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Egypt, Travel

Yes, Egypt is Safe for Travel!

March 14, 2016

Egypt is SafeFrom the minute I decided to go to Egypt, people started asking me if it was safe to travel there. I have gotten even more questions since I got back. If I didn’t think it was safe, I wouldn’t have gone is the short answer. I know that isn’t enough for people and after visiting and seeing the decline in tourism, I decided that I need to help calm people’s fears and encourage them to travel to Egypt!

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It is true that Egypt has had terrorism lately and it can politically unstable, but I would say it isn’t any less safe than New York City after 9/11 or Paris after the recent terrorist attacks there. There has been stabbing of tourists in Cairo and Hurghada. These were the only two stabbings that came up when I Googled it and when I Googled stabbing in New York City, I got several returns including this one. I lived in New York City for 7 years and never had anything bad happen to me or any of my friends. Bad things can happen anywhere! Now I know you are thinking what about the plane being bombed last Fall in Sharm el-Sheikh? I would actually say that going to a place after a terrorist attack may be the best time to go. That is because they usually don’t strike the same place again quickly. Also, I went through at least three metal detectors along with my bags at the Cairo airport. Things felt very secure there. Don’t let a few things prevent you from going on a trip of a lifetime! You would be missing out on so many places right now.

Since we know that bad things can happen anywhere, and there is a heightened awareness of safety in Egypt, here are some tips for staying safe and enjoying Eygpt.

Research and Plan! – Decide where you want to go and places you shouldn’t go. It’s that simple. By planning ahead, you can decide if you are comfortable traveling to that place. I would say that you should probably stick to the tourist sites at the moment and not go off the beaten path unless you are on a tour. Some areas of Egypt you are not allowed to go to while not on a tour the Abu Simbel temples is one of these places. Book hotels in advance so taxi drivers don’t try to take you to their uncle’s “hotel.”

Go on a Tour – Since I was going to be traveling alone, I decided a group tour was the way I felt most comfortable going to Egypt. I don’t usually go in for a group tour, but I loved my experience with G Adventures. Because I was with a local tour guide, I felt safe. He knew where to go and what areas where safe to go to. Not only that he has a degree in Egyptology, so I got a lot more information from him that from a sign or a guide-book! There were 14 women on this tour and only one man, so ladies Egypt is safe for you too!

Calm the Fears of Family – Believe it or not, my Mom is the one that suggested Egypt when I was trying to decide where to go! Thanks, Mom! I know that many people need to calm the fears of your family when visiting a controversial area. Show them this post and the many other bloggers’ posts about the safety of Egypt. Here are a few links. Is It Safe to Go to Egypt? and Why I Feel Safe in Egypt. You can point them in the direction of government websites, but they don’t always give you the best idea. Their job is to keep you safe and not get sued! So, they are going to say a place isn’t safe because they have to, but they do usually have reliable information. Instead, look at the United Nations World Tourism Organization and see what they have to say about Egypt.

Fewer Crowds – Because people have stayed away, everything was less crowded. There was only a handful of tourists at the Great Pyramids when I went and for a few minutes, I was alone in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. This means two things, you get to enjoy all these great sites with less people and fewer people means less likelihood of something happening and you can be more diligent in making sure you and your stuff are safe.

Be Aware of Scams and Touts – Just like most tourist locations; unsavory people want to take advantage of tourists. Taxis, seem to be the main culprit in Egypt. Taxis have been known to not turn on the meter and then charge you an exorbitant amount at your destination or try to take you to another hotel. If you are going to take a taxi in Cairo, negotiate the price before you get in. Then be firm when getting out because they still might try to get more money from you. My Egyptian coworker encouraged me to take Uber or Careem while I was in Cairo. Careem is the Uber of the Middle East. The offer to help.  Many Egyptians are extremely helpful and expect nothing in return, but beware the extremely friendly person who approaches you first. The will want baksheesh (a tip). Some will want to take you to their shop, and then you will feel the pressure to buy something. For something simple like directions, I don’t mind giving a tip. I usually gave one Egyptian pound, but I am not willing to get waylaid in your store and be pressured into buying something. Don’t be afraid to walk out. They may yell but just walk confidently on. Touts – These are the people trying to sell you something in the tourist site, like camel rides at the Great Pyramids. They will be relentless. Just keep walking or ignore them. The scam one guy tried to get me to go for at the pyramids was to shake my hand. When he shook it, he put something in my hand and tried to get me to pay for it by telling me to put it in my pocket. I declined and forced it back on him. My guide told us that if it happened and they won’t take it back to drop it on the ground and walk away. You will feel rude doing lots of things to avoid being sold something or pressured into talking, but do not feel bad! It will keep you from being taken advantage of.

