One of the coolest overland (and over sea) trips I’ve ever done was from Egypt to Jordan.
Stops included Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Hurghada, Mount Sinai, and Dahab in Egypt and Aqaba, Wadi Rum, Petra, the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, and Amman in Jordan. Here are 11 practical tips to help smooth your transition into these fascinating Arab countries.
1. Dress appropriately.
I admit that I didn’t dress right for that trip. Although baby tees and tank tops are hardly risqué in the Caribbean or Europe, they certainly didn’t help my case in the Middle East. I could have avoided unnecessary male attention and butt slaps from street kids in Cairo if I had just dressed appropriately: long, loose clothes and a headscarf. Bonus: wearing loose, light-colored cotton clothes is perfect for the arid desert heat.
2. Don’t be self-righteous.
As a leftie, I was shocked when I got to the Middle East and learned that eating with the south paw is a serious faux pas. In fact, the left hand is considered only suitable for “unclean” tasks like wiping your nether regions in the toilet. Despite this knowledge, I continued to eat with my left hand and didn’t care if I offended the locals. In retrospect, I realized that I had set a bad, bad precedent.
3. Pack motion sickness tablets.
Because we spent most of the trip traveling across bumpy deserts and urban landscapes on a huge yellow truck, I got
car truck-sick a lot. Most of the time I spent sleeping on the “beach” above the driver’s compartment or sprawled across the passenger seats in the back. Anti-nausea tablets or natural alternatives like ginger tablets would have saved my queasy stomach.
4. Trust your instincts.
When traveling, don’t ever feel obliged to go to a restaurant just because a tout corners you. Even though we didn’t want to, my fellow travelers and I ended up sitting at a “steakhouse” in Hurghada. We weren’t surprised when we got a bad case of the runs afterward and had to get antibiotics from the local pharmacy to kill the stomach bug.
5. Carry something warm for cold desert nights.
Even though it felt like summer during the day, temperatures in the desert dropped dramatically at night. Carry a warm shawl, blanket, or sleeping bag if you plan on sleeping rough on the dunes in Wadi Rum, in the Sinai desert, or on the top of Mount Sinai.
6. Water up!
Desert heat and dehydration is no joke. Drink more than you usually do. Don’t drink tap water but stick to bottled water with unbroken caps and seals.
7. Learn to squat.
In this part of the world, squat toilets are the norm so learn how to balance on the pot without smearing your clothes and shoes. Also, get used to the smell of stale urine (and other stuff) that comes from the wads of used toilet paper in the toilet bin (sorry, no flushies!). Because there may not be running water in some places, always carry hand sanitizer and wet wipes to clean up afterward.
8. Never refuse tea.
If it’s one thing I’ll never forget about Egypt and Jordan is the tea. So minty, so sweet, so refreshing and served in cute little cups. You’ll be offered tea everywhere: at the hammam (Turkish bath), at the local souvenir store, or at a restaurant so drink up! It’s another great way to hydrate.
9. Beware of baksheesh.
There are some unscrupulous locals who will “volunteer” their services without your consent and then demand a hefty baksheesh (tip) afterward. Always agree on a fair price before letting someone perform a task for you.
10. Head to the hammam.
Even though I showered twice a day, I had no idea how dirty I really was until I went to a hammam in Amman near the tail end of the trip. After sweating in a steam-filled room, I was led to a tiled bench where I was scrubbed from head to toe, then rinsed with buckets of warm water. I felt like a new woman afterward.
11. Don’t let the Dead Sea in your eyes.
It was certainly an iconic travel moment when I floated on the Dead Sea. However, it was not at all what I expected. For one, the water felt really slimy because of the high salt concentration. Then, something really bad happened. I got the some of the saltwater in my eyes. It was as though someone had poured acid on my eyeballs. If this happens, rinse, rinse, rinse with bottled water until the scalding stops.
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