All right, y’all! I’m home, I’m settled, my fabric has been pre-washed (oh yes, I bought fabric) and I’ve sorted through the mounds of photos I took during the 10 days I spent in Egypt. Now it’s time to post about it! To be honest, when I originally planned and booked this trip, I wasn’t intending on writing a blog post about it at all – like when I went to Peru, I was anticipating a personal trip that would basically only be beneficial to me (and also, this is SO not a travel blog. As you know!). However, I have gotten a lot of questions about the trip – what I did, how I planned it, did I feel safe, etc etc – while posting about it on Instagram, not to mention dozens of requests for a post. So, here you go. My trip to Egypt, 2017!
In an effort to keep this blog sewing-related, this will be the ONLY post I write about traveling to Egypt. That being said, it’s a looong one. Grab a cup of coffee and maybe a snack, you’re gonna be knee-deep in this one for a while! Those of y’all who don’t give a flying fuck about this content, great. This is the only post you have to skip over 😉
FIRST: MY ITINERARY
This is my confession: When I travel, I generally like to plan as little as I can possibly get away with. I’ll book my plane ticket and figure out the lodging, and make sure there aren’t any major events / tours / museums / things that I need to buy a ticket in advance for. I will make a loose list of things that I may like to check out while I’m gone, but that’s it. I’ve never been the sort of person who plans their travels down to the minute – I want to have the flexibility to change plans at my whim. In general, I aim to schedule 1-2 things per day that potentially only take half my day. That way, I don’t feel bad if I have jet lag and need to sleep half the day, or decide to stay an extra 3 hours in whatever museum and ooh maybe get some lunch in that cool restaurant I just discovered while walking by. The way you plan your trips might be different, but this is what works for me. So with that being said – I planned one event each day while I was in town, and left a couple days open as well, just in case I discovered something else wonderful and interesting to do.
Day 1: First day in Cairo! I flew in the day before and landed around 10pm that night at the Cairo airport. All flights combined ended up being around 20 hours of travel time – I flew from Nashville to Chicago to Istanbul to Cairo, on United Airlines for the domestic trip and Turkish Airlines for the international legs. Honestly, the transatlantic flight – you know, the one that lasted 11 hours – was pretty shitty. I asked before I got on the plane if there were empty seats so that I could get a little space, and they assured me that the flight was only half full and I could move after take-off, no problem. Well, not only was I seated with 2 other people (squished into 3 seats, that is)- but they refused to let us move for the duration of the flight. The entire back half of the plane was nearly empty, too! So, that was uncomfortable, but I slept through most of it so whatever. Lesson learned – actually get your seat changed on the ticket. Moving on!
Anyway, I wasn’t sure if I’d be jet-lagged or not that first day, so I took it easy and tried not to plan too much. My friend who I was staying with, Marsha, took me to Nagada, which is a little shop in Cairo that sells the most beauuuutiful handmade gifts and clothes – and fabric! While we were there, we met with another friend (and blog reader!), Michele, who took me into downtown Cairo and to the souk by the Khan for fabric shopping. I ended up buying a few pieces while I was there – several different cotton/viscose prints and one stretch knit print. Fabric shopping is a bit different over there, at least in the shop I went to – it’s all behind a counter, and you have to ask to see it. After pulling down several bolts, the guy told us we could just go back there ourselves and pull down what we wanted, and that’s when I found all the cool prints that I eventually ended up buying. Fabric is also suuuuper cheap – all the stuff I got in the souk cost me a grand total of about $25. The fabric I bought at Nagada was a little more expensive, but arguably much better quality. Even then, I think I spent less than $40. Which is significantly less than I spend on a regular trip to Mood when I’m in NYC haha. Anyway, you can see the fabrics I bought here on Instagram.
Day 2: This was my super touristy day! I started out at 9AM to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. My tour guide, Mrs. Sherine, picked me up and drove me around all day, as well as told me everything I wanted to know about all the places we visited. I went to the pyramids (and yes, I went inside the big one!) (and yes, I put my hands ALL OVER THAT THING EVERY CHANCE I GOT) (and yes it was as amazing as I’d expected it to be), the Solar Boat museum, the Sphinx, and the Step Pyramids. I also rode a camel in the Sahara Desert, a bit away from the pyramids (my guide called this the panoramic view and I think it ended up being considerably better than if I’d hopped on a camel by the pyramids – my photos turned out absolutely beautiful).
