone. It was counter-intuitive for a Stage 5 Clinger Mom like me. For years I showed my students Dead Poets Society and sent them off to college with Carpe Diem! Find Kindred Spirits! Fulfill Dreams! After two years in an empty house, I knew that I needed to seize the day before the day ceased. I needed rest, a new purpose, and to see the world with childlike wonder. I needed to live by faith, let go of fear, and begin again. Thank God I did.
When I started writing my book about living abroad, I called it my “No-Mom-Left-Behind Memoir.” I encouraged women to use the empty nest as an opportunity to do what their children were doing — spread their wings. I didn’t realize the window between caring for my children and caring for a parent was already closing. The mom who couldn’t be left behind became my mother rather than me. Since then, I’ve talked with so many empty nesters who I’ve met in passing, reconnected with at a class reunion, and interviewed for Second Harvest Food Bank at food pantries. MANY are caring for partners, parents, in-laws, and grandkids.
Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds.According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.”
My mother, a former Recreational Director at an assisted living facility, often says how thankful she is for the travels she did while working. Most of those trips were with her residents. When I told her I’d been offered a teaching job abroad in 2014, she hugged me and said: “We only go around this way once.”
The Bottom Line
We don’t know how much time we have here. The same is true of places we want to see. In 2021 and 2022 I featured Sarasota, Anna Maria Island, Captiva and Sanibel Islands, and Fort Myers as Top US Destinations. The first two were threatened and the last three pummeled by Hurricane Ian this year. Last summer a trip to The Kentucky Wildlands was cancelled due to catastrophic flooding. In March 2020 my trip to Sicily was snuffed out days before departure. Climate change and a global pandemic have taught me that life as we know it can grind to a halt or mutate at any time.
In light of the Ukrainian War and other humanitarian crises happening now, spending money or time on travel, entertainment, or other luxuries can feel selfish. When I first supported volunteers with travel funds and raised support for service trips I’ve done, I’d wonder… Wouldn’t that money be better spent if sent to program directors who would give it directly to the people in need? Now I know that getting involved up- close- and- personal builds ongoing relationships, raises awareness of needs, multiplies resources exponentially, and makes us more empathic global citizens.
Travel is an investment. It’s the best form of education I know. Thanks to international teaching, leading students on service and educational trips abroad, and travel writing, I’ve had experiences that I could have never imagined or afforded on my own. I’ve met people on the road serving with the Peace Corps and other non-profit organizations, working remotely for US and European companies, running tour companies, managing hotels, and waiting tables who are adding value to others’ lives while loving their own.
My children are grown now, but we continue making memories traveling. Our favorite holiday gifts weren’t wrapped in boxes under a tree. We still speak of that Christmas in London and Marrakesh. And the holiday trip to New Orleans. This Christmas my daughter, Taylor, and I received the most exciting gift ever. My son, Cole, surprised us with tickets for a March getaway to California. We’ll return to Santa Monica, our favorite summer vacation spot ever, and drive to Palm Springs. Next week my sister will join me on a blogging trip to Key West, and in June, the dream of leading a writing retreat in Morocco is finally happening. We have a couple of spots left if you’re interested.
So where do you need to go this year? What do you want to do, learn, see, or be?
I love Road Scholar, a non-profit travel adventure company. They offer financial assistance from donors to folks over 50 with need. If you or someone you know is a caregiver or educator wanting to get away, see below. They also have trips that don’t charge more for singles as well as online adventure scholarships. Road Scholar is my kind of people!
Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost.
If the pandemic has moved you to make a bigger move… U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver the #2 best place to live in the country based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Read on and when you’re sold and ready to make the move, check out Hello Landing for Denver apartment options and enjoy your new location with their pro advice: 6 Fun Things to Do in Denver for New Residents.
Prior to 2020, my only experience in Colorado was chaperoning a school trip at Purgatory Resort in Durango. The resort lived up to its name when my first attempt at skiing was a bust (I may be the only person who has ridden a ski lift down the slope after thinking I’d broken my tailbone when I jumped from the chair). I wrote off Colorado thinking it’s all about skiing—one of those things, like eating with chopsticks, I’m just too uncoordinated to do. Until… one weekend last year when my son, Cole, visited Denver and Colorado Springs and decided he’d make the area his new home.
It was a fit for his IT career and healthy lifestyle. And he loved Denver (as he did Marrakesh, Morocco where I’d lived and he’d visited) for its arid climate; majestic, snow-capped mountain range; and sunny skies about 300 days per year. Bonus are flight schools so he can work on a pilot’s license—another goal. So he flew back to Tennessee on a mission. By June 2020 he was hired by a large company in Broomfield, “The Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” and found an apartment there. Last July he packed his belongings into a moving truck and set out on a 1400- mile road trip from his home in Knoxville with his car (and me–a stowaway!) in tow. Seriously, I’m so thankful he allowed me to tag along to document the adventure. Doesn’t every mom want to see her adult child’s dream coming true?
