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
- 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
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.