Drunkenly booking myself a one-way ticket to Marrakesh, age 20, was undoubtedly one of the most impulsive decisions I've ever made. I had some idea of what Morocco might be like, but the more I researched solo-female travel there, the more I began to wonder if I had made a giant mistake. As the weeks before my departure flew by, I got increasingly nervous and tried to arm myself with as much information as possible.
In hindsight I had no reason to worry, but these are the tips I wish I'd read before I left...
There is no need to feel threatened, but if you are a relatively inexperienced traveller, there are certain ways to make your time a little easier.
Plan your first night's accommodation in advance and research thoroughly how to get there.
Maps aren't always useful in Marrakesh with it's teeming souks and distinct lack of road names. Take a compass too so you are at least aware of your direction. Hostel Marrakesh Rouge, one of the friendliest hostels I've ever stayed in, has extensive instructions and even a video of the route to walk. It's obviously possible to get a taxi, but I personally feel safer and less annoyed at the cost of the bus.
Maybe you think it defeats the point of solo-travel, but I had the most fun in Morocco with other travellers I met along the way. A temporary
companion can make long bus rides, eating out and simply wandering around a whole lot less hassle. The best thing about travelling independently is that you have the freedom break off on your own whenever you like.
Use your languages.
With Arabic and Berber, I didn't stand a chance, but brushing up on any smattering of French you might have learnt in school can be useful. Revise the phrases for pleasantries, directions and numbers at the very least. Trying to communicate in English is understandably difficult and has the potential to be a offensive too.
Morocco is primarily a conservative, Muslim country. As a woman travelling alone you will attract plenty of attention, but don't be disrespectful or allow what you wear to give local people the wrong impression. Here are some suggestions...
- Loose trousers or long skirt.
- Cotton shirts, blouses or other tops with a high neckline that cover your upper arms.
- A light scarf or shawl to cover your hair in places you need to be especially respectful or if you feel you are attracting too much attention.
- If you have long hair, especially those who are blonde or have red hair, consider tying it up in a bun.
- In Marrakesh try sunglasses to avoid making accidental and misleading eye contact while you're walking around.
- Light, neutral colours will keep you cool and help you blend in too.
- Consider covering any tattoos if possible as some people may find them offensive.
The points are only suggestions, many foreign girls wear whatever they like, but I felt more comfortable covering up in the cities.
Communication and body language...
There is often an expectation for foreign women to be a bit "loose". To avoid fuelling this stereotype and getting into awkward situations, it is important not to do anything that might be misinterpreted as flirting.
- To avoid collecting a trail of propositioning men, try not to make too much eye contact while you are walking around.
- Be firm. If somebody is trying to hard sell you something you don't want or take your back to their house, say "no thankyou" and walk away with purpose. If you are being followed, don't be afraid to tell the person to stop. It's them not you who is being rude.
- Walk as if you have somewhere to be. If you need to check the map, try and do it subtly. Ask directions from women or men who can't leave their shop/stall, but as a rule don't trust people who offer to come along and show you the way (in Marrakesh) as you may end up buying a carpet.
- If someone touches you in a way which makes you feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to exclaim loudly. It wouldn't be acceptable behaviour with a Moroccan woman and he will most likely be embarrassed. Leave the situation quickly.
- On buses try and sit with a woman or un-intimidating looking character. It's easier to choose your travel companion yourself rather than risk leaving an empty seat beside you.
- Try not to become trapped in small shops where nobody can see you.
- If you need to, invent a husband who you are on your way to meet. I didn't but you could try wearing a fake wedding ring.
- Be careful with alcohol- it's frowned upon generally and might lead to certain assumptions about you. Only drink with people you trust and never take alcohol out onto the street.
- Try and avoid walking anywhere alone at night, especially if it is badly lit.
- Don't flash your money or valuables about. I don't really use them, but a money belt could be useful if you want to sleep on a bus.
- Carry small change to give you more bargaining power. You can break up large notes at a supermarket, bank or at your hostel.
- Don't tell anyone you don't trust where you are staying or that you are alone.
As always, this article is supposed to help you travel in Morocco- not scare you off entirely!
Over five weeks travelling, from Marrakesh up to Al Hoceima on the North Coast, I experienced nothing worse than pestering and one occasion where a young man tried to steal my bag at the crowded Festival Gnaoua d'Essaouira- I tugged it away from him and he sloped back into the throng.
For more on Morocco:
Travel and safety advice from elsewhere in the world: