Transformative Travel with Morocco By Design
Women’s equality looks different according to where you are and, in some cases, it can be as simple as having a safe space to give birth and bring up your baby. Keri learned this recently when, on a trip to Morocco, she saw a woman walking along the road in the same direction as her car.
She asked her driver to give her a lift and soon learned the woman, Hanane, was alone and pregnant with nowhere to go or any access to medication or a hospital. Ever the doer, Keri made a few phone calls and found the right people who could help Hanane have her baby in safety and give them shelter after.
“Somehow I was in the right place at the right time to be able to help this woman and her baby. And this has been happening to me ever since I set foot in Morocco for the first time barely three years ago — every time the journey is entirely transformative for me and for the people I meet or the ones I bring to visit.”
Keri’s love story with the place she now calls her second home started in 2018 when, on an eight-day family trip to Morocco, she fell utterly and hopelessly in love with the country and its people. Keri touched down in NYC and resumed her fashion PR career, which she had been building for the previous twenty-five years. Profoundly touched by Morocco but incredulous that she could be thinking about transforming her whole life, she kept trying to find ways to go back there to understand what this connection to Morocco really was.
Three months later, Keri went back with her best friend Gail, who had been inspired by Keri’s tales. “We were only there for five days, but something clicked. I knew then I would need to bring back here as many women as I possibly could, to help them see and experience what I saw and experienced every time I went.”
The seed of an idea started growing in Keri’s mind — a curated travel experience for women who are starting to take the first steps of a new phase in their lives, one freer of family and work obligations that have kept them head-down for the previous few decades.
In summer 2019 Keri took another close friend to test-run a potential itinerary and see if there was validity to what she was dreaming up. After dropping off her son for study in Rome, she piloted a shoot in a Marrakech riad for a cashmere brand, just to find an excuse to set foot in the country again. And that’s when everything changed.
Photos: Pink Palm Studios
Keri had always loved children and she asked her driver to take her to an orphanage. He took her to Dar Bouidar, in the Tahanaout region, half an hour away from Marrakech. “It was the most beautiful village, people were so open and warmhearted. At the time, it hosted over a hundred children who had been completely abandoned — either because their families couldn’t care for them or because their mothers would have been thrown out of the community if the pregnancy had been discovered. I compared that to my own experience of motherhood and having just left my son in another country for the first time ever. I just couldn’t comprehend it.”
The Atlas Kinder Foundation that founded and runs the orphanage was started by Mr. Huber, a man from Switzerland, whom Keri met during her visit. Everything that happened in her life up until that moment, the trips to Morocco and the people she had met and experiences she’d had, seemed to lead her there.
“In the space of a few months, my perspective on life completely changed. I felt like I found my soul’s purpose. If I could connect the immersive travel experiences I had been dreaming of to supporting the orphanage and village at large, that would be truly transformative travel.”
Meanwhile back home, Keri started transitioning out of some of her PR clients, while others naturally left. Doors were closing on one side of the Atlantic, but others were opening wider on the other.
Keri’s travel business Morocco By Design officially launched with her first trip in November 2019, when she took six women to Marrakech. Keri knew she was on the right path when, by the end of the trip, one of her guests told her with shining eyes that she had smiled and hugged more people in that week than in the whole year. “The women kept telling me they felt like they were visiting me at home, though that was only my 5th time in the country!” Keri remembers with a laugh.
But that is exactly what traveling with Morocco By Design is. It’s opening your soul and heart to new people, places, experiences. It’s being scared of drinking the water in case it makes you sick on the first day and sitting crosslegged in a Berber home sipping Moroccan tea with your hiking guide on the last. It’s roaming the streets of the Marrakech medina tasting all the fruit juice and the freshly baked bread, visiting a traditional Berber healer to learn about the properties of prickly pear and saffron after tasting a delicious meal in a luxurious restaurant. It’s a meticulously curated mix of high-end luxury in riads, soulful shopping directly with amazing artisans in the souks, and layering of deep immersion in the local culture, thanks to Keri’s incredible relationships on site.
“Even though my entire career and mindset have transitioned, I do feel like my twenty-five years in PR & Marketing has played a vital role in designing the trips and producing once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
After a very successful trip, Keri made her way back to Dar Bouidar to visit the orphanage once more before leaving, and a few months later in February 2020, she learned from her friend Yassir who worked at the village that an American man had visited shortly after her and made a very generous donation.
The man turned out to be Jonas Tamir, VP of Valentino US, a Moroccan who had moved to California to study and had built his life there, similarly to Keri, working in fashion and building a family. Jonas reached out to Keri just as she was on her way to Morocco for a trip at the end of February. Somehow the two felt connected by the fate of the village and agreed that something more permanent had to be done.
While the world started shutting down and talks of pandemics and lockdown became the daily norm, Keri was in Morocco with a group and more reluctant than ever to leave. “I finally flew back on March 12th, just before the borders shut on the 15th. I was horrified about not being able to go back and not knowing what would happen to the people who I had met, the orphanage, my team. I felt like I had found my home and lost it again in the space of a year.”
Keri and Jonas met soon after and decided to pursue setting up a foundation in the US to help support the efforts on the ground in Morocco. The American Friends of the Atlas Kinder Foundation was born, a nursery was built and the lives of 25 children who had been abandoned over the summer were saved.
Over the last few months, Keri has continued developing Morocco By Design as a curated immersive travel business, hoping to design ever more trips catering specifically to women. While she will continue hosting select trips every year, she will also design trips for anyone interested in traveling on their own, so that she has more time to develop the Foundation and keep helping children and women who rely on the orphanage and community.
“That is what travel does to you. It makes you look left and right instead of just straight on, shows you alternative lives, paths, worlds. I absolutely don’t expect every woman I take on a trip to change their lives dramatically or start a foundation, but if I can empower just a few women to see the world differently, then Morocco By Design will have fulfilled its mission.”
Morocco by Design curates intimate, deeply immersive, design-driven travel experiences that go beyond the ordinary, giving guests an insider’s perspective on the people, culture, and traditions that make Morocco so magical. Designed and hosted by Keri Levitt with a selected group of top guides, local artisans, and healers who have become personal friends, each trip is an opportunity to explore and re-discover what makes one feel alive, inspired, and deeply enlightened.