After blogging about my trip, I had a lot of people ask me questions about Egypt. My travel agent “Mo” asked if he could refer his clients to my blog, and I said of course. I hope that other people will take this once in a lifetime trip to Egypt, especially while tourism is down.
Here’s my take on my trip. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
Was Egypt safe? Did I feel safe?
I felt perfectly safe, or I never felt my safety was an issue. We traveled as a tour group, and our guide made sure we were always near him. The tour bus was always nearby, and our items were always secure. There were “tourist police” which were government police dressed in white, and they were all over the city, especially in the touristy places such as the pyramids and temples.
How was the food? and water?
The food was perfectly fine, and safe to eat. Unfortunately you won’t find any pork but you will find beef, fish and chicken. I was surprised we didn’t come across more lamb. We were told to peel the fruit, and to eat only cooked food. I had fresh tomatoes and Stephen ate the cucumbers, and we were fine. We ate primarily at the hotel or on the cruise ship. We didn’t get a chance to eat any street food, as we were always on a schedule.
We did not drink the tap water, although I did use it to brush my teeth (didn’t swallow it). We were told to make sure the bottled water still had the seal, which everyone seemed to have. Our bus drivers had water in the bus, which he sold 2 for $1 (or 10 LE), and our cruise offered bottled water as part of our drink package. Even at the hotel, a large bottled water was only 15 LE or $1.50.
I never had a problem finding sugary sodas. In addition to water, the bus driver carried cokes. Diet cokes, though was a different story.
Tip: If you don’t like drinking water, bring some “Crystal Light” or water enhancers. If you need to use Equal or Splenda, like for your coffee, bring some of your own.
Money and Tipping
Bring cash. Even if you have an ATM/ Debit card, bring cash because aside from my hotel, I don’t recall seeing a ATM during our travels to the ruins or historical sites.
About 90% of the merchants will take American money, however, I would still exchange some Egyptian money. Some local restaurants or hotel bars won’t accept American money. Also, at the box offices, like paying for the Tut Tomb at Valley of the Kings, or getting the Photo-ticket at the Cairo Museum, requires local money.
You don’t have to exchange money at home (although I did! I went to the currency exchange at the mall but your bank probably can help, too). You can wait to exchange money at Egypt with your tour guide or hotel. In Cairo, our guide Abdul helped us exchange our US Currency for more than what the bank or hotel exchanged. When you get the opportunity like buying items at a gift shop, break a large Egyptian bill into small coins or one pound notes to use in the toilets (aka: WC).
How much should I convert?
In September 2016, we loosely estimated the conversion exchange rate was 10:1, meaning 10 LE = a buck. For example, our meal came to 220 LE or $22 approximately. For the 4 of us, we converted $500 US ($250 a couple) and we had enough money to last us until the last day of the trip. I think we spent the rest at the duty free shop at the Cairo airport.
Bring plenty of small US currency, especially $1 and $5 bills. No really, I am not joking.
So how much tipping cash? I would recommend bringing at least $200 in one dollar bills, and maybe $100 in $5. You’ll spend those $1 bills, trust me, even if its not for “bakshish”. You can buy bottled water, postcards from the street vendors, scarves, papyrus, souvenir books at the temples and pyramids and tons of knickknack on the street for a buck.
My travel agent actually did advise us to bring $200 in small bills for tipping, and I thought he was joking.. I thought it was like here in the US where we occasionally tip a bell boy or a bus driver. Oh, No!! In Egypt, they are VERY tip-centric. If someone takes a photo with you at the pyramids, or takes your photo for you, they want a few bucks. If you are on the camel, and there’s 2 guys helping you, they both want money. In fact, they wanted more than the $10 I was offering (for both guys) and tried to hold me hostage on the camel for $15 each! In the tombs, if someone shows you something or tell you some interesting facts, they gesture with their fingers “bakshish” (which means money). You can walk away, or give them $5 and then they’ll pull you aside to take “forbidden” photos inside the tomb.. just DO NOT get caught!
Some locals get very pushy over their “bakshish”, and demand more, even after you’ve given them a few bucks. It is up to you to be firm, and give them what you feel is right. If they get belligerent, raise your voice, and shout “NO”.. that may deter them from being aggressive.
Necessities / What to bring
I was in Egypt in September / October and the weather was in the 90’s. The heat was intensely dry, and it was like being in the bowels of Las Vegas. I have never felt anything hotter, especially inside the tombs! If you can find shade, you’ll cool down quickly, but intense heat is still hot. Here’s some things I thought would be considered “necessities” for a trip to Egypt… and I write these in no particular order.
- Bring a day pack or a small backpack.
- The heat can be so intense, that your mouth is still dry even after drinking all that water. Toss some hard candy like altoids, lifesaver or mints in your bag. A hard candy can revive your dry mouth.
- If you don’t like having a sweaty water bottle, bring a hydroflask type container. It’ll keep your drink cold for hours as well… and finding an icy cold drink is not easy when sightseeing.
