Having spent the past ten years travelling alone around Egypt and the world, I can honestly say there’s no other way I’d rather travel. I know you’re probably thinking it’s risky – or I’m insane – but the truth is that it opens up the very ideas of travel and exploration in ways I never imagined. I’ve met some of the most amazing people and had fun adventures through my solo trips around the country – and if you follow these easy tips that I’ve picked up along the way, you’ll fall in love with solo travelling just as much as I have.
1. Embrace the ‘Couchsurfing’ Attitude
When I travel abroad alone and I feel like occasionally meeting people, I use couchsurfing.com, which connects you with friendly people if you need a free couch to sleep on or someone to have a drink with. You also get great recommendations from locals there on where to eat/drink/party/swim. While I wouldn’t couchsurf in Egypt, I apply the same method here, using personal contacts online to find the best camps or hotels, as well as possible friends to make there if I get lonely or need help.
Aswan (Photo courtesy of @suzeeoutofthecity)
2. Get Friendly with Public Transportation
Unless you have no issues driving your own car across the country, you’re going to have to get quite intimate with East Delta buses, trains and microbuses. I once took a microbus from Marsa Matrouh to Cairo, and a 7-seater Peugeout from Nuweiba to Zaqaziq (he very kindly dropped me off on the Da’ery and flagged down a taxi for me to go to Cairo). They’re budget-friendly and it’s the best way to see the country and its people. On the downside, you’ll get far too familiar with Nadia El Guindy films, especially if you’re on the road to Nuweiba.
3. Research in Advance
This sounds like a no-brainer, but whenever I travel alone, I always have two things set in stone: where I’m spending my first night and how I’ll get there. I always read TripAdvisor and booking.com reviews by solo travellers and I’ll always have a backup plan for another hotel if I don’t like where I end up. I do this as a security precaution and it’s never failed me. If I’m on the road, I religiously check Bey2ollak for radars, checkpoints and general route updates like dangerous sandstorms on the Arish routes or train accidents on the road to Aswan.
4. Reach out to Hotel Managers
Without fail, whenever I tell a hotel manager that I’m a woman travelling alone, they immediately switch on saviour mode and go out of their way to arrange everything for me, including airport pick-ups. Trust me; having them arrange transportation means I almost always get a cheaper deal than finding my own taxi and having a driver who knows the hotel means an added sense of security, which you’ll need when you’re driving across the Sinai desert at 1AM. For example, Basata have their own microbus to bring you to and from Cairo, while Marsa Alam’s Deep South will organize a 7-seater Peugeot to pick you up from the airport or even Hurghada at a better price than the market average.
Marsa Alam (Photo courtesy of @suzeeoutofthecity)
5. Know your Checkpoints
Checkpoints suck. They’re humiliating, aggravating and largely pointless. But getting to know them means you’ll know what to expect and what to avoid. For example, the Hurghada route checkpoints are more about speed limits than security checks, while all checkpoints between Safaga and Marsa Alam are laidback to non-existent. The most notorious checkpoint is that of Taba on the Nuweiba route and I’ve learned three things: always tell them you’re staying at Basata when they ask you and they’re guaranteed to leave you alone; Basata has a strong anti-drugs policy so they’re less likely to search your bags. And if you’re going to get searched, it doesn’t hurt to leave a bunch of dirty underwear at the top layer of your suitcase. If this doesn’t deter the searching officer, it will at least distract them. Nine times out of ten, they’ve given up searching my bag after that. Last of all, if you’re bagging alcohol, you either fly or take a bus and hope they don’t search your luggage.
6. Make Friends with the Locals and Crew
One of the reasons why I love travelling alone is the countless friends I’ve made along the way. This is because people feel curious or sorry for me and chat me up; I’ve had people offer me food, fruit and their company just because they can’t believe I’m willingly travelling on my own. These friendships have resulted in receiving discounts, free car rides and boat trips, numbers of drivers and flat simsars in Gouna, home-cooked meals and great conversations that I probably would have missed out on if I had travelled in a large group of friends.
Lake Qarun, Fayoum (Photo courtesy of @suzeeoutofthecity)
7. Be Alert
Another no-brainer, but as a solo traveller and as a woman, I’m always a little wary at a first-time holiday destination in Egypt. In as much as I’ll be friendly with the locals and staff, I rarely stay out late on my own, I always ensure that I have a strong lock on my room door and that my valuables are hidden and safe. I also take people’s numbers rather than give mine out to avoid stalkers like the persistent hotel manager who called me every five minutes of my 8-hour drive back from Sharm El Sheikh, thus killing my phone battery and leaving me at the mercy of Nadia El Guindy.
8. Be Prepared for Emergencies
If you’re off to a remote location in Egypt, always carry cash, battery chargers and useful medicine (I never travel without Antinal, Motilium and insect-bite relief cream). Always be prepared for an emergency, like getting stuck in mountain floods on the Sokhna Road at 3AM (I got out of the bus and walked through the mud and puddles till I reached Porto Sokhna and checked in with my credit card), or in Marsa Alam without petrol for days (a friend finally bought a small tank off the black market….8 days later). This is when having extra cash/credit and being friends with the locals come in handy; for example, they’d be the ones to arrange deals and go the extra mile for you.
By Guest Contributor @suzeeoutofthecity