I also visited Wissa Wassef, on the suggestion of Marsha, although I had no idea what exactly it was when we drove up. Basically, it is the most intricate and amazing weaving I have ever seen. I have never seen weaving like this – honestly, didn’t even realize it was possible to get that kind of detail on a loom. Some of which are woven sideways, and none of which are sketched out beforehand. It was absolutely mind-boggling. They let me go in the workshops and watch the weavers – above, you can see me creeping on a cotton tapestry. I didn’t buy any tapestries (bc lol budget) but I did get a beautiful batik tapestry to cover my bed. Cos, you know, they do that too.
And, I totally had lunch while staring at the Sphinx. This was something I specifically asked my tour guide for us to do. There’s actually a Pizza Hut in the same building across from the Sphinx, which I had originally planned on eating at because it was just so fucking ridiculous. But once I got there, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t even eat Pizza Hut here in America. Couldn’t do it in Egypt, just couldn’t. So we went to the kebob place next door, and it was great. And I got to look at the Sphinx the whole time, and that was great too.
Traffic in Cairo is no joke, by the way! From where I was staying in Ma’adi, to downtown Cairo, could take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour, depending on whether or not it was rush hour (it’s usually rush hour there). I didn’t mind at all since I’m not the one driving and I love looking out the window. It’s interesting to watch because its basically pure anarchy on the roads – the cars don’t stay in any particular lane (as in, those white lines don’t exist as far as they are concerned), they pass each other REAL CLOSE (like a couple inches, max. Seriously!) get right up on each other’s bumpers, and they drive super fast whenever they have the opportunity. And there is constant honking. It’s not even angry honking – they honk to alert other drivers of where they are, to tell the drivers to get out of the way (that made me lol, cos here in the US if you try to pull that shit ain’t no one gonna move out of your way – they’ll just go even slower haha), and I dunno, maybe just to say hello. And then there are pedestrians everywhere – cos there are barely any sidewalks – and the occasional donkey cart on the freaking highway. It’s interesting, to say the least, and very different than traffic here in the US. I was prepared for the crazy driving – they do that in Peru, too, and I came to peace with it when I was there 2 years ago haha – but not so much the gridlock traffic. Again, I ain’t driving, don’t really care too much.
Day 3: Back downtown! Marsha had a friend, Kim, who wanted to take us to some of her favorite spots. We went to the Egyptian Textile Museum, which was incredibly fascinating and nicely laid out. The photo above is just a cool door that was around the corner from the museum (no idea who that kid was, sorry, kid). We also went to the Khan el Khalili, which is a major souk/series of shops in Cairo. Like any giant shopping district, the stuff you find can be real hit or miss (in this case, I didn’t want to buy, like, cheap China-made souvenirs or anything, you know?). Kim had a few merchants who she brought us to, including one who sold really beautiful carvings made from camel bone! That dude was awesome.
Definitely the highlight of the day was visiting the Khayamiya, or the Tentmakers, which was the first thing on our agenda. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was really pleasantly surprised! Essentially, the tentmakers do this crazy intricate applique and create these beautiful pieces. The designs are drawn on a heavy cotton, and then appliqued directly on by hand. The fabric pieces are not cut to shape – they are turned under as they are sewn down. The quality of a piece is determined by how tight/small the applique stitches are, how sharp the points are, and how curved the curves are. The cost will vary depending on how intricate a piece is, with pieces with more points costing more. The guy in the picture above is the first one we visited – Fatooh Sons – and ultimately, one of the best (in terms of both quality and the designs, at least in my opinion!). There’s another dude who does this who is actually famous for it – his pieces incorporate a lot of birds and have embroidery in addition to the applique – and I saw his stuff too, but I like dude #1 the best! I ended up buying that piece that he is holding. It is even more gorgeous in real life. And just look at the all the points! 🙂
Here is a video of the process if you’d like to see more (obviously that’s not my video, it’s just on YouTube haha). The guy starts sewing about 8 1/2 minutes in.
