Travelling To Egypt

In this episode I’ll break down how I travel Egypt, how I think you should travel Egypt, and what are the must see locations. This is the podcast for anyone who wants to go to Egypt now, or in the future!


2 thoughts on “Travelling To Egypt”

  1. I was hoping you would do one on this topic!

    I love your podcasts and download them to listen to when I’m in the car on long work road trips. So interesting, informative and entertaining.

  2. I’m hoping I have enough room to post this but I wrote my own little essay about what it was like to travel to Egypt as an American woman:

    Okay, this is going to be a novel so I wanted to type it out in a word document first before posting here.

    This is advice about traveling to Egypt from a white American woman in her mid-twenties. I don’t want to offend anyone by categorizing in that way, but I did so on purpose for reasons that’ll become more clear as I go on. Also, if I fdo say something to offend anyone, I apologize in advance, I’m just trying to be as honest as I can.

    I miss Egypt every day. Every. Day. I went for the first (and unless I die before, not the last) time January 2015, which was the perfect time to go because it wasn’t crowded and the weather felt like spring/early summer-basically perfect weather. I never felt any sort of danger related to terrorism, which is what everyone assumes. My sister actually called me like two days before I left cause she was worried I wouldn’t come back. And yeah, it is a place with political unrest but there’s always a chance one could not survive while visiting Disney World, too, so. My biggest concern, now that I’ve been there, is harassment, mainly in the form of people asking for money.

    Now, I know I have white American privilege and all, and I understand how dire circumstances are in Egypt. But by the end of the trip I knew that that was one thing I wouldn’t miss. A lot of times it was outside of shops in the area. I went with a travel group called Contiki with people around my age, and when me and this other girl went to Hurghada near the end of the trip to buy medicine men who worked at a shop next to our hotel yelled stuff at us as we ran across the street, for example. But that was downright tame. I would say just be prepared and vigilant and if you can, don’t travel alone to places, which is something I did. When I first landed, nothing happened except for a guy I assumed was Egyptian asking me in the airport where I was from. Someone told me a lot of people in different countries think you’re loaded if you say you’re from America, so I lied and said Canada. That was the extent of that. Oh, and I left my damn iPad on the plane, but I got it back like a month later, which I’ll touch on later.

    The guys who picked me up at the airport were part of Spring Tours Egypt, and they were awesome. One of them even stayed late with me to try to get my iPad back. I am overweight, so I was sorta embarrassed because I was wondering what they thought of me, but I think that about everyone I meet, and they were totally professional and nice and awesome. I’ll never forget walking out of the airport lobby to breathe in my first Egyptian outdoor air and there were DOZENS of people on either side of the automatic doors I assume waiting for family members. They led me to a van and invited me to sit in the back (not like that) and off we went to my hotel. I won’t get into every single detail, promise, because it’d be a book to rival the length of Harry Potter (maybe Azkaban) but let me tell you something: Egypt traffic is awful. Of course every American says their traffic is awful, but this time I really mean it. Know why I mean it? Because Egyptians don’t care about the lines on the road. At least, most don’t. The road is just a pish posh of people in cars and on motorbikes honking away. I’ve said ever since my trip if an Egyptian doesn’t honk their car horn every thirty seconds they’ll die, but it’s obvious why. In fact, traffic is so chaotic there that people on the motorbikes had police sirens and I KNOW for a fact that they weren’t police. They just had the sirens I guess to push through quickly. I swear, half of that trip to my hotel was spent with my eyes closed because I was afraid of us crashing, which we never did. In fact, I never saw a crash in action, and the only semblance I saw of one was in Alexandria with two men waiting on the side of the road for police to arrive after a crash.

    At the risk of sounding spoiled, bad hotels in the US are probably better than some hotels in Egypt. Not that my hotel was horrible. It wasn’t, necessarily. But even in the worst Days Inn usually your AC works. In my room (at least the first one I had that I remember) there was a switch for AC but it never seemed to kick on. I could’ve opened my window and let the cool/burnt air smell of Cairo cool me, but I was afraid the call to prayer would be so loud as to scare me (it wasn’t, it was so beautiful I cried, but I was also overwhelmed because I was accomplishing my number one goal for my entire life by being in Egypt-it’s still surreal to this day, and all I think about is getting back) and even though car horns simmer down during the night hours, they’re never completely gone. There’s not much else to say about my hotel, because it really all depends on how much you pay for, and Contiki is a cheaper trip (thank god) so they stay at less fancy places to save money, for which I’m grateful because our Nile Cruise rooms later on were AMAZING. The elevators were different too. You open a door like you would any other door and walk right into it. I never quite got used to that.

