Traveling Solo in Egypt
I consider myself a relatively frightened person when it comes to traveling to foreign destinations, but in the days before my scheduled arrival to Cairo, I felt anxious.
Suddenly, everything I read on the Internet about threats of terrorism and foreign travelers is getting sick, and the treatment of women feels real. This was the first time I had visited a developing country. Not only did I choose to go alone, but I also rejected the idea of joining a tourist group.
Now, while I was sitting at Athens airport waiting for the gate number to appear on the departure screen, I was worried. Upon arrival, these fears turned to terror.
The moment I got to Cairo, I knew I was in something special.
Passing Egypt alone was the most challenging travel experience I've ever had, but it was also the most rewarding. There is still a portion of me hanging in the event that I can't believe I actually watched the pyramids, tried foul, and bargained with the sellers in Khan.
Now that I have come home on my trip, I cannot recommend visiting the country enough. In fact, once I got home and started planning my next adventure abroad, Egypt was on the list. I'll come back!
Here is what I learned from my experience traveling alone in Egypt. After reading this, I hope you book this ticket because I promise you this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you will not regret.
Arriving in Cairo
First, erase every photo you have of Egypt from your mind.
I arrived in Cairo and expect a driver to wait for me from my hotel. There was no one. I looked for an exit to call Uber (Cairo has Uber - it's cheap and safe). While I was trying to leave, the guys in the hallway kept wondering if I needed a flight, and I wanted to know what to look for, and where was my husband. Finally I found the director, called Uber, and was on my way. The first step: complete.
The drive to the city from the airport was great if not nausea. First, there are seldom traffic lanes in Cairo, and if they are, they are likely to be ignored. Cars press between each other, winding, and cutting each other. Because there are no street lights and walkways, drivers continue to use their horns. If you thought Manhattan was high, you should try Cairo. It is a constant ecstasy of noise that would give anyone really unfamiliar a headache.
When I arrived, there was heavy fog in the morning over the city which I thought was a sandstorm. It was so thick that you couldn't see anything. Only the harsh sun rays flowing through clouds shattered the particles enough to reveal the outlines of buildings in some places.
The driver drove off from a busy street and pointed to a nearby building. The building was like all other buildings in Cairo - covered with dust from the desert and the elderly. I left the car and tried using Google Maps to find my hotel. At the moment, I am horribly aware of the fact that a woman who is just coming from Greece, is not wearing suitable clothes for Egypt. People are staring and I'm confused.
The first thing to consider in Cairo when it comes to housing, if you are not staying in a well-established hotel along the Nile or in the city center, the hotel you are looking for will likely not be named from the outside. However, good luck using any type of mapping app to find it.
Finally, I gave up hunting and called the hotel, which directed me to the door between a bakery filled with people and a small cafe. The door led to a dark and wet entrance. After setting my eyes on the lighting, I followed a spiral staircase on the first two floors that looked like deserted building projects, then to another hotel on the third floor, and finally I got to my hotel located on the fourth floor. If I hadn't called the hotel, I would have never found this place.
My logistics left my arrival in Cairo desirable, but I still can't wait to head to the streets.
What to Expect When Exploring Egypt
For solo travelers, before going out to see Egypt, it is important to bear in mind how rare it is for locals to see women on their own. Although it may seem normal to us, the idea is incomprehensible. Because of this part of Egyptian culture, you will get stared. Wearing modest clothes and wearing sunglasses helps avoid unwanted attention, but you'll still stand out like a sore thumb.
Most people will not do anything but look at you. Some will try to talk to you. These people fall into one of two categories: people trying to get you to buy something or friendly and curious people. You will be able to determine the type of person you are talking to immediately. The strange and friendly people I usually met were employees of hotels or restaurants, while people who approached me on the street usually wanted to buy or pay for their products on a city tour. Just politely refuse the latter and stay away.
Crossing the street in Cairo or anywhere else in Egypt for this matter is a skill. Above mentioned, there are very few pedestrians, driving lanes or stop lights. You just start walking. It has been described to me that drivers in Egypt are accustomed to unexpectedly appearing on the road and are good at not reaching it. This was not entirely reassuring, but how things are going on here. Wait for the traffic to be as light as possible before you leave your way between cars. It is best to be able to find a local person who follows him closely and who is allowed to make the move. They are the pros, after all.
Be prepared for the utmost generosity. The best two examples of this are from my time in Aswan. I went to a restaurant called Al Masry on my first day there and was greeted by a wonderful servant. He shook hands and welcomed me when I entered and then showed me to my table. I was sitting in a room just around the corner from the main entrance and I was the only person sitting in that area. With great joy, the restaurant workers kept looking around their heads in the head. Soon I got away when I noticed them staring. People in Egypt are not accustomed to seeing a woman from America traveling alone. After finishing my meal, the server brought me free tea, and the Egyptian tea is fantastic by the way, and he asked me some questions about where I came from and how long I spent in Aswan. He gave me his business card and asked me to return before I left, and that's what I did at all.
The second time I ate was there on my last day in Aswan. While she ate the meal you ordered, the butler took out the dish after the dish to try it out. He was describing what was best he could do in English before he left me eating more food than I could afford slow. I have to try many different types of food that I had never heard of before. I highly recommend this little restaurant if you visit Aswan.
