My Travel Regret: Egypt

by Gray Cargill on February 4, 2011

The Giza Pyramids by tom@hk

All travelers have a list.  You know the one. Even if it’s not written down, it’s there, in the back of your mind, all the time. It has all the places you ever want to visit on it.  And usually, it’s in some sort of priority order.  And along with that list, I imagine we all also have some travel regrets:  The places we didn’t visit before….something happened.

At the top of both of my lists now is Egypt.  I have long wanted to see the pyramids.  The royal tombs.  Sail down the Nile on a felucca.  Ride a camel somewhere other than the local fair.  Hear the call to prayer in person. Wander through an Egyptian marketplace.

And yet I’ve never been there.  Why haven’t I gone?  So many reasons, so many excuses.  I’m a frequent solo traveler, but not an exceptionally brave one.  Egypt being a very different culture than the one I come from, I felt it required more than the typical amount of research on my part to be “prepared” for it.  Plus my vacations from work are typically one week. Anything longer that that becomes an issue. I just haven’t felt I could do a trip to Egypt justice in one week.

And I’m not all that comfortable with the idea of having to fend off aggressive salespeople and beggars or deal with a culture that has very different concepts of the role of women all by myself.  I know other women have done it successfully, but it just sounds exhausting to me.  But ultimately, those are all just excuses.  I have an unfortunate habit of “saving the best for last”, and I think that’s what’s happened here.

So of course, the current revolution in Egypt has left me feeling regretful about that attitude and that I didn’t take the time to visit the country sooner.  Gary Arndt recently wrote a post about how travel changes your perceptions about world events; if you’ve actually been to a place (like Egypt), you care more about what’s happening there than you do about places you’ve never been.  (A great argument for why we should all travel more internationally.) And yet, even though I’ve never been there, I find myself caring very much what happens to the people of Egypt. I’m inspired by their willingness to face their fears to fight for a better life.  I hope their struggles result in their voices being heard and a leader of their choosing. Maybe it’s because I know someone who lives there (luckily she was out of the country when all this started), or maybe because I’ve traveled there in my mind, and in the pages of some of my favorite books, I don’t know. But I care.

The odd personal reaction for me is that, instead of wanting to shy away from Egypt now because of the unrest, I feel doubly invested in wanting to learn more about it and in visiting as soon as it’s safe to do so, kind of like how I felt doubly invested in visiting New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  I’m sick of having regrets about the things I haven’t tried and the places I didn’t visit.  I will see the pyramids before I die, dammit.  And while I’m there, I’ll toast the people of Egypt for having the courage to try to change their lives.  They are an example to all of us.

Do you have a travel regret?  Thoughts on the situation in Egypt?  Please share in the comments below.

Photo credit: The Giza Pyramids 3 by tom@hk.

Lori July 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm

So – I, too, am hell bent on going to Egypt this year – You stated that the unrest and new political climate is making you want to go even more! Well, same here!! I plan to find a tour – to be on the safe side (and keep my friends and family off my back!) I had looked at several and found one just for women (forget the name now -must go searching!) – I really liked their price and the itinerary . . But I teach and the timing is not good for me.I am now sitting around debating if I should just bit the bullet and take the time off anyway. I really want to. Good luck to you – I hope you get there – I hope I get there, too!

Gray July 15, 2012 at 9:45 am

I think a tour at this point is definitely the way to go, Lori, if you’re going to Cairo. Good luck to you!

Gray January 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Alya, thank you very much for stopping by and offering your insights about Egypt. I appreciate it, and I’m sure my readers will too. I think what you’re saying about Egypt can probably apply to many places that are different from home–we’ll like some things, and others we won’t. That’s the nature of travel.

Alya January 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Hi Gray! I’m Egyptian and I’m quite familiar with your concern. I’m reading this now, almost a year after you’ve posted it. Well, let me tell you something.
It is indeed a very different culture than the one you come from, with absolutely different customs and traditions…etc. Ones you might agree with and find charming, ones you might not be familiar with but don’t have a problem anyway and finally ones you might completely and utterly disagree with and find stupid and irrational.
So if you’re planning on visiting Egypt any time soon, I’ll be giving you some information to bear in mind before coming.