Day 4: I went back downtown (again) by myself this time, to see the Egyptian Museum. This place has been on my list of “must visit” museums for ages, and I’m so glad I got to go! It’s a fabulous museum with loads (and loads and LOADS) of Egyptian antiquities. You can hire a guide for the museum, or brave it alone. I went with the former- just popped in my headphones and played some weird music while I strolled around and looked at old shit. AKA, the perfect afternoon. Be warned, though – if you’re the kind of person who reads every little card at the museum, this place will drive you crazy so maybe get a guided tour or even just a good guidebook. Half the displays didn’t have anything saying what they were – and the ones that did, generally had maybe a sentence or two typed on an index card. The museum is chaotically laid out – so much stuff was just straight up on the floor. It was really really really hard not to touch everything since it wasn’t under a glass box (ok, fine, I touched one stone coffin but only one!!!). Again, I didn’t mind this at all – but it’s something to consider if you are planning a trip here.
I also went to the Papyrus Museum, at the suggestion of my driver while en route to the Egyptian Museum. We actually detoured on our way, turned around, and made a pit stop because he was insistent that I needed the experience haha. It was a fun place to visit – they give you a demo on how the papyrus is made, show you the difference between real and fake papyrus, and explain some of the more common designs. Disclaimer – it’s not a museum in the sense that you will look at displays of old and antique papyruses. All the stuff on display is new, and it is all for sale. They will also give you a real hard sale, but, they are open to haggling. Just FYI. The woman who showed me around was especially intent on me getting a papyrus that would give me “lots of sexies” (her words). Eventually I agreed to buy it because she was cracking me up so much. That papyrus better give me what is promised!
After the museum, I met up with Michele again and we smoked shisha and then walked around Cairo. I haven’t smoked a hookah in agessss (basically since I quit smoking tobacco in general), but it was on my list of things to do in Egypt! She took me a traditional little place where you sit outside and smoke and drink tea. It was perfect. It was also cheap as shit (I think about $1.50 USD).
Day 5: Had to get up at the buttcrack of dawn so I could go back to the airport for my flight to Aswan. Part of my trip included a Nile River cruise – since a most of the ancient stuff is outside of Cairo, taking a cruise is a great (and swanky) way to see all of it. You can also take a bus down to Aswan, I guess, but I was warned that they are terrible and honestly my round trip flights were not much more expensive than the bus. Plus, they were faster.
The cruise line I took was the Nile Goddess. I originally booked the Star Goddess line (only cos it’s cheaper haha), but was upgraded right before I left to the Nile Goddess line, which is nicer, and they also stuck me in a Presidential Suite. Pretty fancy! My guess is the original Star Goddess probably didn’t fill up enough to sail, so they combined the two ships and upgraded the people who had to move. At any rate, I was the only solo person on the boat – and ended up in one of the biggest rooms! So that was nice!! The cruise line is advertised as being 5 Star… I think that may be a little bit of a stretch, but it was still really nice. My suite had a separate sitting room, huge windows, and a private balcony (super private, as in, I couldn’t see anyone from my balcony woohoo). The ship featured a dining room, lounge/bar, rooftop deck (with tables, some shade, a pool, a bar, and a bunch of lounge chairs) and lots of couches scattered everywhere. Everything was inclusive except alcohol and (strangely) bottled water, but it was cheap, at least by American standards. My bill at the end of the week was about $22 USD, and you know I drank my weight in wine while I was there 😛 The staff was supremely helpful to the point of not letting you carry anything, and most of them spoke enough English to at least communicate. One of the bartenders was able to have a conversation with me, which was nice as I couldn’t really talk to anyone on the ship due to the language barrier. I had anticipated this, but it still surprised me a little! I was the only American on the cruise – which was reasonably full, and consisted of mostly Chinese, Egyptian, and a handful of Russians – and the only native English speaker. Some of the Egyptians and Russians could communicate with me, but again, not enough to really have a conversation. I don’t mind being alone as I’m my very favorite person in the world to hang out with, so I was ok with all of this – but again, something to keep in mind if you are planning a trip like this! Either bring a buddy, or be SUPER ok with hanging out by yourself all week!
