This is my “survival guide” based on the experiences I had in Egypt as a solo female traveler traveling on a budget (i.e. staying in hostels, catching public transport etc). It is by no means a complete list on staying safe in this country, but I hope that it can provide some advice for you if you are considering conquering this region on your own ๐Ÿ™‚
If you have any experiences you would like to share or any other tips please comment them below ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Harassment:

  • For me I placed the harassment into two categories:
    1. The general harassment tourists get because all we are is a walking ATM machine, right? This was from shopkeepers, street vendors, taxi drivers, camel/donkey/horse vendors.
      • It is hard not to feel rude, but I ended up just ignoring them (sometimes easier said than done). They are incredibly good at being able to tell if they even got a split second of your attention and then will go for more.
    2. Sexual harassment directed at me because I am female. And I felt like it was worse because I was on my own.
      • I was whistled at, hissed at, clicked at, yelled at ‘hey honey, hey!’ ‘ hey beautiful’. Constantly. I had a man at the pyramids offer me his genitals.
      • I gave a few lectures to men/boys on how ‘no means no’ and ‘when I tell you to leave me aloneย can you please respect that and do so’. But a few times I was so angry at their disrespect that I gave them an absolute earful. Not something I would normally do, but I was certainly pushed to my limits. It was the worst in Cairo, and wasn’t as bad as I headed further south along the Nile. I never felt like someone was going to physically assault me, but it was just very uncomfortable. However, I have heard several stories of women being sexually assaulted on the streets, so take care!
      • I think it wouldn’t be as bad if you were traveling with someone else (especially a male) or in a tour group. After my experiences at the Giza Pyramids, I would recommend any female traveler do it on a day tour, to hopefully avoid some of the hassle.
      • I have heard about some females that wear a wedding ring. Or at least when they ask if you have a boyfriend, or if you are married…just say yes. Even if it isn’t true.
      • If you get asked if you are traveling alone. Say “No, I am with a group, they are just in the store next door/down the road/using the bathroom etc.”
      • Don’t let anyone let you feel bad for not talking to them. Either ignore them completely, or say hi and keep walking and just tell them to leave you alone if they keep following you “Just to chat”.
      • Walking down the streets was ok. I was still approached a lot and harassed but if I ignore the people and pretended I was sure of where I was going it wasn’t too bad. I actually felt more comfortable in the evening when it was darker and people couldn’t see already from a distance that a tall white red-headed female was walking down the street. If you pretend that you know where you are going less people will approach to “help you”. If you need to check your phone/map for directions, wait until you are at a major crossing with lots of people around so you don’t get targeted on a small street alone. Or get good at checking your map while continuing to walk and make it look like you are checking a message on your phone ๐Ÿ˜‰
      • Wearing headphones (even if you don’t have any music playing) helped make it easier to ignore the people around you.

 

Communication:

  • I bought a sim card on my first day there (Vodaphone – super cheap 30 day prepaid. Bring your passport when signing up). I would highly advise this as it doesn’t just mean for easier trip planning as you can research things on the go, but I felt safer having a working phone. Try to make a reliable contact that can speak arabic (either someone working at you hotel or a friend) that you can call if there are any issues. I met a really kind elderly Egyptian man on the plane and he said I could call him anytime for help. I didn’t need to, but it was nice knowing that there was someone there if I needed them.
  • Most people I encountered spoke a little bit of English, at least enough to get by. But it is always useful to learn a few words in the local language:
    • Al-salaam – Hello
    • Shukraan – Thank you
    • Law-aftham – I don’t understand
    • La – No
    • Emshee – go away
    • Aeb! Alek! – “Shame on you!”
      • I was taught this by a friend who speaks arabic, and was told to use it when men or boys were being disrespectful towards me. Did it work? Not really, but some of them were a bit taken aback by it.
    • Inshallah – “In god’s will”
      • This was useful when being hassled by street vendors. You can say “I might come back tomorrow, inshallah”. Sometimes they respected what I said more when I added that to the end.

 

Clothing:

  • I was respectful to the local culture and wore long pants and either a t-shirt or long sleeved shirt (that covers your chest). I always had a scarf handy to cover my head (and elbows if i was in a t-shirt) if needed, especially if you want to enter one of the mosques.
  • I was told my many that tourists can wear shorts. I did one day because it was so hot but I wouldn’t advise that you wear shorts or skirts or anything showing legs. The sexual harassment I received that day was so much worse.
  • Even though I was at times completely covered head to toe, i couldn’t disguise that I was a tall, pale re-head and was still harassed a bit.
  • The streets are pretty grubby, water, dust/dirt and rubbish everywhere. The footpaths are usually too crowded with things or cars to walk on so you walk on the road a lot. Don’t wear your nicest shoes in this place.