Sadly, after 30 years of political corruption, that not only affected Egypt’s diplomatic and political life, but also literally damaged our social lives. Literally.
Don’t be surprised by the amount of garbage in the streets of a lot of cities including some areas in Cairo. Also, women are almost always harassed in the streets. Don’t be fooled by someone telling you only the ones who wear much revealing clothes. That’s a lie! Veiled girls also get harassed. Some behaviors by men in lower classes might not very appealing to you. Especially since a lot of Egyptians are having Xenophobia these days (stupid! I know) ……..Despite all that, now is a VERY INTERESTING time to come here. It’s not that dangerous as people are saying! It’s very adventurous … good Egyptians are VERY VERY VERY WELCOMING and warm-hearted! You’ll find people very interested in talking to you and knowing where you come from! Some will teach you a couple of Egyptian phrases also.. + if you’re lucky, you can go witness a sit-in or a protest and talk to people or ask them why are they protesting and stuff…
I have a lot to say but if you have any questions you can email me!
Lots of love!

Gray June 26, 2011 at 9:25 am

Thanks for the feedback, Kris. Sounds like you had a terrific experience. And that’s a truism of travel; not everyone is going to have the same experience of a place.

Kris June 25, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Wow, I’m really sorry to read so many comments to the effect of, “I couldn’t wait to leave Egypt.” I have to say, this was NOT my experience. I was very sorry to leave (albeit, homesick).

I was there just before the Revolution. When it started, believe it or not, if I could have gotten back on a plane and joined the protestors in Midan Tahrir, I would have (but my family was quite glad I was out of money at that point.)

I think I partly owe the 100% awesome experience I had in Egypt to a friend of mine – a Palestinian man – who offered me a great deal of very candid advice about how to behave. And I was not above following his advice to the letter (it was actually really fun IMO – kind of like playing a role for a couple of weeks). Anyway, the hassling and problems you hear so much about were 100% absent from my entire trip; on the contrary, I think ALL strangers were kinder to me in Egypt than perhaps anywhere else I have visited. Ever. Just saying, it IS possible…

octa March 11, 2011 at 7:11 am

just come and see Pyramid, Gray 🙂 but may be it is still closed because Cairo isn’t in stable fully yet. but in Khan el Khalili, there are little numbers of foreigner. yeah i saw them..

Gray March 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm

As soon as things are a bit more stable, octa, I’m there. 🙂

Akila February 21, 2011 at 2:11 am

Gray, We haven’t been to Egypt either and it was (and still is) at the top of our list. In fact, last November, we were considering booking tickets for right about now but we needed to save money so we didn’t. It’s not over for Egypt and we’ll all get over there to see those amazing monuments (or so I keep telling myself).

Gray February 21, 2011 at 3:19 am

Maybe all of us who have Egypt high on our travel lists should all go at the same time and revive their tourist economy in one fell swoop? 😉

Sabina February 11, 2011 at 11:30 am

Gray, it’s not totally over for Egypt, I don’t believe. So many different scenarios could play out. Hopefully, hopefully they’ll still welcome Americans when it’s all over with. I was (am?) planning on heading there mid-March. It’s looking decreasingly likely, though, very unfortunately. I was just thinking today I’m so glad I’ve already been because what if it’s never okay for Americans to go again? I hope it is, for everybody’s sake.

Gray February 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I have hope it will stabilize, it’s just a question of when. Sorry to hear about your March trip. Do you have a plan B?

Sabina February 12, 2011 at 7:19 am

Well, hours after I wrote that comment, Mubarak stepped down, so we’ll see what happens after the transitional police state is replaced. I do actually have a Plan B – Israel! I love Israel, it’s definitely a part of the Mid East, and I’d love to spend more time there. I was going to hunker down in Egypt because I want to get to know the Arab world better and because it’s so freaking cheap. Israel, like the rest of the Mid East with the exception of Egypt, is a LOT more expensive. But I love it. I’ll make up my mind soon.