What to Wear – Both men and women need to be aware of their clothing. You should always aim to blend in with the locals. For women, this means covering your shoulders and knees in Egypt. The majority of Egyptians are Muslim and dress more conservatively because of that. You will feel more comfortable that way as well. For men, this means not wearing sports baseball caps and white sneakers. Most of the men I saw in Egypt were wearing nice pants and sweaters; it was chilly when I went. My tour guide did wear jeans and younger men were as well. To be fair my tour guide did wear a baseball cap, but it was a black G Adventures cap.

Protect your Things and Money – First let me say, Egypt was the first place I didn’t feel like I was going to be pickpocketed in a long time! Both Paris and Rome worried me more about this than Egypt. I am not saying it can’t happen, though. Carry very little cash and leave your passport at the hotel. While out and about keep your money in sight. Women should carry handbags on the opposite side of the street so none one can swipe your bag from a moving vehicle. None of the hotels I stayed in had in-room safes, so you might want to leave your valuables in the hotel safe. I put everything in my bag and locked it. The hotels in Aswan and Luxor only had push-button locks on them, so I would recommend getting a doorstop alarm for when you are in the room.

Enjoy! – Egypt is the best trip I have been on so far and I cannot recommend it enough! Go now while it is slow and help Egypt recover from the downturn in their tourist economy! Egypt is Safe!

Feel free to ask me questions about my trip either in the comments or via email. I would be happy to answer any question or quell your Mom’s fears.

Travel, Travel Tips

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Staying Safe While Traveling Solo

February 26, 2016

Staying Safe While Traveling Solo

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In the first Traveling Fearlessly post, I asked people to tell me what they wanted to know about traveling solo. Many of you wrote to ask about staying safe while traveling solo. Both men and women asked for this. This post will cover my tips on staying safe while traveling solo. I have put every one of these into practice, and it has helped me feel safe on all my trips and nothing has happened to me.

1. Be Confident

This is the simplest thing you can do while traveling. Appearing confident discourages people from picking you out as a potential victim. When you look confused, some evil people will want to prey on you, and you may let them because you aren’t confident.

2. Plan

Plan how you will get from the airport to your hotel. Appearing confident will deter people from harassing you for a taxi at the airport. You will be confident if you know that you plan to take the train and where to get it from or if you do plan to take a taxi and know where the official taxi line is. If for some reason you cannot find your planned transportation, go to the information desk. They will help you find your way to the official everything!

3. Research 

Research the area your hotel is located it. If you think the price is too good to be true, there may be a reason why. The neighborhood may not be safe or is dead quiet at night. Quiet may seem good, but not if you are coming back at night you may be alone. Having people around doesn’t guarantee safety, but it helps. Reviews may tell you this information. It may even be possible to find out whether or not the street is lit well at night in online reviews. This helps you to be confident! You can also research the sites you are visiting to know what frequently happens there. I know that a coworker had her passport stolen at the Rome Colosseum and I was extra cautious there.

4. Checking-in 

Ask the clerk to write down your hotel room number and not say it out loud. No one besides you and the hotel needs to know your room number. Most hotels in the U.S. do this now, but not always overseas. Keep an eye your bags. I have refused to let bellhops take my bags into the hotel if they are not in hotel uniform or just give me bad vibes. Don’t be afraid of appearing rude, you are protecting yourself and your belongings. Be confident!

5. In the hotel room

Always lock the door with the extra lock and the chain, if there is one. They make portable door stops with alarms that you may consider buying. I will be buying one after this trip to Egypt where the locks on two of my hotels only had push button locks. A regular doorstop can also work. Close the door and push the doorstop under the door. This will make it very hard to open the door. Keep your valuables locked in the in-room safe. If it won’t hold them, put them in the hotel safe. If your hotel has neither, make sure you lock your suitcases and take the keys with you. If you are worried about thieves slicing open your luggage, consider getting anti-theft luggage, such as Pacsafe, which is made with slash guard fabric.

6. Protecting your stuff out on the town Only take cash enough for the day. This way if your wallet is taken, you won’t have lost all your cash. Make sure you have copies of all your credit cards and passport in your luggage. I like to take photos and send them to myself via email. Don’t flash you money and credit cards around, as this will make you a target. Put away expensive camera gear when you are not using it. Once I am done taking photos, I put the camera in my bag. It is a pain, but I am less of a target this way. Do not wear expensive jewelry. It also makes you a target. Ladies, if you are carrying a handbag, carry it on the opposite side of the street so that it can’t be grabbed by a passing motorist. Do not carry anything in your pockets. This is something even I have to remember, as I like to carry my cell phone in my pocket. Men, carry your wallets in an inside jacket pocket or at least in a front pocket that you can keep your hand on. Keep your possessions in sight while eating out. When I travel alone, I take everything with me while going to the bathroom at restaurants. I tell the waiter, so they don’t think I have run off without paying the bill.