I visited Elephant Island on the second day of Aswan. This island is one of the many points that originate from the Nile in this part of Egypt, and is home to a wonderful archaeological site and a Nubian village. Another Nubian village is declared a little further south along the Nile. They are colorful and beautiful, but they are built for tourists. It is a great source of income for the locals, but I am not sure that we can call it "original".
Elephantine Island is a village that operates untouched by anything, as locals are still willing to talk to you and show it to you. Of course, a small tip is expected. Note that the conversion rate between most international currencies and the Egyptian pound is minimal. 10 Egyptian pounds is equivalent to about $ 50, and those ten pounds can go a long way. However, in such a case, I recommend turning a little over 10 pounds. These people try to make money wherever they can support themselves and their families and you can spare a few extra dollars.
After I left the archaeological site, I came across a man who asked me to come to the cafe. I walked with him to a nearby building and went inside. The walls were covered with art and design pieces. To the left and right of the main room there were two long (and somewhat dusty) tables surrounded by seats on three sides. He offered me a seat and went to make tea.
He returned as another man was on the stairs followed by a German couple. Upon leaving, he presented himself to me and sat down. We started chatting and asked me if he could show me a box of his valuable items. He took out a closed wooden box full of some of the most amazing antiques I had ever seen, and I could see her up close!
Some seemed to be in the museum. It had stones, antiques, artwork and watches from Switzerland manufactured in the 1970s. The group was moved through his family starting from his grandfather and continues to grow because people from all over the world bring him treasures. Talking and drinking tea with this man was one of the highlights of my experience in Aswan.
Before leaving, he asked me to wait and said that he had something for me. I tell myself I am not going to get tricked into buying anything he was selling, and for fear that all of our conversation was a ruse, I was worried.
He went to the back room and came back with a crocodile tooth as a gift. He didn't want my money; he wanted me to remember this moment in Aswan. He pointed out that crocodile teeth are good luck and deserve a lot of money outside Egypt. While it could have been a little overvalued, receiving this little gift means the world to me.
Traveling Between Egyptian Cities
No one can really prepare you for the chaos that can travel between the cities of Egypt.
The main three options for travel between Egyptian cities are plane, train and boat (depending on the city). Cruises along the Nile are very popular for tourists and can range in length, location and price. Flight is clearly a modern comfort, but for budget-conscious travelers, a sleeper train is your best bet. I took the national sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan and back.
On board, a plane-style breakfast and dinner are served to passengers. The rooms are very small, but for the first class ticket price that includes your transportation, one-night accommodation and two meals, it is not very shabby.
Note that the definition of "first order" in Egypt differs greatly from the way in which the developed world describes the first degree. There are countless YouTube videos who have documented their time on a sleeping train. Watch some of these things before you visit, so you know exactly what to expect. Allow yourself enough time at the train station before you leave. In my experience, the train stations in Cairo and Aswan are messy and confusing. There are few signs, most of them are in Arabic. When trying to find the route the train would reach from Aswan to Cairo, every worker at the station I asked for gave me a different answer. After almost one hour of switching between tracks, I finally met someone who speaks good English, saw me walk around in a terrible puzzlement, and offered to help. It turned out that he was the one who knew the right path.
Tips for Women Traveling Solo in Egypt
Dress appropriately. This means wearing clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. I recommend bringing loose clothes because the heat of the desert will reach you. I was also told before going to bring a scarf to cover your hair if you want to visit a religious site, however, I never needed to wear one when entering mosques. The best thing to do is to watch what other women around you wear and try to match them.
Leave the itinerary with a trusted friend or family member at home. Granted, you should do this on any domestic or international trip you take, but it is especially important in places where reception and Wi-Fi are spotty. You can also check in with this person every day so they know you are safe and have a great time.
If you are using the metro in Cairo, try sitting in the only carriages for women. If you're in a taxi or Uber, sit in the back seat and watch the map in the Uber app or Google Maps to make sure you're heading in the right direction. Don't be afraid to talk if it sounds like the driver is on the right track. I recommend using Uber instead of taxi. It is considered a safer option in Cairo. For Egyptian cities that do not provide the service, try to arrange transportation from your hotel.
Most people in Egypt are friendly and will try to talk to you just because they are curious, but if someone gives you a free meal or tour, say no. Again, don't be afraid to be assertive and tell someone to leave you alone too loud if it bothers you. (Note: In Aswan, a man was trying to talk to me and continued to follow me even after I told him to go away and that I was not interested. He kept saying that I am his friend and asked me where I live and how? I will be in Aswan much longer than that, and I screamed at the end The way he left me alone - loud enough so that the people around us paused and turned toward us. Something murmured in Arabic and then ran down the street. The problem was solved.)
Most importantly, follow your gut. We women have a strong intuition, and when we feel a little something, it is possible that we are right. You must know that people will stare. A foreign woman walking through the streets of Cairo alone is an unfamiliar sight that will attract the attention of the locals. This is good and I promise you get used to it. If men shout insulting words towards you, keep walking and pretend you haven't heard them. After all this, the vast majority of people are doing well - they will simply ask where you are and welcome you in Egypt.
There you have it, my experiences and lessons learned from traveling in Egypt. Now, go out and plan your amazing Egyptian adventure.
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