One thing I cannot stress enough, especially to women traveling to the Middle East which are heavily Jewish and Muslim countries, is Dress Modestly. It is essential that you understand the Do’s and Dont’s of fashion when traveling to these areas.
Always pack a head covering of some kind, like a scarf. (a hat would not be appropriate) Keep it in your bag, or jacket or pants and be ready to use it when entering certain religious sites. Always wear a shirt (or over shirt) that covers your chest, arms and wrists. Always wear long pants or a long skirt.
Many mosques, synagogues, and sometimes Christian churches require that you dress modestly before you enter them. Remember this is “their” country and you are a guest. You may not like, understand or appreciate their customs but you should by all means respect them while traveling.
If you enter a place of worship and there is some kind of service going on, or a prayer of some kind be polite. Do not talk or videothe service or take photos. People are there to worship and this is their sacred place. You are visiting and it would be rude and IS rude not to show proper respect for their worship time. And besides that, it makes you look like a foolish and annoying tourist.
Red in Tel-Aviv Israel 2009
I noticed this kind of rude “tourist” behavior most of my time in Egypt especially. The German and Beijing tourist groups were so rude all the time. Not once showing any kindness or respect for the places they were visiting or the locals that were worshiping or working entered; I was embarrassed for them. They would push their way through sites, yell, scream, stand in everyones way and not once show any respect by tipping or thanking the locals that might have been there helping out or directing them.
If you are going to do a lot of walking and I assume you will, do not wear flip-flops or high heels. Wear good, comfortable shoes for touring and lots of walking. And its best to wear socks, for a couple of reasons. One is because some of the places of worship that you will visit require you to remove your shoes before entering. You wont want to walk on the floors barefoot where thousands of people walk each day, it’s neither clean nor appealing. Two, the streets in expecially in Egypt, are filthy. They are covered with garbage and feces from humans and animals, rotting food, urine etc. Flip flops are not a good clean way to travel. Also the cities are old and many of them either have dirt roads or large stones and bowlders for walking on. A good pair of walking shoes with support is essential.
Be smart when packing for trips, know your terrain, your weather. It would be inappropriate to dress as if you are trying out for Americas next top model or as if you just jump out of a Banana Republic catalog from 1980. Be modest, be comfortable, and be smart about any attire you wear while traveling. You don’t want to stand out and you don’t want to be uncomfortable or it can ruin your whole experience.
Using the restrooms in Egypt is going to take you by surprise, maybe. First of all Egypt is filthy, period. It is third world so be prepared for things you wont have or find that we as expecially as Amercians, take for granted. There is never toilet paper, paper towels or soap in most if not all of the bathrooms in Egypt or Jordan. Israel you get a little more cleanliness but not much. You will find that you will be expected to tip the person at the bathroom entrance. One Egyptian LE is about sufficient. If and when you do this, ask them for T.P before you enter the stall or have your own tissue with you, for there will be none in the stall. You will also have to use T.P to dry your hands, paper towels are pretty much none existant in Egypt. Bring plenty of handi-wipes and disinfectant so that you can use it as you leave the restroom, you will need and want to use it after leaving the restroom or leaving a place where many tourists and locals frequent.
*DO NOT tip the bathroom attendants at the Museum in Cairo. They will ask you for a hand out but there is a sign that says DO NOT tip them.
Chances are you will walk a lot of streets and go to Bazaars while in Egypt. The merchants will drive you nuts if you are not prepared. Everyone is looking to make a buck. They will stop in front of you, sometimes even toss something at you or on you, like a scarf and tell you that you now have to pay, and how much are you willing to pay. Try your best to walk by the shops and ignore these people. Keep walking, sternly say “NO” and don’t look them in the eye.
If you do decide to buy something from a street merchant, do not take their first price and do not listen to them tell you that it’s a good price, it’s not. If you pay more than $6.00 for a scarf, than you have paid too much.
For example I wanted a silly stuffed camel (my husband buys me something like this from every trip) and we wanted these pyramid-shaped paper weight set (you can buy them everywhere in every color and stone) The merchant we stopped at started at 500 LE (egyptian pounds) not only did we laugh we walked out of his store. He kept yelling, 400 LE, 300 LE etc. We just kept walking and then later returned down the same street. He saw us, of course and yelled, 100 LE, my husband said 40, they said 80, my husband said 50 LE, SOLD! So you see, there is always bargaining to do. Dont let them rip you off, stand firm and make a deal.