    In an ideal world, I would just go explore everything by myself. And I may yet still do it someday. But as a white, blonde American woman I also know how much I stand out, so if you feel that applies to you (standing out, not necessarily the blonde or American part) I would book some tours in advance, whether your weekly one or a day one. I left for my trip like two days before the actual tour started, so I had one whole Friday to myself to do what I wanted, so in advance I booked an Aviator tour for the day to visit both Giza, Saqqara and Memphis in what is probably still my favorite day of the entire trip. It was just me and my guide, Rhonda, who spoke wonderful English and talked on her phone while I was hanging out at sites. It felt like we were friends, so if you ever go with the I would definitely recommend her.

    One of the highlights of my trip is sitting at a cafe (it was either Cafe Saqqara or Saqqara Cafe) and talking with Rhonda about so many different things. I try to be humble but I’m great at conversation with practically anyone, so the words flowed, and I hadn’t eaten any real food in like 24 hours so I scarfed down the food, which was beef kafta (imagine sausage links but hollowed out in the middle-and it’s beef, not pork) which was one of the best things I’ve ever had. Egyptians also love rice and fries as side dishes-they were basically side dishes everywhere we went. I felt better going with a guide because in Egypt you do usually have to haggle, or bargain for things, even cab fare, so it was nice to have a guy in a BMW pick me up instead. He didn’t speak any English, but hey, he doesn’t need to. Tipping is always good too. I sorta guessed on tipping but after I toured with Rhonda I gave her 100 pounds, which at the time was about 14 bucks, which as I type that sounds shitty, but over there that’s considered quite a bit from my understanding.

    The whole time I also followed the rule they always lay out about not drinking the water, and I never had any problems with getting bottled water, especially cause our guide handed it out a LOT on our tour bus. I did have ONE stomach ache on the whole trip, which surprised me, I expected more. But another girl who has Egyptian relatives (she met them for the first time while there, actually) told me not to even use the water on a tooth brush, so I even used bottled water on that. After my trip with Rhonda I know me and some other girls went to a mall to hang out, and let me warn you, if you’re allergic to smoke and smoking there are spots in an Egyptian mall to avoid, cause it is allowed-or at least, was allowed January 2015. The mall we went to, City Stars, was huge. Massive. I actually got lost and was late finding the girls when we decided to meet at around 7:15 to check in. And what’s funny is that City Stars is not even the biggest mall in Egypt.

    I also want to recommend heavily, and I cannot stress this enough: MAKE SURE YOU BRING THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY. Me, being the idiot I am, didn’t bring the right camera charger or a charger, period (I had one but low and behold nothing to plug it into the wall with) so I spent like, 90 percent of my time in City Stars trying to find a charger, with no luck. I got back to the hotel and the front desk guy gave me a place I could go, so I did what you’re not supposed to do: I went out at night alone to get one. The shop I found absolutely had what I needed, and I think I haggled, but can’t really remember, I was sort of nervous, but honestly the only problem I had was getting a cab back. As soon as I was done I jumped in one and it wasn’t moving and the cabbie kept saying “I wait for my sister.” So we waited for his sister for about five minutes before I said screw it and jumped in another cab and tipped the guy quite well.

    A few days later, our group ended up at Giza, and around the pyramids that are every bit as amazing as you’d think, and that’s when I really really started to notice the haggling, although I did notice it the first day I went to the pyramids as well. There’s no way to say this without sounding callous, and bratty, so I’ll just say it: Egyptians essentially want a tip for everything. Everything. And I understand why: the economy is bad and tourism is at an all time low right NOW, in 2016, especially after the Sharm el-Sheikh tragedy after my trip. So I completely understand why they do it. But it’s everywhere so I’m just warning you.

    I think it first hit me how much tipping is asked for when I was with Rhonda in Memphis. We were done looking at stuff and I really, really, really needed to pee so she showed me the general direction, or at least I think she did, but anyway, I went and found them, and I thought I saw them but wasn’t sure, so I asked this older man walking towards me if that was them, and he pointed to where they were and then held out his hand. I was a bit taken aback, and probably would’ve tipped him, but I safely left all my money with Mr. BMW so I had nothing to give. Also, when I walked into the bathroom the water was spouting out of one of the toilets. There was no toilet paper. There was no soap. Some bathrooms were worse than others, but essentially all were lacking two things: toilet paper and soap, which, aside from the toilet itself, are basically must-haves. So another piece of advice: pack lots of hand sanitizer in case your group is constantly asking you for it (and make sure it smells good. I recommend Bath and Body’s stuff cause it’s the best according to a science study someone at my middle school did) and do NOT hesitate to pack at least four or five rolls of toilet paper either in your carry on or luggage, because I guarantee you at some point you’ll need it. Toilet paper is another thing people will try and get tips/charge you for.

