I went to Morocco a few years B.T. (Before Twitter) and the only place I knew to look for specific advice was the Lonely Planet ‘ThornTree’ forum. I got a few good tips but really had trouble finding anything that useful for a young woman travelling solo in an Islamic country. I booked the trip on a total whim and didn’t have a lot of time so with my best Aussie ‘she’ll be right mate’ I just took a breath and went for it.
I could wax lyrical about Morocco for hours but what I really want to do is give my ladies a few tips and examples of my experiences in the hope that it will encourage others to make the trip alone. I’m not pretending to be an expert, I’ve spent a total of 3 weeks in the country (on two trips), but I remember when I was furiously scouring the web that a little advice goes a long way to calming the nerves.
For the record: I’m 5’6”(165cms) Anglo-Australian, blonde haired, blue-eyed and average build. When I first visited Morocco by myself I was 21 and the second time (in April) I was 24. Normally I don’t feel it necessary to mention any of my physical attributes but in this particular post I think it’s relevant. That is, I stuck out like a very sore thumb.
OK, now for some tips and anecdotes.
Take the plunge and trust people
In Morocco I’ve found that it’s usually men who will converse with you/invite you to eat/show you something. Sometimes you just have to go for it. There are too many variables in every situation to even bother attempting to give a blanket rule, so you just have to use your judgment. As with most travel it’s a bit of a trade-off, the more trusting you are the higher the risk but the better the potential cultural experiences. When travelling solo I find myself having to calculate the risk to reward ratio more frequently, simply because more of these opportunities arise than when travelling in a couple or group.
When I was in Ouarzazate I had climbed a hill near some modern buildings to get a few pics of the sunset. A well-dressed man with impeccable English came up and chatted to me. He explained that the buildings were a hospitality school set up by the government as part of a tourist infrastructure plan and he was an English teacher there. We chatted for about ten minutes before he asked me to go inside to dine with himself and his English students. A teeny-tiny alarm bell went off in my head but I felt no ill-will coming from him and it was too good an opportunity to turn down…so I didn’t. I went and had a fantastic meal in the dining hall surrounded by Moroccan students who wanted to practice their English and tell me about their lives. No harm, big gain.
Use common sense.
I can hear a chorus of ‘but that could have gone really bad!’ and ‘what if you have just been lucky??’ That is always the case – we all get that sinking feeling that we could be the one-in-a-million that has a horrendous experience overseas that we’ll never recover from. To reduce that anxiety just take the regular precautions you would at home. Don’t walk down dark, windy, alleyways at night. Carry a phone. Tell someone at your hostel/hotel that you’re going out and have their phone number on you. Don’t flash your money (or sexy body) about. Get travel insurance and have their emergency number on you. There’s hardly a skerrick of alcohol around but there is a fair bit of pot, particularly in the north – be sensible if you partake.
Dress appropriately (for crying out loud!)
Sharing a story with other like minded travellers at Chefchaouen Rooftop Guesthouse
When I read this piece of advice before I left I thought ‘duh!!!’ but was genuinely surprised by how many tourists were dressed inappropriately. This mostly occurred in Marrakech where there are more package tourists and wealthier travellers (wealthier without the wealth of cultural knowledge mind you). You don’t have to go to extremes but just wear long trousers and long-sleeve shirts if possible – I wore the baggiest clothes I could find, mainly because of the heat but also so that my ‘womanly curves’ were less on show. I look rubbish in the photos but who cares! I wore a headscarf on my first trip but chose not to on my second and didn’t notice a difference in treatment (of course I wore one to visit the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca).
Play along sometimes
You will get used to the catcalls ‘gazelle’, ‘sexy’, or ‘beautiful’ from guys on the street. You can just ignore them and the majority of times I did. However, when I was sure of my surroundings I’d sometimes play along (not flirt) but just smile, wave, say ‘hi’ and walk on. Most comments are just bravado and are completely benign. Giving men a quick smile is not read as ‘hey there, come chat me up’, sometimes it was fun to just give them a laugh and some bragging rights. You could argue that doing so positively reinforces the behaviour…and you could be right…but what the heck hey!
Invent a fantasy guy
Fiction can be fun. Wear a ‘wedding’ ring and if you’re feeling threatened – have a story and some pictures of your ‘husband’ on you, say he’s sick in bed/meeting you from London tomorrow/waiting for you at the bar. Sometimes I would get on my high horse and go through the whole rigmarole of explaining that yes, I was single and that it is accepted in our culture for women to travel solo and no, at the age of 21/24 women in Australia weren’t all married with babies. That was tiring though so sometimes I would just say I was married to George Clooney, grin and walk away.
I’m going to leave you with that lingering image of George Clooney..mmm. I’ve gotten totally carried away and couldn’t squeeze all my advice into one post. I know you are enthralled so stay tuned for part 2 of my tips….