If you find that you are walking through a market or a bizarre and someone randomly walks up to you and starts giving you directions, or walking with you and talking to you and asking you about your travels, random questions etc. ask him to leave you alone. He now thinks he is your tour guide and will in the end expect a tip of some kind.
* NOTHING is free in Egypt
In places where you must remove your shoes, if there is someone there collecting your shoes, they will expect a tip to give them back to you.
My husband and I do not take tour buses or cruises. Though we see many sites that tourists usually see, we also see many sites that large groups do not get to see or cannot get too. We usually hire a private guide and driver for our trips through a reputable agency in whatever country we are in. That way we can get into sites quickly, get good photos, see things others do not get to see and do all this on our own terms and usually without too many tourists around.
Beware though even of private guides. They are corrupt and they will try to sell you everything they can. They will ask to take you to shops, owned and operated by friends, they will show you photos of jewelry and music Cd’s asking you to buy these things. They are making a profit and so are their friends, and in most cases none of this is legal. Dont get stuck buying things you don’t want, say NO.
If you travel to Giza to see the large/main pyramids it is a good idea to get a full, all around view of all 9 of them. To properly do this you will need to go to the back side of them, through the desert by camel. (you can walk it if you want but even by slow camel its a 45 minute trip around) The ride is about 100-150 LE a person. It’s not scary (though I admit I was hesitant at first) and the person pulling or managing the camels is experienced, usually a kid whos father owns and raises them. Beware of one thing, as you ride there will be someone in the desert riding a donkey or horse who starts talking to you and asking you how you like things etc. Then he will open up a soda and hand it to you, even if you say no he is very insistent. If you take the soda, he will then ask you to pay for it. And no matter what you give him, it wont be enough or good enough. One of the most popular phrases in Egypt when you tip is “are you happy with this?” Meaning are you sure you are happy with this tip, wouldnt you like to give more.
It’s best to have your own water before getting on the camel, you can usually by it right there at a vendor, and avoid the soda selling person if you can. He will be waiting for you in the desert.
The kid or person pulling the camel will ask for a tip (of course) and whatever tip you decide he wont be happy with it. We gave a small tip because our kid was busier talking on his cell phone than he was guiding the camels and telling us about the pyramids, very annoying!
Do not drink the water in Egypt. Their only source of water is from the Nile and they treat it with complete disrespect. Mostly because they are poor and ignorant of how to properly care for such a precious resource. Along the banks of the Nile, especially in Cairo, there is garbage lining the banks, and floating in the water. There is also dead animals and you will see people urinating and bathing and washing their clothes in the river. So don’t even let the water touch your lips in the shower and don’t use ice in your drinks. Dont eat the salad or any fruit that is not peeled or vegetables that are not peeled and properly cooked. All these things have been washed in the Nile and you will get a nasty stomach bug that will ruin your vacation. Also be careful not to eat the cheese if it has not been pasteurized.
It is a good idea to carry a prescription of Cypro with you to combat a stomach bug. I followed all the rules of food and water and we stayed at all the best 5 star hotels like Mena House http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_menahouse/index.asp and I still ended up with a stomach bug. So be very careful with your food and beverage intake.
In Israel water is safe to drink from the tap, and most food is safe to eat. Israel is considered more of a 2nd world country so they tend to be cleaner and they treat their water supply with better care.
In Israel do not be surprised by all the young people walking around in Army fatigues carrying M16’s around their bodies, acting as if nothing is wrong. They do it because they are required too and they are being trained that if a situation breaks out, they are prepared. Honestly I am not sure how a bunch of young people fresh out of High School can be prepared for what one of these countries might instantly throw at them, but I respect the way they are trained to get in there and be part of it. I admit that one nite in a restaurant when all these kids came in with these guns around there necks and just sat a table next to us and had a leisurely dinner, it was odd and a little unnerving at first. But you get over that feeling after a month in the Middle East.
ISRAEL: It is filled with history. Anyone who is a bible scholar of anykind will truly appreciate this place. The old wall of Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, The garden of Gethsemane, The Mt of Olives, The river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lots wife, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Capernaum, Cessarea, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Mt. Hermon etc. Any and all biblical places that you have learned about and are familiar with you can see in such awe here. I loved Israel, I loved the people and the places and the history and I would go back over and over again.
PETRA: One of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The structures, the beauty of the red stone, rocks, carvings. The first moment you come around that corner to see the very first glimpse through the stone of the front of the Treasury.. man, words cannot express the amazing structure, and the way your heart sinks to see such an amazing piece of craftmanship. I have waited my whole life to see this place, and in those few moments, I knew it was worth the wait.
Front of Treasury at Petra in Jordan