    In fact, at the Valley of the Kings we were in a tomb of one of the eleven Ramses folk (I think it was the sixth one) and I had to pee so badly I was about to do it in a pharaoh’s tomb, so I hauled ass out of there to find a bathroom-and as I went to the trailer bathroom I had seen when we first walked in, a guy saw me and followed me and put toilet paper outside the door. I had tissues with me so I could make due, and when I came out he tried to shove it at me and charge me, so I said very firmly “La, shukran” (No, thank you) and he left me alone. The best way to avoid vendors following you (it’s pretty much inevitable that they’ll offer you stuff so don’t expect to be completely ignored) is to look down when saying la shukran-avoiding eye contact is a good move. Also, as terrible as it sounds, sometimes avoiding those who try to charge you is your best bet. One night we were at a train station about to go to Cairo to Aswan, I believe, and I needed to pee, as I always do (small bladder) so I found where the bathroom was. An older woman and I believe a child were sitting outside, and as I walked in she yelled, clearly trying to say I owed her money. Now even I know no one owns the bathroom, so I ignored her. However, after I walked into the stall I took one look and turned around, as it was a hole in the ground with blue plastic over it. It was the only one like that I saw, but I knew I’d pee all over my legs, so yeah, best to avoid that.

    In terms of haggling, which is what we also ended up doing once we were in Aswan, I would talk to your guide or just do research before and see what the best prices are for trinkets, food, etc. I had a bit of fun haggling over some Cumin for a woman back home, but felt more comfortable doing it because I had someone else with me. I would recommend bringing a buddy with you everywhere, but that’s just me. Also, know that if you’re a woman from a foreign country, especially a blonde one, that you’re going to stand out. In fact, true story, I had a family ask me to take a picture with them at the Solar Boat Museum next to the Great Pyramid. Afterwards I told Rhonda about it and she said people in Egypt don’t see many blondes, so I was sorta famous, or at least worth noticing. So blondes, keep that in mind. Also I didn’t have the chance to visit a mosque, but I brought something I could cover my head with anyway. I never ended up needed it but it was nice to have, so I’d recommend bringing that no matter your gender.

    Remember how I said I only had one stomach ache my whole trip? That’s great, but I still ended up getting pretty damn sick with a sinus infection, and I’ll tell you why: climate change. Not that kind of climate change (which definitely exists) but the kind where, for example, it’s snowing on the ground back home in Ohio, and it’s sunny and in the 70s in Egypt. The same thing happened to me in Australia when I traveled in January-any time I go from a cold environment to a much warmer one my body suffers. So as a heads up, especially if you suffer from allergies, I would recommend bringing plenty of Afrin nose spray (it’s the best) and avoid taking two Zyrtec D in one day, as you’ll be so drowsy from it you’ll take a nap on the deck of your Nile cruise and miss some amazing sites. That was probably the worst part of my trip, just the being sick. In fact, one night our group had a party, and I literally danced to like two songs, took a shot of Vodka that my group recommended I do (I never drink, so I don’t even know the proper way to knock down Vodka and then tap my glass against the table, but I caught on quick) and went to bed, which sucked, but the next day was the Valley of the Kings for me, which was where the real party was.

    My next bit of advice is this: take advantage of as much Egyptian tourism stuff as you can. For example, from the moment I found out I was going to Egypt (October 2014) to the minute we walked up to King Tut’s tomb, I assumed we were going in a replica tomb of Tut’s, which is now available, I believe. It wasn’t until like, either the minute we got to the Valley or that we got to Tut’s tomb that I learned that we were going in the actual tomb. The REAL TOMB. TUT’S. TOMB. It was a separate ticket from the others you could buy your way into-100 Egyptian pounds-what was essentially at that time 13 American dollars.

