How to Travel as a Woman Alone in Morocco Without Going Insane
After just one week traveling on my own in Morocco, I was already beginning to lose my mind. I’ve traveled solo for three years, all over the world, yet nothing prepared me for the relentless harassment I encountered.
No matter what I wore, every man I passed in the street vied for my attention, shouting, “I’ve been waiting for you,” “are you looking for me?” and often “nice ass.” They followed me in the street, swore at me if I ignored them, and a few even grabbed my butt. To say I felt like bloody raw meat in a lion’s den would be an understatement.
The few I did talk with pressured me to stay longer, to see them the next day, or even to go meet their family. Simply responding when someone said hello turned into a battle to maintain my independence. Despite the fact that I was traveling on my own, I found it almost impossible to be alone.
By the time I left Marrakech, I had become so exhausted and so jaded, I wouldn’t even respond to any man who said hello. I had nightmares about snakes biting me, and strangers grabbing me in the street. Even though I met plenty of kind individuals, I found myself feeling resentful towards the entire culture.
Something had to give. If I wanted to stay in this country and actually enjoy it, I needed to find a way to keep my sanity.
Writing to you today from the peaceful surf town of Taghazout on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, I feel like I have. I feel like I’ve found a way to be myself and adapt to a vastly different culture. While I still don’t find Morocco to be an easy country to travel in as a woman alone, I have found a way to find peace.
To any woman out there crazy enough to come to Morocco on her own, here is my best advice for how to travel in Morocco without actually going insane.
Conserve Your Energy
The biggest mistake I made when I first arrived in Morocco was offering my attention to anyone who asked for it. I’m naturally outgoing, so when people said hello to me, of course I responded. I’m curious about other cultures, so when local men invited me to eat with them, drink with them, or walk with them, I did. Though by my second day I was completely exhausted. The moment I managed to politely escape one man there were five waiting to take his place.
If you don’t have your own agenda and enjoy spending all of your time with other people, this may not bother you. However, as someone who needs alone time and quiet moments for reflection and introspection, I felt depleted. Having the same conversations over and over again grew tiresome. I learned quickly that I needed to conserve my energy.
What I do now is respond when people say hello, offer a kind nod, have a brief chat if it’s someone in a shop or a restaurant, and then I end it there. That way I have my energy for exploring and experiencing the place, and connecting with the people who I actually want to engage with. Any outright harassment I try to ignore altogether.
There’s no question that Moroccan men are the most persistent of any I have ever met in the world. Initially I tried to brush them off with excuses, but it didn’t really work, and I realized that it doesn’t do anything to help them. It’s better to be honest and direct, and perhaps they’ll even learn something.
Now when men approach me and beg me to make future plans with them, I tell them that while they’re very nice, I prefer to have my time to myself. I also tell them, respectfully, that I’m approached so often by men in Morocco, that it’s exhausting for me.
I’ve also stopped feeling guilty for ignoring people. If someone says “hello” while I’m walking by, I can choose if and how I want to respond. I don’t have to keep the conversation going.
Outright harassment is extremely common in cities like Marrakech and Fez, which as difficult as it is, I try to ignore completely. However in smaller towns when I’m harassed, I make it clear that it’s wrong and why. In Chefchaouen a man outside my hostel said “nice ass” as I walked by. When I returned, I explained to him that what he said was extremely rude. I asked if he would speak to his mother or his sister like that. I told him that I might be American, but I’m not a slut. From then on he bowed his head when he saw me and addressed me as “sister.”
Find a Sanctuary
No matter how many boundaries you set or how much you try to conserve your energy, Morocco can be an over-stimulating place, particularly in the cities. This is why it’s important to have sanctuaries where you can hide out.
In Fez and Marrakech I recommend staying somewhere that you feel comfortable in, even if you have a small budget. Both cities have many beautiful and reasonably priced Riads, and some hostels have nice terraces, courtyards, and pools.
Most cafes and restaurants in Morocco have terraces, which immediately offer reprieve from the street. You can look down at the city instead of feeling consumed by it. Koran schools, palaces, and gardens open to tourists are also wonderful havens to escape the stress in the souks.
