Jun 4, 2024 7 min read

How a Trip to Morocco Changed My Life Forever

My name is Vanessa Karel, I am a second-time Founder, Serial Entrepreneur, Storyteller, and Creative Producer.

It was early November 2020 and I was crying in the airport of Malpensa Milano; crying because I had no idea what I was going to do and I needed to arrive in Marrakech soon to start my job.  Unfortunately, that flight was no longer an option and I saw myself forced, in a way, to trust that destiny would have a plan for me because I sure did not. 

Looking back on it, even if I’d had a plan, it may have not worked out anyway, because we all know that traveling during 2020 was a recipe for disaster. 

Even though I am an experienced solo traveler, I finally realized what had been lacking throughout my solo journeys; a safe way to connect to local people wherever I went. I always encountered myself choosing destinations that seemed to be safer. Before heading out on solo trips I would always receive questions and concerns from the people in my life, questioning if I was crazy. They would ask why I wasn’t scared. But the truth is, yes, sometimes I was scared.

Being stranded in Morocco in the middle of the pandemic made me realize that there wasn't a tool that women could use to travel safely, to connect with locals with fewer risks, so I created Greether, a company that does exactly that. Greether is changing the way women travel forever. 

I like to say that I was destined to be the founder of Greether. Because if it hadn’t been for my life (and everyone else's) going upside down during the pandemic, I wouldn’t be where I am today, helping women travel and navigate the world with fewer risks.

The only thing I knew before I headed to Morocco was that the day I landed I didn’t want to be lost. I knew the reputation, “the streets are like a maze, you get lost there” or “people will harass you constantly”, many of my friends told me.

After hearing all of that, I wanted someone to greet me at the airport, take me almost by hand to my hotel, so I could put my luggage away, show me how to get around, and decompress from all the travel stress. But this, of course, didn’t happen. I got detoured to Casablanca, miles and miles away from my initial landing place, with zero plans, without a hotel nor a greeter to meet me at the airport, and, to top it all, with a midnight arrival time.

I had traveled to many countries by myself before including Tunisia which is also a Muslim country with similar attributes for women, but this was the very first time that I wasn’t sure if I was going to navigate it safely. I sincerely was scared that I was going to have a hard time communicating and moving around the country. I wasn’t wrong, it could have been easier, but it could also have been worse. 

Once I landed in Casablanca, all I could do was to look for a local contact who lived there. I kept scrolling through my phone, my social media and friends in common, but I didn’t find anyone who could help me. So I took a look on Google and started typing “book a greeter in Morocco from the airport” “Safety company for women”, “book female guides in Morocco” and“safety tips in Morocco for women traveling”, but nothing substantial came up. Without knowing it then, that was the moment that changed the course of my professional life.

I spent a little over a month navigating the country, and wherever I went, I kept looking for female guides –throughout the whole country, I only found one. I kept looking for easy ways to connect with local women because I was scared of being followed and harassed, and it was really hard for me. 

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t women in the country who could do this, it just means that the system is designed for women not to be in it, not to be found, not to be reached. This doesn’t only happen in Morocco, it happens often in many developing countries where the tourism industry is outdated, macho-oriented, and it’s not letting people with less resources enter the market.

Towards the end of my journey in Morocco, my friend Andreia called me and asked if she could join me during my Sahara trip. She said that she wanted to take advantage of me being in this country because she would never do it by herself –We’ve all felt that, right?

We both booked a tour to the Sahara which usually goes through the Atlas Mountains and Berber town, and ultimately reached a Sahara camp tent in which you can spend the night and stargaze. 

My Moroccan friend, Abdallahe, whom I met in Marrakech, seemed inexplicably worried about me being so excited to go to the desert alone. Well, not completely alone, I was with a male guide and my girlfriend, but I didn’t think much of it. The Sahara tours usually take groups of between 20-30 persons each time, but this time, it being the pandemic, it was just the two of us, and it was incredible.

