Should women travel alone in Morocco

Should women travel alone in Morocco? I’d say yes and no at the same time

Reader Question: Hi Trisha! I’ve been following you since 2013 but never really had the guts to write to you until I found myself in this very confusing situation. We are two American girls who are going to Spain this summer and we wanted to do a side trip to Morocco. However, we were told it’s not very safe. We were discouraged to visit. I read that you were in Morocco twice and I would like to ask your honest opinion. Should we go to Morocco? More importantly, should women travel alone in Morocco? Just in case I decide to go on my own. Thanks for all your help! – Laura, San Francisco 

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Before this inquiry came to my inbox, there was one debate that I participate in and learned something from. I accused a girl from one of my many Whatsapp groups to be giving wrong information about safety in Morocco. She was there a few days and I was there for a month and I felt like all the entitlement was mine and that I was correct. It is, after all, time and experience that makes us credible for whatever advice we give to other people.

Through my daily human interactions with people from different parts of the globe, I have come to understand that everything is personal. She told me how she felt while she was in Morocco and even if I was on the other side of the fence, as an advocate for everything women, I had to understand I can never question a woman’s feelings because again, it is personal. We don’t have the exact same experiences and feelings.

This will be more explained in the latter part of the article so please feel free to read my experience(s) in traveling Morocco as a woman below.

Morocco and women explained

Like many Muslim countries, men are superior to women. As a very active advocate of women, I am deeply saddened by this thought but bear in mind that this is cultural – this is something that dates years back so we can’t fight culture. It’s imperative. It’s personal.

Women do the normal chores at home and care for the children while the men provide. In such a Westernised culture as Morocco, some women are free to curate a different story. On my flight from Istanbul, I sat beside 2 sisters who were dressed like me (torn jeans, spaghetti strap, cardigan, white rubber shoes) and I only found out they were Moroccans when an old guy started “hitting” on them on the flight.

“Where are you from?”

“We are Moroccans.”

“Wow, I can’t believe there are beautiful women in Morocco!”

For the record, whatever they are dressed like, Moroccan women are beautiful. In 2013, I lived with a Moroccan family and during my first 2 days, I never really saw my host mom’s face. I only eat with their children and their father while the mom works behind the scenes. That kitchen door always (almost) got me into trouble. I was instructed not to go there because they are usually not allowed to interact with foreign guests of the house as part of their culture. In some Moroccan families, it only applies if the guest is a man. For some reason, I was just uninvited to the kitchen even if I was dying to know what she’s putting in the food we eat. My culinary experience in a local home was incomplete.

One day, I had the chance to see my host mom, face uncovered. I was reading a book by their living room when she entered the house and removed her flowing hood.

*Gulp*

She was so beautiful! I can’t believe it was the first time I was seeing her after 2 weeks of living with them. From then on, I kept looking at Moroccan women with an inquisitive curiosity on how they look like. I am sure they are the most beautiful women in the world, together with the many Middle Eastern women I’ve seen: Syrians, Turkish, Israelis, etc.

Traveling solo vs traveling with a man

In both of my visits to Morocco, I was always accompanied by a man (2013, with the ex; 2017 with the current). You might ask if Morocco is my romantic getaway destination choice but as you know I am not really planning all my travels, it was purely coincidental – an opportunity presented before me.

Travel buddies, no matter where the destination is will always make the journey flow differently. For example, when I traveled with friends to Vietnam, I didn’t have the exact same experience when I was alone because (in the same places) because no matter how unfortunate the thought is, people who go solo tend to attract more attention than those in a group.

Much more in Morocco where gender identification is very prevalent even in the smallest thing as buying a cigarette or answering an inquiry.

2013 with the ex

On our second month being in Morocco, I wanted to explore things on my own because we were always together – I never had the chance to get on my feet and finally do something by myself. When I brought up the idea to the ex, although brought up in a Western, religious-free culture, he didn’t think it was a good idea because he believed that Morocco isn’t safe for women traveling alone. I still insisted but not going to another city without him but to at least go around the souks by myself.

