Advice for traveling alone in Morocco?
June 8, 2008 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Advice about traveling alone in Morocco and Madrid, or about solo travel more generally?

In about a week I'll fly to Marrakech, where I have four nights booked at a Riad. I have another flight booked ten days later from Tangier to Madrid, where I'll spend another five days before returning to England. Other than that I have no concrete plans. I'll most likely train from Marrakech to Tangier, perhaps through Casablanca, but I am more than welcome to any suggestions about how to spend ten days in Morocco along this route. Should I take the Marrakech/Tangier train overnight? Are there any must-visit spots nearby? Should I go to a bullfight in Madrid, and if so, how and where? I've read the standard resources (guide books, wikitravel, previous AskMes), and my only vague worry concerns the fact that I will be traveling solo.

Does anyone have any general (or Morocco/Madrid-specific) advice about traveling alone? What and how much reading material should I bring? Are there any good tricks for staying sane for two weeks of solo travel? Any particular dangers for a 23 year old male to avoid? I'll likely be staying at hostels, where I'll meet people for short excursions, but I'm more concerned about having no one at hand to constantly bounce ideas off of, ask questions, consult, etc.

Thanks in advance!
posted by farishta to Travel & Transportation around Morocco (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In my tour of 8 cities in Europe last year, Madrid was the only one where I actually witnessed a tourist's bag get snatched. It was my last day of a week spent alone in Spain (as a solo female of 22 years of age) and it really upset me, because I could have prevented it if I'd been paying better attention. Keep an eye on your stuff all the time - two if possible, especially if you're keeping your whole life in a backpack. Losing that backpack, I would assume, sucks balls.

I thought people in Madrid were kind of ruder than average, an impression that my friends who've been there have more or less agreed with, but the museums more than made up for it. Definitely go to as many as you can stomach. I didn't go to a bullfight because my mom had said that she went to one and found it really disturbing, but if torturing animals floats your boat, by all means. I decided that in order to feel like I'd at least acknowledged the existence of bullfights, I would go ahead and watch Bjork in a bullfighting stadium instead. It was an extremely satisfying way to spend my last night in Spain.

I find that if you're an English speaker travelling alone, you will meet other English speakers as if drawn together by magic, and you will buy each other beers and find out you know people who live in the same part of California. It's one of the funniest things about solo travel. And even if you have moments where you just want to get the hell out of wherever you happen to be, you'll look back on the adventure fondly - even the part of the adventure where the gypsy stole your ten euros or you got so lost in some terrifying neighborhood of Marrakesh that you were just sure you were going to die out there. As long as you don't actually die out there, of course.
posted by crinklebat at 4:31 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Aside from the cruelty thing, the bullfights are really boring in my opinion. Well, the first one is interesting as a novelty, but then they do the same exact thing a few more times. And they get miffed if you leave in the middle. You also don't want to sit on the sun side of the ring, because you'll just boil.

The main annoyance with solo travel is things like a train or bus rides where sometimes you want to leave your stuff for a while, like to go to the bathroom or sleep, and that's not a good idea if you don't have a companion. OTOH, it's pretty easy to find people going the same direction you're going in nearly every backpacker area. The routes are pretty standard. So it's worthwhile to adjust your plans a bit to travel with someone else if at all possible.

Of course, talk to everyone you possibly can at the hostel. Sit down with people at breakfast instead of sitting at an empty table. You'll get good at the typical backpacker small talk (where are you from, where are you going, where have you been).
posted by smackfu at 4:49 PM on June 8, 2008

I loved my time in Morocco, and look forward to going back.

I skirted Marrakech and Tangiers, but from what I heard, you should be fine. Keep on your toes. Everyone I met there (locals and travellers) told me Tangiers was the place they heard Tourists complaining of the most.

I flew into Casablanca and travelled up to Rabat (the capital) and Sale (it's less tourist-friendly, more islamic neighbor), then struck East to Meknes (which I loved. it's smaller, but urban, the hotel I stayed at was an older colonial establishment, but was pretty cheap and I loved it to death. (the pool, man. the pool...) Meknes isn't exactly en route between Marrakech and Tangiers, but I cannot say enough in praise of it. The Souk was the perfect size. Bustling and meandering, but not endless. The whole city seemed frozen in time, which I couldn't get enough of. I made a point of taking a grand taxi to Volubilis, while there. I'm a classics geek, though.

They have been de-westernizing the street names/signs, which may make it a bit harder to get around. Just make sure your map isn't outdated.
Do you speak French? I found my rusty, broken syntax immensely helpful in town.

The trains are very inexpensive, I'd opt for first class (still cheap).
Most of what I saw from the train were shanty towns on the edges of town, and unremarkable landscape between towns. I still couldn't stop gazing, and had some funny experiences with other passengers, none of whom spoke French or English.
Marrakech might have better topography, but I think you're in for some night traveling regardless.

I'd say you stop en route between cities. For a trip that size, I guess I'd go for the night train (if only because it'd be cooler. my ride was damned hot, and it was only May...). and I wouldn't sit / sleep alone in a car if I could help. Talk to people (nearly all I met were very friendly).

Never been to Spain, can't help you there.
posted by Busithoth at 5:49 PM on June 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't really know much about Morocco or travelling solo, but I am in the planning stages of a backpacking trip also and have found this website quite helpful. Although it doesn't have a section on solo travel, it has a lot of interesting information that might help you prepare for your trip in general.

