Travelling to Egypt in the Winter - Packing List and Helpful Tips
Egypt has always been a place of mystery, magic, and history. The pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings all have worldwide recognition and collectively attract tens of millions of people to see their magnificence up close and personal. Additionally, there are dozens of lesser-known Temples, Tombs, and monuments which almost feel like an added bonus to visitors. It seems that everywhere you look, there is something ancient and immense just waiting to be studied, explored, and of course photographed. It’s no secret that tourism has been an integral part of the Egyptian economy, especially since 1975, when the government eased visa restrictions. Overall visits peaked in 2010, but in recent years have been fewer due to unrest inside the nation and the Middle East; the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was a pivotal moment which really hurt tourism. But, fortunately since then there have been changes in the leadership and it appears that the current government is serious about trying to revitalize the tourism industry by demonstrating that Egypt is a safe place to visit.
To Go or Not to Go Was the Question
As scholars of antiquities and fascinated by all things spiritual and historical, my wife and I wanted to visit Egypt, starting many years ago. But like many people, we were nervous about the political climate and kept pushing the idea of taking a trip off. It didn’t help that the media in America highlighted the Arab Spring as a total catastrophe and focused wide-eyed on every bombing, skirmish, and act of violence. Since we had no other source of reliable information, we chose to stay home and wait it out; hoping that the monuments would still be standing if and when we ever had the chance to visit Egypt. Finally, in 2016, things seemed to be quieter and we started talking about the idea again. Fortunately for us, one of our friends passed through Egypt and we were able to get a factual account of what was actually happening inside the country.
Many Trusted Sources Were Wrong About the Political Climate of Egypt
Needless to say, we realized that the American media was shown to be very one-sided and only provided a small sampling of what things were really like. There were no gun battles on the city streets, nor were there suicide bombers around every corner. And although the country is predominantly Muslim, there were few if any extremists and everyone seemed to get along just fine, regardless of skin color, national origin, or any other trait. The country was a safe place for people of all backgrounds and religions. The violence other Middle Eastern nations saw daily stayed far from the Egyptian borders and life there was peaceful, but the economy was struggling due to the lack of tourism dollars. It seemed to be the right time to start planning once again.
After some deliberation, we booked a trip about a year in advance for the first two weeks of December, 2018, along with a small group of our friends. As it seems with all big plans, the time flew by and we found ourselves with just a few months remaining until our flights. So, like everyone else planning to visit a different country, we sought out ideas on what to expect and what to pack on the internet. Needless to say, we were unsatisfied in what was available. Most travel sites seemed to overly stress the same information the media was pushing; it was a mixture of fear, nervousness, and anxiety topped off with a generous helping of vagueness. Being experienced American travelers, we decided that we’d adopt the “better safe than sorry” approach and packed everything and anything we thought we might need over the course of a two-week excursion. Of course, in hindsight, we found that we could have left much of it at home and probably brought other things instead. We managed just fine, but realized that our experiences could be beneficial to others who wanted to make the journey
Think Outside of the Box When it Comes to Weather
The first thing we tried to understand is the weather as it would directly impact what clothes we needed to take. In some ways, the Egyptian winter season is quite similar to the United States, with temperatures cooling down in late October and remaining cool until late March. It doesn’t get down to the extreme cold temperatures, but does get chilly. Daytime highs, for example in Cairo, are around 70 degrees in December and nighttime lows are in the middle 50’s. If you are living in the northern part of the United States, these temperatures might look very appealing when planning your vacation; I know we saw temperatures in the 70’s and were excited. Temperatures in the mountains in Idaho are usually in the single digits with extreme winds about that time of year, so we were easily lulled into a state of vacation bliss before we even stepped foot in Egypt. We took whatever information we could find and proceeded to over-pack and set out with passports in hand on a wonderful journey of discovery and excitement.
Before You Go
If I tried to write about the total experience, I'd need to publish a novel (maybe two). Instead, I’d like to give you a first-hand account of what I think you should know, what to pack, and what to leave at home. Of course, everyone is different, so use this as a guideline and you’ll be further ahead. One person's list isn't always going to work for the next person.
Before You Go
1. Check your health insurance to see if it will cover you in Egypt. If not, then purchase short-term insurance. Unfortunately one member of our group was seriously injured in a fall and found out they were not covered outside of the United States. This led to thousands of dollars in medical charges, which they had to put on a credit card.
