For me, it was a year eight assignment on ancient Egypt. For my boyfriend, it was The Mummy. For others, it’s Cleopatra or Tutankhamen, the Pyramids of Giza or the Sphinx.
Every tourist I met in Egypt seemed to have a reason for visiting. And with its vibrant bazaars, ancient temples and royal tombs, it’s easy to see why so many dream of visiting the North African country. After several revolutions and a few years of political instability, Egypt is ready to welcome visitors once again.
Despite its increasing popularity, there is a degree of preparation required for an Egyptian jaunt that may not be needed elsewhere. Putting aside visa requirements, packing appropriately is crucial. For a start, Egypt is a very conservative country, with roughly 90% of citizens identifying as Muslim. This means covering up from shoulders to knees is essential, particularly as a woman. If you’re travelling between June and August, you have another factor to consider: the heat. Summer temperatures in southern cities like Aswan typically linger between 40-50 degrees Celsius and rarely drop in the evenings. Having experienced these sweltering temperatures first-hand, I guarantee that this is no exaggeration.
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But never fear! With the right organisation, your trip to Egypt will be a breeze. Read on for my comprehensive Egypt packing guide.
Loose pants and long skirts: Sweltering heat and conservative dress aren’t exactly the easiest pairing. In order to meet both criteria, women should opt for loose pants and maxi skirts below the knees. Men aren’t required to cover up, but are encouraged to wear shorts below the knee and avoid singlet tops. Ditch the synthetics and stick to cotton or natural fibres to avoid overheating; polyester pants are a recipe for sweat.
T-shirts and button-ups: Covering your shoulders is essential when venturing out of a resort area in Egypt. I found it easiest to stick with loose t-shirts or layer them underneath a shoulder-bearing outfit. In a pinch, thin straps can be covered with a light button-up shirt.
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Linen: Easily the most breathable natural fibre, linen will keep you cool and protected from the infamous Egyptian sun.
Walking shoes: A visit to Egypt typically revolves around the exploration of ancient sites and you know what goes hand in hand with exploration? Walking. And lots of it. Bring comfy walking shoes to avoid the aching feet I faced every evening. Black shoes are best, unless you want your favourite white sneakers to be permanently caked in a layer of desert dust.
Hat: Wide-brimmed is best, but any hat will go far to protect your precious head from the ruthless sun.
Swimsuit: If you’re planning a boat trip down the Nile, you’re going to want a swimsuit. Trust me, the idea of swimming in it is a lot more appealing when it’s 47 degrees and your boat isn’t air-conditioned. If you’re not keen on a fresh-water dip, some Intrepid hotels in Egypt have pools, so throw in a bathing suit anyway.
High SPF sunscreen: The Egyptian sun does NOT kid around. While much ofyour body will be covered with loose clothing, strong sunscreen is important for any exposed areas like the face.
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Cash: The official currency of Egypt is the Egyptian Pound, but the US Dollar is also accepted in many areas, including at the airport (where it is required to purchase a visa). It’s worthwhile bringing a few hundred USD to pay for trip extras and tips, but avoid paying for food or souvenirs in foreign currency or risk being significantly short-changed or over-charged. ATMs are widely available across the country, so no need to bring a bulk sum with you from home.
Re-usable water bottle: While you’ll be required to purchase drinking water during your stay, a re-usable bottle will keep your water cooler and be more environmentally friendly than a single-use plastic bottle.
Hand sanitiser: I bring hand sanitiser on every trip, but found myself reaching for it in Egypt more than usual. It’s a dusty place and a lot of my meals were street food enjoyed on the go. A small bottle won’t take up any space in your bag but will definitely come in handy.
Type C (European) plug adapter: Egypt uses the European-style plugs with two round prongs, so be sure to throw a few of these in your luggage.
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Bug repellant: If like me, you seem to attract mosquitoes wherever you go, be sure to pack some repellant with ‘deet’. This is particularly important if you’re heading to the Nile, where mosquitoes tend to linger.
Shawl or pashmina: Whatever you call it, a lightweight scarf or shawl is a great addition to your day-pack. It can be thrown over a low-cut top or singlet to enhance the modesty of your outfit, or wrapped around your legs when visiting religious sites. Just be sure to leave space for any impulse scarf purchases from a traditional Egyptian cotton weaver.
My top three extra tips
1. Hydration powder
Heat sucks the energy out of you and with it, goes the water. While most attractions have cafes serving refreshments, it’s almost impossible to remain hydrated in the summer months without the aid of hydration powder to replenish those all-important electrolytes.
2. Travel sickness medication
Egyptian attractions aren’t always conveniently located in town, nor are they accessible via smooth, sealed roads, so trips to popular sites like Abu Simbel require long, bumpy drives. If you suffer from travel sickness, be sure to bring medication to make your journeys more enjoyable.
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3. Portable charger
Long days in the car and longer journeys on overnight sleeper trains call for technology to pass the time, so save yourself the stress of a low-battery and bring a portable charger.
The top three things to avoid
1. Light and white clothing
I’m sad to report my brand-new white t-shirt barely lasted a week before its crisp colour couldn’t be revived and had to be abandoned. Egypt is just too dusty for shades of white. Learn from my mistake and stick to other colours, both in clothes and shoes.
2. Revealing or tight-fitting clothes
While there is no strict dress code in Egypt, the more conservatively you dress, the less attention you will draw. This is especially true in smaller cities and more remote areas. Save room and stress by avoiding anything revealing, tight-fitting or cropped.
The roads of Egypt have seen better days, so unless you’re eager to navigate pot-holes and cracks, it’s best to stick with flat soled-shoes.
Want to experience the magic of Egypt for yourself? Book a small group tour with Intrepid and you’ll be on your way before you know it!
Feature image by Nathan and Tegan.