Why Go Solo in Egypt?

I’ve wanted to visit Egypt since I was a young girl but the opportunity never arose. Recently a confluence of events made planning a trip to Egypt easy to do but, I surprised myself and went solo, sort of.  Here are several reasons why solo travel worked and might for you too:

  • Trip Bundling: I started by looking to bundle a business and personal trip together. There was a conference in Greece that made getting to Egypt easier and more affordable, than starting the trip from California.
  • Juggling Preferences: When you add the energy and time to address professional needs and family preferences, sometimes letting all that to travel alone works best. In this case, my partner couldn’t get away and had already been to Egypt years ago.
  • Efficiency and Satisfaction: Going solo can open a trip up exponentially. It was much easier to adjust my room preferences, times to eat, and things to do without having to negotiate with travel buddies. However, one downside is that traveling alone often means a single supplement charge.
  • Timing: I could choose when to go and for how long. After having an epiphany, I determined that going to Egypt sooner than later was best. Specifically, I needed to do story research before the end of the year. Also, I have commitments at home that meant a long trip (more than 10 days) impossible. If I was going at all, a shorter trip was necessary.
Luxor Temple is a must-visit when planning a trip to Egypt

Luxor Temple is a must-visit when planning a trip to Egypt

  • Access Your Travel Allies: Ask friends who’ve been to your destination within the last year. While planning a trip to Egypt took shape I talked with others who had been there. Gathering their stories, sharing notes, and pictures was great preparation. It also helped me clarify the kind of trip I wanted. It became clear that a group tour would make it difficult to do the research I needed to do. I also noted the differences between my friends’ travel styles, budgets, and travel experiences. As luck had it, once I started researching the best budget travel options, a fellow blogger shared her recent Egypt trip itinerary and then connected me with her Egyptian travel tour group.
  • Go Local: As I’ve been traveling over the years, it’s become more important than ever to work with locals, to get out of my tourist bubble, and connect with the communities. Being referred to EgyptSeraiTravel was a huge gift. They set up a personalized itinerary that went far and beyond my expectations. They also matched me to kind, experienced, and patient guides.
  • Tips vs. Souvenirs: Since my partner already brought home souvenirs from his earlier trip to Egypt, I decided to focus on the experiences and learned quickly how much Egyptian workers rely on tips to survive, especially since the Pandemic. It brought such heart-warming exchanges and cost me so little to hand over a tip in Egyptian pounds for the kind services I received again and again. Also, I’m not the best negotiator! Spending time haggling over a trinket is one of my least favorite actions, especially as a Western woman traveling alone. I don’t regret the choice to spend my souvenir budget on tips at all.

Before long I had an online notebook and links. It was time to book the flights and I used up all my frequent flier miles gladly. It reminded me of my first big solo journey – to Switzerland and here’s a post about one of the discoveries from that trip.

Check out this short video about what to eat in Egypt

Know Your Comfort Zone:

Northern Egypt is primarily desert and can be scorchingly hot. However, I’ve met more than one family that found a great flight rate, were wowed by the low-priced accommodations, and scheduled their travel during summer school breaks. The trip was compromised before they left home! While they still had a wonderful vacation, traveling like that wasn’t a fit for me. Physiological needs are as important as accounting for weather. Elderly travelers and babies have a harder time in extreme heat. Older children may get cranky and adults stress through heat-induced exhaustion.

I live at sea level and a mile from the ocean. Cool, moist air from the marine layer and the region’s temperate climate are my norm. Being trapped for days in a torrid, dry environment with crowds would be my first level of Hades. As it was, I took a gamble that early spring, the beginning of the hot season would be manageable and I was lucky. There were only two extremely (for me) hot days – over 100 degrees in the open sun.

The Cairo Train Station is spectacular addition to an Egyptian itinerary.

The Cairo Train Station is spectacular addition to an Egyptian itinerary.

My guide made sure we left the hotel early in the day and were indoors or returned to the hotel before the hottest time of the day. I followed the local custom of resting at midday and pushing other tasks to later hours.

