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I’ve put off writing this post for over two years because I was afraid of how my views on traveling to Morocco as a solo female traveler would come across, but I’ve received so many question on this topic over the last couple of years that I finally decided to publish this post. As you read through my unfiltered guide to everything you need to know about solo female travel in Morocco, just remember that this is only one perspective derived from one set of experiences on a 10 day trip around Morocco in May 2017. Another solo female traveler’s experiences – or even your own experiences – can understandably differ from my own, depending on factors such as your race, appearance, culture, and background. The purpose of this post is not to criticize or spark controversy but rather to engage in dialogue, not only on our unique anecdotal experiences but also on religion, gender, psychology, and traditions that will help make this solo female traveler’s guide to Morocco as intelligent and empathetic of a guide as possible.
Everything You Need To Know About Solo Female Travel In Morocco: The Overall Experience
I visited Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert, Fes, and Chefchouen (the “Blue City”) on my 10-day trip through Morocco. Ramadan started on my fourth day in Morocco, while I was in the Sahara Desert, so I didn’t feel the full effects of it until after I left the desert and arrived in Fes. Generally speaking, the smaller the city, the less you’ll feel the negative effects of being a solo female traveler.
If I had to sum up my time in Morocco in one sentence, I would say that it was simultaneously exhausting and awakening; gloomy and colorful; and impassioned and peaceful. It was the most difficult and emotionally draining trip I’ve ever taken, and it pains me to have to advise other female travelers to “bring a man” when visiting Morocco, but if you only want to experience the positives sides of what I experienced, then by all means bring a man, or even a group of women, with you.
Everything You Need To Know About Solo Female Travel To Morocco: A Quick Note on Race
This is a slight detour from the main purpose of this post and, to be honest, a topic that deserves a post of its own, but I wanted to make a quick note on race before moving forward because I feel like race did have a pretty significant impact on my experience in Morocco.
While I get the occasional, but honestly pretty rare, “but where are you really from?” inquiry in North America and Europe, there was no convincing Moroccans that I, a very clearly Asian looking female, was from the United States. It was simply inconceivable to the large majority of people in Morocco that someone with an Asian looking face could be from anywhere outside of Asia. When I was in Chefchouen, a local tour guide walked past me with a Western tourist in tow specifically pointing me out to the tourist and explaining how there are lots of tourists from China in Morocco these days. It took every ounce of self control within me to not retort something snarky and get into it with him.
Of course, it is understandable that in racially homogenous and highly nationalistic countries, locals may not anticipate someone with a certain appearance to be from a part of the world that seemingly does not match their appearance. I experienced similar lines of questioning in countries across Southeast Asia and Africa, but none as aggressive or uncomfortable as what I experienced in Morocco. Perhaps it was because the popular racial guessing game of shouting out the most common words in various Asian languages (“konnichiwa!” “ni hao!” “ching chong!”) were laced with the “you’re beautiful” and “marry me” and “good shape” (why thank you, I do try to stay in good shape, even when I travel) that made an otherwise innocent remark so much more triggering.
Everything You Need To Know About Solo Female Travel To Morocco: The Gender Gap
In Western culture, and especially in my immediate circle of strong, independent, career-oriented women, we often complain about the pay gap between men and women in the same position and how difficult it is for women to climb up the corporate ladder while trying to juggle having a family and having a career at the same time. Without downplaying the gender gap we face in the United States, I think it is worthwhile to consider the gender gap in Morocco alongside the gender gap in the U.S. to fully understand the magnitude of the Grand Canyon-sized gender gap in Morocco, where it is difficult to even see past the canyon and to the other side.
One reason I’ve been hesitant to write on this topic is because what I perceive to be a “problem” might not be perceived as such by local women. The women I feel bad for for being oppressed by the men in their lives are probably the same women who feel bad for me for having so little morals as to gallivant around town in a scantily clad crop top. Truth is, there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to culture, and my goal with this post isn’t to argue that a certain culture is good or bad, but merely to provide somewhat of an explanation into why you’ll likely experience certain kinds of treatment in Morocco that you won’t experience back home.
