As the miles of arid desert flashed by and sweat slowly soaked my carefully chosen linen dress, I prayed for the journey to end. Silently, I cursed myself for bringing a dress that was not on my carefully planned packing list for travel to Egypt, while rivulets of sweat ran down my scalp transforming my once glossy tresses into a limp, damp mess clinging hotly to my neck.
Egypt Is a Culture Shock for Most Visitors
The Curse of “The Wrong Clothes”
The relief of arriving at Abu Simbel after four hours in a non-aircon minibus was marred by the fact that I looked like I was wearing a crumpled rag. That, and there was the promise of the return journey to ‘look forward’ to…
Every aspect of Egypt is eye-opening for a Western visitor
An ancient land, Egypt is shaped by its life-giving river with many scenes redolent of old school bibles. From the crazy, cacophonous sprawl of the mega-cities, to the sun-baked villages and historic ruins lining the mighty Nile, everything seems to beat to a new and different drum.
It would be easy to be seduced by Egypt’s beauty, limiting your exposure to this most wonderful of countries to the manufactured resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada, where Western standards and Western dress prevail. But that’s not the real Egypt. Step outside those protected enclaves and the reality is raw, frustrating, exciting and so much more worthwhile.
This is a country of gargantuan contrasts, a country where the wealthy live like kings and the poor are truly wretched. A country where there is no social buffer to support those in need, driving some to live on their cunning in order to feed hungry bellies. A country in desperate need of the tourist dollars that dry up when conflict arises.
There is a dedicated tourist police force, supposedly in place to protect visitors, but this security can feel oppressive at times. Be prepared to be questioned at length about your travel plans, particularly if you venture off the beaten path or travel solo as a woman. Egypt is far from an equal opportunities country and you should expect also to be asked constantly where your husband is…
Tip: Wearing a wedding ring, even if you’re not married is an excellent man repellent – and not just in Egypt!
How to Visit Egypt Safely as a Woman
In my opinion, Egypt isn’t the ideal ‘beginner’ solo travel destination for women. It is a truly mind-expanding country, but you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve learned the ropes of solo female travel first and you know how to deal with cross cultural differences or if you’ve already been to Egypt as part of a group/tour.
Tip: The best way to prepare yourself for Egypt and to stay safe is to wear the right clothes. That means starting with a good packing list for travel and sticking to it.
Why the Right Clothes Matter in Egypt
What you pack for your trip to Egypt will determine how safe you feel, how much you enjoy your visit and where you are welcome. As a Western woman, it’s painful to tell women what to wear, but safety must be your #1 consideration. What you wear when you’re travelling also represents your country. Far too often each time I was in Egypt I came across lecherous men who thought all English women are ‘easy’, based on how a small minority dress and behave.
The stark reality is that Egypt is a conservative Muslim country.
The further you travel from the big cities, the more conservative it becomes. While you don’t need to cover every inch, it’s courteous to try to blend in a little and that courtesy will get you a long way.
As a bare minimum, aim to cover from your neck down to your ankles and beyond your elbows. Leave skimpy tops and shorts at home, as you will attract unwanted attention in them, and they won’t protect you from the fierce sun. For anywhere other than swanky hotels in Cairo or the Red Sea beach resorts, opt for more conservative dress yet.
Avoid clingy fabrics
Think loose flowing (not form fitting) ankle length skirts/trousers and wrist length tunic style tops, plus a head scarf. Choose lightweight fabrics and check that they are not see-through in sunlight! Expect it to be hot, so choose floaty cottons and linens, or technical fabrics that wick sweat away. You will walk a lot, so you’ll want shoes/sandals that are comfortable.
Tip: Buy an oversized men’s shirt in a good quality cotton/linen fabric from a thrift shop and wear it over a t-shirt, with the cuffs turned up. It’s a great low-budget cover-up! If you’re handy at sewing, chop the cuffs off, bind the raw edge with pretty bias binding and add a button to finish the look. Hey presto – designer shirt at a bargain price!
Choosing the Right Clothes
Pick lightweight quick drying fabrics. While cotton is good, cotton jersey will soon become sweat-stained and uncomfortable. It also takes ages to dry after you’ve washed it. Linen is comfortable when it’s very hot but remember that it soon crumples and looks travel stained. Linen blend fabrics offer a good compromise.
Pick trousers (pants) that are loose fitting and ankle length, in a quick drying/drip-dry fabric. Good quality summer weight hiking trousers work well in Egypt, where you will be oh-so grateful for the sweat-wicking fabric. Don’t wear denims. Opt for long, floaty chiffon type skirts, but make sure they are opaque!