2. Make sure your passport is current and has at least 6 months remaining before it expires. This is common advice found on every travel site, but it pays to double check.
3. Give your phone the once-over, but with a different approach than you might usually take.
-first and foremost, remove all of your personal information, especially banking apps, anything that stores payment information, retail or department store apps, and if you can manage without them, remove your social media apps - a good way to decide if something is worth keeping is to think about your phone getting stolen or lost: what information would hurt you if thieves had access to it?
-second, shut off all apps from automatically refreshing - it saves a lot of battery life, especially in areas of poor connectivity
-third, if you don't have a password on your phone, consider adding one just in case something happens
-clear as many of your contacts as possible - if your phone is stolen, it's likely that every name and e-mail address will be spammed or possibly hacked
Consider downloading short-term apps that you’ll find useful such as Google Translate, Currency Exchange Rate, your airline, your hotel, etc. - learn to use them before you depart so you are comfortable with them; especially the exchange rate ones.
I purchased an international calling plan from my carrier for me & my wife. It wasn't cheap, but I felt it was worth spending the money on. Others relied on Wi-Fi, but found it wasn't consistent and had connectivity problems. A few members of our party purchased a local sim-card for their phones, which were surprisingly affordable and reliable.
Finally, make a list of important phone numbers such as the U.S. Embassy, local hospitals near where you are staying, other members of your party, your attorney, and other important numbers, just in case.
Packing List for Clothing
Almost everything outside of your hotel is made of stone, so sturdy fabrics are a good choice. You'll be walking on sand and uneven terrain. The weather changes quickly once the sun goes down, so layers are necessary. Plan accordingly and do not rely on “buying it there,” like you might when travelling domestically; You’ll be disappointed or maybe even out of luck. This basic list is unisex.
Jeans or Heavy Trousers – plan 1 pair for each 2-3 days to minimize weight (you may get dusty, but not too dirty)
Oxford-type shirts or long sleeve blouses - plan them for part of the layering process - they add warmth and will keep the sun off exposed skin (expect to wear each one multiple times)
Cotton or lightweight nylon T-shirts as a base layer (this would be something you can buy while in country with ease)
Long sleeve cotton or bamboo shirt for an extra layer
Loose Sweater or fleece over-shirt (make sure it blocks the wind)
Light windbreaker that fits over layers (it's best to try things on at home for goodness of fit, before you leave)
Hiking Boots or Sturdy Shoes (I personally would avoid sandals or flip-flops as the sand will really be rough on your feet, but you may wish to bring them to wear around your hotel.)
Travel Vest – it may sound corny, but is very practical. These inexpensive vests have lots of pockets and they are easy to take on/off when needed (like when you go through security screening at every monument). I found this to be the most useful thing I brought - I kept my passport in an inside zippered pocket, some cash in an easy access breast-pocket, my camera and extra photography equipment in the large side pockets, a journal, pens, first-aid kit, lighter, map, and my extra phone battery in the vest. While my travelling companions were always looking for something, I had everything I need at my fingertips and it was secure.
A wide brimmed hat & a stocking cap (for cooler nights and sleeping)
Thick socks – you’ll walk a lot and the cushioning will help (of everything on the list, this is the one thing you might want to take extra pairs of)
Small backpack that is comfortable to carry (you’ll be packing water mostly, so test a few out before you go to make sure they are suitable)
Sweatpants and sweatshirts for sleeping – we traveled all over the country, mostly in small villages, and can validate that it gets cold at night in the desert
Remember that you are travelling in a predominantly Muslim nation and what you wear should be respectful of the local people. We did encounter tourists wearing shorts, halter-tops, and other articles of clothing which exposed copious amounts of skin. They weren't received very well outside of Cairo or other major "westernized" areas.