I wasn’t even out for 4 minutes when I found myself calling the ex for rescue. In the souks, they will grab your arm and force you to go into their shops and look at their products. They always say it’s not mandatory to buy anything, that looking is okay but I felt so harassed because I didn’t want any crafts in the first place. I don’t have space to carry all the load. In my travels dictionary, there is no translation for souvenirs – like there is no translation for “thank you” in Dothraki. I just didn’t grow up with it.

The ex came to the rescue but let me clarify that I wouldn’t call if I was being dragged by just one man. I was swarmed by 7 men, all forcing me to look at their products. At that point, I was really young and on a first rodeo in a Muslim country, no matter how I say I can handle myself, I needed to call 911.

“You know she is from Asia and in Asia, you can’t just hold women you don’t know like that.” the ex said.

“I’m sorry mister. I have beautiful products that the beautiful girl may like.” Mr. Souk said.

As soon as I left the shop, four things came to my mind: (1) There is a battle of customs happening all over the world and what the ex said was true: In Asia, you can’t just grab women like that. It’s kind of weird and you will be labeled a dangerous (or crazy) person; (2) while in Morocco, where the economy is breeding from tourism, they feel like it’s okay to force people like that. Let me also clarify I strongly felt they meant no harm. It’s just about going through the day and selling something. No intentions other than earning; (3) the man apologised to the ex and not to me. This is, very clearly, a hierarchy of genders. Apologising (or talking) to the ex extends to the woman in question even if it wasn’t directed to me; (4) After all these, going on my own as a woman and trying to do things by myself was still blamed on me. The ex told me it’s not convenient for me to go out alone (even for less than 5 minutes) in a country like this. I was programmed to feel it was my fault.

2017 with the current

Morocco has evolved in many ways (touristically) so I felt completely okay going out on my own (3 years and 50+ countries later). Unfortunately, just as old habits die hard, cultures and customs are not that easy to transform or even to modify. Women are still experiencing the same level no matter how many new buildings were installed and how the souks were renovated.

The current is Israeli and was only granted a 2-week visa in Morocco. Our trip was planned for one month. The visa agency in Israel told us he can extend the stay in any police department in Morocco. We did as we are told, at least a week before the visa expired.

[us_message color=”yellow” icon=”fas|pencil-alt”]I wouldn’t go into the details about the visa thing because it’s not my story to tell. I was allowed a 90-day visa in Morocco so it was all good for me. I am not comfortable sharing experiences that aren’t mine.[/us_message]

With its close proximity to Spain and the flock of Spanish tourists over the years, Northern Morocco is highly influenced by the Spanish language. The tourist areas (souks, restaurants, shops, etc) learned Spanish on their own. Come to think of it, the better Spanish they speak, the more they can sell.

I speak Spanish fluently so I didn’t feel unarmed as we stormed the police station in Tangier. The current looks like he’s from an Arab country (and also Spanish) so the policeman spoke to him in Arabic. When he said he didn’t speak Arabic, Mr. Officer abruptly changed the medium of the conversation to Spanish. As I am writing this, I am realising that Israelis can be from anywhere (physically).

I, on the other hand, remained quiet until I was asked. And it sucks. But if you are in a foreign country like this (where tenacious women like me can be most likely be thrown in jail for no reason at all), I had to keep my mouth shut.

“Talk to my girlfriend. She can speak Spanish and a little French.”

The man was speaking Spanish so fast that the current couldn’t keep up. He was elbowing me to translate. However, the police officer chose to ignore my existence. In his heavily accented Spanish, he articulated two things:

  1. it’s not my case so I had nothing to do with it
  2. they don’t talk to women most especially if they are accompanied by a man.
  3. A point I added myself: “girlfriend” is not even recognised in Muslim countries. Only the married women matters/counts.

Wait, what are we supposed to do now? Play the guessing game? I don’t understand why he couldn’t talk to me when I was the one who can translate to get things done. It wasn’t about bragging my Spanish fluency but as you can see, the visa extension is very urgent. Morocco is one of the countries that have very strict rules in overstaying so if the current overstays, that is my issue, too.