Gray February 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I think it will still take some time to see what direction Egypt goes in. Once there’s a leadership vacuum, all types of powermongers may try to fill it. Israel sounds like a fine backup plan, though as you say, the price differential could be a problem. Still, it’s nice to have options.

TravelnLass February 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Travel surely does shrink the world greatly. And having just recently (finally) visited Egypt last September, the current events there feel so much more personal, and my empathy for the Egyptian people far more acute.

And as far as “just do it!”? Indeed, my own lifelong mantra as always been “This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!” I mean, none of us knows if we’ll even have tomorrow, so best not put off your dreams another day. Start planning and GO!

(oh, and when you do – go to Egypt that is. Do not, repeat DO NOT miss the Sinai and especially dear Neweiba – far less touristy than Dahab, truly awaaay from it all.)

Gray February 10, 2011 at 1:30 am

Thanks for the tips, TravelnLass!

Becs February 9, 2011 at 12:41 am

I did the whole “saving the best for last” thing all growing up and missed out on a bunch of stuff because of various reasons, not even in travel, just everyday life!

Now I just dive in and do everything I want FIRST. Who or what am I waiting for? NO ONE!!

This too in Egypt will pass soon and you should book something then. Who cares if you have to go on a group tour or something. As long as it will make your travel time better, just do it! I totally understand having to fend off against aggressive everything, esp. as solo women. That is what tours are for!

Gray February 9, 2011 at 1:17 am

Yeah, I’m thinking I’d probably do a small group tour. Maybe Intrepid or Gap or something. I like your attitude, Becs!

zablon mukuba February 8, 2011 at 5:24 am

Despite the current problems they are having Egypt is a great place to visit

Gray February 9, 2011 at 1:14 am

Good to hear, Zablon. Thank you.

WDW PRINCE February 8, 2011 at 5:16 am

I went to Egypt in 2007. It was one of the most fascinating and memorable trips of my lifetime. It is indeed a very different culture from ours with different outlooks on the role of women and aggressive selling and panhandling in the streets. However, I kid you not when I say that the Egyptian people were the most genuine, friendliest, kind hearted people I have ever met. Traveling as an American, I felt no danger at all. In fact the Egyptians I met all claimed to love Americans and it showed. This may be different at the moment. I say go when you feel the time is right. Do your research. You will be rewarded with the trip of a lifetime. Egypt gets into your blood. It is so rich with history. It’s unforgettable.

Gray February 9, 2011 at 1:09 am

Thanks for your insights, Paul. I certainly hope I have the opportunity to find out firsthand in the not-too-distant future.

Joya February 6, 2011 at 2:31 am

Thanks for sharing Gray! I completely agree that a benefit of travel is that we become more socially aware and have respect for other countries once we have visited them.

Gray February 9, 2011 at 1:07 am

And we could all certainly stand to be more socially aware. Thanks, Joya.

Cailin O'Neil February 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm

I’m having the same regrets as you Gray! I have been wanting to go to Egypt for ever and I even almost went this past December with a friend from there but work got in the way. It would of been very awesome to also travel with a friend who was a local – but hopefully this trip will still happen.
I was shattered to hear the other day that people had broken into a museum and stolen two mummy heads and had ruined some artifacts – lets hope that nothing happens to the pyramids or anything else and a peaceful resolution that is best for the people of Egypt happens soon!

Gray February 6, 2011 at 12:11 am

I know, I keep trying to focus on what this means for the people, but I can’t help but be concerned about the artifacts, too. They’re just so important to the whole world. I think the majority of people in Egypt have the same concerns, but all it takes is a few hotheads to destroy something priceless. Let’s hope for a swift conclusion to all this that works for the people.

Dustin Main February 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I don’t really have travel regrets, I try not to have regrets, and do what I can and feel at the time.

I can add to the voices below that Egypt is one of my least favorite countries. Traveling there is hard, and for me, things like the pyramids / tombs are underwhelming and below expectations. In fact my least favorite things about Egypt are anything that involved tourism. Wandering the streets of Cairo at night was great, but everything else was a pain.

