Avoiding the Zombie Pack
Travelling independently is difficult. It can be mentally and physically tiring, and it can even be dangerous. So why do people persist in ‘going it alone’, so to speak? There are exponential numbers of travel agencies out there who will mould and shape a trip in whatever way you would like, for a price of course. So what, apart from saving money, are the underlying reasons for deciding to plan a trip autonomously?
I have just returned from Egypt on a trip that I planned completely independently with only the use of a trusty travel guidebook and a few Internet resources. Travelling alone in Egypt proved difficult, and I returned jaded and in need of having some well-earned rest. However, having said that, if I went again, I would not do it any other way.
Although I managed to see most of the tourist spots on my own flexible schedule, I also had experiences that would have been impossible if I had reserved a seat on one of those buses. Whilst I was travelling to the ancient temple of Karnak in Luxor, I befriended a horse and cart driver named Omar. A few jokes and a mutual appreciation of a sense of humour led to a wedding party invitation that was to be held later that evening. This party, which took place in a shabby rundown back street of Luxor, proved to be an experience that overshadowed seeing all the magnificent temples and tombs I had seen in Egypt.
Although the men and women had been segregated, I was briefly allowed to join the women and was treated to a belly dancing show, which I was urged to join in inside a small, dark, and packed room. I tried my best to emulate the movements of these unusually subtle women, but in truth, my stilted gyrating must have looked more like Mr. Bean with a hula-hoop. My efforts were rewarded with laughter and a kind applause; and so I humbly took my ironic bow. After that, I rejoined the men outside and watched a band playing traditional instruments on a makeshift stage in the back alley. By day, this stage was actually the trailer of a working wagon. It’s amazing how resourceful people can be to make a good party happen.
- Egypt runs sleeper trains from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan, which is the easiest and most comfortable way to travel in Egypt. For more information about these trains, visit http://www.seat61.com/Egypt.htm or www.sleepingtrains.com
- If you want to soak up some sun and sand by the Red Sea after your hard travels, go direct to Sharm el-Sheikh or Dahab rather than the nearby option of Hurghada. Hurghada is a developing tourist resort, which is currently made up of a large number of hotels along a littered shoreline, with even larger numbers of construction sites providing noise and eyesores everywhere. Despite this, large numbers of tourists still flock here for the night-clubs, sun and sea.
- The current edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook is probably the best guide to Egypt, but some of the information, particularly regarding hotels, can be misleading. Some of the cheaper and mid-range hotels get extremely generous reviews in the guidebook, so beware the budget option. If you find a budget or mid-range hotel, try to get a look at the room before you check in.
The author travelled independently in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and has had his travel writings published in magazines such as ‘Transitions Abroad’ and ‘Things Asian’. He is currently teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, whilst simultaneously seeking further freelance writing opportunities. Contact the author at jjrgaskell at hotmail dot com.