We recently had an opportunity to spend a week in Cairo, Egypt. A family member was there on business and invited us to join him and his family. We decided on Sunday that we would commit to going, and had to prepare quickly because our flight was leaving three days later, on Wednesday. It’s probably one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done in my life, and a week of memories that I would have regretted not making! I pride myself on being prepared for just about everything, but was made even more aware on this trip. I thought this information might be helpful to you, no matter where your travels take you.
1. Internet Usage. I travel with a netbook that’s equipped with Skype, and was looking forward to the ability to make calls to friends back home just to say, “Hey, I rode a camel today!” We stayed in a beautiful conference center hotel, but the internet was only available if you paid by the hour, and even dial-up was only available if you upgraded to a deluxe suite. We really weren’t in our room more than to shower and sleep, so we passed on the upgrade, and I stayed in touch with family there and at home via email and texting on my Blackberry.
2. Know how to use your phone in another country. Unless you want a big surprise on your phone bill next time, be sure to get international calling and data packages. Then, instead of just thinking you can pick up the phone and call whoever you want, realize that you need to know HOW to do that. When we got to the airport and wanted to call the hotel for a pickup, we didn’t know the country code for Egypt, or the city code for Cairo. We ended up paying 65 Egyptian Pounds (about $15 US) to take a cab to our hotel when we could have gotten a f.r.e/e/ shuttle if we could have made the call.
3. Traveling with others. Stay at the same hotel. My daughter and family were staying at a hotel being paid for by my son-in-law’s company. I didn’t want to pay the $180 US per night, and found this conference center for $100 US per night. It was a considerable savings, and the travel agent told me that our hotels were only 2 kilometers apart. Turns out we were a 20 minute cab ride apart that cost us 40 Egyptian Pounds (about $8 US) each way. It would have been so nice if we’d have been right there so we could have just walked back and forth to see each other.
4. Understand the currency exchange. Egyptian money just seemed to blow out of our hands. With $100 LE being worth about $20 US, it seems like you’re spending a lot of money starting out. I spent the week calculating and dividing prices by 5 to see what the value is in US. Here’s a site for learning more about the conversion from US to any other currency: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
5. Will you need medication? I always carry a supply of over-the-counter medications with me so I’m ready for anything. I woke up with a sore throat the day after we rode the camel and went inside the pyramid. I carry a Z-Pack (antibiotics) with me, just in case. I won’t take it unless I am so sick it knocks me off my feet, but at least I have it. I can’t imagine trying to get medical care in Egypt. Other meds that are good to carry are something for colds, allergies, and every traveler’s nightmare: diarrhea.
6. Prescription medication. Keep it in the original bottles so there are no questions asked about the content. Be sure to bring more than you need for the trip – you never know how circumstances may change.
7. Clothing. Bring clothes to be prepared for anything. I always carry a skirt and appropriate shoes/sandals. I never wore them, but wanted them in case we went somewhere with a dress code. I brought a long sleeved shirt in case evenings were cool. I keep a windbreaker in my suitcase for every trip. I rarely use it, but it’s always there.
8. Shoes. I pack clothes that will generally all work with one pair of shoes. I wore my Crocs on the plane. (Easy to slip off and on at airport security.) They are the best for sightseeing because they are comfortable. I also brought flip flops and wore them a few times. I brought tennis shoes, thinking I’d use the workout facility at the hotel, but we did so much walking during the day that I didn’t feel the need. I packed sandals for the skirt, but never wore them, either. I could have worn the flip flops with that skirt and would have probably been fine.
9. Electricity. Make sure you have electric converters and the proper plugs for any electronics you bring. I took a converter package with us, but only one of the plugs worked. With two cell phones, camera batteries and a netbook to keep charged, we had to take turns charging until we picked up another set.
10. Batteries. Bring extra batteries for cameras, etc. My camera battery charges in a wall charger, so in the evenings, I removed it from the camera and re-charged it. I also brought an additional battery so that if the power ran out during the day while I was out, I could switch them. Our day at the pyramids, that’s exactly what happened. Imagine how disappointing that would have been if I couldn’t have taken all the pictures I wanted that day.