Go Where the Students Go
The best way to meet interesting, respectful locals, is to get out of the souks and into a place where they like to hang out. In Fez and Marrakech I loved going to Café Clock for the Thursday Storytelling night. Locals, tourists, and foreign exchange students played live music and told traditional Moroccan stories. It was heartwarming and a great chance to meet people interested in friendships and conversation. I also recommend asking at your hostel or hotel about live music events, festivals, and art openings.
Per the recommendation of blogger Maroc Mama, I went to an art event put on by MAM in Marrakech one night. While admiring a painting, I felt a man approach me. I instinctually put up my wall. “What do you think of my work?” he asked. I turned to see a 22-year-old kid to my right, baffled that he had created such masterpieces. I could have stared at his work for hours, constantly discovering new dimensions and imagery. Talking to him felt completely different from all of the others I had met in the street. I didn’t feel pressured, I felt a genuine connection. For the rest of the night we talked for hours, and I not only made friends with a local Moroccan man, I met a soul brother.
Spend Time in the Local Hammam
How do local women find sanctuary from all of the testosterone in Morocco? They head to hammam.
Hammam is for Moroccans what Sauna is for the Finns. It’s a public bathhouse separated by gender, where you can go and spend hours in the steam scrubbing yourself. In the street women cover up, but the hammam is a safe, sacred place to be naked. Given my obsession with sauna, it’s no surprise that going to hammam is one of my favorite experiences in Morocco.
Most hotels have their own hammams where you book a private room with someone who will scrub you, but I highly recommend doing like the locals and heading to the public hammam. It’s one of the easiest ways to spend time with local women and experience the culture of Morocco away from harassment in the streets.
Stay Out of the Cities
Undoubtedly it’s far more challenging to travel as a woman alone in the large cities in Morocco than in small towns. The sad reality is that in developing countries, mass tourism often leads to mass corruption. Consider spending less time in Marrakech and more time in small towns like Chefchaoeun and Taghazout, where there’s less hustlers and more genuine kindness.
In response to the constant hassling, I had built protective walls that kept me from seeing the humanity in people. I started to become angry with people who hadn’t even spoken yet and creating stories about people I didn’t even know. I stopped acknowledging that within, these people had the same heart and spirit as me, no matter how shitty their egos seemed. The remedy? Compassion.
I practiced, even just in my mind, accepting what place of fear their behavior came from, and sent compassion to that. On the other side of the coin, I considered that perhaps what sometimes felt like pressure to me, might be considered love to them. Perhaps there were people who were genuinely concerned about me being alone, and that’s why they insisted that I spend all of my time with them.
When I walked in the streets by myself, I chanted words of loving-kindness and smiled and nodded to people without acknowledging what they said. I’m not sure if it did anything for them, but it cultivated a deeper feeling of love and acceptance within me.
Ask Yourself if You Want to Do it Alone
After traveling in Morocco by myself, with a private guide, in a tour group, and with friends, I feel that Morocco is not only easier to travel in with others, it’s also more enjoyable. Not being hassled allows you to actually experience other beautiful aspects of the culture. You also have the ability to go to off the beaten path destinations that may not be safe for a woman alone.
For this reason, I highly recommend staying in hostels where you will meet others as soon as you arrive. At a hostel in Chefchaouen I met three male solo travelers, and we shared a taxi to the waterfalls and spent a great day together. I wasn’t hassled at all, even swimming in my bikini. A few years ago in Marrakech I stayed in a hostel and befriended two girls from Denmark who I shopped with in the souks without trouble. Currently I’m staying at Surf Berbere, a surf school with anything from dorms to sea view apartments, where we all go surfing together in the day and have dinner together at night.
In Fez I took a food tour with Plan-it-Fez and a wonderful local woman as my guide, and a man as our “official guide”. No one said a word to us. An hour later I was out on my own and heard “nice ass” at least 30 times. Last time I was in Morocco I took an organized tour into the Sahara Desert, and while I don’t typically like organized tours, it was a safe and easy way to explore without any problems.
My best advice for traveling alone as a woman in Morocco is this: find the balance between having the freedom of a solo travel and the support from traveling with others.
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