I got on the ship quite early, so I had plenty of time to settle into my suite and take a nice nap, as well as eat lunch (which was served buffet-style, as all the meals were. The food wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t terrible either. It’s a cruise ship, they aren’t known for their culinary masterpieces haha). For the first day, we set off with a tour guide and bus to explore Aswan. Our group was a small segment of what the ship consisted of – mostly Egyptians, and meeeee haha – and our guide was an Egyptian who, bless his heart, had to repeat everything he said just for me because I was the only English speaker in that group! What a trooper.
Day 6: Woke up to find that we had set sail at night and I had a pretty sweet view out my windows now. We ported in Kom Ombo and took an early morning excursion to Kom Ombo Temple. Which, I should mention – if you are not a morning person, this is NOT the type of cruise for you. Our tours started at 7-8 am, which meant we had to get up pretty early. This is because we were in the desert, and the sun gets unbearable at the day progresses (seeing as we were visiting in winter, the heat wasn’t super terrible – I think the highest it got was mid-80s, and that’s which a nice, dry heat), so you have to start early. Very early. Just an FYI! I’m a huge dork who wakes up at 6AM anyway (yes, even now that I work from home!) so that didn’t bother me one bit.
After Kom Ombo, we boarded back on the ship for lunch, and sailed to Edfu. Once we ported, our guide took us to Edfu Temple – specifically, we rode horses and carriages (2-3 people per carriage). I don’t know why I don’t have a photo of this, but here’s a video I posted on Instagram. I was incredibly excited that they let me sit in the front next to the driver hahaha.
Anyway, Edfu Temple was definitely my favorite out of all the temples we visited. The inside was so peaceful, even with the hoards of tourists surrounding everything (don’t be fooled by my photos – there were TONS of tourists everywhere we went. Which is great for the economy, Egypt certainly needs it right now! But I didn’t want a bunch of randos in my photos, so I made it a point to try to take shots without people in them, for the most part). Honestly, I could have wandered around that temple all day if given the chance.
Once we got back on the ship, we were supposed to sail to Esna, stop for the evening, and then move on to Luxor for our last day. I was excitedly anticipating this, as I wanted to lay on that rooftop deck and get some good star-watching in (I’ve been told the stars in Africa are crazy amazing, and I was prepared to nerd the fuck out with my binoculars). The cities we’d been in previously had too much light pollution to really see much, so Esna (or even just the unpopulated route) was gonna be my jam. Unfortunately, that did not happen as some of the other tour groups didn’t get back on board until hours after our scheduled departure time. The bartender I chatted with was complaining about them messing up the schedule (we ended up skipping Esna and going straight to Luxor), but honestly, they made up over half the people on the ship so what can you do? Oh well! Don’t get me wrong, I still laid the fuck out on that deck and got my star-watch on, I just saw less of them. Which means I am just gonna need to go back to Africa and try again 🙂
Day 7: I woke up in Luxor. I also woke up feeling sick. I’d been staving this off for days – I think all the combined flights I’d taken (including to/from NYC at the beginning of the month) was a big part of the culprit – but then I ran out of the magical essential oil cough drops I’d been taking. Ugh, whatever, I took one for the team and struggled through that 7AM tour start because dammit I was not going to miss seeing the West Bank!
We took a bus to the Valley of the Kings. Unfortunately, photos are forbidden there – both inside and outside the tombs. Which is a shame, because that was definitely my very very favorite part of the cruise. The geography of the area is fucking amazing and mind-blowing, and the inside of the tombs actually made me tear up. It was an incredible experience that I can’t really put into words, but I’m so thankful that I got to see it.
The terrain in Luxor was really interesting, and the bus ride was a great opportunity for creeping out the window. Half of the land was lush and fertile, with miles of gorgeous green clover fields, then the desert looms in the background.
