Top 5 Tips for Travelling Solo 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.

Photo Credit: DavidDennis on Flickr

20 hours in Morocco

Approximately 20 hours into this holiday to Morocco, I’ve gotta say; so far it is a little disappointing. Admittedly, I have spent all of one day here in Marrakech, so perhaps it’s a little early to be passing judgement on a whole entire country. However, I’ve been to enough places to be able to recognise somewhere interesting / exciting / awesome when I see it, and this – so far -is not it.

I’ve noticed that when travelling on your own that the place, and of course the people, have a much greater influence on your experience than if you are travelling in a group. When travelling with others almost anywhere can be fun – even 20 hour train journeys in the stifling heat or days spent stranded in a one horse town waiting for the next bus. Games, conversation and yes even vast quantities of alcohol can be enough to turn the most dire and dull of places into the backdrop for some of the greatest adventure stories of your entire trip.

Travelling alone, you are more reliant on your surroundings to fulfil your trip’s potential. Sometimes this makes for greatness – stumbling upon new activities, making unexpected friendships, meandering at your own slow pace exploring the new, weird and wonderful.

However, for some reason, Marrakech is not delivering. There are some environmental reasons for this. For a start, it is raining. Now technically this is not Marrakech’s fault, but it does make a difference. For years I hated Paris because every time I visited it was constantly damp.

However, the bigger point is that there isn’t really that much to see. Everyone I have asked tells me I must go to the souks or to Jardin Majorelle. I have done both and while they were charming, neither set my world alight.  I thought at least the souks would be exciting; everyone had told me that, as a girl travelling alone, I would be hassled within an inch of my life and find myself crawling out on my hands and knees sobbing and shouting ‘make it stop!’.  The reality? Not one person spoke to me. I was left to my own devices, browsing through scarves and getting lost in laneways without so much as a ‘bonjour’.

Possibly I was overly prepared. After all, I had my darkest sunglasses at the ready, had donned a headscarf and had my earphones in – just as my guidebook had advised. Perhaps my strategy worked too well, creating an impenetrable wall between me and the market folk? Or perhaps the ‘hassle-levels’ aren’t nearly as bad as most people make out? Both are probably true.

What I know for sure though is that, travelling alone, the last thing you want to do is start building barriers between you and the place you’re in. Be careful, yes. But don’t ignore. Don’t be so quick to say ‘no’, or worse ‘go away’ – one of the few phases my guidebook has translated into Arabic, Berber AND French, just in case people don’t get the message.  

So perhaps the reason Marrakech isn’t delivering is because I’m not letting it in? Intriguing. I think it’s time to take off my dark glasses…