2019 Spring Amideast External Programs Gwen Jensen Morocco

You Must NEVER Travel Alone

It’s almost midnight–or maybe it’s already past–my taxi has just dropped me off at the end of my street. After spending the hour-long ride from the airport in silence, my driver kindly offers to take me to my front door, but from the back seat I decline his offer: I’d rather walk the extra block than have a stranger know where I live. The usually bustling street is empty, other than a few stray cats huddled under the street lamps. As I approach my building, I notice a group of young men illuminated under the yellow glow. I stop my familiar walk and hang back for a few moments, scoping them out, lurking away from their vantage point. I realize they’re congregation is an innocent pickup game of soccer, using a few traffic cones as makeshift goals: I decide it is safe to proceed. I take a mental note of which corner stores are still open, in case I need to escape. I brace myself for the seemingly inevitable catcalls, and cling to my keys so that I may easily slide into my front door. Then I scurry down my pre-plotted route, a careful distance from the group. Once I’ve made it along the outskirts unnoticed, or at least unbothered, I check over my shoulder a few times, then slip through my front door. A wave of relief floods my body, as I collapse into bed: finally home after my first solo travel of the semester.

The mapping and plotting and worst-case-scenario-jumping is not an unfamiliar part of travel for anyone: when surrounded by the unknown, it is only natural to check and double check everything. But in a world where the increased trend towards solo-female travel has been accompanied by a slew of headlines of international tragedies, the prospect of traveling alone as a woman may seem impossible.

It is unfair that the joys and triumphs of solo travel must be tainted by the fears advertised by newsreels, such as that which dominated my last few weeks in the states: two Scandinavian women were found with their throats slit in the Moroccan mountains. Growing up as a woman in any context comes with an extra set of rules and expectations: some of these were meant to be broken, but sometimes following the rules is another means of defeating the patriarchy. I hope that the trend of solo female travel continues to grow, to show that the world is not a man’s to explore, and that the means to this feminine exploration is attainable through a few added precautions (while you’re on your way to making the world your oyster, of course).

There exists an international sisterhood: it is not spoken about, there is no membership requirements, but I have felt it in a Moroccan bakery, from the flower-covered hands adjusting my shirt, as I kneaded the dough to make loaves and loaves of Moroccan bread

And I have heard it in Egypt, from the school girls stopping my friend: “you’re very beautiful” they say “and so are you!” she says back. The glowing smiles and rosy cheeks are proof that there exists an international sisterhood.

And I have seen it in the streets of Rome, in the eyes of the Italian women passing me and eyeing my exposed purse, reminding me to move it to my lap.

And I have felt it from my host mother’s loving warnings “you must never be alone–its not safe.”

She is well meaning, of course, just like the people who warned me to be safe in Morocco, after the broadcasts of December’s tragedy. But instead of warning women to never be alone, why don’t we encourage them to travel alone, with confidence in the international sisterhood and the built in instinct to check and recheck. The only way to make the world safer for women to travel, is by letting women get out and travel without the shackles of well-meaning warnings. Instead of warning her not to go, keep an eye open for the woman on the train with her bag out of sight, and help the tourist who speaks no English find her Airbnb. Show the world that we are ready for (and supportive of) this wave of women’s solo traveling.

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