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
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.
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.
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:
- it’s not my case so I had nothing to do with it
- they don’t talk to women most especially if they are accompanied by a man.
- 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.
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!