Choose long, loose tunic style tops with wrist length sleeves and a modest neckline (no V-necks and definitely no cleavage on display). You won’t be tanning on this trip!
You don’t have to cover up completely with a scarf, hijab or niqab, but the further you venture out from Cairo, towards the Western Desert or the South of Egypt, the more it becomes advisable to wear a scarf to cover your hair. If you have blonde or red hair, be aware that this can be a magnet for unwanted attention; you can avoid this by covering up. Scarves also help you stop your hair from getting damaged by the sun and turning into a frizzy mess.
Stock up on breathable, quick-drying underwear, then wash and wear as you go. If you’ve never tried ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkinis before, these are the ultimate travel undies for women, top rated by travel bloggers. Breathable, comfortable and super quick to dry, you’ll manage with three pairs. “One to wear, one to wash and one for spare”. Five pairs as a maximum.
Egypt swelters in the summer months from May to September, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 35 Centigrade (100°F). In the high season from October to April however, temperatures fall, especially at night and it can get quite cold. Pack a warm sweater/cardigan and a pack away raincoat for this season.
Once outside your hotel, you won’t be able to escape the dust in Egypt. Expect the streets to be uneven, leave your heels at home and take comfortable flats. Merrell sandals are the most comfortable walking shoes I’ve ever had. If you prefer something with a closed toe, so your feet are not caked in dust by the end of each day, Skechers Go Walk trainers are a joy to wear and they are perfect for flying in.
Be sure to read about the things I wish I’d known prior to visiting Egypt to prepare for your trip!
Choosing the Right Luggage
For your trip to Egypt, traveling with a carry-on only will save you time and help to keep you and your belongings safe.
Our favourite carry-on bag is the Osprey Women’s Fairview 40 Travel Pack. It has all the rugged functionality you’d expect from an Osprey bag; it’s designed for women and it conforms to EU maximum Carry-On luggage size. There’s even space for your laptop…
If you do choose to check your luggage:
- Pick a bag with TSA compliant locks – and make sure you use them
- Select a sturdy design that will stand up to careless treatment by baggage handlers
- Attach coloured ribbon to the handle or use a luggage strap which makes your bag easy to identify
- Look after your back – pick a design with 4 wheels!!!
It’s not just what you pack – how you pack is hugely important. Experienced carry-on travellers have one important thing in common – they organise their bags and maximise space using packing organisers. Easy-to-use packing cubes/compression bags help you to compartmentalise your travel gear, save space and save time finding what you want. They’re also a huge boon at airport security if your bag is chosen for a random security search!
Choose from simple zip-lock bags, durable travel packing cubes or compression bags and you’ll be traveling like a pro. We use and recommend Eagle Creek compression bags, which will give you maximum compression and the best space savings.
Unless you’re turning left when you board, a travel pillow is something you’ll want to make sure you have on your packing list for travel. We think travel pillows are an essential piece of travel kit, as they help you to grab essential hours of sleep, helping you feel (somewhat) more refreshed when you arrive.
We use and recommend the Trtl pillow. The combination of ergonomic design, height adjustability and in-built breathability (no over-heating!) all mean we can adjust the pillow and find a comfortable sleep position. Vital for menopausal travelers!
Solo Woman’s Packing List for Travel to Egypt
Daypack: Packing List for Travel to Egypt
While you’re in Egypt you’ll probably go on some long day trips and you’ll need your daypack stocked up to keep you going all day.
- An insulated water bottle: Staying hydrated is imperative so carry your re-usable water bottle everywhere
- Camera: Egypt is a photographer’s dream, so it’s worth thinking about your camera. If you’re comfortable carrying a DSLR and familiar with using one, you’ll capture fabulous pictures. Alternatively, pick an easy to use mirrorless camera like the Canon M100 or the best “point and shoot” camera, the Canon Powershot SX740.
- Sunscreen: You need this, even in the winter for Egypt. Don’t take chances…
- Sunglasses: Look after your eyes and take a good polarised pair
- Copies of your documents: Stow your passport and documents in your hotel safe but carry copies everywhere you go
- Mosquito repellent and plug-in mosquito killer: If you’re going anywhere near water, and yes, that includes the Nile!
- Toilet paper/wipes (there are no toilets in the desert and many public toilets are horrifying!)
What to Leave at Home
- Strappy tops
- Shorts of any description
- Knee-length dresses/skirts
- Anything see-through
- Bikinis/skimpy swimwear
- Flashy jewellery.
Set your mind compass to embrace everything Egypt has to offer and go with the expectation that your trip will be an adventure!
Have you been to Egypt? What was on your packing list for travel? Did you forget anything you wish you’d taken? Let us know in the comments below.