This is article four in the Mindful in Morocco series by Lexi Reich.
Morocco, along with other countries in North Africa, is not known to be a woman’s first pick for solo travel. To some, it’s known for its catcalling culture and conservative values, and there are many reasons this reigns valid. But that doesn’t mean it should completely dissuade a woman from venturing to this land of blue streets and red sand alone if she truly desires to do so.
I’ve been covering the medical distribution of virginity certificates to young women in Morocco this spring on a college study abroad program, and with that has come lots of moments where I am traveling alone throughout Morocco to get from one sensitive interview to another.
It’s challenging to learn how to navigate a country where you not only don’t speak the first language, but are engulfed by different societal norms and expectations. But with each mishap and success, I’ve learned a lot — about myself and my ever-changing surroundings.
Overall, while I think having a companion with you in Morocco would certainly make traveling here smoother, if you want to come here alone as a female and take on the responsibilities that it comes with, you most certainly can and should. Inevitably, dangerous situations can arise, yet this is possible anywhere in the world.
The most useful tool I’ve found while traveling solo is listening to my gut. Being in touch with yourself in new — and often testing — situations will help you maneuver them with greater confidence. Cultivating this sense of inner awareness is not only useful for travel, but everyday life, so it’s always a good time to begin practicing it.
For instance, if you have to take a taxi alone as the sun begins its decent, tracking your driver’s route on your phone is a smart decision that helps put you in control. If you notice someone following your steps while walking outside, step into a public shop and not your accommodation for the night (if that’s where you were heading). Have your country’s Embassy number easily accessible … things like that.
At my home-base in the capital of Rabat, I live in an old house near the city center. It’s decorated with plants and artwork and filled with four of my closest American friends. The toilet doesn’t always flush, ants inhabit the kitchen sink and counter tops, and some of the beds are harder than rock. It’s loud and messy and exciting and exhausting and a hub of some of my favorite memories.
I took a week away from my friends to venture on an 11-hour bus ride to the southern region of the country for interviews. It offered me the opportunity for sought-after alone time, but with that came the responsibility to always be alert, which was exhausting in its own sense.
In the beginning, I found myself being sharp with waiters and people on the streets because of previous disheartening experiences. But being precautions doesn’t mean you have to lose your inner light. I learned to balance a friendly conversation with someone by being my authentic self, but was firm making sure I felt in control of the interactions (which even with practice still sometimes falls short, and that’s okay).
Traveling is a learning experience. You don’t constantly have to be in fight or flight mode, but you need to be aware — also known as being in the present moment. I navigate through situations constantly by coming back to my center. When all else fails, you have your breath. When you miss your train, forget the word in Arabic for “right” or “left” or whatever else, you have your breath to recenter, refocus and get back to work.
When all else fails, you have your breath.
I spoke to Moroccan women in rural towns during this week of reporting. I love that interviews require you to be rooted in the present moment. If you focus on anything else, you lose that quote, the missed follow-up question, the extra detail. I cultivated a newfound sense of compassion speaking with women with a different cultural understanding than myself. Their beliefs on women’s rights with their bodies are shaped from their experience and I respect and admire their courage to speak with me.
As I left my week of solo traveling, I felt a sudden sense of sadness consume me, knowing it was over. But it doesn’t have to be depressing to have ended for it to have been amazing while it happened. I look back with fondness.
With traveling for long periods of time, the vacation feeling eventually ceases. Then you are left with life there, and that’s when the experience really starts to become potent. Building a global community is a beautiful network to have. Learning about a country enough so I can confidently write about it has been the best travel experience I’ve ever had. Safety is always the number one priority, but you can be safe in Morocco just like you can in many others around the globe — all it takes is following your intuition, your internal compass.
Photos by Lexi Reich.