Editor’s note: This article was written by both Jade Lansing and Souad Kadi. Souad Kadi is a social worker, teacher, and lover of hugs. She is the Training Manager at Amal Women’s Center, a nonprofit restaurant in Marrakech, Morocco that helps marginalized women prepare for employment in the hospitality industry. In the past she managed a youth environmental education program at NGO Dar Si Hmad, and participated in a professional fellowship in the United States. She has a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Ibn Zohr in Agadir, Morocco.
Tales from the field: Traveling in Morocco alone as a woman
Morocco never makes the cut for “best destinations for solo female travelers” lists, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t heaps of independent ladies roaming and thriving in the North African kingdom. From the endless desert dunes of the Sahara to the Mediterranean waves lapping at the ruins of 13th century castles, few destinations grip travelers’ imaginations so powerfully. There are undeniably challenges for women traveling in Morocco alone, so we put together these solo female travel tips to help you MoRock ‘n’ Roll safely and meaningfully.
First, a quick Q&A to qualm your inhibitions about traveling alone in Morocco
Is it safe to travel to Morocco alone?
Yes, traveling Morocco alone is safe. Well, as safe as anything is these days. Of course, traveling—anywhere, with anyone, in any gender presentation—never offers the same safety guarantees as, say, riding a Disneyland roller coaster or working in a unionized industry.
Road conditions are generally safe for travel, and violent crime is much less common in Morocco than, for example, the United States. Theft does occur, and if you cannot negotiate in one of the three local languages (Arabic, French, or Tamazight), you are likely to be overcharged when shopping in the souq (market) or taking taxis around town. The “Tourist Police” is a Moroccan security force dedicated to ensuring the safety of foreign visitors, which is who you should contact if you fall victim to a crime.
Is Morocco safe for female tourists?
Chyeah, girl. However, as in other countries, catcalling and harassment are a persistent challenge, especially for young women traveling without a male friend/partner or child(ren) #thepatriarchyiseverywhere. There is no way to dress or act that prevents this behavior, though wearing more conservative attire (i.e. long-sleeves and pants) can draw less attention.
Likewise, there is no response that satisfyingly smites catcallers and awakens them to the inappropriateness of their behavior. Be aware that any verbal or physical response may be taken as an invitation to continue the interaction. In a moment of unbridled frustration, I once screamed “Go away!” at a harasser, and he responded “Hello! You want to be friends?” without a hint of irony.
Beyond these frustrating gendered interactions, Moroccans are world-renowned for their hospitality, and—on the whole—are very eager to share their culture with visitors. As a solo traveler it is not uncommon to be invited back to someone’s home for tea or a meal. When in doubt, politely decline (“La shokran,” “No thank you”) or suggest a meeting in a public location instead.
[EVERYONE should download this ebook: Meaningful Travel Tips & Tales: Sexual Harassment Abroad]
Will I die of loneliness traveling alone?
Not likely. Traveling alone may invoke images of a single pair of footsteps through the lonely wilderness, but that’s not usually what it looks like. When you share the world with seven billion humans, you’re never really alone—unless you’re Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild.
The beauty of traveling solo is that you are the only navigator of your ship. Craving some company? Strike up a conversation in a cafe, join a group travel program, or look for local meetups. Ready for some peace and quiet again? Venture off on your own to a less-trafficked region.
Morocco is a particularly social country, so solo travelers never have to look far to find company. On the flip side, expansive desert and open countryside cover the vast majority of Morocco. If you’re looking for isolation, seek and ye shall find.
Things backpacking Morocco solo has taught us
Home to the world’s oldest library (founded by a woman!), goats that climb trees, and North Africa’s tallest mountain, among other things, Morocco is traveler’s paradise. Which is why we think everybody should have the chance to explore it. Morocco makes a particularly stellar solo destination, so we’ve compiled these solo female travel tips to make it more accessible to adventurers of every anatomy.
All anecdotes herein are based on a true story—our own adventures smashing (really more like prodding with conviction) the patriarchy across Morocco.
