Solo Travel: Tips for Morocco
If I gained a dollar every time a woman told me that she feared solo travel to Morocco or the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA), I could finance another month-long trip to Morocco. This attitude saddens me so much, because I know firsthand how much these women are missing out on. Morocco is a fascinating and an incredibly beautiful country.
I traveled through Morocco for a month with a female friend, but we spent more than half of the time traveling solo, as well as couchsurfing with male hosts. Not once did either of us find ourselves in a dangerous situation. Of course as female solo travelers, we, unfortunately, always have to be more careful than our male counterparts. And yes, if you want to travel (especially solo travel) in the MENA region, you need to develop a thicker skin than if you were traveling in the Western Hemisphere. But don’t let that stop you from traveling there. If you let a few bad eggs wreck your experience or dictate your travel plans, you are letting them win!
Here are things to keep in mind if you travel to Morocco:
1. Catcalling men usually don’t know English
So, you most likely won’t even be aware that they are talking about you, and it’s much easier to ignore people if you can’t understand what they’re saying. Moroccan women, on the other hand, have a much harder time going out alone in certain parts of their country.
2. If someone doesn’t leave you alone, don’t worry
When a simple “Please leave me alone, I’m not interested” doesn’t help, most likely, someone else will tell the person to take hike within minutes. This happened to me several times throughout my month-long trip, and I never felt seriously threatened, only severely annoyed. No one ever tried to touch me or to come too close to me. They just followed me around after I made it clear that I was not interested in talking to them.
3. Most people are harmless, friendly, and genuinely curious about you
They rarely get the chance to leave Morocco themselves and are always happy to talk to foreigners. In fact, a few Moroccan woman told me that Moroccans are simply very nosy. During our first few days in Morocco while my friend and I were still traveling together, a few younger men came up to us and spoke to us in English. They asked us where we were from, what we were doing there, how we liked Morocco so far. They welcomed us to their country, telling us how much they wanted to visit our home country. My friend was annoyed that I kept speaking to them and being so nice. Coming from Europe, the concept of people approaching you in the street and just randomly starting a conversation with you was completely foreign to her and something that she did not want to get used to.
However, the amazing hospitality is half of the charm in traveling to a country like Morocco. In Germany, where I’m from, no one would randomly walk up to tourists and welcome them to their country. It is just one of those cultural differences you have to learn to enjoy if you want to have good time in the MENA region. The most important advice I always give other fellow travelers is: it doesn’t pay to be too scared.
4. Moroccan men still grow up learning that women are less capable and need to be protected
As a western feminist, I know that your toenails probably just curled, but this also means that the threshold for randomly attacking a foreign woman in the street is a lot higher in Morocco than it might be in some “enlightened” countries. In Morocco, other men will see it as their duties to protect you as long as you behave respectfully.
5. Wearing dark or even reflective sunglasses is a good idea
This will make it impossible for you to accidentally make eye contact with someone. Making eye contact and smiling at men you don’t know is not a good idea because many will believe that you are encouraging them to talk to you or even worse, they will think you are sexually interested in them. Wearing dark glasses will make you feel safer and more invisible. Personally, it is my single most important accessory when traveling in the MENA region.
6. Dressing down attracts less attention
I don’t mean wear shapeless, long skirts all of the time. You can wear tight pants, even though long pants are obviously better than shorts, but try to wear something a little bit loose on the upper part off your body. Also, in most parts of the country, covering your shoulders will ensure that you will get bothered less often. In the summer, you can become more lax about this especially in Marrakech, where you will see many women wearing culturally inappropriate clothes.
However, if you are solo traveling, it is important to dress down. You can wear more western-style clothing in the cities rather than in the more traditionally-minded medina quarters. In Morocco, the coastal region is more liberal.
7. Touristy areas are not safer
I know this sounds counterintuitive because usually cities with more tourists are more open and aware of western culture, but this has not been my experience in Morocco. I found Marrakech to be the least pleasant city to visit and where we were most hustled. The large amount of gullible tourists cause many people, who have little respect for tourists to stream into the city and try to make money off of them.
The locals were very pushy and rude. We had a few unpleasant experiences when we were insulted after kindly and respectfully declining help from local men. However while these experiences were unpleasant, they were not dangerous. Either way, I was happy that this was one of the places we traveled to together.
8. It is not acceptable to be rude, no matter how annoying someone is
As long as you are laid back, respectful and nice, public support will be behind you. If you become rude or “unfeminine,” chances are that the person annoying you will only become even more annoying and that the people around you will be a lot less sympathetic toward you and won’t help you. I know this may be a hard tip to swallow especially because it’s not always easy to keep your cool in tough situations, but it’s counterproductive to become harsh. Just be nice, friendly and calm, but stay determined. If that doesn’t work, give the person who is annoying you the cold shoulder and keep walking.
9. Headphones and an MP3 player make it easier to ignore someone
This is for the same reason why you should wear sunglasses: it really is a lot easier to ignore someone if you can’t even hear him. Also, when a person can’t see you hear them, it functions as a deterrent.
10. Wearing a wedding ring is sometimes suggested
Some do suggest to wear a wedding ring to deter unwanted attention. But, personally I don’t think this is necessary. Also, you might seem even more conspicuous that you are not traveling with your husband.
Finally, don’t try to impose your western norms on the local population. Instead, embrace your differences and don’t let the one bad experience ruin your travel to Morocco!