I have many friends there and have been keeping an eye on the situation (via AJE, plus now FB) and their safety.

Gray February 6, 2011 at 12:07 am

Thanks for adding your insights, Dustin. I’m not surprised to hear you say that your least favorite things about Egypt involved tourism. I think that’s often the case when we travel. Nothing can really live up to the hype. I hope everything turns out well for your friends. Keep the faith.

BAIRDS TRAVEL February 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Never been to Egypt . It`s very high up on my list .
Hope the country sorts itself out soon

Gray February 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Me too.

C Amber Williams February 5, 2011 at 2:50 am

Like you, Egypt was on the top of my list of places to visit. The pyramids, the souks, a camel ride, the Nile…I wanted to see it all. Last February a friend invited me along and come May I was on my way!

After 9 VERY long days seeing Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Alexandria, I was so happy to say good bye to Egypt. Like others have said, it was a difficult trip. Emotionally, physically, mentally…it was all so much. Am I glad I can say “I’ve been to Egypt”? Yes. Would I recommend anyone visiting there? Not if you have other countries further up on your “must see” list.

The one city I can say I was able to enjoy myself just a tad bit was Alexandria. Overall, the people were much more friendly and relaxed. Maybe I enjoyed myself more solely because it was so much cooler (thanks to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea), haha.

Best of luck!

Gray February 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Physical discomfort can often influence how we perceive a place. Did you go in the winter? I’ve heard summer is really unbearable.

Becky Allyn Johnson February 4, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I just returned from a trip to Egypt. I actually left Cairo the night before the first demonstrations began. So instead of travel regret as you describe it, I have travel guilt because…I kind of didn’t enjoy traveling in Egypt.

You are absolutely right that Egypt is a challenging travel destination. I think if you’re interested in history and sights you could have done it fairly easily with a good tour — especially cruising the Nile. But I found actually getting to know Egypt to be too hard for me. As a Westerner and as a woman, there were too many walls for me, personally with my level of ability at social interaction, to break through — you mention some of them in your post. So I loved seeing all the historical sites — the pyramids, Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, the Egyptian Museum — but as I was leaving, I felt mostly relieved that all the hassles would be over.

And then I landed back in the States and my cab driver told me what was going on. We listened to NPR reports on the drive back to my apartment. And ever since I’ve been glued to live blogs, Twitter, and Al Jazeera English. And I feel guilty and disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to understand the culture and the situation there better. It’s really the only trip I’ve taken where I felt like the destination was that inaccessible.

Gray February 5, 2011 at 12:30 am

Oh, Becky. I’m sorry to hear it was so difficult for you. And I can absolutely relate to your guilt feelings–I’m sure I’d feel the same way. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

Becky Allyn Johnson February 5, 2011 at 4:54 am

I should clarify that it’s only one aspect of how I feel about my recent trip. I have many positive thoughts and experiences, too. But with the current situation, it’s definitely at the forefront.

Gray February 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm

I understand. Over time, too, I think your thoughts and feelings about Egypt will shift and become something different. At least, that’s usually the way it works for me. It’s as if my mind needs more time to process everything I experienced.

Linda Limbach February 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Loved your post…like you, I usually travel alone and don’t feel ‘adventurous’ enough to do this kind of trip…the research to do it justice, the time invested to make it worthwhile, the intrepidation of traveling in such a different culture with language difficulties, travel time to learn, enjoy and relax too. I am reading Schiff’s biography CLEOPATRA right now and viewing the unrest in this country is troubling and moving. Yes, someday and sometime I hope to get there to see the treasures of this country and do its history justice.

Gray February 5, 2011 at 12:27 am

Thank you, Linda. I hope we both get the chance to visit in the not-too-distant future. How do you like the Schiff book, by the way?

Mari Campos February 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I feel EXACTLY the same! Great, great post.

Gray February 5, 2011 at 12:25 am

Thank you, Mari. Glad to know I’m not alone in this.

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