1. Haters gonna hate.
Once you decide to set out on your own to anywhere in the world, you will almost invariably encounter nay-saying family and friends. We all have that distant relative who watches the news, and is therefore qualified to make sweeping generalizations about your safety “abroad”. “Is it safe to travel to Morocco alone?” they might ask. “Is Morocco safe for female tourists?” (Refer to the handy FAQ above for go-to responses to these inquiries.)
Your loved ones are inclined to panic if you plan to travel alone, especially for the first time, and some may even be downright unsupportive. They might be worried that you will get lost, feel alone, or get sick suddenly. They may even call you a fool, because the decision to travel alone seems so absurd to them.
However, if women had let doubt and nay-sayers win, we might still not be able to vote or own property. That’s not to say throw caution to the wind and look for a war-zone to start the feminist travel revolution.
DO research before you travel alone in Morocco, and take precautions to minimize danger.
DON’T make travel decisions or assess your capabilities as an independent lady based on that one auntie who thinks you should stay home.
2. Plan up a storm, but don’t be afraid to embrace the unexpected along the way.
Morocco is a mixed bag of cultures and landscapes, and you’re going to want to discover every part of it. If you are a nature lover, head north to see Chefchaouen and Asilah, or take the road down south to catch the waves in Agadir and Essaouira. For a taste of urban life, Marrakech is sure to overwhelm and delight, and also serves as a great launching point to the Sahara Desert.
Assuming you don’t have unlimited time, planning is critical to making the most of your time traveling alone in Morocco. Make a list of the destinations you’re dying to see (and local delicacies you’re dying to eat, of course!), and try plotting them on a map to optimize your route.
Overwhelmed by planning or not sure what you should prioritize? Put your trip in the trusty hands of one of the program providers listed below!
3. Readiness will come along the road.
If parenthood doesn’t have prereqs, why should travel? If you’re not sure you’re ready to tackle Morocco alone, that’s okay. Readiness is not a prereq for meaningful, safe, and FUN solo female travel. Do your research; book a ticket; pack your bags, and hit the road. You’ll grow in ways you couldn’t have imagined back home to rise to the unexpected challenges that arise along the way.
4. Solo travel is the cure for self-doubt.
Do you know how to ride a camel? (Hint: Not on the top of the hump.) Can you whip up a tasty tagine? How will you procure a bus ticket to your intended destination with pure charades sign language? Will you be able to purchase souvenirs without getting ripped off?
From afar, these tasks seem daunting, perhaps even scary. There’s no freshman seminar on Solo Female Travel in Africa 101 or Responding to Unwanted Flirtation 203. The YouTube videos on camel riding techniques seem woefully lacking, and your favorite foodie blogger probably oversimplified how to make couscous properly. But that’s the joy of travel – you’re constantly growing and learning and challenging yourself with new experiences.
5. You are never truly alone (even when you want to be).
Women traveling to Morocco solo will note that sitting alone in public spaces is often taken as an invitation for company. Privacy and alone time are much less common in Morocco than other parts of the world. Taking the old adage “no man is an island” to heart, you will rarely sit at a cafe in Morocco by yourself for more than 10 minutes before someone strikes up a conversation or plops down at your table.
6. Sometimes, you have to choose sanity over honesty as a woman traveling alone in Morocco.
It’s no coincidence that George Washington, America’s infamous historical hero of truth telling, was a rich white dude. As a solo female traveler, sometimes telling the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth-so-help-you-God is just an invitation to a conversation you do NOT want to attend.
While traveling alone in Morocco, especially as a woman, expect multiple daily inquisitions regarding your marital status (and other personal affairs that may feel invasive). If you are unmarried, and plan to be honest about this, expect responses that involve some combination of:
- Direct marriage proposals, or occasionally more tempered expressions of interest,
- Suggestions of local eligible bachelors,
- Surprise that you have not yet been scooped off of the dating marketing,
- Interest in your future childbearing abilities, and
- Concern for your safety and wellbeing.
If these conversations become tiring, try out alternative responses, or try diverting the conversation to a topic that both parties are interested in. Honesty is the best policy, but not if it gives you a complex about doin’ your own thang. As women traveling alone, asserting what parts of ourselves we do and do NOT want to share is a crucial form of self-care.