Toiletries and Personal Items
My wife and I packed and traveled together, so we were able to distribute some of the load. There are some items on this list which you can possibly purchase, but be advised that your normal brand is probably not available in Egypt. A great piece of advice is to pack everything in small zipper bags to avoid leakage in your suitcases (with some items, you may want to double bag them)
Bar soap & Washcloth or Sponge (liquid soap is heavy - washcloths are not a standard item in many places, so it's best to bring your own)
Shampoo & Conditioner (Egypt is very dry, so you may want to review what you take)
Razors & non-aerosol shaving cream
Brush/Comb/Hair Clips/Bobby Pins/Hair Accessories (think wind and lots of walking)
Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and dental floss
Lotion for dry skin
Small sewing kit & buttons (make sure it's functional and not just for show)
Makeup (lighter tones and products with sunscreen)
Q-tips/Cleansing Pads/Make-up Remover
Eye Drops/Contact Solution/Contacts/Spare Glasses/eyeglass repair kit
Feminine hygiene products (pack twice the amount you think you’ll need)
Baby Wipes in small packets or you might want to try a great item my wife discovered called "puss 'and pits" - on those days when you can't shower or are feeling like you need a little spot cleaning
The Sakkara Guest House - A Home Away From Home
The Sakkara View Guest House Website
- Home - sakkara
When you are staying at the Sakkara View Guest house in Abu Sir, you feel like you are staying with family. You are a guest of Nasser Abughoneim and his family in all ways including eating meals and sharing social time.
If you have never traveled outside of the country, you are likely to find yourself with travelers diarrhea, or an upset stomach due to long flights and food you are not used to eating. It's a good idea to bring your own over-the-counter medications. Find a small zipper bag to keep everything in one place and make it easy to transport in a backpack when you are out visiting the attractions.
Anti-diarrhea medicine (Pepto-Bismol chewable & Imodium - take both a short-term and long-term product - you'll need them)
Advil or other pain/inflammation tablets (you will be walking a lot and sore muscles will need caring for)
High Quality cough drops/lozenges (Young Living, DoTerra, or another high-quality brand)
Ben-Gay, Bio Freeze, Salonpas, or another brand of liniment for topical relief
Ear Plugs – Egypt is sometimes noisy at night and these help a lot when you are trying to sleep in a small village
Hand Sanitizer - you will be touching a lot of things that others have touched
Antacid – Rolaids or Tums
Allergy Medicine or Benadryl in case of a reaction to something unplanned
Spare roll of Toilet Paper - carry extra toilet paper with you at all times - public toilets usually do not have paper (unless you pay the attendant)
Lip Balm & Sunscreen
Insect repellent pump spray/After-bite - you won't have too many insects in the winter, but if you stay in villages, you will have mosquitoes at night
Band-Aids/Corn or callous pads/Moleskin/Neosporin
Motion sickness medicine or set of magnetic bracelets for motion
Any prescription medicine you are taking (the MUST be in the original bottle, clearly marked with your name, etc. on the label)
Vitamins, herbal supplements, probiotics
Birth Control & Yeast Infection Kit/Cream
Tweezers, thermometer, nail clippers/file
Accessories and Miscellaneous Items
This is my short list of necessities. I packed too much when I went and some items went unused for the duration of my trip, such as binoculars, a tripod, extra lenses for my camera, and my laptop. The list below is considered essential.
Camera, film, and several sets of spare batteries - my phone did a great job with most photography, but my 35 mm camera pictures were much better (I took over 3,000 pictures in 2 weeks)
Portable phone charger - unlike here in America, there are not power stations everywhere, so many people take a portable power source and charge up in-between sites.
Power converter - Egypt uses "c" type and "F" type plugs - I purchased an all-purpose kit with different adapters just to be safe (see link below)
Charging cords - phone, iPad, or any other electrical device
Small flashlight - there are opportunities to go inside tombs and pyramids that may be dark or shaded, so a light may be useful to you
Sunglasses (wraparound if possible) - I brought a spare pair (you can find these to purchase in Egypt)
Notebook & pencil
Neck Pillow (optional for the flight)
Travel Cup with lid – if you stop and purchase a beverage along the road, most places won't have a lid for the cup
Fix-it kit - I always pack a small bag of "what if's" that includes safety pins, rubber bands, small roll tape, zip ties, paperclip or two, etc., just in case something breaks
Egypt - Prohibited & Restricted Items
- Egypt - Prohibited & Restricted Imports
All nations limit certain items. If you are not sure about whether you can take something into Egypt, please consult this link for valdiation.
Egypt is an amazing country and there is no doubt that you will find more things to do and see, than you have time. Take lots and lots of pictures where you can. Write things down for review on the flight home. Immerse yourself in the culture and history of this great nation. But, keep a watchful eye for trouble, respect the traditions and laws, and don't make a spectacle of yourself in any way. There are no-go zones due to active restoration crews working throughout the country; stay out of the way and be mindful. Some areas are off-limits for photography unless you purchase a photo permit - abide by these rules of have your camera taken by security. Read as much as you can before you go, pack for success, and have fun.
© 2019 Ralph Schwartz