Next stop was Hatshepsut Temple, another favorite. This was dug out of the side of a mountain, and the views were insane. This was one of the few temples we went to that still had paint in places.
We got back to the ship in time for lunch, I ate as much as my appetite allowed me (which was diminishing at this point) and then I just hardcore crashed for the rest of the evening. My body just gave out. We didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the day – just dinner, and a Bellydance show (which I’m a little sorry I missed, but I was having fever-dream borderline hallucinations at that point) and I think my body knew it was time to force a rest. I slept from 1pm that afternoon until 7 the following morning, only waking up to call the bar and have them bring me juice and a cup of hot lemon/honey water.
Day 8: After all that rest, I felt MUCH better! We were disembarking that day, so I had to pack up my suitcase before breakfast as it was coming on the tour bus with me (my driver would be picking me up from the last stop and taking me straight to the Luxor airport). Our first stop was Karnak Temple, which was by far the most overrun with tourists out of all of them. Brilliantly, I discovered that walking around the perimeter of the temples (which these is still PLENTY to see) was completely empty, and actually quite peaceful. So that was nice.
Our final stop was Luxor Temple, which I had all of 5 minutes to see haha. Our guide gave me a rundown in the bus en route, then I ran ahead of everyone to look and take photos, then run back out to meet my driver and catch my plane. I’m so glad they were able to accommodate that for me, as the other option would have been waiting on the ship for my pick-up and missing both temples that morning.
I was still feeling the effects from my sleep hangover, so I took it easy the rest of the day – I stayed in Ma’adi and did a little shopping. My favorite place I went to was Fair Trade Egypt – they had lots of beautiful things, made locally in Egypt, at fair prices (that were still incredibly cheap for this American – like, the wool rug I bought was maaaybe $12 haha). The guy who rang me up told me that he was feeling sick, and while I commiserated, he then mentioned that basically his sinuses got messed up from the tear gas at a protest during the Revolution, oh, and the guy in front of him had his head blown off. And here I am, with my whiny baby cold where I was gonna go back and sleep it off. Really puts things in perspective, huh?
Day 9: Last day in Egypt! I had originally left this day wide open, but after seeing the pyramids the week before, I booked another full day tour with my guide, Mrs. Sherine. She picked me up at 9AM (btw I went to bed real early the night before and was back to 100% by that morning) and took me to see Coptic Cairo. I originally had no interest in seeing a bunch of old churches and mosques – borrrring! – but she convinced me that it was absolutely not to be missed. And she was totally right – I’m so glad I went. The churches were beautiful, the mosques were incredibly peaceful, and I learned so much about a side of Egypt that I never really studied as I always focused on the ancient Egyptians.
We also went to the Gayer-Anderson museum, which is a suuuuper old Turkish house adjacent to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun. This was one of our spur-of-the-moment changes to the agenda, and it was soooo cool! The house was incredibly beautiful and full of really neat collections of all kind of old shit.
Sherine also took me to Manshiyat Naser, or “Garbage City,” which was a really interesting detour! This area’s economy revolves around the collection and recycling of the city’s garbage. It’s a huge area, with super narrow streets, and piles of garbage (and piles of bags of sorted garbage) everywhere. It’s crazy and definitely an experience to see. A lot of the garbage gets upcycled into handmade goods that are sold in their giftshops and also at places like Fair Trade Egypt.
We also visited the Cave Church of Zabbaleen, which is the church where the “garbage people” (for lack of a better word) go to as over 90% of them are Coptic Christians.
I also saw this COOL AS SHIT graffiti, viewed from the 2nd floor of a nearby restaurant. The art is by eL Seed, titled “Perception,” and it can only be seen from a certain vantage point. I love this about it:
“The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’”
Day 10: I had an early flight home, and about 20 hours of travel. The trip from Cairo to Istanbul was kind of terrible – our flight was full, crammed, and everyone was stressed (oh, and we got delayed an hour so half the people missed their connecting flight). Once I got to Istanbul, I asked to have my seat changed to an empty row which they happily did for me. Y’all, I ended up sitting in one of those full middle rows of 4 seats by myself it ruled so hard. The flight was maybe half full, and everyone was so happy and relaxed. I drank 2 bottles of wine (yay for free drinks on international flights! haha!) and watched a shit load of movies. Also did not sleep. No idea how that happened – I generally can sleep on planes like a champion – but by the time I got home, I’d been awake for 26 consecutive hours and my sleep-deprived self thought it could feel my apartment swaying in the wind. Uhhhhhh.