We didn’t waste another minute there so we went to the hotel and told the manager what happened. He advised us to go back the next day and hire a local (apparently, they have local contacts who can translate) for 40 euros in order to get the visa extension. I was also asked to stay behind and leave the situation to them. That was the easiest way for us to move forward.

The Trisha you all know personally will not relent but I came to understand the limits of my girl power when the current told me we should be careful because either way, we are not going to win here. No matter how many languages I know, I am still a woman. The second point that made my backing down easier was that he is Israeli. Isralies are known to be hated in Muslim countries and he was very lucky he didn’t get an awful treatment despite knowing the passport he is holding (he always presented it for identification anywhere in Morocco). Apparently, the Jewish Moroccan history is very rich and important in Morocco so they learned how to treat Israeli tourists fairly. I think Morocco is the only Muslim country in the world Israelis can visit.

A woman. An Israeli. Traveling together. In a Muslim country. *gasp* Yep, we’re never going to win if we stick to our ideals. I learned how to adapt in most places I’ve been to and even if there’s no way you will believe me, I know how to choose my battles especially if it is culture you are at war with.

The rise of girl power all over the world has been very impressive. Slowly, the world is waking up to the horrific truth on how women are treated unfairly. Women are slowly starting to speak up. Even 13-year-old girls in Pakistan risk their lives to fight for what they believe is right.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of countries in the world who are living backwards. It will change in the future but for now, we have to understand we can never question one’s culture when it comes to women and gender.

Did you feel unsafe?

Despite all the failure of not being able to practice my rights as a woman activist and the annoyance of how backward they are, I felt very safe traveling in Morocco.

Please don’t interpret my stories above like I was harmed. These stories happened as they are but I didn’t feel sexually harassed if that’s the word you are looking for. Harassment can come in many forms but more often than not, when women are traveling, they are incorporating it with sexual assault.

Moroccans are very friendly and are well-rounded with tourists. Safety shouldn’t even be in question. As harassment can be defined in many ways, safety can be, too. The problem is how it is synonymous with all things related to women. Traffic, clean drinking water, street cats flocking like a gang on the streets, theft, etc: safety is everyone’s issue and can go down to many dissertations and arguments.

As this is a question from a woman traveler, I will direct the tips and advice to her: Morocco is very safe but if you are going alone, you have to ask yourself if you are ready to face all the hustlers who will drag your ass to their shops or talk to you even if you are not in the mood. Seeing a woman alone is an opportunity to conduct small talks (mostly business talks actually. They are really good at selling) and to find a way to make you pay (whether be it asking for directions or accompanying you in the huge Medina). Moroccans are just finding a way to earn a living. They don’t mean to harm you even if their methods clearly says so. The way they do it may not be agreeable to you but know they mean no harm.

That being said doesn’t mean you have to keep your guard down. I know some girls who felt harassed (sexually) because they are being followed in the Medina but I don’t want to question that. As a woman, remember that we are all different and can interpret different actions with our gut so one can never question when you feel harassed or not. It is a question of feelings. It’s the same way as questioning our friend’s feelings when they are in love with a man we hideously hate (just because we feel they are not right for them) but none of us can really tell how people feel.

In my experience, I never interpreted their intentions to be harmful: to each her own. The question: should women travel alone in Morocco is very subjective and personal. You will read thousands of solo female travel blogs out there and you will come to one situation: all experiences are different. You can never relate your situation to any of these blogs (not even mine) because none of us will (or ever did) experience the exact same thing.

The usual protocol for women travelers: don’t keep your guard down. Enjoy the trip, above all. Stressing can result to a not so memorable vacation.

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Should women travel alone in Morocco?

Have you been to Morocco? How was your experience traveling as a woman? If you haven’t been, what are your impressions about female travel in Morocco? Leave your insights in the comment box below and help other women travelers fulfil their dream of visiting this beautiful country!