 

Going to the Giza Pyramids alone:

  • This is entirely possible as it is close to Cairo and I did do it on my own. You can read my post on Cairo and the Giza Pyramidsย here.
  • I received some pretty bad sexual harassment (as outlined above), and I think a lot of it was to do with me hiking around there on my own, so my recommendation would be to do it in a day tour with a small group or a reliable guide. It will cost you a little more but will save you a fair bit of sanity.

 

Transport:

  • I walk as much as I can in the city, both to save on money (gotta do what you can to make the travels last longer ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and because I enjoy seeing what life is like along the streets, if you pass by this too quickly you can miss getting a taste of what the city is really like.
  • I caught trains between all the major cities. I had no issues with this and the train guards seemed to look out for me which was nice. You can read more about catching trains in Egyptย here.
  • I used Uber to get around Cairo when I was going somewhere that was too far to walk. I found this an easy option because firstly you don’t have to haggle with the taxi drivers that just want to rip you off and it felt like the safer option because I then have a record of who my driver is if there are any problems. But make sure to keep an eye on their route on google maps (you can still see your location offline), to check that they don’t take the long way round.
  • If you do catch a taxi, make sure to agree on the price and confirm the amount with them before you get in. Typing the number into your phone calculator to confirm what they meant is a good idea (fifteen and fifty can sound the same sometimes).

 

Accommodation:

  • I stayed in hostels or cheap hotels. They were fine, I felt safe and in some of the hostels I was the only person in the room. Mostly because the tourism industry in Egypt is fairly low at the moment.
  • The staff at the places I stayed at were friendly. Some of them were a bit pushy with wanting me to take tours and weren’t always the most helpful when I said I wanted to do things alone.

Other tips:

  • Check your change! I was deliberately short changed everywhere, by street vendors, at shops, at museums. They try to confuse you by asking for different/extra notes and then giving you the wrong change. Take the extra seconds and double check you have the correct change!
  • The Egyptian currency is the Egyptian Pound. People try and trick you by saying something is “5 pounds”, and then when you go to pay they say “no, i meant english pound” (20 times the price). Always double check the cost of everything, especially services.
  • Bartering – at the markets start at 1/3 of the price they give you and stick to it as well as you can. You can also barter with tour guides, hotel rooms, street food etc.
  • Take care with people wanting to “Give you their card if you need any help”. They conveniently don’t have their card on them and ask you to come with them to their shop nearby where they hand you over to their salesman brother and try to force you to buy something. On my first day in Cairo I fell for this trap and had to forcibly make my way out of the shop without buying something.
  • Crossing the road can be terrifying. The cars don’t seem to obey any road rules including pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. The technique is similar to that in South East Asia – fix your gaze on the other side, keep a sly eye on the traffic and walk across the road at a steady pace letting the cars move around you.
  • Almost everything has a “tourist price” and a “local price” – e.g. 1.5L water shouldn’t cost you more than 5 LE (Egyptian Pounds), but they will often try to charge you more. Just say ‘No, i know its not meant to cost more than 5’. Feel free to argue your point with them if you feel you are being overcharged for food, snacks etc.

 

I didn’t like how frustrated and sceptical i became of people in this country. ย There are many kind people there but also many that act kind but are trying to trick you for money and then the just plain disgusting and disrespectful men. Balancing trust and skepticism can be really hard in this country, and was something I struggled with as all I want to do is trust the people around you. Even when I flew onwards to Jordan where the people were much more respectful and kind I found that it took me quite a few days to let my defences down.ย I had come to Egypt fromย Mongoliaย where the respect for women and people in general is incredibly high, and after my first two days in Cairo I just wanted to leave. But as the stubborn person I am, I was not going to let this stop me from having a good time, and when I stepped out of Cairo it got a bit better.

BUT despite the difficulties I encountered I saw some amazing things and had some great experiences along the way. It is a really interesting place to explore and does contain some genuinely nice people. But what I would recommend is that you think twice about traveling in it as a solo female (as in, is this the place for you to travel solo – there are plenty of other places that are ‘easier’ to travel alone in) and prepare yourself for the fact that it may not be easy. Stand up for yourself, be ok with saying no and telling people to leave you alone and if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instinct.

 

To read about my adventures along the Nile region check out the links below: