Planning a trip is a fun process as you investigate where to stay, what to see, and make travel arrangements. However, if you are traveling internationally, there are several things that you should be sure to do in addition to the actual planning of the trip itself. Some of these things need to be done several weeks in advance, so be sure to consider them as part of your planning process. They are simple steps that could help you avoid your trip of a lifetime from turning into the disaster of a lifetime.
- Check Visa and Passport Requirements – Be sure to see whether the country you are visiting requires a tourist visa in order to enter and how long the visa will be valid. There are usually requirements as to how many blank pages you need to have in your passport as well as how much longer than the dates of your travel that the passport will be valid for as well. Although some countries allow you to get your visa at the airport upon your arrival, we recommend that you get your visa in advance to avoid any delays. We have heard of people being stuck for days trying to bet their visa due to a variety of issues. Also, be aware that to get most visas, you will need to send your original passport, so you’ll need to coordinate getting the visa around any other travel you might be doing.
- Register Your Trip with Your Embassy – There are a couple of reasons for registering your trip (in the US, you can register with Safe Traveler Enrollment Program, STEP). Usually you will receive alerts for the country that you are visiting, such as protests, violence, or other issues in specific cities or regions. Another reason is that if something bad should happen and your family at home has concerns, information about your trip is registered in order to allow officials to start an investigation.
- Confirm what Vaccinations and Immunizations are Required – Depending upon where you are traveling, there are often required and recommended vaccines and immunizations. Some of these can be expensive and need to be done weeks before travel, so be sure to contact your doctor once you have checked the list. Also, some countries require proof of the vaccinations and in those cases you will want to have the official form. Also, if taking any prescription medicine with you, be sure to carry them in there original containers with the prescription labels otherwise you might have your medicine confiscated. In some cases, you may need a letter from your doctor stating what you are taking and why you are taking it as proof that you are not smuggling in pharmaceuticals.
- Contact Your Bank and Credit Card Issuers – We always recommend that you don’t carry a lot of cash with you when you travel and that you take money out of an ATM upon your arrival. You need to contact your banks and credit card companies prior to your trip so that they can note your account to avoid any transactions being rejected as fraudulent. Be sure to include any countries where you have layovers as well as you might want to grab a bite to eat or buy something during the time that you have as you wait for the next leg of the trip to begin. Also, be sure to find out if there are any daily withdrawal or spending limits on your accounts or foreign transaction fees. It is important to note that even though you report your trip with the bank, there is no guarantee that it won’t still be marked as fraudulent, so you should keep the number of the fraud department with you, which is separate from customer support and is usually available 24/7. Although we don’t recommend taking a lot of cash, we do recommend that you take a small amount, about enough for a taxi and food, and convert it into local currency if possible.
- Take Photos of Your Travel Documents and Email Them to Yourself – It is always a good idea to take photos of your travel documents and take them with you, but you should email them to yourself as well. If something happens and everything is stolen from you, having the ability to go to a computer and access your email will give you the ability to print out new copies to take to the local embassy. In addition to your travel documents, passport and visas, also make a list of all of the international numbers for your banks and credit cards. If your wallet is stolen and you need to contact your banks, having those numbers available will make it much easier to get replacements and keep fraudulent charges from occurring.
- Consider Travel Insurance – There are a variety of ways to get travel insurance and, in general, we usually recommend having it. Be sure to look at what types of things are covered as not all plans are the same. Some will cover the costs of cancelled transportation, some will pay for transportation in the event of a natural disaster, and others will provide medical insurance, including evacuation services. Clearly, the location and type of travel that you are doing will help you determine the extent of coverage that you need, but having at least minimal insurance is good for the peace of mind that it provides.
- Check Travel Warnings and Advisories for the Region – Similar to registering your trip, you should check out travel warnings for the country that you are visiting. We would also recommend checking the advisories and warnings for neighboring countries as well. In certain cases, you might discover that not only are there warnings, but there can also be restrictions on travel to certain parts of the country. Knowing this information in advance will help you with your planning so that you don’t put a location on your itinerary that might put you and your companions at risk.
