On many travellers’ lists of must-see places in the world must surely be the pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. It is a place of many facets and visions, and for the solo traveller, especially female, the travel experience can be both fascinating and unfortunately uncomfortable in certain situations.
However, with some basic preparation, visiting Cairo can be an eye-opening and magical experience for the lone female traveller, as long as adequate research is done and you know what to expect.
Find other solo travellers to explore with
In all its flavour, Egypt is still a conservative country, and a single foreign female traveller will attract uncomfortable attention and unwanted assumptions. If you’re female and obviously from a western country, many men will think you’re available. To avoid being harrassed, it’s a good idea to locate other travel buddies to visit tourist spots together. Check out TravBuddy or Couchsurfing to find out who else is travelling alone and meet up for a day of exploration together.
Take the metro
Cairo has a great metro system that services all the main tourist attractions. The trains are cheap, fast and efficient, and the best part is, the middle two carriages are reserved for women only. Contrary to any negative premises, these special carriages are clean, seats are plentiful, and you don’t get hassled by men. For a guide to train travel in Egypt, have a look at Egypt Rail.
Walk the walk of terror
One of the first things you will notice about travelling around in Egypt is the lack of pedestrian crossings in general. Combine that with the abundance of 6-8 lane traffic constantly packed with whizzing vehicles, and you’re stuck. However, the locals seem to have grown immune to this and simply walk in front of or very close to traffic to cross the streets. This may sound crazy and dangerous to the average person, but there is usually no other way. A technique I developed was to discard all fear, and learn to walk alongside an Egyptian, and borrow some of their bravery as they cruise from one side to the other and miraculously survive time after time.
Don’t succumb to ‘baksheesh’
‘Baksheesh’ is the local term for ‘tips’. Unfortunately, although locals might sometimes seem helpful, it’s likely that they will expect you to give them money for their ‘advice’. It ranges from demanding to be paid for taking a picture of a camel, to asking for cash in exchange for road directions. Asking local women for information is worse, as they will just ignore you.
As a solo female traveller, the best way is to be prepared and know exactly where you want to go, and know what to expect at each touristy place you visit. If you do have questions or you’re not sure where to go, hop into a taxi. They are usually very cheap, and will probably cost you the same as ‘baksheesh’. Alternatively, stop at a restaurant for a meal and ask all your questions there.
If local flavour gets a tad overwhelming and you yearn for some home comforts, there is a little suburb named Maadi, which houses a large expat community with associated shops, food, and people. It’s not far from central Cairo, with a metro station, and is a haven for pubs, beer, and chips.
From the airport to the pyramids, Cairo can be fun and rewarding, and needs to be experienced with a big pinch of salt. Go on and bask in the glory of one of the wonders of the world. Just watch out for those touts and traffic.