First things first: for the most part, I did not feel unsafe traveling solo through Morocco. I explored the sights during the day and even walked a short distance home alone in the dark a few times. I took the bus from Fes to Chefchouen alone. I took multiple cab rides alone. I trusted a local to guide me across the Sahara on camelback alone. And while I was a little sketched out on a few occasions, never did I feel like my life was actually in danger.
With that said, there was an incident in Morocco while I was there involving a foreign woman who had been “rescued” by a local Moroccan man after being followed by a group of men on her way back to her hotel one night. As a gesture of thanks, she agreed to connect with the local who rescued her on Facebook. Toward the end of her time in Morocco, she received a private Facebook message from the man that he had been following her the entire time she was there, accompanied by photos of her in Morocco with him in the background, usually within crowds of people.
Another time, during my trip to the Sahara, we stopped by a local community in the Atlas Mountains, and there were some local children running around who wanted photos with us. It seemed pretty harmless, so we obliged, but when one of the girls in my group was getting a photo with a local boy, he got really close to her and grabbed her butt.
Hopefully these stories give you a better idea of what I mean when I say I felt sketched out on a few occasions but never actually feared for my life. Obviously, you should always stay alert and practice common sense, as you should while traveling anywhere as a solo female traveler, and follow the tips outlined in the “13 Tips For Solo Female Travelers” section below.
Aside from the rare butt grabbing incident, what I witnessed and experienced constantly were the catcalls. Having now lived in a big city for close to a decade, I am no stranger to catcalls. But there are a few major differences between getting catcalled in Chicago vs. getting catcalled in Marrakech:
|Getting catcalled in Chicago||Getting catcalled in Marrakech|
|Might happen a few times per day, but anything more than that would be out of the ordinary||Can easily happen 50+ times per day – it really is just about nonstop|
|Stops once you walk away (no one will follow you and keep catcalling you after you’ve ignored them)||May never stop, even when you ignore them and walk away (they’ll just follow you)|
|Easy to tune out if you just wear headphones while walking||Not advisable to wear headphones while walking outside|
|Happens more often when you’re dressed nicely than when you’re walking around in your pajamas||Doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your scrubbiest scrubs – you’ll still get just as many catcalls|
Why So Many Differences?
In Morocco, women are still very much seen as property of their husband. There are many different denominations of Muslims, and depending on which denomination an individual follows, he may be permitted to have multiple wives. Women are expected to consult with and receive permission from their husbands (or their father or brother, if they are unmarried) before making both big and small decisions, such as whether they can leave the house to go to the grocery store.
From this point of view, it is inconceivable that an adult female would travel across the world by herself to explore a new country. Women like this clearly do not have a male authority figure in their lives to control them, which suggests they likely have loose morals. Local men therefore do not feel bad about catcalling foreign female solo travelers because to them, they don’t see foreign women as their sisters or daughters or wives, but rather as, essentially, prostitutes.
Does Wearing a Ring Help?
If it’s so important for women to be “owned” by a man, you might be thinking, then would the problem be solved (or at least alleviated) if a female solo traveler wore a fake wedding ring? I honestly don’t know, but I doubt it. There were many times when my ring finger was hidden from view and I still received catcalls, so I can’t see a ring making much of a difference.
Everything You Need To Know About Solo Female Travel In Morocco: 13 Tips For Solo Female Travelers
1. Dress Conservatively
Whether you are traveling solo or with a group, you should dress conservatively out of respect for the local culture. For ladies, that means wearing long pants or skirts that fall below the knees and making sure your shoulders are covered at all times. Try to avoid tight fitting clothing, especially if you are curvier. I’ve found that pants like these work really well in hot climates like Morocco.