    Now, I hope I don’t offend anyone here, especially if anyone from my tour group reads this, but only about 7-8 of us, out of at least 21, bought the ticket into the tomb. I’m serious. I actually got a bit, well, annoyed. Sure, buy alcoholic beverages. It’s your life. And maybe they were claustrophobic. Fine. But as I told my family members, and as I’m telling you now, you can party practically anywhere (except maybe North Korea), and from where many of the others were from, they were likely going to be able to drink at home too. But you know what’s not at home? Egypt. King Tut. Treasures of ancient Egyptian history. That’s what’s not at home. And that’s what I was there for. So for god’s sake, please go in Tut’s tomb if you can. Be careful, of course, but please, please, please, go. Take advantage of all you can. Cause for many people Egypt is a once in a lifetime trip, so please make it count.

    Another warning to you, and one that, if your guide doesn’t tell you Valley officials will make clear: You can’t take photos in the tombs. You can’t take photos in the valley. In fact, there’s literally a barricade to let you know where photography is prohibited. Our guide told us one kid in the group of his right before ours took a picture, and was interrogated by Valley officials for like an hour. It’s not worth it. But there are things you can take advantage of, if you want. For example, when in Tut’s tomb, the guide in there offered to let us go past a gated area to get closer to Tut’s outer coffins which protected by glass. So I slipped the guy five bucks (I felt so smooth doing it) and he let us in. He also offered us a picture inside, but a girl in our group who could speak Arabic explained to him that we weren’t interested. On the way back out of the tomb I asked her why she thought we shouldn’t and she said that he could’ve taken it and offered a price and if he didn’t like the price we offered he would tell on us to the authorities, So I would avoid stuff like that.

    Also, related to this, you’ll learn to, unfortunately, be leery of everyone you meet, at least leery in the sense of “you want my money, don’t you?” Jumping back to my very first time visiting the pyramids, I got a ticket to go in the Great Pyramid, and after arriving inside after an arduous and cramped trip (I’ll elaborate in a minute), I was in the tomb with a man who looked official enough and was showing people around and explaining stuff. At this point I was basically brand new to the country and was a bit more innocent, so it wasn’t until I noticed he was asking people for tips that I realized he was just a random guy in there trying to make some money.

    That’s when I realized that it wasn’t that I was annoyed by people wanting go make tips-it was how they were doing it, with many basically trying to trick you up or trip you to get your money. Later on in the trip we went to a place where they do papyrus, and I had my prices all negotiated out and the guy told me a group of women and children in the shop would be able to write my name and my family’s names in hieroglyphs for free. However, a few minutes later, he said the cost would be 80 pounds, which wasn’t much but 1: I was running low on money at that point and 2: I was miffed that they were trying to do something like that under my nose and trick me, so as much as I hated to, because they were so cool, on principle I declined them to make it for me. Basically it might be good to get negotiated prices on stuff in writing so people won’t try to trip you up, or if they do you might have a better chance of sticking up for yourself.

    Also, as I mentioned the pyramid, let me tell you something: If you’re claustrophobic, climbing the inside of pyramids isn’t for you. Also, you will be sweating like Ted Cruz when people accuse him of being the Zodiac Killer, because you’re going up up UP. It’s hard to describe the different levels of climbing a pyramid, especially the great pyramid, but some of the stairs are quite far apart, so it really feels like a climb, and in some parts of it you have to bend over. Literally. Bend over in half, almost to a crawl, in order to get through, especially RIGHT before you enter the king’s tomb area. According to a special I watched, part of the reason I think is for practicality and part of it is so that anyone who enters MUST pay respect to the god-king. But basically the entire time I was climbing I had so many thoughts in my head, with one being “Oh god, my claustrophobic dad could NOT do this.” It’s not for the faint of heart, trust me. Oh, and there’s no elevator in the middle or anything. Unless someone carries you, you’re going out exactly the way you came in.

    Another thing I had to get used to was the wooden slabs you walked on in the pyramids AND in the Valley of the Kings. Instead of stairs, you would walk on wood that had rivets, or basically little slabs to catch your feet so you wouldn’t slip, which I still sort of did at times. They take some getting used to, so go at your own pace, no matter how many people are waiting behind you in order to get through a space-or in front of you, since some parts of the great pyramid are so small and narrow it’s like a one-at-a-time bridge.

