Friday, November 18, 2011

A Guide for Women Travelling Solo in Morocco

One of the most frequent questions The View from Fez receives is "how safe is Morocco for women travellers travelling by themselves?" - Our response has been that it is safe if you dress and behave in a sensible manner. Now we can bring you a point of view of a woman who has been travelling solo in Morocco. 

KJ is the author of a fascinating blog Global Socialite - A one woman expedition to discover the world. And KJ is not just another travel blogger. She studied International Relations for years, has worked at the UN and other international development institutions, and thrives on travelling (often on her own) to the places in the world where the action is happening. Here is KJ's report on travelling as a solo woman in Morocco.

Morocco is really a pretty safe place for a woman on her own, as well as being a fairly easy place to get around. The buses between cities (supratours and ctm) are a darn-sight better than anything you’d find in the UK, the people in hotels and riads are really helpful and full of advice on where to go and what to do, and it can be really easy to meet other travellers, particularly if you book on a tour or stay in one of the hostels/budget riads (I loved Riad Fantasia in Marrakech and the 3 day group desert tour was brilliant for meeting people).

However, let’s not kid ourselves. There is sadly a bit of a stereotype about Western women which does not do us any favours when it comes to travelling in North Africa and the Middle East. You are female, on holiday, and therefore some men will think it is totally legitimate to persistently try their luck. Therefore, you’re likely to get some attention.

Now, when balanced against the amazing landscapes, great food and incredible value for money, having people regularly approaching you to buy stuff / chat you up might not seem like such a big deal. However, while I should probably have a thicker skin by now, there were times when I did find this attention pretty annoying. Luckily, there are a few simply steps you can take which will help to minimise the attention you get, so you can walk down a street without feeling on your guard and get on with having a wonderful time.

1) Dress like you live here

Now, I’m not saying you need to don a kaftan. To be honest you’d probably look a bit silly if you did and may actually end up getting even more attention than you bargained for. But I am saying leave the ‘holiday wardrobe’ at home. Those little summer dresses and tube tops might work wonders on the beach, but will turn you into a moving target in the medinas. Jeans / over knee skirts and long sleeved tops / shirts are your best bet; and although t-shirts are broadly ok, I noticed a significant increase in cat calls on the days I didn’t have my arms covered.

You might also want to try out a headscarf. It’s by no means obligatory and many Moroccan women don’t wear them, but it does send a signal that you’re a woman giving (and deserving of) respect, as well as being a fairly useful way of keeping the sun off your head. I got very little chat on the days I bothered wearing one.

2) If you don’t feel like laughing it off, accessorise

If you can just find it all a bit amusing, then you’re onto a winner. However, for those moments when it gets a bit much, try the following (not necessarily at the same time) : dark sun glasses, ear phones, pretending to talk on your mobile. All of these things send a signal that you’re otherwise engaged and not open to every invitation. Obviously they are not always practical – you’ll look a bit silly wearing your Ray Bans at 10pm – but all can be useful to have on hand if you feel the need to get from A to B hassle free.

3) Walk with confidence

Being confident and walking with purpose makes people think that you know the city/town well and you have somewhere to be. They can therefore deduce that perhaps you might not be in the mood to peruse ceramics. However, if you don’t know where you’re going it can also be a sure-fire way of getting lost, quickly, so use with caution.

4) Respond or not to respond

Really this one’s your call. A lot of people will say you should just ignore any advances and keep walking, which works perfectly ok, but to me it just felt a little rude and made me feel even more on guard as the calls of ‘hello, excuse me, how are you?’ followed me down the street in every language known to man.

I found it was better to simply say hello back, to keep on walking, and just say ‘maybe tomorrow’ to whatever request might be presented to me. It felt less rude and sometimes led to some mildly amusing exchanges.

And last but not least…

5) Go out at night; but stick to the well lit areas

Not so much to do with hassle this one, but really just a note to say you do not need to hole yourself up in your riad at night time just because you’re travelling alone. The main square in Marrakech was as bustling at night as in day time and I felt perfectly fine having dinner on my own in one of its restaurants/street food stalls after dark.

However, I did find it was incredibly easy to meet people in Morocco, whether from your riad or on a tour, so finding a group to go out with was never much of an issue. Plus, most riads will provide an amazing dinner for you, so you don’t need to run the gauntlet if you don’t feel like it.

So finally…

Don’t listen to those people who might warn you off travelling on your own to Morocco. With a bit of preparation and decent a sense of humour, you’ll have a fine old time.

The View from Fez would like to thank KJ for allowing us to repost her article. You will find her blog here: Global Socialite

If you are still unsure about travelling by yourself, it is possible to join other women on women only Moroccan tours such as: Roam Like Queens



Lisa said...

Great to read this overview; it's a nice break from the narrow-minded assumption that all Muslim countries are hell for women travelers. I lived in Morocco for a while and went back often to travel around the country, and I always found it very safe and welcoming. Your advice about dressing was spot on and definitely helped. I think that Morocco is difficult for women who get very upset when male strangers say things out loud in their direction. I live in a city and am used to it, and like in Morocco, it is usually harmless. I tried to find things to say back to them in French or Arabic that would make them laugh and leave me alone. I think, like men everywhere, they give it their best try, and if it works, great! But if it doesn't work, oh well, no harm.
Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I came back from Marrakech in the beginning of November, travelled with a friend of mine - we were two girls travelling alone. Both of us were treated with sympathy and respect, cause we wore shawls, our clothes covered the body entirely and we were not making eyes at local guys. Yes, there was lot and lots of "bonjour, gaselle!"'s and compliments, lots of men trying to have a conversation with us, but that wasn't uncomfortable, coz they never crossed the limit.
All that I can say - if you respect yourself and respect people around you and their traditions, there will be no problem.

Carly said...

Thanks for this post which I read before deciding to travel as a solo fem in Maroc. It was wonderful! I felt safe, appreciated and respected everywhere I went.

Katarina said...

Not sure I agree with the headscarf thing. From my own experience in the Arab countries, a headscarf sparks even more interest because it implies the European woman embraced Islam - and sure they want to know all about it! Wearing kaftan does not have to look funny either, though once the woman has blue eyes nothing will save her from unwanted attention :-). What has helped me personally the most was speaking back in Arabic. While understanding little of Darija, the men someone seemed to appreciate the Lebanese woman (so they thought!) and they were much more friendly at this point.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I will travel alone to Morocco in a month. I was slightly apprehensive even having travelled in many nearby areas alone (Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Albania). I appreciate your viewpoint and am now really looking forward to my trip.

Anonymous said...

OMG, dear anonymous, if you have traveled in Egypt, you are fine here. I am careful and don't spend a lot of time thinking about sexual harassment - it happens all the time in Egypt, and I let it roll off me. But coming to Morocco and spending time in Casa, Rabat, Fez, Meknes - I feel like I am in France. I feel blessedly invisible - I am in complete shock - it is so freakin safe here!

Anonymous said...

OMG, dear anonymous, if you have traveled in Egypt, you are fine here. I am careful and don't spend a lot of time thinking about sexual harassment - it happens all the time in Egypt, and I let it roll off me. But coming to Morocco and spending time in Casa, Rabat, Fez, Meknes - I feel like I am in France. I feel blessedly invisible - I am in complete shock - it is so freakin safe here!

Anonymous said...

Any hints on places for an economical 72 year old single woman to stay in Fez and/or Casablanca?