7. Protecting yourself out on the town

Never tell a stranger you are traveling alone.  This may make you a target. I have lied many times about a husband or friend that doesn’t exist. Never tell anyone where you are staying. Walk with confidence! Don’t spend too much time on the street looking at maps or your phone. People will know you are lost and may take advantage. Women, if a man comes and grabs your arm to take you into a shop, don’t be afraid to make a scene. Sometimes they are harmless but seem to think it is okay to touch Western women. Men, if women approach you in bars and seem too friendly, be aware. This seems to be a ploy in some countries where prostitution is popular. Both women and men, need to watch their drinks while out. This goes for non-alcoholic drinks too. If you leave it for any amount of time, do not drink it! It could be drugged leaving you a target for violence or being mugged. Don’t drink to much either. If you are going out at night, know how to get back to your hotel and don’t stay out late. If you are staying in a hostel, go with a group or, at least, tell the hostel what time you should be back. This way someone will know when to expect you. I am not sure if a hotel would do this, so I frequently check-in with family back home while traveling. Most importantly, trust your instinct, leave the area you are in if you are not comfortable. 

8. Blend in

Don’t stand out. Don’t wear white sneakers and logo t-shirts. I try not to carry a backpack unless it is absolutely necessary. I carry a regular handbag so that I don’t look like a tourist. If the locals wear mostly black, wear black or neutral colors. In Paris, I wore a scarf every day. In the Middle East, I stand out no matter what, but I covered myself appropriately and did not draw attention to myself by being loud.

9. Learn some of the local language

I have learned that knowing some of the local language gains you respect and that alone may deter the petty thief or harasser. It also helps if you need help. It may take you a day or two to be comfortable doing this, but make the effort to say please and thank you in the local language.

10. Have a plan  in case of emergency

This may sound like I am being too cautious, but it is part of being prepared. Give your family or friends your travel plans. Know where your local Embassy is and what their phone number is. If you are American, you can register with the Embassy in advance of your travels, so they know you are there. Know where the hospital/pharmacy is if you get sick frequently. This way if something does happen, you know what you can do.

Be confident! Traveling solo does not have to be scary and is very fun. What tips do you have for staying safe while traveling? Share with us in the comments.

Stay tuned for next month’s Traveling Fearlessly post on the last Friday of the month. What do you want to read about?

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Tips for Safety while Traveling Solo

Jordan, Middle East, Travel

Tips for Driving in Jordan

December 16, 2014

When I started researching my trip to Jordan, I thought I would rent and car and do everything by myself. Because I live so close to Jordan, I have a few Jordanian friends that live in Qatar and they advised against it.  Now that I have been, I would drive it myself.  But there are a few things I noticed in Jordan that I will share with you.

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  • Signaling and passing –  in the US, most people use their turns signals to indicate they are changing lanes or turning. In Jordan, I noticed that the right side of many roads were rough and many drivers didn’t want to drive on them. They would give in the left lane and stay there no matter how much wanted to pass them.  They would turn on their right turn signal to indicate to you to pass them on the right! *this is what my guide told me and seemed to be pretty common.
  • Flashing lights – in Jordan, people flash their lights at you when they want you to get over because they are usually speeding and don’t want to slow down.  This is pretty common practice all over the Middle East. Unless you have experience with this, I suggest you get over as soon as you are able and if you can’t turn on your turn signal to indicate you will when you are able.
  • Lanes- I also noticed that lane markers were missing in many places in Jordan and people drift all over the roads.  Just be alert.
  • Signage and lighting – there is signage for major stops and turn offs, but they often seemed to appear right when you need to turn. I suggest driving slow when you think you are nearing your turn.  Also, in parts of the country I didn’t see lots of lighting, so you might avoid driving at night.
  • Mountains – the most scary thing while driving in Jordan was the mountain driving (well for me because I am afraid of heights!) Drive slow. At one point the road had fallen away! There was a detour, but if you had come on it too fast you might have driven past the small orange cone. Another reason to drive during the day only!

I certainly plan on renting a car the next time I go to Jordan. I feel more comfortable now that I have seen it. It also means I can stop where I want to along the way. Oh, and I will rent a 4×4 vehicle.