- Check for the Local Public and Government Holidays – You may do some of this as part of your normal planning process if you are looking for a celebration or festival, but it is good to know if the places you want to visit might be closed. It might also affect transportation schedules and your ability to see government run sites. Additionally, depending on the country that you are visiting, some holidays are regional and not national, so be sure to pay close attention to that as well.
- Provide Your Trip Details and Hotel Information to Family and Friends – In case something were to happen to your cell phone, having a way for people to get messages to you is important. Also, if there are issues with your transportation, the people who care about you can check to see if there is a reason that they potentially haven’t heard from you. They may never use the information, but they will appreciate your sharing the information with them just in case.
- Check What Currencies the Country Accepts and the Conversion Rates – Some countries will accept multiple types of money and that might avoid the need for converting money when you arrive. Some countries even prefer money from other countries other than their own due to issues with their government and inflation. The opposite can also be true, they may accept money from other countries, but might frown upon having to convert it to use locally. You need to understand the current conversion rates and there are apps and web sites that will provide you that information. As you walk into a store or restaurant, it is important to know what you are really spending when you make a purchase. We typically use an app on our phone and then round up for the conversion rate. For example, if the conversion 1 local dollar is 7.3 US dollars, we will calculate it as 8 US dollars when we see a price. That way we know that what we spend will possibly be less than we thought, but that is better than finding out it was more than you had budgeted.
None of these suggestions will guarantee that you have a wonderful time on your next trip, but they just might be your savior if things don’t go as expected. We follow all of these whenever we travel internationally and consider them to be just as important as planning the highlights of our trip.
Egypt is an amazing country with such a rich history and so many fascinating sights to see, but we did learn that there are a few things that will make your visit even better. We didn’t do a lot of planning in advance of our trip, but Egypt is definitely a location that requires at least some investigation prior to the start of your journey. We wish we didn’t have to say this, but we need to at least first say that visiting Egypt is safe. As we told people that we were planning a trip to Egypt, we heard over and over again that they thought that it was too dangerous to go there since the revolution in 2011. The fact is that we felt completely safe during our trip and the people there wanted very much for us to let others know that tourism is important to the country and they very much want people to start returning to visit once again. With that said, here are some of the things that we feel people should know before going to Egypt.
- Hire an Egyptologist for a Guide – To say that there is a lot of information needed to truly understand the meaning behind the temples, hieroglyphs, and pyramids is more than just an understatement. With 122 gods, 26 dynasties, hundreds of pharaohs, wives, and children, the information is truly overwhelming. Having a guide with a thorough knowledge of the history and the stories behind these impressive structures is crucial to having any idea as to why the ancient Egyptians went to the effort to build such massive structures and statues. You can obviously appreciate the grand scale and detail without having a guide, but you will miss out on the true meaning if you don’t have a guide with expert knowledge in the subject. We actually used three different guides during our trip and each provided their own unique insights into different aspects of the sights that we were seeing.
- Dress Appropriately – There are two aspects to dressing appropriately when visiting Egypt. First of all, it is a mainly Muslim country, which means that you don’t want to expose too much of you skin or dress too provocatively if you don’t want to offend the locals. Pants should be below the knees and shirts should cover the shoulders. Some people say that you can wear shorts and tank tops at the tourist locations, but we believe that you should respect the local culture whenever you are out in public, so we don’t think it is appropriate, especially not short-shorts. You can wear shorts and swimming suits back in your hotel or on the cruise ship, but not when out, especially in Cairo. The other aspect of dressing appropriately is taking into account the weather in Egypt. Although Cairo sits in the Nile delta and is more humid, you will spend most of your time in the desert heat with temperatures that can reach well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). You will want breathable clothes that are lightweight and you will likely want to wear a hat to protect yourself from the strong rays of the sun. Also, wearing comfortable shoes that aren’t open-toed is a must, especially considering the amount of walking you will do in these large sites and since you will be walking on a lot of sand.