The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum and the BootsnAll Forum are another two good resources, you can ask the same question you did here and might get more helpful responses since they are forums dedicated to travel. Previously asked questions can also yield good information.

And in terms of my personal (non experience backed up) opinion on the whole travelling alone thing, I can totally see what you mean about not having someone to consult and bounce ideas off, but I think if you view it in a positive light you'll actually find it a rewarding experience to have to make all your own decisions independently. And you can always fall back on a guidebook or tourism office's opinion if you really don't want to make the decision yourself. Good luck and have a good time!
posted by atmosphere at 6:28 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did a similar trip solo a few years back but only through Spain. Madrid is very nice but I would be sure to make hostel reservations ahead of time as I was stuck overnight in Madrid without a place to stay. As far as safety, Madrid is relative to other large cities. Look like you know where you are going when it is dark, avoid deserted alleys and pay attention to your surroundings. Don't carry a giant map and pull it out on the subway at 2am to find your way to your hostel. I found a solo journey very enjoyable, bring a book or two for your downtime as you cannot spend every moment at a museum or doing something. Be open to the people you meet along the way but be aware of shady situations. Other than that, enjoy. Spain is really a lovely place. The people are friendly and will help you out. Robbery happens but as a solo person I believe you are less likely to get robbed than a group of tourists raving about how wasted you got the night before. Try to "blend in" a bit.
posted by occidental at 9:36 PM on June 8, 2008

I lived in Morocco, and travelled around solo quite a bit - but I second atmosphere's recommendation to check out the LP Thorntree forums. About a million people have asked the exact same question about Morocco, there may even be a FAQ on it.
posted by Liosliath at 1:49 AM on June 9, 2008

Madrid is a den of pick-pockets. Beware especially on the subway.
posted by Goofyy at 4:19 AM on June 9, 2008

I live in Madrid and am nthing the pickpockets warning. Especially in Sol/Gran Via (the absolute centre of town with the most amount of tourists/people). The metro is especially bad at these places. I've not had anything stolen in the year I've been here and I look like a tourist (blonde hair, blue eyes). Just keep an eye out.

Plenty to see and do in Madrid. Museums, obviously, are a big attraction. The weather has been pretty miserable for the last month, so I wish you the best of luck for the week you're here. You get left alone if you want to be left alone, but it's easy to meet people here regardless of language.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:22 AM on June 9, 2008

Oh, and feel free to mefimail me if you want specifics about anything here.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:24 AM on June 9, 2008

Backpackers are as a rule fairly boring. They've all been to the same places and done the same things. Which are quite likely the same places/things you've done.
Don't use a guidebook and try to make friends with local people.
posted by signal at 9:18 AM on June 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I found that just by saying 'Shokran' ('thank you') when talking to people made them very warm. Various places in Morocco pronounce it differently, but it's often the last syllables spoken in conversation.
I'm just saying, such measures got me the best dinner I ate while there (a berber family sit-down).
posted by Busithoth at 11:58 AM on June 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

My husband is from Madrid and we have lived there in the past. I don't want the above comments to leave the impression that Madrid is unsafe. Pickpockets there are but they are not muggers. They use sleuth not force to get your wallet. And the one time I fell victim, my wallet with my bus/train/subway card and residency visa was turned into the police and returned to me. They just took my money. I recommend carrying money, passport, etc. in one of those pockets that hang around your neck and can be worn inside your clothing. I've never had a problem doing that.

Like others have said, art museums are great in Madrid and if you have any interest at all in art, you should go. The 3 major art museums (Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia) are all near each other.

For decent food any time day or night, try a VIPS cafeteria (sort of like a 7-11). The last time I was in Spain (a year ago last Christmas) we had a great (and affordable) meal at the VIPS nearest to the Prado.

I always like to go to the big flea market (El Rastro) in Madrid, which happens on Sundays. I also like to eat at the Salsaria, which is near Puerto de Toledo (and the flea market). Another restaurant we always try to fit in is Casa Mingo, which has a very simple menu - chicken, salad, sparkling hard cider and tarta de Santiago (almond dessert). All good stuff and very affordable.
posted by daneflute at 5:54 PM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Morocco's a beautiful place but it's somewhat spoiled by a subset of the people - mainly skeezy guys who make a living preying on gullible or vulnerable tourists. Exercise a bit of caution & you should be fine (god, I sound like a Lonely Planet) - eg be aware that drug deals may end up with an expensive bust by fake or corrupt police; carpet & souvenir salesmen can be very aggressive & bully you into buying things you don't really want for too much money; there are a fair few pickpockets around, and plenty of touts & self-appointed 'guides'.

It never feels particularly dangerous, but can be fairly aggressive & annoying. You may find that guys will start yelling & threatening violence etc if you refuse to hand over relatively large amounts of Dirhams for unwanted & unhelpful 'services' but it's all bluster. Swear back or laugh or just walk away & they'll back down; you can work out what strategy works best for you.

I found Casablanca to be a total dump, in spite of its romantic name. Chefchauen up in the Atlas mountains / foothills was a nice little place. Everybody spells it differently, by the way. If you can manage it, I'd skip Casablanca altogether & spend some time there, instead.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:27 PM on June 9, 2008

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