7. You are what you project yourself to be.
Being honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, what you’re enjoying (woo-hoo!), and what you’re struggling with is an important part of solo travel. Reflect and check-in with yourself regularly, and adjust your schedule accordingly to ensure the trip leaves you feeling empowered rather than exhausted.
That said, being your authentic self does not mean wearing your weaknesses on your sleeve. Walk purposefully, project confidence, and interact directly and sincerely.
8. There is a difference between your perception and how you are perceived.
As always when you travel, it’s important to be aware of different cultural and social cues in new settings. While relevant in all fields of life, this is particularly true in the context of dating, as global Tinder users have likely learned the hard way.
Even at home, “looking for something casual” can be misconstrued to mean anything from “Hit me up for a good time” to “I just want to be friends” to “I prefer dating in sweatpants.” In a new multilingual environment, language barriers can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. There’s no simple way to avoid this, but do be attentive to differences between how you understand what you’re saying/showing and how others might interpret it, particularly with solo female travel in different cultural and social contexts.
9. Do what you have to do to feel safe and healthy.
Women traveling to Morocco alone should be ready to listen to their gut. If something smells fishy, then get out of it. (Unless it’s fish tagine, in which case, YOU GO GIRL, dive in!) Many of us have been raised to avoid conflict and “go with the flow,” which can be useful for smoothing over potentially thorny moments on the road. However, don’t let social pressure lead you into anything that makes you uncomfortable or puts you in danger.
10. You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food; the bread will do the work.
Fueling up is crucial wherever you go, and eating in Morocco will give you the chance to explore different tastes and traditions. You’ll notice, for example, that many dishes are eaten with a unique utensil: bread. Khobz (bread) is the king of Moroccan cuisine, and no meal is complete without it. Our advice? Don’t worry about being a ladylike (or, heaven forbid, counting carbs). Grab a fresh semolina round, break off a piece, and dive into the nearest tagine.
11. Solo female travel tips only get you so far.
When you elect to travel alone as a female in Morocco, you are pioneering a new world of opportunities for other solo wanderers. High five! On the flip side, going off-script—blazing trails that haven’t been smoothed other by the weight of many footsteps before you—means things won’t always be mapped out.
These tips for solo female travel in Africa and beyond are just that: tips. Hopefully they give you the confidence that you can, in fact, travel to Morocco alone. But, once you’re out there, you’ll find your own strategies. Feel free to share them in the comments!
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Recommended programs for women traveling to Morocco alone
Not sure where to start or what to see? Hoping to join up with like-minded folks to share all these beautiful (and challenging) experiences in a new country? Check out these great programs to amplify your experience backpacking Morocco.
Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education, and Culture
Volunteer, study abroad, work on independent research, or study Tashelhit (Berber) with a local nonprofit. Nestled between mountains and desert along the Pacific coast, Dar Si Hmad invites students of all ages to become a part of their active community center in Agadir. You’ll see participatory development in action, and learn how the organization’s fog harvesting project is sustaining rural communities.
Qalam wa Lawh
For the richest experience of Morocco (and to get a fair price while shopping for souvenirs) invest in learning a local language. Based in the capital city of Rabat, Qalam wa Lawh offers internationally-recognized courses in Modern Standard Arabic and the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, Darija. They’ll make sure you amplify your language learning with plenty of volunteering opportunities and excursions around the country.
Sahara Service Organization
Founded by former Peace Corps Volunteers in collaboration with local community members in Boudnib, this low-cost program takes volunteers into the desert, far from the tourist centers of Marrakech and Fes. In addition to community development work, volunteers also participate in language, culture, and history classes and stay with Moroccan homestay families.
Trips-Marra Morocco Desert Tours
Venture into the desert; get lost in maze-like medina streets, and ride the waves of the Atlantic with Trips-Marra Morocco Desert Tours. Just give them a schedule, budget, and list of things you’d like to see – and they’ll help you make the most of your time in Morocco.
Girls rule (/boys can come too, I guess): Backpacking Morocco edition
When was the last time you did something you were afraid of—that got your heart pumping and washed you in waves of inspiration? Traveling to Morocco alone promises just that. Test your limits, and remember you can do anything you set your mind and heart to. The world is not as scary as we project it to be, and there are so many beautiful experiences to be had! See you on the Sahara!