[us_separator style=”dashed” type=”default”][us_iconbox icon=”fab|pinterest” title=”This post might help you navigating your adventures in Morocco as a female traveler!”]Hover the image on the right and pin it for later![/us_iconbox]
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Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. Trisha is an ambassador of Girl Rising, a global movement for girls' education and empowerment. In no particular order, her favourite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv. Follow her life adventures on Instagram: @psimonmyway

Comments

  • August 12, 2017

    Really interesting read! I think i’d be a little hesitant to go on my own – that being said I’ve never travelled alone before so I think id’ be like that anywhere!

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  • August 12, 2017

    Thank you so much for the honest review! It was a refreshing and very interesting read, useful to every woman who wants to plan a trip over there!

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  • August 12, 2017

    Being a strong supporter of women’s rights and living (temporarily) in a culture where that doesn’t happen is an interesting dilemma. I agree with your advice to adapt to the culture you are in – as visitors, we aren’t in a strong position to change it no matter how much we might disagree. If someone came to my country and treated me in a way that wasn’t culturally appropriate here, I wouldn’t accept it, so why should I expect it to happen when I am the one in a different culture? Very thought provoking post!

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  • August 14, 2017

    Apart from your personal experiences, I think it also depends on where are you traveling in Morocco. I think that one woman will have different experiences in cities like Casablanca or in the deep countryside.

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  • August 14, 2017

    Great post. There is always a difficulty in answering a “is it safe to travel in …” when someone asks. Because, like you mentioned, the answer is very personal. I can only imagine the frustration and challenges you encountered in Morocco dealing with the visa, and I know my wife, who is quite a strong personality, would be really frustrated in that instance as well. She felt that way when we traveled to Abu Dhabi, and she felt a bit like a second-class citizen when we spent time in the city. Some places are just not for everyone.

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  • August 14, 2017

    Great post, thanks for sharing your personal experience. I had something similar happen to me in Turkey being grabbed in the market and pulled into stall and stores. It was quite scary. I always travel with my partner so I would feel safe in Morocco

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  • Megan Jerrard
    August 15, 2017

    Thanks for sharing your stories Trisha, I would love to visit Morocco, and hadn’t really thought of it as an unsafe destination for women. I do agree with your first point though that every womans experience and travel experience will be a different one, so we have to respect that others will have different perspectives on how safe or uncomfortable they felt. But I can’t wait to visit personally, and am pretty good at warding off street hustlers!

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  • Sandy N Vyjay
    August 15, 2017

    This is a very candid post that probably blows the lid of many myths. I agree with you that it all boils down to personal experience. One needs to be sensitive to the local culture and take necessary precautions so that you have pleasant experiences.

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  • September 10, 2017

    This was a very balanced view post Trisha and I mist thank you for sharing all the stories from both your visits. Clearly the country is safe for women to travel alone, but if something does go wrong one might need help…the visa extension story was insane and so difficult to comprehend, but I guess that’s how things are there and one needs to live with that till things change. Of course, we can all play in role in making that change possible 🙂

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  • September 24, 2017

    This post was a truly awesome read, Trisha! Your post inspired me not to stress over safety and to enjoy each trip, no matter where. How many days would you recommend staying in Morocco?

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  • October 4, 2017

    Very good article! It’s true that every country has its own culture that we must respect as travelers. The interactions from one country to another with the locals can vary greatly depending on many different factors. In the end, every traveler should observe and adapt their behaviour to stay safe. However it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your trip, always make the most of your experience!

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  • October 25, 2017

    Every time when a women trying to go to trip this question arise “whether its safe or not “. I will recommend this blog to every women travel. Keep going! thanks!

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  • November 20, 2017

    I’d say for any woman it’s better to travel with her man, it’s safer, more fun and there’s always a helpng hand to carry luggage:)
    And regretfully, in some countries women are still being treated other way than men, and when travelling to some exotic places it’s better to find out specific local habits beforehand.

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  • May 20, 2018

    Safety is the main priority when it comes to travel alone. Great posting.

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  • Mary Margaritte Mumar
    July 1, 2018

    hi miss Trisha?
    My name is Margaritte and im from the Philippines. I really love your travel blogs because it really encourage women to travel places without hesitation. I am a philippine passport holder and i am thinking to go to morocco and surprise a special someone by next year. How much do i need to prepare in going there?