- Wipes. After a day sightseeing, finding a sink can be hard. Bring a pack of wipes, or back a refillable pouch of baby wipes, and put some in a ziplock bag for the day. Sanitary hand gels are fine, but wipes seem to make me feel more refreshed.
- Tissues, which can double up at toilet paper in the rare instance the WC you find on the street has a toilet but nothing else.
- If you sweat a lot, bring a compressed towel.… those tiny ones you find at dollar tree. OR add water and wrap it around your neck to keep yourself cool.
- Bring sunglasses. Egypt is sunny and bright. One tour member didn’t bring one, and our bus driver found a kiosk to pull over and he thankfully got himself a cheap pair.
- Bring a hat, preferably one which won’t fly off your head. I brought a straw hat, and my mom had a floppy one which kept falling off her head. Lucky I had a bucket hat and she was able to use it the rest of the trip. There’s plenty of vendors at the touristy site that sells hats, but its best to bring your own.
- Mosquito repellent. I wish I had some. Those little buggers ate my ankles and knuckles. One of the bites gave me such a reaction, my arm had a bump the size of a gumball. Amazon sells mosquito bracelets and patches, which reviews claim they work, and they’re less hassle over the sprays. You wear the patch or bracelet all day, and the mosquito leaves you alone.
- Imodium AD. As careful as we all were, my parents got diarrhea on the last day, and my mom even threw up. A group member got sick at the beginning of the trip. Get a box from the pharmacy. It doesn’t take up much room, and may be the best $8 you’ll spend.
- Sunscreen. Unless you plan on wearing long sleeves and pants, or burn easily, bring a bottle. You don’t have to get the “sport” version, as you probably won’t sweat it off but it does get hot and sunny.
- Camera. It is up to you to bring a cell phone or a real camera. Every photo I took on the blog was using my iPhone 6s. However, if you want up close, detailed photos of something 200 feet above the ground, your point and shoot camera is better. Stephen took both, but I kept to my iPhone.
Other helpful things to pack
- Travel Adapters. Egypt uses the European plugs with the 2 circle prongs. Our hotel did have a US plug, but not the ship, so when we recharged our camera battery, we had to plug directly into a wall using the travel adapter. You can get these anywhere, even Target, but Rick Steves has them for just a buck.
- European USB chargers.We used the adapters to plug directly into the wall, and also brought along a European USB charger, that I purchased on Amazon. In case our room only had a one or two outlets, I wanted a way I could recharge 4 USB items at once (most likely our 2 iPhones and our external battery). This European USB charger was like an extension cord… long enough so I could recharge my items away from the wall.
- External battery? This is just a suggestion if you are using your phone while on the road. In Cairo, I used my external battery for the iPhone, because we were out from 7 am to dinner time and I was constantly taking photos and videos. However, once on the cruise, we were back on the ship in time for lunch, which gave me time to recharge. It it is peace of mind to bring a spare or back up battery, and toss it in your pack. I suggest getting a thin, 20,000 mAh battery which you can recharge any device. You can recharge most cell phones up to 7 times and laptops up to 4 times. I purchased one similar to this one on Amazon. Make sure that it is a slim or thin one. Note: it takes 6 hours to recharge, so as you recharge your devices at night, you should also recharge your external battery (hence the reason for also packing the USB extension cable), so that your battery will be at full capacity. The battery should already come with a USB cable
- Your charging cable. Your iPhone, Android, USB, camera… whatever gadget you bring will need recharging. Check the cable first before you bring it. One of my group members brought her cable, but the connection didn’t work well. I think her cable was stripped from repetition of too much use. Lucky for her, I had a spare iPhone cable. Always check your cables before you leave, in case there’s a loose connection and you need to bring a new cable.
- Wash sponge or wash cloth. The hotel and cruise used shower gel, but didn’t have any sponge to use. Non American hotels don’t always offer wash cloths. Stop at Target or even the Dollar Store, and pick up an inexpensive wash cloth or shower mesh to use, then leave it behind.
- Wet Naps/ Baby Wipes. Whatever you call it, I had a travel size pack of 20 wipes on my backpack that I picked up at Target. One group member took along the big refill from the baby section, and put some in a zip lock bag while we were out. Both came in handy, and felt better than using the sanitizing gels. It was especially helpful in Cairo, where we would stop to eat and there wasn’t a toilet nearby. It was a good way to wipe your hands (and face) after visiting a temple or tomb or to use before and after eating.
- Toilet paper. Not really a necessity but a peace of mind. You can bring some, or even “kleenex” tissues but I ended up bringing back the small amount I took from home. With the exception of the Hanging Church, all of the WC stops had toilet paper for 50-cents.
- Mints or hard candy. While traveling to the temples and the Valley of the King, my mouth got really dry. Water wasn’t helping but a simple peppermint candy did the trick.
- Bring business cards, or something with your name and email. I took a lot of photos and people were asking me for copies. Some were smart enough to give me a business card. It was also a good way to exchange information to keep in touch after the trip.
- Pens. Simple ballpoint pens you can get a 12-pack at at the drugstore or dollar store. The kids (and even adults) were asking for them.