We ventured into the Sahara dunes while riding our camels, observing the day come to an end with the most mesmerizing eye tearing sunset I’ve ever seen. The journey was unforgettable and priceless and I wish more women could experience it like I did, safely.

When I came back to Marrakech, I discovered that a few years before, during that same trek, two women younger than I had been murdered. Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark. They were found dead in the Atlas Mountains at the same spot where I had enjoyed taking photos with my bestie. No wonder my friend was worried about us.

The truth is, there is danger no matter where you are, but it shouldn’t stop us from doing the things we wish to do or seeing places we wish to see. There isn’t an unsafe place to be, there are unsafe people to meet.

I talk a lot about “travel magic” and for anyone who travels often, this is what I like to call all those moments of wanderlust, moments when a stranger helps you out of kindness, or when a stranger becomes your friend. I am aware that I’ve been lucky, but I can also count plenty of incidents in which things have gone wrong while traveling and occasions when I have been very scared. 

However, I had always wanted to go to Egypt, but I was told women shouldn’t go on their own. “What am I and the rest of the women supposed to do? Wait for Prince Charming to come into my life and go with us”, “Wait for all my friends to save money and book a trip with me”? Enough of that! We, as women, can’t longer accept people telling us what to do or not to do.

Upon returning home to San Francisco, I came back with a book draft of all the stories and thoughts I had gathered about the importance of women traveling around the world, and how impactful it is for us to support women globally. I kept on writing ideas about what would make more women feel confident to navigate destinations, and I kept going back to the idea of connecting female travelers to locals in a safe way, something I always needed in the 30-something countries I have been to.

To satiate my curiosity, I conducted a survey in which I interviewed over 500 female travelers. One of the questions I asked them was: “What is the hardest thing for you when you are traveling to a new place?” 

90% of women responded that feeling unsafe was their biggest worry, followed by transportation, communication, and fitting into the culture. I later asked the women in my life, who don’t usually travel alone, what stopped them from doing so. Their responses were “I’m scared”, “I would feel alone” and “I wouldn’t know what to do”. 

This was my Eureka moment and the moment in which I fully decided I was all in to make this change completely. Traveling solo has had so many positive benefits in my life, and more women need to experience that feeling of realizing they are capable of doing whatever they want, wherever they want, and whenever they wish to do it. Travel has taught me how much I enjoy my own company, it has made me less attached to relationships and things, and has made me very self-aware of my growth but most importantly, it has made me happier.

Greether is built so more women can travel safely around the world. We connect female travelers to verified local women whom we call “Greeters” wherever our travelers go, so they can book them to navigate destinations in a safe, ethical and sustainable way. 

Greether is a for-progress company, aligned with some of the most fundamental UN development goals; the reduction of safety risks for women and increasing job opportunities for women through sustainable tourism practices. 

How does Greether work?

  • Through our web application, female travelers can sign up, create a profile and get verified.
  • Travelers book a local Greeter in the destination they are going to and our system matches them with the right Greeter based on their needs, interests, and even languages. 
  • It is a “Choose your own adventure” type of experience in which through the booking process you tell the Greeter where you want her to meet you, when and for how long. The length of the time and city determines the prices. Greether takes a small commission from each booking for transactional and verification costs, and we pay the Greeter the remaining amount.
  • Once a booking is confirmed you have direct contact with your Greeter before, during and after your meetup which is super helpful as you can count on someone helping you with suggestions or tips during your whole travel journey.
  • Greether verifies all users through a sophisticated software that verifies identity and selfie authenticity, and Greeters go through an onboarding process and training from our team.

Travelers aren’t only getting an authentic experience through our services but also are supporting a woman’s economic power through travel, empowerment and fun; it’s a win-win. Our services are quickly expanding and, today we have users signed up in over 100 countries globally. 

We will be launching our mobile app and expanding our services to wherever women want them.

Find out more about my dream project here:

Facebook: GreetherHere
Instagram @greet.her
Twitter: @Greether_app
Tiktok: @greet.her
LinkedIn: Greether

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