I traveled to Egypt after the recent resignation of the prime minister and during the hottest month of the year. As it turns out, this was a great time to visit due to very minimal crowds and upgraded accommodations! The challenging factor was the August heat. I started in Cairo, and from there took an overnight train to Luxor and then a very small cruise ship down the Nile to Aswan. When in Aswan I sailed down the Nile on a small felucca. I also had the opportunity to go to Abu Simbel which is only accessible by plane.
Packing for this part of the world takes a little extra thought, and even more so if you’re a female. I think there are several useful tips to share for females traveling to Egypt that I learned while I was there, some of which I wish I knew sooner:
Scarves – Scarves are always the first thing on my clothing checklist for travels . . . but nowhere have they been as useful as in Egypt! Whether you bring a few with you or purchase some when you arrive, they honestly really come in handy. I would use them to cover my head for sun protection due to being really lightweight and breathable. In addition to sun protection they will really help you blend in with the local women as their heads are covered also.
Sunglasses – I would be practically blinded on some days if I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses. I’m very fair skinned with light eyes, so obviously they are needed for me and I imagine they are for you too if you don’t want to have burned retinas. They are also very useful for protecting your eyes on windy days when sand and dust is blowing about.
Hat – If there wasn’t a scarf on my head, there would usually be a hat. The sun is very strong, (you are in the middle of the Sahara desert after all).
Jeans – It was waayyyyy too hot to even consider wearing jeans when I was in Egypt. If you are traveling in the cooler months it would be okay to bring a pair, but I’d still recommend a long skirt or long dress over jeans.
Non-denim pants – I wore a pair of Harem pants I purchased in Turkey, which were perfect because they were loose and breathable. There are lots of them for sale in the markets in Egypt as well. I think the best kind of pants you can wear in Egypt are loose fitting pants, whatever the fabric may be.
Shorts – I really wouldn’t recommend shorts at all in Cairo or in other populous and local areas. Legs are even far more important to cover than your arms. Save the shorts until you are in the Red Sea, resort, or beach areas as clothing is more relaxed in these areas.
Dresses – Long dresses are perfect, especially when it’s over 40 degrees Celsius.
Cardigan/sweater – For layering over dresses and tank-tops, if it gets chilly in the evening, and shoulder coverage when entering religious sites.
Tops – Several tank tops, t-shirts, and long sleeve shirts for mixing and matching and layering depending on what region of the country you are in. Some parts of Egypt feel really remote, like in Aswan drifting down the Nile, for instance. Clothing like tank tops and shorter dresses are acceptable on a boat or felucca. When back in more local areas, I’d make sure both shoulders and knees are covered, either with a t-shirt, scarf, or sarong.
Swimwear – I’ve seen a couple recommendations for females to swim with their clothes on while in Egypt. I do not agree with that recommendation at all. If you are going to be swimming you will probably either be out on the sea or in a hotel pool, in which case, why wouldn’t you wear a swimsuit? Swimming with clothes on can be dangerous, and completely pointless as it’s unnecessary. Swimming in your swimsuit is one thing; wearing your swimsuit in a local market is another. So, no need to be absurd, you can bring a swimsuit. When I snorkeled in the Red Sea it was probably my most favourite thing I did in Egypt!
Sarong/cover up – Perfect for when you’ve been swimming and to throw on as you dry off. You can adjust the length according to surroundings (to your ankles for mosques, mid-calf while shopping, above the knee in Hurghada, etc). They are also cool in the hot weather and can serve as a towel, scarf, or blanket while traveling.
*I don’t believe in wearing a fake wedding ring to avoid unwanted male attention like I have heard about so many times. Instead I say walk with confidence and hold your own. No need to go overboard with fake props. Dress respectfully and you will be just fine. The general rule of thumb is to have your shoulders and knees covered until you reach more beachy and laid back areas. The more modest you dress, the more respect you will be shown.
I had my butt squeezed in Cairo. I was wearing pants that were probably a little too tight. I’m not saying that it was my fault, (butt squeezing is never warranted no matter where in the world you are), but would it have happened if I was wearing something much looser? Maybe not. Something to think about.
Trainers – Comfortable walking shoes are a great idea not only for comfort, but to keep your feet from getting dirty. Sometimes when I was in Cairo I would be walking down the street but also feel like I was walking on piles of garbage also. Eek!
Flip flops – I wore flip flops all over the place in Egypt. My feet would get extremely dirty because of this, so I would alternate back and forth between walking shoes. But my feet were so swollen because of the heat and the socks and shoes didn’t do anything to help, so I just resorted back to flip flops! They kept me the most cool! I just made sure my feet were scrubbed clean before bed each night.