- Backpack. I brought a small backpack with external pockets. It really came in handy while we were at the tombs, and I had my hands free while exploring. In addition to water, I was also able to pack a small hand towel, my spare iPhone external battery, some Crystal Light packets and a pack of wipes.
- Zip Lock and Envelopes. Bring a few large ones and some quart size ones. They are great in case you have extremely dirty or wet clothes, or souvenirs you want protected in your suitcase. Bring an envelope or folder to put your ticket stubs, receipts or other paperwork you would like to keep.It lies flat on the bottom of your suitcase, and takes up no room.
What to wear
I was told women should not wear shorts. That was a lie. All of our tour guides told us that as “westerners” we would not be ostracized for not following their custom. Wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts in the tourist sites were totally fine. The only time we were asked to wear pants and shirts with sleeves was at the Mosque. Even then, a group of European tourists wore shorts, and no one seemed to mind.
For women, I would suggest a light dress, capri pants, linen pants, and shorts. You can wear jeans but it was just so hot, I never took mine out of the suitcase. If you are going to ride a camel, I’d suggest pants or capri pants, definitely not a dress. For shirts, I brought light linen or camp style button shirts which were light, and dried fast. Bring whatever is comfortable to you, and won’t stick to your body when you sweat.
For men, shorts and light cotton pants. I’ve seen men wear jeans, but again, it just seems so heavy. Stephen wore mostly shorts on the trip, and during dinner changed to his light trousers from Banana Republic. He also packed quick dry shirts from Eddie Bauer and LL Bean, which were great!
Shoes: Closed toe shoes would be ideal if you’re going to the pyramids and temples. The steps and pavement are uneven, especially at the Valley of the Kings. I wore laced sneakers and slip on Toms shoes. However, one thing I wished I took were flip flops or sandals. After a long day of walking, my feet were swollen and the last thing I wanted to wear in the hotel room or on board the ship were shoes. Plus, if I wanted to go swimming or if I went for a massage on the cruise, and had to slip my oily feet back into my sneakers. Flip flops would have been better.
Laundry: If you are the type of traveler who packs light, and wash while traveling, Egypt is the perfect place. In a small bottle, I packed a little bit of liquid laundry detergent and I also packed some body wash. Body wash did the trick but the laundry detergent did a much better job of cleaning the clothes. So, while we had a down day of cruising up the Nile, I would wash a few shirts in the sink, wring out and hang near our balcony (not over it.. near it). The light breeze and the hot sun dried the shirts within 1/2 hour. Yes, it dried that fast!
Tip: If you’re not a washer, bring some cheap, scented dryer sheets. You can refresh your clothes by putting the dryer sheets and your shirt in the suitcase or bag, and in a few hours (or overnight) they’ll smell decent again.
Packing: Each person has their own method of packing, but I live and swear by packing cubes. The cubes keeps me organized and helps me from overpacking. I can pack 2 weeks worth of clothes, and just take a carry on. I’ve used many brands, but my favorite is F1 Spacepak. What makes this brand different is on one side is your clean clothes, and on the other side of the packing cube is the dirty clothes. So as you use your clothes, you don’t mix the clean and dirty clothes, and you also don’t have to carry a laundry bag with you o the trip. They are pricey but they were the best splurge I made to travel to not just Egypt, but also throughout Europe (and we did it twice). If you’re not a willing to splurge, think about packing cubes anyway. Rick Steves sells his mesh version and they are great, too. It’s just that you don’t get to separate the dirty and clean stuff like the F1 brand. Both web sites have videos showing you the benefit of using packing cubes.
If you want to stay connected, T-Mobile is the way to go. I used to be a Verizon customer, and when I traveled outside the US, I had to purchase an outrageous international package.
T-Mobile has their ONE and the Simple North American unlimited data and unlimited text plan, which is good outside the US, and that includes Egypt. If you need to call someone, its 20 cents a minute, but you can also use facetime, skype or wifi calling instead which makes it a free call.
Since I had an iPhone 6s, my Verizon phone was unlocked, so all I needed was a T-Mobile SIM chip, which customer service sent to me and waived the $20 fee. I (carefully) took out the Verizon SIM and swapped it with the T-Mobile. It worked like a charm.
Important: After taking out your old SIM put it in a safe place, preferably in a baggie or envelope. Do not lose it!
Now, remember, you don’t have to switch your service to use T-Mobile. You can sign up for their ONE or their North America service, and terminate it (without penalty, because there’s no contract) once you get back home. If you don’t have an iPhone, you should check to see if your current phone will work with their system, or if it’s unlocked. There’s a link on their web site to see if your phone is compatible.
I hope that my blog inspired you to consider visiting Egypt. It’s mind blowing that the items I touched were over 4000 years old, and still held the test of time. The ancient Egyptians were definitely ahead of its time, and no one can replicate what they did, even with modern tools and technology. I can’t think of anything else. If you have any questions, feel free to email or comment.
As my tour guide Saber would say to us in Arabic… Yallah! (Let’s get going!)