Let me say that I am so so so thankful I made it home before all this shit happened with the immigration ban. I missed it by a couple of days. Not that it would have affected me – I am a natural born US citizen – but the airports would have been mayhem. Also, I don’t like to share my political views on this blog bc I really just don’t thing this is the place for them, but let me just say that I am NOT ok with what’s happening.
PLANNING MY TRIP
I have gotten a lot of questions about how I planned my trip, so I thought I’d go over that in this post too! I will say – I have traveled a lot in the past couple of years, but was a complete n00b about all that shit prior. Before I went to London in 2014, I hadn’t left the country in so long, my passport wasn’t even eligible for renewal (and back then, it was when I was young enough that I traveled only with my parents, so they handled all those logistics… I just followed them, you know?). So while I have some experience with this sort of thing, I’m still reasonably new at it!
I booked my entire trip through a travel agency – specifically, I went with Travel Choice (the Apache branch, but I believe they operate worldwide), on the recommendation of a friend who has used them previously. I’ve never used a travel agent before, but I wasn’t sure at all how to navigate a trip like this so I gladly paid for the help (and since Egypt is so cheap, it wasn’t expensive at all – and some of the stuff, like my cruise, I actually paid less for than the website lists it as!). I was a little concerned at first to book with an Egyptian travel agency, rather than a US one (I have AAA so I could have used them), but ultimately, I’m glad I went with locals because they were able to get me the best tour guide, drivers, and also it was easy to change my agenda via email or phone call while I was actually in Egypt. I primarily communicated with them via email, and they were always very prompt to respond.
One really nice perk of using a travel agent is that they will arrange a meet and greet for when you arrive and depart. When I landed in Cairo, someone was waiting for me at the gate with a sign with my name on it (yay I’ve always wanted someone to do that haha) – he took my passport and customs form and had me sit down while he waited in line for my Visa. That only took maybe 10 minutes, then we breezed right through immigration, grabbed my bags (he carried them) and there was a car waiting for me outside. From landing to leaving the airport, I don’t think the whole process took 20 minutes. Same thing when I left Cairo to go home – I had a driver pick me up and take me to the airport, then another guy carried my bag and got me through security, checked my bag and collected my ticket, and dealt with customs. That alone was worth booking through a travel agent, seriously.
The travel agent also arranged all my drivers, so that was primarily how I got around in Cairo. I’m not even entirely sure how much I paid for the drivers, but I know they were cheap. They pick you up at your appointed time, and either drop you off or wait for you (depending on if you book them for the day or not). I also had a driver for my flights in Cairo to take the cruise – both to drop off and pick up. The last driver, who picked me up in Luxor to get me to the airport to go back to Cairo, was able to communicate with my tour guide so that he could meet us at the last temple and take me to the airport from there. That was really nice!
My travel agent also found and booked my tour guide, and they really matched me with the best one! Mrs. Sherine Ramadan was a fantastic guide – she was very knowledgeable and I learned so much from her. She’s local, but also speaks fluent English so there was no language barrier at all. I also felt really safe with her, which I should point out because I was initially thinking I’d have a male tour guide. Honestly, though, Mrs. Sherine is the kind of woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone, and we had no problems whatsoever in the two days we spent together. She was also just really fun to chat with, which I think is important if you’re going to spend several hours with someone! Like I said, I booked her through the travel agency but she is also available for private bookings if you are visiting Cairo and just need a day guide. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org if you are visiting Cairo and looking for a private tour guide – I absolutely recommend her!