- Visit More than just the Great Pyramids – This might seem obvious, but a lot of people visit Egypt and the only place that they go is to the Grand Pyramids of Giza. With over 100 pyramids, there is a lot more to see in Giza alone, but you should also get out to visit Luxor, Edfu, Aswan, Alexandria and more. Although the pyramids are truly impressive and are one of the seven wonders of the world, we actually were more impressed with Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and some of the other sights that we saw during our time in Egypt. The more temples and other historical sites that you visit, the more that you begin to not only appreciate the grand scale of what was built thousands of years ago, but also start to appreciate more of the flow of history as different pharaohs updated these sites throughout the history of the country.
- Have Cash, Especially Small Bills – Although you will find that most places take credit cards, you will also find just as many places that don’t take anything other than cash. You can use Egyptian pounds, Euros, or US dollars, but we recommend using Egyptian pounds so that you don’t have to do the math every time you go to purchase something. Another thing that you will find is that you will need to tip people and having small bills will be important to have because you will likely find that nobody has change to give back to you. One thing to be aware of is that there will be many people trying to get you to give them money for one thing or another. The best thing to do is to try to avoid making eye contact with those people who are trying to hustle you to get a tip. They can include guards in the temples, attendants in bathrooms, children at the historic sites, etc. If you let them show you something or take your picture, you will be obligated to give them some sort of tip. As a country, the desire is to get the population away from hustling people for money, so you should try not to reward them for their bad behavior.
- Take Time to Learn About the Culture, Religion, and Recent History – Obviously in a country with over 5000 years of history, there is a lot to learn and understand. There is also a lot more to Egypt than just ancient history and it is important to understand the current culture and how it came to its current state if you want more than to just visit the country like it is a museum. Going to the churches, mosques, synagogues, markets, and other places that are part of the daily lives of the current residents of Egypt is important to understanding the country as a whole. Egypt was self-ruled into 3rd Century BC and then it has been invaded and ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Ottomans, French, and Germans. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Egypt was once again self-ruled, which is important to understand how the culture has evolved to the point that it is at today.
- Try to Buy Authentic Merchandise – You will find markets and vendors selling trinkets and other items almost everyplace. Unfortunately, most of the time these items have been manufactured in China and are not actually made in Egypt. Although there is nothing wrong with buying those items and they will help the overall economy of the country, but if you really want to bring something authentic from Egypt, you need to be careful with where you purchase it. There are many wonderful places to buy carpets, tapestries, essential oils, spices, alabaster artwork, papyrus paintings, etc., but you find just as many knock-offs of the same items. We recommend working with your guide or concierge of your hotel to find the best places to purchase something truly handmade in Egypt if you want to bring back something special with you.
- Pack a Smile and a Sense of Humor – You will find yourself spending a lot of time learning about the history of Egypt, seeing these amazing pyramids and temples, going to museums, etc., but visiting Egypt doesn’t have to be like a school field trip. The people of Egypt are very friendly and having a smile on your face will make them more likely to interact with you in a positive way. Not everything that you do has to be educational or historical in nature. Ride a camel, go out on the Nile River in a Faluka, walk through a bazaar, or just generally relax. Lets face it, if you have fun and enjoy yourself, you will have better memories. It is true that there is more to see than you will likely ever be able to get to in a single visit, so don’t stress yourself out. See what you can and be sure to make the most of the time that you have.
Egypt is truly a special place with so much history since it is the cradle of civilization. We knew before we visited that this would become one of our favorite places and it certainly lived up to our expectations. We didn’t get to all of the places that we would like visit, so we will have to plan another trip sometime in the future. Hopefully, if you do plan a trip to Egypt, you will find some of these tips to be useful.