Women travelling alone in Egypt face some challenges, and it's important to get the cultural cues correct in order to minimize the hassle and potential problems.
You might be blown away by how you will incredibly be welcomed while traveling in Egypt – indeed, the first word most locals learn in English is “welcome,” which you can expect to hear regularly. Perhaps no other people in the world say ‘Welcome’ so frequently – and mean it every time. Egypt’s ancient civilisation still awes, but today’s Egyptians are pretty amazing, too.
A woman travelling alone, however, is an enigmatic concept to a lot of Egyptians, so you can expect to get more attention than most women will be used to dealing with in their own country.
While some of this attention will be unwelcome, most of it will be the opposite – as a lone female you’re more likely to be befriended by Egypt’s naturally hospitable locals, and you’ll miss out on some memorable moments if you’re too scared to speak to them or indulge requests for selfies.
First, recognize that simply being an unaccompanied woman, you are perceived as potentially available. Second, realize that though Egypt is a highly controlled and repressive society, the West is viewed as free and easy, particularly with regard to matters of sexual relations.
Most important, dress conservatively. Bare arms and legs will indicate that you are the loose Westerner of their imagination, and you will find the level of harassment increasing commensurately. Tight jeans and tops are better than shorts and a tank top, but not by much. Best to stick to loose pants or sensible, ankle- or mid-calf-length skirts and frumpy long-sleeved tops.
From my own experience I can assure that plenty of women who have travelled to Egypt independently had a good time, but on the other hand, many others felt more comfortable signing up for a small group tour taking in Luxor and Aswan then in Cairo, they spent time on their own. This pattern will allow you to ease into the destination in the comfort of a group before tackling it on your own.
Dress appropriately. While baring your shoulders and knees doesn’t imply a woman is ‘asking’ for anything, it can be interpreted as such by some men.
Covering up (a long skirt or pants and a t-shirt is fine, though a long-sleeved shirt is ideal) also conveys your respect for Egyptian culture. Keep a scarf handy for visiting mosques.
Always sit in the back seat of taxis, and stay alert, as there have been reports of assaults. Arrange drivers and taxis through your hotel where possible, or use Uber, which many local women say is safer.
Even friendly conversation can sometimes be interpreted as flirting; avoid engaging if you don’t feel comfortable, even if it feels impolite. Likewise, politely decline selfie requests if you’re not comfortable.
Do not accept invitations from friendly strangers to show you around or take you for a meal unless you feel 100% safe. Most have good intentions, but some don’t.
If you’re using Cairo’s metro, seek out the women’s carriage. I felt comfortable travelling in mixed carriages with a guide, but there have been reports of groping.
Resist the ‘assistance’ of staff or unregistered guides at tourist sights. All will expect a tip, and some may try for more.
Do not eat, drink (even water) or smoke in public during Ramadan, which is considered impolite (and sometimes an offence).
Wearing a wedding ring and/or inventing a husband (and children) may help you to avoid unwanted attention.
This country has been brewing beer for 3000 years and drinking is not taboo (even for some Muslims), but you will attract attention if you go to a public bar on your own.
Trust your instincts. If you enter a hotel, restaurant or cab and get a leery vibe, don’t brush it off. Get out of there.
Whether you’re travelling solo or with friends, our range of small group trips in Egypt are a fantastic way to start exploring the country.