    One of my favorite memories on my trip is the bus parking at Giza with us riding camels to the south of the pyramids to get that iconic view that has become so famous. In fact, I have the picture I took blown up on my wall, and look at it every day with the same heart-heavy desire to return to Egypt soon, now, anytime, please someone take me now. However, one thing the casual observer of the photo wouldn’t know is that the picture was taken by me while I was riding a camel. Which was terrifying. For me, anyway. Me and another guy went slowly on our camels, and had a guy holding the ropes, while others were perfectly happy to lead their camels themselves. Some even stood up on TOP of their camels and took photos. Good for them. But for me, there was no way. Number one, I was afraid with my weight I would hurt the camel somehow. And two: I would lose my balance and fall.

    Being in Egypt taught me that I have a slight fear of heights, even if they’re not that high up. I think it’s something to do with the fear of breaking my neck. In fact, the first time I climbed the Great Pyramid its was just me, no backpack, so I felt fine. The second time, my backpack was heavy and I lost my balance and nearly fell at least one step. So by the time I was on that camel I was so petrified. You have stirrups and a little knob to hold onto (although some might not have) but was that enough for me? Hell no. And camels move with two right feet then two left, so you get jostled quite a bit, so every shift terrified me, especially when the camel would step into a dune or something. After a while I FINALLY got a hold of it and just let my body move with the camel’s, but should I ever take a Contiki trip, or any other trip that offers camels, my plan is to opt to walk. Also, head’s up, if you get on a camel or get off one HANG ON FOR DEAR LIFE. They left their front parts up first usually then their back, so your whole body goes forward then back or vice versa, and you feel you might fall. So brace yourself in those terrifying moments. Those are moments I’m glad not to relive.

    Lastly, I’m going to touch on harassment again. Not just street harassment, but sexual harassment. In one of my guide books it said that more often assault happens on the street and not usually on hotel properties, especially nice ones. For my experience, that was the exact opposite. My roommate and I encountered what was the worst harassment I’ve seen in my life (the harassment in America is tame in comparison) in the form of a man who said he was from Turkey following us after we went to find a bathroom in the hotel’s courtyard together. I didn’t realize how bad it was afterwards, but my roommate said that he put his arm around her twice, and the second time he literally reached into her shirt and grabbed her bear breast. If he’d done the same thing to me I’d like to think I would’ve made him the perfect candidate for the eunuch choir, but I didn’t realize what he’d one to my roommate until after he was gone and she told me. Another girl in our group said the same man rushed onto the same elevator as her and immediately started kissing her hands. Again, this was within less than 24 hours of being in one nice hotel area, so be prepared for it wherever you go.

    To add to that, let me preface by saying I don’t victim blame and I never accept any sort of harassment. I was taught by some that cultures are different, and that that should be respected, but I draw the line at sexual harassment. I don’t care who you are, I don’t find it acceptable in any culture. But of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I remember speaking with a lady before I left for my trip and she said she was on a bus traveling through Egypt with a bunch of men, with one of them blatantly jacking off, his junk out in the air for all to see. Having said that I will never ever condone victim blaming, I did notice that men tended to harass the thinner women in our group the most, so ladies, it should never happen to you, ever, but please be vigilant just the same. If you find a way to bring it into the country it might not hurt to bring some mace, pepper spray or any other sort of legal weapon to fight off harassment, like a personal Taser. You really may need it. I’m not sure whose side officials would take on that, but with the importance of tourism and tourists there (seriously we had armed guards, guys) you’re most likely to be protected beyond belief. And it doesn’t hurt to wear a ring on your wedding finger or bring a man with you so people think you’re married. It seemed to work in detouring at least some harassment.

    While I never felt worried about terrorism or violence while on my trip, I can tell you that things did get ugly the day after I left, on Jan. 25, 2015, which was the anniversary of Tahrir Square and another Egyptian revolution. A woman was actually shot to death by police that day, and a girl in my group who stayed longer in Egypt than many of us said she moved to a different hotel from our original one and stayed put there for days because she could hear gunshots from her room.

    I’m sure I’ll think of more advice, but seeing as how it’s almost 2 a.m. as I write this I think this is a good amount of advice/story telling to give you an idea about how my Egypt trip went. So I’ll end with this: Egypt is amazing, I will swear by that until I die, but it is still volatile and can definitely be violent, so be mindful of when you go and who you go with. Again, ideally someday I want to have enough experience to be able to go alone, or least not need a tour guide with me when I go. I intend to go back as many times as I can, and in fact would choose to return there over the opportunity to visit every other country on earth and never get to go back to Egypt. It’s had spiritual significance for me since I was a child, and I plan on exploring that more. I just want to make sure I can do so safely, and should you visit, I want the same for you, too.

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