Managing Crowds and Heat

Planning a trip to Egypt certainly includes a visit to the tombs in the Valley of the Kings or the Valley of the Queens. That’s where fabled King Tut is buried. While my guide and I arrived early in the morning, groups were already surging into the area when we rode up the dusty track to the tomb entrances. I watched lines snaking into the narrow shafts of the most popular tombs and chose to visit others. Some want bragging rights to seeing King Tuts’ sepulcher but given the circumstances, it wasn’t my goal and I made the right choice – for me.

Visiting a Tomb – Solo!

My guide and I braved the sun to walk past crowds to the end of the trail and stopped at a shaded kiosk outside the Tomb of Setknat. Guides are not allowed to enter so, I sat with Tamer, my guide, as he shared pictures and described what I was to see, then I stepped into the shadowy corridor.

Having a private audience with the ancient past overwhelmed me with emotion and the guard noticed.

As I descended, my eyes adjusted to the muted light. The hieroglyphics along each wall were illuminated from the base, so colors faded into shadows as I gazed upward. A few other guests walked out as I marched slowly down and then found myself alone in the burial chamber. One guard nodded as I entered the room. Having a private audience with the ancient past overwhelmed me with emotion and the guard noticed. He suggested a few places for me to stand for the full effect and moments later another couple entered, shifting the energy and my experience. I will cherish that forever and it wouldn’t have been possible if I were there with anyone else.

Elaine standing near temple columns in Egypt.

Read Books and Novels As Part of Planning a Trip to Egypt

I read several books while preparing for my travels in Egypt and carried one with me for the airplane or those long hours of the night when sleep can be elusive.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Of the books about Egypt that I’ve read thus far, Jodi Picoult’s Book of Two Ways was the most entertaining. It’s a novel about a woman who straddles two worlds – that of being a Death Doula in the United States and an Egyptologist far beyond the Nile tourist sites. She researched the work intensively and the chapters I found most compelling wound through her main character’s times working on excavations as well as the workers who became her friends. The book is a tour de force balancing the past and present in a rich and passionate story.

A Cafe on the Nile by Bartle Bull

It’s funny how books can materialize right when you need them. When I first spoke with an elderly relative about my plans she offered me a book, A Cafe on the Nile by Bartle Bull. It was a light read and an entertaining introduction to the colonial history of North Africa. The story, the second in a four-part series about Eastern Africa, is full of sharply drawn characters, sensuous intrigues, and a simmering plot that winds through the machinations of society in 1935 Cairo as Mussolini’s troops began their African invasion. USA Today called it, “A rip-roaring yarn . . . chock-full of fine ingredients: a cupful of Casablanca, a dollop of Isak Dinesen, a pinch of Indiana Jones and a touch of Tender Is the Night. Bull enriches the mix with a white-hot plot and genuinely dashing descriptive writing.” —USA Today

Elaine and Cairo guide, Ahmed, on the famous rooftop of the Gayer Anderson home/museum.

Elaine and Cairo guide, Ahmed, on the famous rooftop of the Gayer Anderson home/museum.

Empress of the Nile

This story about the French Egyptologist, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, who spent decades leading international efforts to save ancient Egyptian temples from the floodwaters of the new Aswan Dam was a great travel companion. Written by the New York Times bestselling author, Lynn Olson, The Empress of the Nile fed my wonder and informed my explorations each step of the trip.

“A female version of the Indiana Jones story . . . [Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt] was a daredevil whose real-life antics put Hollywood fiction to shame.”—
The Guardian

Khan al Kalili by Naguib Mahfouz

The morning my guide, Ahmed led me through the corridors of the Coptic neighborhood of Cairo, we stopped in a shadowy passage lined with bookshelves. “It’s the oldest bookstore in Cairo,” he said. I think Ahmed was given to hyperbole but appreciated when he pointed out a series of books in English by prolific Pulitzer Prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz. One was a novel about the neighborhood bazaar we would visit the next day and led me to a wonderful lunch in the old souk. The novel, Khan el Kalili,  is set in 1942, World War II is at its height, and the Africa Campaign is raging along the northern coast of Egypt. Against this backdrop, Mahfouz’s novel tells the story of the Akifs, a middle-class family that has taken refuge in Cairo’s colorful and bustling Khan al-Khalili neighborhood.