Flats/Toms – They will return home ruined, but they are handy to wear since you don’t need socks with them and they will keep your feet cleaner than flip flops. But the dust and dirt will destroy them.
Travel Doctor! Before you travel to Egypt, you must visit a travel doctor for recommended medications to bring along with you or any jabs you may need beforehand. Bring a map of the country and mark off the regions in the country you will be traveling through. I was given a few medications, but the one I remember most was four really big pink pills to be taken all at once if I was to be feeling really ill. Sure enough, that day arrived, and I took all four pills at once. I was down and out for about a day (and I mean really down and out). Thankfully I bounced back quickly and recovered enough to go snorkeling out on the Red Sea a couple days later, which happened to be my most favourite thing I did in Egypt.
Getting sick when you’re far from home is awful, but being prepared for such a thing will help you get healthy that much quicker in order to experience as many amazing opportunities as possible.
Imodium – Upset tummy medication should never be overlooked! Some foods just won’t agree with you with no forewarning. I tried a spinach and lentil chickpea soup. It was delicious. It made me very sick. I would recommend staying away from soups and food from a buffet! Foods containing a lot of the local water won’t generally agree with your system.
Advil/Tylenol – For headaches and other body aches that just won’t quit.
Re-hydration sachets – If you’ve been sick, some electrolyte powder dissolved in water is a quick and easy way to replenish your body. These sachets contain salts which replace fluids and minerals lost through dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. My travel doctor gave me a bunch of little packets in orange flavour.
Aloe vera gel – For the days you get sunburned.
EGP – Bring with you Egyptian Pounds, preferably in small denominations. You will notice quickly how everyone in Egypt seems to be asking you for a tip for the tiniest of details (called baksheesh). I couldn’t carry my luggage to my room no matter how much I persisted! It was literally ripped from my hands and brought to my room where a man stood in the doorway and stared at me until I handed him some money. At that time, I only had big bills on me, some still in Canadian!
Baksheesh can seem pretty intense at times, but please note that just because someone is demanding a tip does absolutely not mean you must give them one. If you feel they are deserving, that’s fine. I liked to tip my friendly taxi driver who didn’t speak much English at all but ensured I got somewhere safely. Egyptian locals are friendly, many times warmly exclaiming to me “Welcome to Cairo!” as I strolled the streets.
Passport – With extra photocopies stored away from each other in different compartments. Ensure your passport has a minimum of six months validity at your date of return. Even though there are safes in the hotel rooms, I always prefer to have my passport on me at all times. I like knowing I have it safe and sound 24/7.
Travel insurance documents – Make sure you carry your proof of coverage and 24 hour emergency phone number close by you at all times. The first thing any doctor will ask for is travel insurance. (Either that or enough cash upfront to take care of you).
Sunscreen – Sunscreen just isn’t an option, it’s a must! SPF 30 at least. I used SPF 50, as I’m very fair with very sensitive skin. Also choose a sunscreen that is sweat proof and waterproof.
Toilet paper – Most of the public toilets that I used were Western style, but only a few provided toilet paper.
Hand sanitizer – Egypt is very dusty and dirty in some parts. Make sure you wash your hands or sanitize before eating a meal and especially after handling the currency.
Face wipes – I also really loved wiping my face with face wipes throughout the day to keep my face clean and refresh it from all the dust and sweat.
First-aid kit – Make sure it includes some anti-septic cream. I tripped down some stairs and scraped my leg pretty bad. It’s so important to properly tend to any bad cuts or scrapes so they don’t become infected! (In a more dusty/dirty environment, especially).
Bug spray – West Nile . . . need I say more?
Travel Adapter – Egypt uses two pronged, rounded plugs with 220 volts. It’s a good idea to bring a couple of them should you need to recharge a couple things simultaneously. I really recommend the universal plug adapters, you have all the adapters you need in one device! So incredibly useful! I’ve used it more times than I could possibly count.
And lastly, it is so important to bring with you:
An open mind and a sense of humour – Egypt can seem pretty overwhelming. It can be challenging to keep your cool, both literally and figuratively, when the heat is so powerful and all you want is to purchase a bottle of water without being completely ripped off but feel you have no choice to succumb to the ridiculously high price because you feel you will pass out without some water immediately. Please remember these people are just trying to earn a living and mean you no harm.
Simply say “La Shukran” (meaning “no thank you”) and walk on. The more relaxed you are, the better a time you are likely to have. So take a deep breath and let it go. This is Egypt and you can’t change it . . . but it may well change you.