Broomfield is 10 minutes from Boulder, 30 minutes from Denver, and #3 for raising a family in Colorado with great schools and low crime. Like many who have moved to new cities during Covid, he hasn’t met his coworkers in person since everyone works from home. But he likes that getting a driver’s license in his new state meant automatic voter registration and a mail-in ballot; that his electricity is powered by windmills nearby on clean, open spaces; that there are more vegan options than in Knoxville; that his company has a basketball goal and outdoor grilling area, that he has pro hockey, baseball, football, basketball and soccer teams.
Reasons to Plan a Trip (Or Move) to Denver
Disclaimer: This list is not as comprehensive as other guides I’ve written on destinations in the US and abroad. Partly because Covid changes everything daily from what is closed, what is open, the whens and wheres. But mostly my guide is a work in progress because I need to do more research on multiple visits. 🙂
Topping my list of why I love the Denver area so far are all the outdoor areas to explore– hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams…street art and live music… and a multitude of restaurant and brewery patios. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as masks, allowing everyone to chill for awhile and breathe.
I’m a big believer in starting with a guided tour of any city to get the “lay of the land.” I hoped this one would be as fun and informative as the food tour I did in Madrid or the electric bike tour I did through Costa Brava hill towns. Cole was a good sport to go with me (and the two other ladies my age we met on the tour) –especially on a record-high hot July day. He said later that coasting down hills made him feel like a kid again and I loved feeling that way, too. We learned a lot from our guide about these…
Boulder Creek Path–Watch locals tubing down the stream.
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse— A gift from Dushanbe to Boulder, their Sister City, built by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. The hand-carved ceiling and woodwork is stunning.
The Flatirons–Amazing Photo Opp
Chautauqua–I couldn’t wait to see this given my love for the Chautauqua movement that started in the1890s and continues at Monteagle, Tennessee where I began solo travel trips in the 2000s and still love writing retreats in the Assembly today.
Bonus was a stop at The Sink, where Robert Redford was a janitor in 1955 and famous guests include President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.
And add to the list Pearl Street to hang out in a coffee shop or book store, dance to live music, skate, skateboard, shop, eat, or drink.
Last weekend Cole took me to the the place he liked most on his visit last year to Colorado. In 1859 after the “Pike’s Peak or Bust” gold rush, men began looking for a site for a town at the mountain’s base. Two Kansas builders of what would become Colorado Springs happened upon red rock formations in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by nothing but trails the American Indians used. One of them, Melancthon Beach, thought it would be an ideal place for a beer garden one day, while his partner, Rufus Cable, disagreed:
“Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods.”
On the way to Colorado Springs, we stopped north of Denver in Sunnyside, a neighborhood that has been revived over the last ten years with a strong sense of community. It reminded me of East Nashville before the Music City boom. I’d read that Bacon had a huge patio and great food, but because the wait was so long, we went to El Jeffe next door and were glad we did. I didn’t order the Breakfast Burrito, a Denver delicacy, because the Pescado Tacos and Huevos Con Chorizo Tacos were too tempting. We couldn’t do the Bottomless Brunch (you can mix and match Blood Marys, Mimosa, and Sangrias), but we did have a sangria before taking off and I’d love to return and try more good stuff on their dinner menu.
I didn’t realize that many consider Denver the #1 US City for Beer. I was there during Denver Beer Week, so when in Rome…
On the way back from Colorado Springs, we had some great pizza and brews– Pikes Peak Little London and Blue Mesa Tropical– outdoors at 16th Street Mall.
Since covering a Street Art Exhibit in Marrakesh, I’ve loved seeing artists’ works in other cities. RiNo is a place to enjoy sunshine, takeout from Central Market, and the skyline.
Cole’s grandfather/my dad was an outdoorsman who loved Colorado. He would have loved visiting Cole, too.
Next time I want to find the best Rocky Mountain Oysters and Green Chile in Denver–any suggestions? I want to buy a University of Colorado sweatshirt and learn to fly fish (know a guide)? I love a mix of exploring new territory and enjoying family traditions, too–like last weekend when we watched Iron Man and SNL while eating takeout from Tsing Tao and Azitra.
Whether you travel or stay home for the holidays, stay safe and celebrate the good times that have happened despite a very difficult year. No matter what 2021 holds… remember…