In the spirit of FOMO, my neurotic inner voice turns up the volume in the weeks preceding travel to an international destination. I crave the assurance that I've visited the most special shops in any given city. In my experience, a single Vogue-Recommended Guide doesn't cut the mustard.
And with all due respect, the dudes and crunchy ladies who write for Lonely Planet are wonderful experts when it comes to where to book a camel ride, but a disaster of banality when asked for their shopping opinions.
My job prior to founding Lacerlot was at a worldwide boutique and shopping discovery platform called Snapette, where we identified and profiled the best places to shop on earth.
That professional experience isn't even the most relevant here: it's the violence of my anxiety that I'll fail to find hidden gems during my potentially once-in-a-lifetime visit which leads me to put the prep hours in.
I can tell you now that my magical experiences in Marrakech evidenced the merit of pre-travel shopping research more than any other city has.
Your hotel will most likely provide you with a map of the main shopping market - the Medina - which illustrates areas to wander to based on category (home decor to apothecary to food etc). The Medina is exhilarating but also exhausting - and borders on a Disneyland vibe. My favorite shops in Marrakech were all outside of the Medina in quiet, tucked away alleys.
Here's my research secret: Instagram stalking - particularly within the geotag feature. This is most effectively done at 3:00 am with the phone 4 inches from your face.
Instagram is a powerful discovery tool because boutique merchants usually do not have the resources to launch storefront websites, nor the time to market themselves to international travel publications.
I begin with the Places tab and click on images that seem enticing. I also search by hashtag, and look for fashion influencers who have traveled to the city. I screenshot images and relevant captions, then add those to a hidden Pinterest board. In the (late) morning, with sore and bloodshot eyes, I'll compare image locations to Google Maps, and then coordinate a shopping itinerary.
My husband Peter would appreciate if I applied the above planning efforts to other areas of our travel - eg. logistics, but alas, I have zero interest in that.
Below is the long email recommendation list that I privately sent to friends before their trips to Morocco. Peter was certain that I must have alarmed them with the length and detail of the recommendations in response to a very simple question about where to shop, but I figured they know me well enough already to expect this shit.
Their Instagram also displays their WhatsApp info in case you need help finding the store.
Hare Magic Moroccan Green Lipstick:
- Pack an empty duffle bag with you to carry your loot home. Shipping costs are bizarrely expensive from Morocco to the USA. (What's up DHL?) Once you're home, sellers who promised to communicate with you via email or WhatsApp to arrange shipments will disappear. They're probably too busy with their immediate in-person customers to bother with you.
- Google Maps is finicky in Marrakech and it often leads you to the incorrect addresses. We used an app called Hip Marrakech, which works offline and led us to all the right places: https://itunes.apple.c
- You have to haggle for everything in Morocco, even when there's a price tag on an item. The advice we heard was to start your negotiation at 10% of the seller's initial price, and expect to end up in the middle, which worked for us. Negotiate in the fancier stores like Mustapha and Soufiane as well (in Atika the prices are fixed).
- If you take a taxi, negotiate the price before getting in. A ride shouldn't cost more than 30 dirham within the city (expect 150 dirham to and from the airport).
- Steer clear of the little boys & teenagers who try to tell you where to go. The racket is to mislead you, then make you pay $ to redirect you to the right spot. Ask a woman or a shopkeeper for help instead :)