By Callie Watson
“You’re going where?” My concerned boyfriend in Australia asked as I told him of my latest travel plans. I was living and studying in the UK and in my spare week decided to go to Egypt. It had been almost a year since the country’s political revolution made international news and despite the apprehension from friends and family, I took the plunge.
I decided to mix a tour with some days by myself in Cairo and, eventually, returned to London safe and sound. Better than that, I experienced a completely different culture, saw some of the world’s oldest landmarks and made new friends. But just how do you decide whether or not to visit a place that doesn’t have the best reputation?
For starters, make sure you do your homework. If you know someone who has been, ask them about it. Also, extensively search the web and check the Smart Traveller website. See if tour companies are running – if they are, it’s a good sign.
Understanding the local culture is important. Egypt is a predominantly a Muslim country and dress standards are different so as a traveller you have to be careful not to offend. I went in winter, which was surprisingly chilly, but in summer you should be more conservative.
By booking a tour you might be worried about getting stuck with a bunch of people you don’t like, but there’s a whole range of options. Consider booking a small tour at the start of the trip, then venture off by yourself, or vice versa. I spent my first few days tackling Cairo on my own, before embarking on a six day Top Deck tour that included a Nile cruise and stops in Luxor and Aswan. Best of all, when an overnight train was cancelled at the last minute, the tour company quickly arranged alternative transport.
If you’re worried about being alone but still want to see the sights, pay the taxi driver from your hotel a bit extra to hang around until you’re done. I did this at Cairo’s Grand Bazaar where the taxi driver waited two hours for me in a specified spot and took me back once I was done.
Travellers should also remember tourists often aren’t targets of political protests. As one Egyptian told me, “tourists bring a lot of money to this country. We had problems with our government, not the tourists. There’s no dangers at the pyramids.”
Other helpful hints include checking to see if you can get your money back if you do have to cancel your flight, tour or accommodation and registering with Smart Traveller at www.smarttraveller.gov.au.
Don’t be put off by people telling you about a place they haven’t visited. The internet is littered with people who write about how dangerous South America is, but if you scroll through their rants you’ll discover many have never stepped foot on the continent. I tackled South America mostly on my own and, like Egypt, lived to tell the tale – although that’s an entirely different article for another day!