Finally, my travel agent is also responsible for choosing the cruise line that I went with (and probably also responsible for that upgrade haha). When I emailed them, I just said I wanted to fly in mid-January, spend 10 days in Egypt, and also take one of the Nile cruises. They got everything together and had a quote for me within 24 hours. I booked the day tours and drivers at a later date. I can’t tell you how much each thing cost specifically since it was all lumped into one sum, but it was much more reasonably priced than I had been expecting. The airfare was by far the most expensive part, and that’s mostly because I wanted to fly a nicer airline – I went Turkish Airlines – and not have 40 hours of travel. That cost me probably about $200 more than compared to the very cheapest flight, but honestly, 100% worth it no regrets.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Getting around: While I primarily had hired drivers, I did take a couple of Ubers! Uber does work in Cairo, and it’s sooooo cheap (like, my 1 hour drive in rush hour traffic was like $2.40 haha). This is the best option if you don’t have a driver, because you can just input your destination on the app and there is no issue with language barrier. I rode a lot of cabs with Michele, and those were even cheaper (like, pennies), but the issue with the cab is that most of them don’t speak English *and* a lot of them also need directions, which I just couldn’t give. So I stuck with Uber.
Money: The currency is Egyptian Pounds, or LE. The majority of Egypt is pretty cash-heavy – some shops will take cards, but most people prefer cash. Depending on where you go, you may be able to pay with USD, but I paid for everything in LE (except for places that did take cards, and then, I used my Visa). Haggling is acceptable, if not encouraged. I personally LOVE haggling so I got really into it. Keep in mind that if you look super western (like, me with my lily-white skin and red hair – you know, obviously not Egyptian), they may over charge you for stuff, so go get your haggle on (or pay full price, cos, you probably have more money than they do tbh). Also, you pretty much tip everybody here. Drivers, tour guides, the bathroom attendant, the guy who takes your shoes at the mosque. Egypt is a very poor country right now, and Americans are especially rich with the current currency exchange (when I was there, it was nearly 20 LE to $1 USD). Don’t be stingy, that 50LE tip is still only like $2.50 in USD. And the 1LE you give the bathroom attendant? Dude, just give her 5LE.
Cell Service: I have T-Mobile, and my plan includes free international data and texting. I was able to use it all over Egypt, except at Luxor inside the Valley of the Kings (where – surprise – I had no service). The data is very slow there – mostly 2G with the occasional 3G randomly popping up – so I didn’t use it much but I was able to post on Instagram. I did get my phone unlocked prior to my trip, in case I wanted to swap my SIM out for an Egyptian one and possibly have faster data, but ultimately I decided to keep my US SIM so that I could text my friends back at home. The only downside to having slower data was that I needed to be on wifi when calling an Uber – otherwise, my phone didn’t pick up enough data to pin my location.
What to wear: I did a lot of googling, travel blog reading, and chatting with friends who had been there before. Figuring out my wardrobe was a somewhat daunting task, as I wanted to be respectful of the culture and dress appropriately, but I also didn’t want to end up with a bunch of clothes I would never wear again. From what I was told, the most important things to keep covered are your shoulders, chest (not just the obvious cleavage – most people wear their shirts up to their collarbone), knees, and lower back/stomach. Shoulders and knees were not an issue with this trip, as it was pretty chilly when I went (not super chilly, but winter for Egypt – highs in the 70s in Cairo). I wore a tank under all my shirts to cover my abdomen, and brought only shirts with necklines that came up to my collarbone. I also brought a couple of scarves with me – these are great for wearing around your neck to keep your chest covered, cover your head if you need to (such as when entering a mosque) and can double as a blanket if the plane gets too cold. I also brought very little clothing – 5 shirts, 3 pairs of paints, 1 knit maxi skirt, and 3 tank tops (plus a decent number of underwear and socks, because, well obviously) – and just mixed and matched it while I was there. Since I was traveling alone, I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t wear the same outfits repeatedly. I also brought a cotton twill anorak, which I wore every day (it was especially useful in the desert, to stay warm in the chilly mornings and protect me from the sun in the afternoon), and a lightweight sweater, which was nice to lounge around in during the evening.