2. Wear Shades
Wearing sunglasses is a great way to avoid eye contact while walking around outside. While making eye contact with someone on the streets can be totally harmless in your country, when you make eye contact with someone in Morocco, you are inviting conversation, and possibly more. Eye contact can be taken as a suggestive act, even if you had no intention of such. Just to be safe, wear dark or reflexives sunglasses so that no harm is done in case you accidentally make eye contact with a man on the streets.
3. Download (and Memorize) Your Maps
One thing I quickly realized when I was in Morocco was that the second I stopped on the streets to glance at the maps on my phone to make sure I was going in the right direction, a local would approach me and tell me where to go. That’s right – tell me where to go – without asking me where I actually wanted to go. Your best bet is to make sure your Google Maps are downloaded to your phone and memorize as much of your route as possible so that you aren’t seen pulling out your phone in public. Once you reach a point where you no longer know which direction to go, try to duck into a cafe or museum, and pull out your phone there to memorize the next part of your route.
4. Make Lots of Rest Stops
In a big, crowded city like Marrakech, the constant catcalling and noise can become exhausting much faster than you’re used to being exhausted, so take advantage of the many cafes and museums there. Moroccan tea is delicious and cheap, as are the museums, so whenever you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, make a rest stop indoors to recharge and collect yourself before returning outside.
5. Walk With a Purpose
While you may be tempted to stop and take photos of all the colorful buildings and alleys, try to limit your stops and look, for the most part, like you know where you’re going as much as possible. You are likely already going to look like a tourist, so the goal here is just to look like the least vulnerable tourist.
6. Don’t Walk Around With Headphones
It may be tempting to pop in your headphones to block out all the catcalling, but you’ll want to enlist the help of all your senses so that you can be fully aware while walking around outside.
7. Avoid Walking Alone In the Dark
This holds true for just about anywhere you might travel to as a solo female traveler, but especially in Morocco, try to avoid walking around outside by yourself at night. If you want to go somewhere at night, try to arrange a taxi with your hotel in advance so your driver can pick you up and take you back to your hotel whenever you are ready.
8. Keep Your Belongings Close To Your Body
Try not to walk around outside with a large backpack or multiple bags that you might have a hard time keeping track of by yourself. Use a small backpack or – my favorite – a fanny pack that’ll be easy for you to keep track of as you move around from one place to the next.
9. Arrange Cabs Through Your Hotel
One way to avoid walking around too much outside is to plan out where you want to go in advance and arrange cabs with your hotel to those places. There are certain places you just need to walk around in and see for yourself, like the souks (markets), but most other places are easily accessible by car.
10. Always Be Alert
This one is common sense, but remember to always be aware of your surroundings and alert to anything unusual you notice happening around you. If you find yourself being less alert due to jet lag or exhaustion, call it a day and go back to your hotel for some rest rather than trying to push through and potentially putting yourself or your belongings in danger.
11. Be Respectful, But Trust Your Gut
Not everything that seems unusual to you is reason for concern. Some “strange” things are merely cultural differences, and you should try to be as respectful as you can to those differences. However, anytime you feel unsafe, try to remove yourself from the situation immediately or seek help. I found the police officers in Morocco to be very helpful and trustworthy, so if you’re feeling unsafe, try to find a police officer nearby and go to them for help.
12. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Rude, If Necessary
Sometimes politely telling people off won’t get you anywhere, so you’ll need to be more assertive with communicating what you want. If you are being followed by a local, and you want to be left alone, don’t be afraid to raise your voice and state what you want. Once you make the public aware that a person is following you and harassing you, they will likely back off due to being humiliated by the public staring at them.
13. Stay In Hostels (and Make Friends!)
If you’re utilizing all of the above tips and still feel uncomfortable as a solo female traveler in Morocco, then change your accommodations to hostels so that you can make some new friends to travel around with. I stayed at a hostel in Fez and traveled around with a couple I met there, and my experience was much better than when I was traveling around on my own.
Have you traveled to Morocco as a solo female traveler before? Do you still have unanswered questions after reading my guide on everything you need to know about solo female travel in Morocco? Let me know in the comments below!
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