There are few phrases that I hate more than “single female traveler.” While I’m fine with the term “traveler,” the words “single” and “female” seem to suggest that it is strange for a woman to travel alone—that she would somehow be less capable of doing so than a single male.
Yet, before I traveled as a single female traveler, I Googled tips for single female travelers religiously. Most of the time, tips for female solo travelers were the same as for everyone else: lock your door, don’t follow people into strange places, look like you know where you are going, say you’re Canadian, etc. These basic tips served me well when I went to Southeast Asia as a solo traveler last summer. So, on my brief trip to Spain and Morocco before heading back to the States over Oxford’s six-week-ish spring break, I assumed that I would be fine. What I found slightly alarming was that various forums and travel sites warned of almost constant harassment. They cautioned that even wearing short sleeved t-shirts could cause unwanted attention. However, after reading several travelers’ accounts, I assumed that this was slightly exaggerated. After all, I was only spending a weekend in Morocco, not taking up residence there.
When I arrived in Marrakech, Morocco’s third largest city, I met the pre-booked transfer to my hostel. I arrived around 11:00 pm and was happy to not be taking a taxi. As in many countries, taxi drivers often overcharge tourists and can be unreliable about dropping you off in the right place. My hostel, Equity Point, is located in the Medina (or old part) of Marrakech, which has narrow streets that twist and turn and lack street signs. Even equipped with an GPS-enabled phone (i.e., my iPhone), I could not find the hostel on the map, and a taxi driver could not make it all the way to my hostel because of the narrow streets. Thus, it was good that my transfer included a guide to take me to the hostel from the point where the taxi dropped me off—well worth the extra 15 euro.
As soon as I met the driver, I could tell that I was in a drastically different world. The driver—whose name I can not even attempt to pronounce, let alone spell—stopped every few feet to embrace or talk to one of his friends; there was no urgency in his manner. On the way into the Medina, the landscape was vastly different than anything I have ever encountered. Everything seem to be drenched in a reddish-brown powder and all the buildings seemed to be roughly the same height. Indeed, according to local law, no building in Marrakech can be taller than the Koutoubia Mosque.
When I got out of the taxi, the driver introduced me to the guide who would take me the rest of the way to hostel. After offering me some popcorn, we started off to the hostel. The streets of the Medina were largely empty and quiet. Every so often, the guide would stop to point out the souks (markets) that would be there the next day or the way to Jamaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakech. Despite his best attempts to teach me how to pronounce the various street names, I failed miserably. Luckily, most of the arabic signs were also in French, which made it easier to find my way around.
Eventually, we made it to the hostel. Coming in at only 10 euro a night, the hostel was a steal. Not only located close to the main square, the hostel had also previously been a raid—a mansion converted to a luxury hotel. It boasted a large open central courtyard, a pool, and a free breakfast.
Spending only a little over 48 hours in Marrakech, I went to bed early in preparation of my early start. Like many Western travelers, I found myself awake at 4:00 in the morning due to a loud noise coming in from the streets. My sleep-addled mind only barely recognized it as the call to prayer before heading back to sleep.
The next morning, after a lovely breakfast, I headed out into the Medina. A bit paranoid, I dressed in long pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. I soon discovered that this was a bit over the top—many tourist were dressed in shorts and skirts. Not even all Moroccan women wear headscarves—overall, it is a very liberal country. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should wear a mini-skirt and a halter top—respect for the local culture is important no matter where you are.
Walking through markets, I felt relatively comfortable. Yes, some woman grabbed my hand in attempt to do some henna, I was often asked where my husband was, and shopkeepers constantly asked me to visit their shop. But a quick “Non, merci” was enough to wave them off.
The rest of my trip pasted without any unpleasantries. I even got some henna, albeit not in the square. It’s best to get henna done in your hotel, hostel, or an established shop. Some henna artists in the square use dye that contains harmful chemicals.
With a taxi trip from the main square, I was back in the airport. Overall, it was a pleasant trip and I was happy that the negative accounts didn’t stop me from going.