Staying safe: Honestly, I felt very safe the entire time I was there! I never once encountered a situation where I was concerned about my own safety, or had any incidents that were even a little bit shady. I had been warned over and over and over again by people (almost entirely people who had never actually been to Egypt. My friends who had visited and/or lived there were very supportive of my trip and assured me that it was perfectly safe to visit) that it was going to be sooo bad and told stories of someone who knew someone who was groped / kidnapped / had a scary situation / etc etc. I can’t speak for every person who visits Egypt and what they might encounter, but I can say with 100% honesty that I never had anything remotely bad happen to me in the 10 days I was there. All the Egyptians that I interacted with – including, yes, the men – were nothing but respectful, eager to help, and genuinely kind. Perhaps my experience was such because of the way I was dressed. I did wear a fake wedding ring, which may have also helped. And I walked with confidence. Even the people hawking goods at the major touristy sites – such as the pyramids – were not nearly as cutthroat as I’d been told. A simple, “No, thank you” (or “la shukraan” in Arabic) was usually enough to get them to leave you alone. There was one guy who did not listen to my no thank you, so I told him “mesh ayza” (that’s not the correct spelling, just the phonetic spelling… it means “I don’t want it” in Arabic) and he responded by laughing SO HARD. Even came up to me later and said, “This girl knows mesh ayza! ha ha ha!” So at least I gave him something to laugh at later I guess, ha! And yes, the only 2 things I learned how to say in Arabic were ‘no thank you’ and ‘I don’t want it’ haha. That alone will get you pretty far!
Another thing to point out regarding safety is theft. I am always aware of my surroundings when I travel, and I carry a small crossbody purse with multiple zippered pockets that I can hold in front of my body when I’m moving through crowds or in areas where there are pickpockets. While you should always be aware of what’s going on around you, Egypt isn’t really a hotspot for theft, at least not in my experience. So many of the people there are devout Muslims, and stealing is against their religion. They might try to pull a fast one and get you to pay 3x as much for that alabaster cat statue (and again, can you blame them? Their economy sucks so bad right now), but they won’t steal your wallet out of your pocket. Honestly, in terms of petty theft – places like Paris and Barcelona are much more dangerous.
Despite all the political unrest that is currently happening in the country, this might actually be the safest time to visit Egypt (I felt this way, and every person I spoke with about it in Egypt – whether they were Egyptian or American – said the same thing). Security is at an all-time high, and the police are everywhere. No one is trying to pull any shit right now, even the airport makes you go through security 3 times before you board a plane. Plus, their currency is so weak right now, financially, it is an AWESOME time to visit. Bring those tourist dollars cos this country absolutely, desperately needs them right now.
Other things to note: No one drinks in the water in Egypt, so be prepared to go through a lot of bottles of water (I carried a reusable water bottle that clipped to my purse, so I could have it with me – especially nice while in the desert! Also, I felt a lot better about all the plastic water bottle garbage I was producing after visiting Garbage City). Bring your own tissues, as most bathrooms don’t have any. Tissues are sort of a weird currency there; you see people everywhere selling them on the street. They also don’t flush TP down the toilet – it goes in the trash can. And the nights can get VERY chilly there, especially in winter – warm pajamas (for me, flannel bottoms and a long sleeved top) are good to have! Also, trip insurance! I don’t normally opt-in for that, but I did for this trip. With the state of the country being how it is, and also my dad’s current health situation, it made the most sense to protect my monetary investment with insurance coverage. I ended up not needing it, but isn’t that the best case scenario?
Expectations: I had really high expectations for this trip – honestly, I’ve wanted to visit Egypt and see the pyramids since I was a little kid. I’m happy to report that not only did this trip live up to every expectation I had for it – it even surpassed them. I had an amazing time and I simply cannot say enough good things about Egypt and the people who live there.
Ok, whew, that was a lot of information and a LOT of blog post, but I think that about covers it! If you stuck this out until the end – thank you so much for reading and sharing my journey with me! If you’d like to see more about my trip, you can view my #lladybirdinegypt Instagram hashtag here, and my Egypt album on Flickr here. If you have any questions about my trip that was not covered in this post, or have visited Egypt and have tips of your own to offer, feel free to unload in the comments!
Next question: Where should I go next???