We recently travelled through Morocco for a month. And a friend messaged me and asked how it was. Because some guy at a party told her that Morocco wasn’t safe anymore and that she had missed the boat and should have gone ten years ago. She asked me how I was finding it, because she and her partner and daughter would really like to go. So, is Morocco safe? Yes, as safe as it can be.
But we live in a time of terrorism, and a terror of terrorism. Right now, the world seems full of more unrest and dysfunction than it has in decades. Partly this is because the geopolitical environment is undergoing some ripples (that’s putting it mildly) but mainly because the media promotes hysteria, and clickbait supports ignorance.
The truth is, it is not an unprecedented time of conflict. The world has always been safe, and it’s always been unsafe. It just depends what part you are in, at what time.
Right now, a whole lot of people are still travelling, still getting on flights, still backpacking in cheap neighbourhoods, and yes, still going to Muslim majority countries. We are about to go to a so-called Christian majority country that I’m probably feeling more uncomfortable about. I’m going to go there, though.
There have been a few times over the years that I have been afraid. Two of those were in Europe. I’ve been slightly concerned in Africa, a bit scared in China, and caught in the middle of sectarian riots in Indonesia. But most of these situations were either because I was lax (not reading the news) or unlucky or being deliberately ballsy (in which case I learnt my lesson).
Travel in a time of terror is about doing some research, weighing the information and putting your fear in context.
How to travel safe?
- Read your country’s official advice (usually published online by your foreign affairs department or office). My Indonesia mistake was because a) I hadn’t read the news in three weeks and b) and while the tiny island with riots wasn’t in the news much anyway, my foreign office had posted a extreme travel warning on it, which I hadn’t read. The official advice will veer on the conservative side though, so don’t make it your only source of info.
- Research on the ground. Talk to and read accounts from people who have been to the place recently or who are still there, not travel agents. Don’t rely on the media to tell you what a country is like. Travel forums are great for this (Thorntree, TravelFish) as are blogs by ex-pats and travellers. Just Google the place and dive into the internet to find what you can.
- Use your common sense. You know that statistically you are more likely to die in a very run-of-the-mill way. None of us want to gamble with our lives, but the chances of actually being in a terrorist attack are extremely slim. Just because an incident happened in a country doesn’t mean the whole place has become a war zone. You probably take regular old precautions at home about safety, apply those in other countries too.
- Use situational awareness. When in a location that might have a higher terrorism threat, think about where you are physically. Terrorists target, on the whole, large gatherings for multiple impact. They target tourists and flashy tourist places. Go to the small local restaurants, avoid large ostentatious gatherings, make sure you know if its a public holiday or a religious festival. The more you can make informed choices about where your body is at all times, the better you can watch your own back.
- Just be brave. Be brave because the point of terrorism is to intimidate, isolate and alienate. Don’t let them do it. Don’t let places and people be side-lined. Don’t fall for the clickbait culture that says some people are bad and some people are good because of their religion or nationality. There are assholes in very culture and bloody good people too. If you don’t go, you won’t have a chance to meet them.
So, how safe is Morocco really?
In 2003 and 2011 Morocco was targeted by terrorist attacks in Casablanca and Marrakesh. There are currently travel warnings in place because of terrorist cells operating in the country. This is not great for average Moroccans, and not great for people travelling there. However, Moroccan authorities are working on this and are reporting progress in breaking these cells up. And by all accounts, doing a good job. Morocco is a moderate Muslim country and they are working hard to keep it that way. Your tourist presence helps them.
What is there is be concerned about in Morocco?. There are some poor drivers, occasional nasty people in dark corners late at night, dodgy uncooked chicken, pickpockets in crowded places and annoying touts. But none of those is specific to Morocco. If you are a foreign woman in a society that is extremely patriarchal (Muslim or not) then there is a good chance you are going to have times when you are frustrated, annoyed, and pissed off. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but if you want to travel, you have to handle it. You don’t need to wear a head scarf, but you do need to be modest. People in conservative societies don’t really want to see your ass hanging out of your shorts. This applies to many places in Asia too. So that’s not Morocco’s fault (blame the patriarchy).
If you are Moroccan, it is nigh impossible to get a visa to travel anywhere outside of Africa. The visa process is arduous, the cost high and the likelihood of acceptance low. They don’t get to go to the outside world. They need the tourist dollar and they want to meet you. So go and enjoy and use common sense.