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  • anna maria
    January 17, 2019

    was our first time visiting Morocco and we definitely made the right choice by choosing this tour. I picked this one specifically because I didn’t want a tour company that had seen so many tourists that they start to not care about taking people around their country. Where it’s more a money-making business, where you are part of a big group and you will not receive any sort of bespoke individual experience. We were so lucky to have ismail as our tour guide as he was a genuine and nice person, who loves his country.

    From the very first email ismail was extremely polite and helpful, more than any other tour company I’d spoken to. We ended up travelling with just him, my husband and me. We went from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou, to the Todras, Atlas Mountains, several Oasis and obviously to the Sahara desert. It was still a whistle stop tour as we only had 3 days but it was definitely the way to go. Having stayed in Marrakech for 2 days I was very much ready to leave the hustle and bustle (and generally being harassed at the souks) to explore what Morocco was really about.

    Todras gorge was really lovely. There had been some rainfall so you could walk into some of the water. Really nice. It was quite busy though, but no more than the other big landmarks like Ait Ben Haddou.

    My favourite place was actually Skoura, one of the little Oasis on the first night. The place we stayed was run by a family business and you can really tell. It was remote, but stunning. Not at all touristy, and very authentic. The food was the best I’d had in Morocco, just divine! Just as an aside, although I love tagines, you do want some change, so this was the one that stood out as it felt a little more authentic. Most of the food you’ll get in Morocco (not just in the tour) is very similar — varying types of tagines, wraps or kebabs, with rice or salad. Not a huge amount of variety unless you really look for it. We loved Nomad in Marrakech, this restaurant has amazing food!

    The trip to the Sahara was amazing, albeit short. We set off on camel when the sun was quite low, maybe 6–7pm and then arrived at the camp by nightfall. We had dinner with a few other people on the tour, and the locals did a song and dance for half an hour or so. We then ventured out to the desert to see the stars, and although we went back to the camp around 1am, the moon was so bright you could have slept under it for sure. The temperature was perfect. However we had to leave at about 5am to catch the sunset, so thought we’d better sleep in the bed. The camp was extremely clean and nice given it’s in the middle of nowhere, so if you’re a clean freak like me, you’ll have no problems! There’s good toilets and running water. You sleep in a type of metal room, which is probably ventilated but still quite warm. The beds aren’t exactly comfy, quite hard really, but there’s electricity and sheets, what else do you need!

    You can see more of my adventures and what I experienced from my pictures.
    All in all, what you see is what you get. The tour speaks for itself. You visit all the places on the itinerary and you’re greeted with nice people and go to places that are really quite unique. On top of that, you’ll be with a guide who knows a good deal about Morocco and will work hard to make sure you have a good time. We were even privileged enough to see ismail home, meet his family (they were very shy!) But an insight into how Moroccan people actually live? That is something you can’t buy.

    Really enjoyed my time in Morocco, so thanks to ismail and the team at Moroccodeserttour4x4.com recommend this tour company.

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  • Sandra
    January 24, 2019

    Idir from the Sahara Desert Kingdom agency was a welcoming host, knowledgeable guide and excellent driver for the 10 day tour my husband and I took in Morocco. Our time in the Sahara desert was an unforgettable experience and Idir made it even more so by taking us offroading in the desert in the 4×4 Toyota SUV. The SUV he drives is in top condition and clean. Idir was flexible with us and our itinerary (we visited Casablanca, Rabat, Assilah, Tetouan, Chefchouen, Ziz Valley, Merzouga (Sahara desert), Rissani, Dades Gorges, Ouarzazate, Ait Ben Haddou and Marrakesh).

    Morroco is a safe, welcoming, beautiful and enchanting country to visit and Idir and the Sahara Desert Tour facilitated us to simply focus on enjoying the experience instead of focusing on logistics of getting from one place to another. Thank you Idir. We look forward to our next trip to Morocco already!

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  • Zyrah Lou
    January 27, 2019

    What a fantastic post! This is so chock full of useful information I can’t wait to dig deep and start utilizing the resources you have given in your blogs. Thanks to you Ms. Trisha 🙂

    reply

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