Let’s talk about Western prejudice around female solo travel in a Muslim country.
Let’s talk about Western prejudice around female solo travel in a Muslim country. I am a 24-year-old woman from Sweden currently solo-traveling through Morocco. Simply reading that sentence will induce feelings of discomfort and fear in many people. The basis of such emotions, however, is grounded in misinformation and Islamophobia—and from my experience, lacks more truth than it contains.
Questions around safety and women’s social status rains down upon me as I, pre-departure, describe my travel plans. Three months, two backpacks, one mission: To explore sustainable tourism in Morocco, visiting various projects and areas known for such practices. And I will not lie, such thoughts have circled through my brain too, on multiple occasions. And they continue to do so whenever I feel under threat.
But I am now two months into my journey and can with confidence say that not once have I been mistreated. Rather the complete opposite. To the point where my eyes have teared up, in utter awe of the hospitality, gentleness, and warmth shown by the people I’ve encountered. We are usually only told the stories that went horribly wrong. To counter-balance that narrative here is my experience:
From the day I set foot in Marrakech, I have constantly felt watched. But as one of the only tourists in town, with blonde curls and a backpack the size of a small village, that comes with the territory. And the spectators have been all from funny to sassy; flirty to polite; humble, helpful, hassling. The one thing they’ve all had in common though is an unwavering sense of respect. I have traveled widely in my life and from my findings, that quality is rare. Rare, but precious and much, much appreciated.
Another perk of mingling with Moroccan people is the happy and humble approach to life amongst them. Ninety-eight percent of the people I encounter on a daily basis smile at me. I would argue that the same statistics ring true in my home country—but in reverse. Though many believe getting mugged or murdered to be the biggest danger of solo-travel, the most commonly faced issue is loneliness.
And if loneliness, which kills more people than does a poor diet, is the biggest threat—how come no one questions a solo-trip through Scandinavia? The narrative around travel across the Middle East and Africa is often based on nothing but fear of the unknown. Of course, horrible things do happen. And more likely so in places of severe poverty. But I have none such to report back.
Read also: Is Morocco Safe for Female Tourists?
Instead, the welcoming culture of Morocco has made me feel at ease, it has made me feel connected. That is the narrative I would like to promote—the one of a country which welcomes its guests with unparalleled hospitality. Traveling solo through Sweden would be much more of an isolating experience, with locals avoiding eye contact and small talk at all cost. And on a personal level, I’d way rather live in connected caution than in separated safety.
Talking all things small reminds me of how I felt when my phone gave up on me mid-drive, somewhere along the winding roads of the Rif Mountains in the north of Morocco. It was my only source of navigation and the sun was about to set for the night. Now, it is not common practice in Moroccan culture to travel on your own—especially not as a female. Yet when I pulled up next to a roadside cafe in a rural community, I was welcomed in by open arms—no questions asked.
There was not a single woman in the establishment, but men and boys of all ages. I was desperately trying to remember the French word for charger whilst zig-zagging between all eyes looking in my direction. The young man on shift waved me over to the till. He promptly led me in behind the bar, put my phone on charge, and fed me fresh mint tea and home-made bread. We couldn’t exchange much in the form of verbal language, but our eyes spoke volumes: Mine with gratitude and relief, his with curiosity and care.
They say it’s all in the eye of the beholder: I say they’ve hit the bull’s eye with that—or at least the shoulder. The few times I’ve felt unsafe during this trip, nothing bad has ever happened. So although the situations might have involved elements of danger, most of this fear will have stemmed from preconceived ideas. And attempting to break free from as many such as I possibly can, I invite everyone else to do the same. Here’s why:
As I walk down an alleyway of the Marrakech Medina, I hear rapid footsteps approaching. Instinctively my shoulders tense and I get ready for whatever is coming my way. As I turn a corner, I’m met by two school-girls who are splitting a bar of chocolate. It is being carefully measured, ensuring an equal experience of indulgence. One of them spots me coming their way. She quickly breaks her half in half and reaches it out towards me. “Ca va, madame?” she says, smiling from eye to eye. “Chocolate?”
From the day I set foot in Marrakech, I have constantly felt watched. But when paired with the social culture of curiosity that is fostered in this country, that is something to appreciate. That is a way into the society here, a warm welcome, a truce. By meeting the eyes of the beholder and greeting them right back, you cross the bridge from unknown to known—just like that.
I have yet to find people more set in their ways, yet accepting of others than those I’ve encountered here. As a female solo traveler in Morocco, I have been accepted and included into society in ways I haven’t experienced at home. Through shifting the lens onto what there is to gain from an experience such as this, by separating fear from fact, adventure awaits. If you don’t believe me, go there yourself to see—that way you’ll also get to enjoy some sweet, sweet mint tea!