12 travel tips for solo female travelers in Egypt
“How the hell did you do it, traveling by yourself as a woman in Egypt?” It’s this frequently asked question everyone has about my trip in Egypt. And of course I don’t blame them. Egypt is not a place where it’s common for women to travel by themselves. Especially for Egyptian people it’s hard to understand why a girl would travel alone in Egypt. It’s simply not common at all in their culture, so I don’t blame them for thinking this way. Also the image that the media is showing of “dangerous Egypt” is not helping at all. Soms people probably expected that I would be kidnapped within a day in Egypt.
I traveled for 6 weeks in Egypt, mostly by myself. And guess what? I am still alive, healthy and not kidnapped at all. I had an amazing time, partly because of the kindness of many Egyptians. Even though they don’t always understand the Western culture, they wanna make sure people feel safe in their home country – especially women.
Of course there are some cultural differences between Egyptians and Western people like me. But if you know this before and be prepared for it I don’t see why you can’t go as a female solo traveler to Egypt!
1. Choose your clothes wisely
Crop tops and shorts are amazing, but they are not the best choice for your outfits in Egypt. Egyptians are pretty liberal in their way of thinking, but still… You don’t want to give people a reason to be offended. You will see a lot of women in a burqa or a at least a hijab. While Egpytians don’t expect you to wear these clothes, it would be nice to at least cover your knees and shoulders. You will definitely notice that people will not stare at you that much. In some places like Dahab or Hurghada you can just wear a bikini, but if you go to more local beaches try to cover yourself a bit more. A lot of women have a burkini , but it also works if you just swim in your shirt.
2. “Are you married?”
Egyptians have no boundaries if it comes to personal questions. They are pretty straightforward. The moment they know your name and nationality they will probably ask if you are married. And if not, if you have a boyfriend. They probably suggest that you need a boyfriend in Egypt as well. I always answered that I have a boyfriend at home and that one boyfriend is already enough work. Egyptians appreciate a joke, because they joke all the time as well. Don’t take it too personal: for Egyptians this question is just a way to connect and to get to know you. They are not even always interested to be together with you; sometimes even married men ask this question. It also helps if you wear a (wedding) ring, so people that are interested in you will see immediately that you’re not available anymore.
3. You’re gonna be in A LOT of pictures
Both men and women want to take a picture with you. For them a foreign friend is something to be proud of – and they will share that photo with all their friends the moment it is taken. I don’t have any problems with this (maybe because I’m photographing people all the time as well), but if you don’t want this you have to be really clear and set your boundaries.
4. Avoid eye contact
Try to avoid eye contact with men as much as possible. For me this was really weird in the beginning, because I look people in the eyes while I talk to them. In the Western world that’s a sign that you’re honest to the other one. In Arab countries it’s the opposite. By avoiding eye contact you show the other person respect. Eye contact is also seen as a way of seduction and of course you don’t want to give that impression during a normal conversation. While you’re walking in the streets it also helps to wear sunglasses. This way you make the ‘distance’ between you and guys on the street bigger.
5. Shaking hands or not?
I normally shake hands with people when I meet them back home, but in Arab countries it’s not usual at all if men and women are shaking hands. If you reach out as a woman you will notice some men won’t respond to this. Especially when a man is really religious. You have to check during every conversation. If you want to make sure you are doing the right thing you can put your hand on your chest and say “salaam aleikum”, sometimes followed by a little nod. NEVER give a man a hug in public, this is not done at all.
6. Back seat of the taxi
If you’re traveling by taxi go sit at the back seat instead of next to the driver. This way you make it clear that you’re only interested in the ride and nothing else, because physically you’re creating a bigger distance than sitting in the front seat.
7. Never tell them where you stay
Like I already said: Egyptians are pretty straightforward. Don’t be surprised if they ask you where you stay. For us it’s a personal question and none of the other person’s business. For them it’s mostly trying to keep the conversation going on. But of course some people have bad intentions and will show up at your accommodation if they know where you stay. Never tell them where you stay, but also be prepared to give them an answer. Of course you can tell them it’s none of their business where you stay. But if you wanna be more polite you can say that you stay with family friends or family members who moved to Egypt. This way they know people are looking out for you already and bother you less with things that they can arrange for you.
8. But do share your location with a friend
Don’t share your location with the people on the street, but do share it every once in a while with a familiar person, like a friend or a family member. When I was invited in Cairo to drink some tea my intuition felt right, but nonetheless I told a friend who stayed in Dahab where I was. There’s an app you can use for this as well: Find My Friends. In this app you can give someone permission to track your GPS signal. Also Whatsapp gives the opportunity to share your location for a specific time. This is also smart to do if you go hiking by yourself or go to an abandoned place.
9. We are not going Dutch
I’m Dutch and for us it’s common to split the bill. Fair, right? In Egypt this is not common at all and men will definitely be offended if you even suggest this. At least in public. If you wanna give the other person something, do it while there are no other people around to ‘judge’ them. It’s also an idea to give it to the mother or wife of the person who paid for your food or drinks.
10. Exercise in public?
As a lady it’s not usual to exercise in public areas like the park. Not only because of the temperature (it can get pretty hot in Egypt!), but also because people will definitely look at you in a strange way. It’s not unsafe to do it, but definitely not enjoyable either. In most cities you can go to the gym for €1-2 euros a day where you can go crazy.
11. Food in Egypt
You can eat and sit together with men while you eat in restaurants. But did you know they have special cafés and restaurants in Egypt, only allowed for women? This way women can spend time together in a way they feel safe and not intimidated by men. There are also some restaurants with a separate room for women only.
Healthy food is not always easy to find in Egypt. But I think the Egyptian kitchen is much more diverse than most people told me. Of course there are a lot of vegetarian dishes like falafal, koshari, salads, baba ghanoush, foul and hummus. But even if they don’t have it on the menu most of the times the cook can make you something vegetarian anyway. You can use the website Happy Cow to check if they have any vegetarian or vegan options in cities like Cairo. In Luxor you can try the vegan ice cream at Wenkies.
12. Bring some extra tampons
I use a menstrual cup because I hate tampons and it’s more sustainable than tampons as well. But if you do use tampons: bring some extra! In some non-Western countries like Egypt it’s not common at all to find tampons in the pharmacies. If they are not for yourself you can probably help a fellow female traveler. In the more touristic areas of Egypt you can find them in the pharmacy as well.
The tips in this article are based on my own experiences, combined with the help of Miriam of Kingfisher Tours. She is already living in Egypt with her family for years and has a lot of experience how to deal with every situation in this country. Do you have any more tips for girls traveling in Egypt? Let me know in the comments below!