First of all, let me say again how excited I was for this trip and how it exceeded the expectations I had. I was BLOWN AWAY by the history of the country, the architecture, the food, the people, nature, etc. This post is for the women out there that are scared of traveling to middle eastern countries. Don’t miss out. This is how I recommend you do it.
(If you don’t know about my trip yet, check out the next few posts I will publish. I was traveling with my French-Egyptian friend and her mother and 2 other French Canadians living in Los Angeles.)
How to travel to Egypt as a woman in 2019:
- Travel in a small group: You can then split costs for everything I mention below and I believe it’s safer. Travel with people you know well and who will want to respect the moeurs of the country and will try to blend in. I was there with 5 women, including myself, and I strongly think it was a great number. 3-6 would be ideal. You don’t want to be too large of a group either to attract attention.
- Use tour guides and drivers: My friend organized our days in Cairo through a company called General Tours Egypt. They supplied us with a guide as well as a driver for a daily fee and it was very affordable. It made everything very easy. All we had to do was show up on time in the morning, and they brought us where we wanted to go. We didn’t have to deal with buying tickets or the chaos of figuring out where the entrance was, what to see, etc. They stopped to buy us food, water, anything we wanted! I strongly recommend using General Tours! Tip: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE IN EGYPT. It’s absolutely chaotic.
- Use Uber if you don’t have a driver: Once I left my group to head to Hurghada to scuba dive, I had to coordinate my own transportation. Uber was a frustrating experience in Cairo because the time estimated for the driver to pick me up was wrong 75% of the time and the driver often canceled before they arrived. It worked pretty well in Hurghada which was great because I could share my ride info with my friends. They could then know where I was going and in which car in case anything happened.
- Take a cellular phone (coverage) but don’t expect great service: I was able to use my phone for most of my trip to Egypt but the reception was quite spotty. At least I knew I had a backup plan if I got lost or needed to make an emergency call. You may need to connect to wifi to get Uber to work, so we walked into hotel lobbies to do so. I’d also recommend downloading Google maps so you can still figure out where you are if you’re offline.
- Stay in safe hotels & ask about free shuttle services: We felt extremely safe and welcomed in every hotel we stayed at. We probably paid more than the average hotel prices in Egypt (they are quite cheap), but it’s worth it for at least 2 reasons. You will want a good night sleep as your days are likely to be extremely busy and you want a safe place to stay. I contacted the hotels that I organized for the trip and all had a free shuttle service. When I flew into Cairo on the first night they even had a handler waiting for me and helped me get my visa at the airport, skip the lines and even helped me change my money. It was so appreciated after the very long journey to get there. I got a lot of nights with Marriott hotel and Bonvoy points & loyalty status and there was only one hotel that wasn’t that great but still very safe, friendly and helpful.
- Dress respectfully and try to blend in: Before the trip, we all made a great effort to pack clothes that would help us blend in and be respectful of the Egyptian style. Throughout our first week in Egypt, we wore loose clothing that covered our shoulders, neckline, and thighs. In Mosques and Cathedrals, you will have to fully cover your hair, arms, legs. Some places may not let you walk in with loose pants as a woman. You will need to wear a skirt. Even on our little cruise boat, we were respectful of the men working on it and jumped in the water in leggings and t-shirts/tops, not in our bikinis. At our more touristy hotels, we weren’t as strict but still tried to be respectful.
- Smile and be nice to the local people: in many instances, local women, children, and some men may smile, wave or say hi to you. Don’t be scared to smile back or wave but keep a distance and don’t become too friendly or engage too much. A useful word to know is shukran which means thank you.
- Expect a lot of stares from men (and sometimes women), especially if you’re blond & don’t have middle eastern features: That’s one thing I will not miss about my time in this country. The stares and the comments aren’t something we’re used to in North America. I just kept looking in the distance and didn’t engage with them and everything went great. Note that I never walked the streets alone, there was always a group of us.
- Tip when appropriate: One thing we all noticed is that we seemed to be tipping for everything, and they aren’t afraid to ask and even wait if you don’t seem like you’re reaching out for it. Make sure you bring a lot of change with you. We often left 10 Egyptian pounds (which is less than a dollar) for the bellman, concierge, front desk, guest services, room service people that did small/quick tasks for us. We left more if the help required more of an effort.
- In touristic places do not look at the merchandise unless you really have the intention to buy something: Our guide warned us about it. They will charge you for looking at the merchandise sometimes. They will also follow you around if you tell them you will come back later. Don’t let them take pictures for you or of your group unless you want to tip them. Some merchants can be very aggressive: you need to be assertive and confident in your answer. We learned LA’ shukran, which means no thank you and we repeated it a lot throughout the trip!
All in all, I felt extremely safe while traveling to Egypt as a woman in 2019. We made a huge effort to try to blend in with our dress style and our behaviors. I believe it was appreciated by the people we met and we didn’t encounter any issues at all. I hope these guidelines will help you enjoy your trip to Egypt as much as I did, and hopefully fall in love with it. I sure did!