Being able to do something useful makes all the difference in the world when you want to travel the world for free or for almost nothing.
The fact that I can write, edit, work on computers, fix cars, and wash dishes means that I can go just about anywhere and trade my skills for whatever I need.
World Travel for Almost Nothing Tip #5:
Make yourself Useful.
Whether you cook, clean, or practice medicine the skills you’ve worked hard to develop will help you to be welcome wherever you go. If you are a carpenter or a mechanic, you can probably find everything you need in return for your skills. If you’re good at eating chips and playing World of Warcraft, well, it might be harder to find someone who is willing to trade food or lodging for those skills…but in this world, anything is possible.
In fact, lots of people opt to take actual jobs that involve travel. Working on cruise ships, airlines, tour guiding, and many more jobs actually pay you to travel…that’s almost better than free.
The key to this is that it takes time. You can’t step off the plane and simply say, here I am! You have to talk with people, you have to interact, you have to let people know that you have something to offer. So if you want to get that free vacation rental in Bermuda for three days, you better work your ass off figuring out who you know has connections there or using the internet to network virtually.
Another skill that has really worked in my benefit is being a teacher and a Native English Speaker. You can usually find someone who wants to trade what you need for language lessons.
In the time I’ve been in Morocco, I’ve seen a lot of music performed and listened to many other kinds. In general, the music you hear in the taxicabs, hanuts, and blaring from stands in the medinas is Arabic music and not necessarily Moroccan in origin. That’s not to say that you won’t hear the music of Morocco in those places, because you will, but by and large it’s music from Lebanon, Egypt, or other Arab countries.
The music of Morocco is diverse and consists of as many regional varieties as you can shake a wooden stick at. In general the Amazigh (Berber) varieties of folk music can be broken into three seperate categories. Music associated with specific villages, ritualistic music, and that of professional musicians.
Regional or village music is usually made with flutes, drums, and voice and has specific dances associated with it such as ahidus and ahouach. Because Morocco is a Muslim country, most music will begin with a prayer that non-Muslims often mistake for music itself. In fact, I’ve been asked about the chanting music by numerous visitors and it took me a while to figure out they actually meant the recitation of Quranic Suras and not actually music at all.
In the past all sorts of rites of passage included a beginning with ritualistic music and prayers, but because most families now have access to radios, cd players, and stereo systems, this has become increasingly rare and special events are now as likely to have blaring speakers as spiritual invocations to guard against djinn and shaitans.
The music performed by professional musicians, called imdyazn in Darija, is led by a poet or amydze, usually this is a quartet that uses djembe drums, rabab (the Moroccan fiddle), and the strange sounds of the long brass horns called bou dunanum. Often this kind of music involves poetry, storytelling, and jokes which make me wish I understood Darija well enough to get what everyone is laughing or nodding in agreement about.
The Chleuh, make music using cymbals, vocals, ouds, and fiddles and have a complex structure that often begins with the fiddle and has intermittent stops with poetry or what at first sounds like chaotic cacophony but is actually a complex composition that takes decades to perfect. I was reminded of Indonesian classical music the first time I heard it.
Chaabi music is a completely different creature and comes from all the different forms of Moroccan music swirled together in melting pot, tossed into a hammam oven, and then pulled out and served super hot.
Chaabi music is the Moroccan music you are most likely to hear just about anywhere. Born in the markets it has become to Morocco what rock and roll is to the United States.
Chaabi had a lot of influence from the Egyptian and Lebanese music of the 1970’s so in a way you could almost call it Moroccan Disco. It is almost always composed of a rapid rhythm and Moroccans can’t help clapping with it when it is playing. There are no set instruments for Chaabi and you’ll find ouds, fiddles, electric guitars, and drums or anything else that the musicians want to try. Maybe Moroccan Fusion would be a better term, but the fact is, if you don’t want to dance when you hear Chaabi music, you are probably dead already.
Of course the music that everyone knows about is the Gnawa music. Gnawa was born from the slaves that were brought from the sub-sahara and at first was used in the same way as Gospel was used in the USA during the times that slaves built both nations. The music became an integral part of the Sufi brotherhoods traditions and is now firmly a part of Moroccan ritual. Gnawa is the original trance music and is used to help aspirants to achieve a mystical state with it’s heavy rhythms and repetitive riffs. It started to achieve fame world wide with kiffed out space cadets in the 1960s and 1970s recording it and finding the master musicians of the art with the help of expats like Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles.
Another type of Moroccan music you may hear if you visit Morocco is Malhun. Malhun actually is sung poetry and not Quranic chants. The poetry is usually accompanied by oud and/or violin. Again, this is a music I wish I could understand the words to, but the music alone usually can tell you what it is about if you pay attention. If not, the tears or smiles of those listening will give you clues. The other instruments in Malhun are the cymbals, flute, and of course drums.
Rai music comes from the cities close to the Algerian Border such as Berkane and Oujda. In fact, the music itself could be said to be Algerian except that Morocco has produced some well known stars and varieties of rai that make a true Moroccan music.
Sufi Music is another form. While Gnawa is associated with the Sufis, not all Gnawa is Sufi and not all Sufi music is Gnawa. Like Gnawa, most Sufi music is designed to bring on a trance like state and is often accompanied by ecstatic dance and ritual. Sufi music differs in that there is rarely an organized drum section, though, as with all things in Morocco there are more than a few exceptions.
Probably the best known Sufi musicians are the Master Musicians of Jujouka.
If you missed the story of how I met my wife, let me remind you. I was couchsurfing at her family’s house in Morocco.
Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.
One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.
World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4:
Make strangers into friends.
One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.
I wrote my thesis in college about the fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.
I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.
While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.