11. Survival food. We enjoyed trying the local foods once we arrived there, but I rarely go anywhere without having something to snack on in my purse. It makes sense that I’m going to have a stash if I’m traveling to another country. Pack a few of your own comfort foods. We had pretty good food on the plane, (KLM) but I liked having my own granola bars and nuts to snack on when I was hungry. I like to carry individual packages of almonds for a quick fix of protein. My husband carried his own comfort food – Cheetos and Cheez-Its. Friends who know I always carry food say that they want to be with me if there’s ever a problem traveling. You never know when you’re going to get stuck on an airplane or in an airport.
12. Credit CardsLeave your usual credit cards at home. Travel with one card per person and make sure you’ve got plenty of credit available on it. The reason for one card per person is that if one of you loses yours, you still have one to get you home. Before leaving home, make a Xerox copy of the fronts and backs of your wallet contents. Include driver’s license and credit cards. My wallet was stolen in Las Vegas one time and I had to file a police report before I could get back on the plane without a driver’s license. It would have been helpful to have had a copy of my license.
13. Documentation If you are traveling internationally, you’ll need a passport. Check with your airline or travel agent to see what other documentation you might need. Make a copy of your passport, as well as your traveling partner’s passport, and then exchange copies. That way, if one of you loses your passport, or has your stuff stolen, you at least have a copy.
14. Money That depends on you, but be sure to carry enough cash. Before we could get into the airport, we had to buy visas. That cost us $30 US each. We also stopped at the bank in the airport and converted about $200 US to Egyptian Pounds. You can’t count on being able to use a credit card for everything. If you want the best deals in the bazaars, you need the cash.
16. Don’t drink the water. Learn whether your hotel or resort has filtered water. We stayed at a conference center and I drank water out of the tap all week, but when we went out to eat, most restaurants brought an unopened bottle of water. Better to be safe than spend your vacation in the bathroom…but if that happens, you’ll be glad you packed that anti-diarrheal for the trip.
16. Good idea to find a local grocery store to buy bottled water. We paid 14 Egyptian Pounds for a 2 liter bottle of water in the restaurant, but it was only about 5 Pounds at Spinneys, the equivalent of Walmart in Egypt! Especially when you’re in the desert, you need to drink lots of water.
17. Language? Most people who have anything to do with tourists have some basic knowledge of English, but sometimes you can really get lost in the translation. We had some frustrations with the language barrier and yet we managed to get by. One day I approached someone working in the mall about directions to the escalator, and we just couldn’t communicate. In some cases, a form of charades came in handy.
18. Fighting jet lag? The day before we left, I started wearing two watches. I set the second one for Cairo, which is 8 hours ahead of Houston time. As soon as I got on the plane, I started trying to adjust to Cairo time. We left here about 5 pm CST, so it was 1 am in Cairo. At the recommendation of a friend, I purchased some melatonin and took one to help relax. I don’t think I ever slept more than an hour at a time, but I slept when tired. The last leg of the flight from Amsterdam to Cairo, I tried to stay awake so that when I arrived in Cairo at 9:45 pm, I would be ready for bed. That was not a problem. I got a good night’s sleep and was ready to go to the Egyptian Museum the next day.
19. Invest in a good neck pillow. I have owned the inflatable kind for years, but on this trip, it developed a leak on the trip home. Better to have one of the squishy ones that has beads inside. It’ll help you keep from having a sore neck when your head bobs around.
20. Carry an empty bottle with you. You can’t take liquids through security, but you can carry an empty bottle with you and fill it up in the airport. I can never get enough water on an airplane, so I carry a sturdy bottle with a strap holding the lid to the base. When I get inside the US airport, I fill it up, and if necessary fill it again before I get on the plane. On the way home, you can pack the bottle. Safer to buy bottled water in most other countries.
21. What else do I need to know? While we felt perfectly safe in Cairo, I never wanted my family to be out of my sight. We had a little blonde granddaughter with us who stirred so much curiosity that we felt we were traveling with a celebrity. People waved at her as they passed our taxi, and when close enough, some of them just wanted to touch her hair. The people were respectful of us, but it was a bit frightening for a 6 year old. Just stay together, no matter where you’re traveling, and have a backup plan for where you’ll meet if you do get separated. You just can’t be too careful. It’s also a good idea for children to have identification in their pockets and a way to contact you. This is where that international phone plan can literally be a life saver.
I’m very grateful we had the means to take this trip when it was offered to us. Just one more reason for being prepared by having a passport, a credit card with money available, and some cash in the bank. If even one of those things had not been available to us, we would have missed out on this wonderful opportunity for a vacation of a lifetime.