the plan

what to ask
a travel agent

what to ask
a tour operator

Let the planning begin!

Unlike our previous trip, most of the places we want to visit in Egypt are standard 'tourist' sites. There is simply so much in Egypt that we want to see. In Scotland, we hired a car and drove ourselves around with no itinerary, no reservations, and no real plan. While this is entirely possible in Egypt (at least according to the guidebooks), the tourist season is short and rooms are harder to find in the major cities. Neither Mark nor I are much into backpack-hostel traveling. And, most importantly, everyone warned us not to try to drive ourselves.

Budget Travel or Edwardian Splendour
My mother couldn't go to another state for the weekend without three suitcases that contained every possible face cream, makeup, shampoo, and body wash that she owned, a curling iron, rollers, hair dryer, and forty pounds of assorted stuff. Picking her up at the airport usually involved two luggage carts. She actually packed her own towels. She wanted the comforts of home any place that she went - and wanted to have clean clothes for each day of her trip.

In contrast, Mark's sister and her husband went to Asia last year for three weeks. They were extremely pleased with themselves that they had traveled for three whole weeks carrying no more than would fit in a small day pack. For them, it was part of the travel experience to try to travel with as little as they could. They had a wonderful trip, and enjoyed every minute of it - but that's not our style.

Well, neither is traveling with fourteen suitcases and a couple of trunks filled with electrical appliances and full-size bottles of shampoo, but there has to be a middle ground. I want enough clean clothes that I'm not washing them in the sink every night, but I don't want to require help hauling my luggage. I want to stay in hotels with comfortable beds, air-conditioning, and - occasionally - room service. Oh, not that we're some kind of jet-setters, but we want to enjoy our trip as much as possible and, frankly, I don't believe that traveling ultra-frugally is some sort of moral victory.

Save where you can, splurge when you want to.

So, our planning for this trip is just a bit different than the last one. Our criteria are still the same, though:

  • We didn't want to be on a Tour. No tour buses, no harried crowds of tourists whisked off a bus to snap a few pictures, then herded back into the "air conditioned comfort". No disinterested tour guide droning monotonously about the lovely scenery that we would only see through the cloudy glass of the bus window.
  • We didn't want to stay in spiffy, internationally-recognized hotel chains. They are the same the world over. If I wanted to see the inside of a Holiday Inn, I could stay in the one down the road for a lot less money.
  • We didn't want to have a strict itinerary that required us to rise at 5:00 am, drive like maniacs to the next place on the list, spend ten minutes there admiring the view, then back in the car because we had five things to do before lunch. There will be no leaving a perfect evening because we had to be at the next hotel.

If you've been kind enough to read through the adventures we had in Scotland, you'll see a definite difference in this trip -- before, we rented a car and set out on our own with no plan to speak of. This trip is much more structured than that one, mostly due to the limitations of tourism in Egypt, not the least of which is safety. I scoff at the attitude that"the world has changed" since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 -- we are no more or less safe today than we were -- but every travel-related item I can find about Egypt says "don't drive yourself" and (alarmingly!) "watch out for land mines". There are still some sites on our itinerary that you cannot visit without police or military escort.

Trying out the Tour Companies
Our original thought was to still travel entirely independently and hire a private car and driver. A bit more research revealed that the hotels that I really wanted to stay at (the Old Cataract, Old Winter Palace, Mena House, Salamlek) were nearly impossible to get into if you weren't on a tour, and the details of transportation and many tickets required were just a bit overwhelming when we wanted to see so much. Suddenly, having someone else manage the details wounded like a could idea. A tour is the best bet if you can swing the not inconsiderable cost.

So, very hesitantly, I investigated packaged "tours" that are offered to Egypt. I was pleasantly surprised.

I found a number of "private" tours -- for small groups or individuals -- and we've decided go to with an organization called Ancient Adventure/EgyptTours. They offer some fabulous itineraries and completely private travel. Just the two of us with a private car and driver (exactly what we wanted) and with all the necessary details handled invisibly behind the scenes.

Perfect? Not entirely. The trip is a bit more plushy than we might have chosen for ourselves, but it certainly comes close.


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