Whenever people ask me where I’ve traveled to this year, I begin by mentioning Egypt, as it was the first chronologically. Instead of seeing excited faces staring back at me, I am often greeted with shocked and confused expressions.
Perhaps this is because of the violent protests that took place earlier this year throughout Cairo and other major Egyptian cities. As it turns out, I had returned to the United States mere days before the riots began. However, when I explain to people that I traveled through Egypt in early January 2011, they tend to assume that I was caught in the middle of the fights and immediately ask me if I feared for my life.
While I could definitely sense some misdirected tension in the days leading up to the riots, I left Egypt with a new outlook on the world. By learning about the Muslim faith and seeing so many ancient ruins, I somehow developed a firmer understanding of my own faith, culture and moral code. I believe a main reason for this was due to the many modes of transportation I took during my trip. While many vacationers travel through Egypt the luxurious way, I chose the broke traveler method, which ultimately made all the difference.
Here are Five Modes of Transportation to Experience the Real Egypt:
Sleeper Trains: Just as their name suggests, sleeper trains are intended for the budget traveler who wants to save both time and money. Although this way sounds luxurious to some, it is pretty bare bones when it comes to comfort. Yet, I managed to make the most of the experience and I would recommend it to other travelers as well. For one thing, don’t expect to actually see much of Egypt during your train ride. Since you are traveling at night, there is little to see along the train tracks. You also won’t get a wink of sleep but how can anyone when they have the excitement of reaching Valley of the Kings in the morning?
Bus: If you are a budget traveler trying to see as much as you can within your travel dates, it’s almost a given that you will take a bus throughout your journey. I had some of my most reflective moments during our bus rides in Egypt. As we headed from Aswan to historic temples at Abu Simbel, I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise I have even seen. As I looked at my fellow travelers and realized they were all asleep, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a special moment I was sharing with the nation. Bus rides are also the perfect situation to learn more from other travelers and your tour guide. On our ride back to Aswan from Abu Simbel, I spent nearly three hours speaking about politics, religion and racism with my tour guide.
Felucca Boat: Forget the touristy and over-priced Nile cruises. They real way to experience Egypt is by sailing along The Nile River on a local Felucca boat. Our group got up close and personal with nature as we roughed the hot Aswan air and set out on a twenty-four hour felucca ride. We sailed all day, talking and eating with our crew as they told us stories about their lives. At night, we built a campfire, stargazed and even had a run-in with a very intimidating camel. The highlight of our Felucca ride was having the chance to eat with a local Nubian family just before we set sail. Although the villagers could not communicate with us, their genuine hospitality spoke volumes.
Hot Air Balloon: It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over Valley of the Kings but in Luxor, this is completely normal and highly recommended. As a traveler on a budget I was surprised how affordable this ride was and looking back on the experience now, the view is completely priceless. Making our ride even more entertaining was our unplanned landing in a local field where small children, animals and the not-so-enthused looking village leader greeted us. In many ways, this crash landing was the best part of the entire morning simply because we were able to see a local community living their daily lives.
Camel, Donkey and the like: A visit to Egypt is not complete for any traveler without a stop at the Great Pyramids of Giza, located just outside Egypt’s capital city, Cairo. Also slightly touristy, taking a ride on a camel is an ideal way to really take in your surroundings while providing you with many photo opts and a great view of the Pyramids themselves. As a local guide led my camel, I was somehow able to forget I was on an organized tour and actually pretend I was living in Cairo thousands of years ago. Similarly, when you reach Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens in Luxor, a donkey ride is one mode of transportation that gives you an equally worthwhile experience.
Bio: Megan Eileen McDonough is the Founder and Editor of Bohemian Trails, an online travel magazine covering global art and culture for the avant-garde traveler.