I’m figuring now more than ever would be a good time to distract myself from work and create a little list of travel items for Cairo. Believe me, before I came, I was searching deep on the internet (and when I say deep, I mean up to page 4 of Google searches) for what items I should to Egypt.
A lot of packing lists weren’t all too helpful and were too vague and general as to what I needed. Some only covered short-term trips (like, backpacking through Egypt for a week).
While this list isn’t fully comprehensive of everything to bring, it lists some of the most notably key things I had brought or needed during my stay. For a more detailed list about everything you could possibly need to pack, there are plenty of blogs and sites available (do like I did, with maybe less excessiveness: “what things to pack for a long like 2 month trip abroad in egypt”).
This will be very specific to my experience: a 21 year old American woman (girl, really), spending 2 summer months doing an internship in Egypt.
The list is pretty long, so let’s break it down to the sections:
1. What I’m glad I brought to Egypt
2. What I wished I had brought to Egypt
3. What I’m glad I bought later on
4. What I didn’t really need
1. What I’m most glad I brought
- Long black maxi skirts (especially one with soft, lightweight fabric)
- Basic cotton t-shirts
- Black pants – business pants, leggings, jeans
- Light colored blouses – longsleeved and short
- Light pair of jeans
- Multiple pairs of sandals
- Lightweight black sweater
- Multiple pairs of sunglasses
- Cropped jean jacket with 3/4 sleeves
The black maxi skirts came the most handy for blending in with other Egyptians and avoiding attracting attention to myself, especially when I paired it with long sleeved shirts or blouses or my black sweaters. Of course, people will still stare at you if you have non-Egyptian features or don’t wear a scarf, but this happens to Egyptians too. My Egyptian friend who doesn’t wear a hijab and dresses more Western (jeans and t-shirts), still gets stares when she rides the metro. Egyptians stare at everything. Not a big deal.
I brought three skirts, one charcoal gray and two black. I only really wore the gray one to wash laundry once I ran out of all other clothes to wear. For the black, I found that one of my skirts had a softer, more breathable fabric and (honestly) looked a bit prettier than the other. I ended up wearing this skirt much more often to the point that it got a hole in it that I still have yet to sew up.
The black pants aren’t exactly the most comfortable in summer Cairo heat, but they look natural and are a little bit easier to move around in. I was especially keen on wearing them at night, when going out for food or running errands downtown. The large pockets were great for holding my stuff on short errand runs – no need for a bulky purse. Just watch your surroundings and be careful of pickpocketers.
I found that when I planned to go out and drink, I would wear pants more often, and when going on dates (not that I went on that many) or going to felucca, I wore the maxi skirts. I think it’s more of a self-perception things: Pants made me feel strong, more in-control of myself and surroundings. Skirts are harder to navigate in, but made me feel more feminine.
You want something that your skin will be able to breathe in. This is why I also wore sandals very often. Outfit wise, even in America, I love to wear gold or neutral toned strapped sandals and flip flops, especially in the summer. I wouldn’t recommend wearing sandals all the time, especially in Cairo, if that’s not your cup of tea….the streets and “sidewalks” can be very uneven, full of holes and missing tiles, piles of dust and dirt, and with pockets of sitting street water puddles. Your feet get dirty very quickly and you’ll find yourself stumbling everywhere…I bought a pair of sandals from H&M three weeks in, and by my fifth week in Egypt, they were absolutely ruined and torn up from walking to and from work everyday.
I would recommend at least one pair of sneakers or tennis shoes, if not more. I hate ballet flats in the summer (they get so sweaty and gross so quickly), but outfit and walking-wise, these are probably the best choice to wear aside from sneaker if you want to walk around the city. I brought two pairs, never wore them, but others would probably say differently.
Favorite weekend travel outfit: Black maxi skirt, black tank top or t-shirt, and cropped jean jacket, with sandals.
- Multiple pairs of headphones / earbud coverings
- Multiple USB cords
- My tablet with keyboard
- Mouse for tablet
- Hair Straightener
Most of this goes without saying, as I used these items for internship and university work. I wish I had brought a laptop which would have made work much easier to complete, but I better spent my money on the plane ticket to Egypt instead, so….that’s that. Egypt > Laptop
For the hair straightener, I usually don’t straighten my hair while travelling, but a few months ago, I cut my hair very short and am currently growing it out. Because of that, it’s at this gross, awkward length where, if I need to look presentable, I’ll have to take the time to straighten it out. I usually don’t mind it being messy and natural, but sometimes business meetings require a clean appearance. With this, I also brought a small travel spray bottle filled with heat protectant spray.
- Nail polish
- Makeup: stocks of my regular makeup products
- Finishing powder and setting spray
- BB Foundation Cream (8 in 1), Concealer, Powder Foundation, Eye shadow, Lip Balm, Contour pad
- Multiple sets of makeup remover wipes
- Nail clippers
- Travel sizes of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste & brush
- Normal sizes of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste & brush
- Multiple sets of deoderant
- Bug spray / Lemongrass spray
- Sunscreen (especially for beach trips)
- Large bottle of contact solution
- Hair cutting scissors
Fun fact: it’s pretty hard to find tampons in Egypt. I brought along extra just in case (the tiny O.B. ones), and am incredibly glad I did. It came in handy for a friend who struggled to find any during her time. The culture in Egypt just doesn’t really support the tampon market, and while I can’t stand pads, I’m sure this trip would have been a struggle otherwise. Also had lots of friends from India asking for spare pads, which I didn’t have, and they didn’t want the tampons. Moral of the story, bring both if you can.
Mosquitos during the summer was pretty much only a problem whenever I would come back from Dahab or visit upper Egypt. I’m not sure why, probably just luck, but for the first two weeks, I had absolutely no problems with mosquito bites. Then, as soon as I left for Dahab and came back, BAM, weeks worth of mosquito torture.
As someone who swells up into this sorry, itchy mess from mosquito bites in the states, I didn’t have that many allergy problems here in Egypt. Yes, I’d get lots of bites, but they almost never had an allergic reaction, which might be attributed to the different kind of mosquitoes here. The lemongrass spray I had helped a bit, and actual bug spray might have helped even more.
I tend to wear natural makeup whenever going out, so transluscent finishing powder was the most useful item. Using it alongside with setting spray, my makeup stayed in place all day with Egypt’s summer heat and had no issues with smearing. When I ran out of finishing powder and couldn’t find more, everything just started to melt together within a couple of hours. I should have brought two containers of powder, truthfully. But also, don’t take this as the one true makeup advice for travelling to hot countries.
Honestly, know your skin type. Know its needs and know your makeup and skin routine (and stick to it when travelling, change won’t always fare well when in a stressed environment). My biggest struggle with skin came about a month in when I ran out of my nightly skin creme and started breaking out due to my menstrual cycle. I made a mistake: I used toothpaste on the pimples…for multiple nights…And my toothpaste is pretty harsh.
And it’s honestly been a nightmare since then; my skin is just barely now starting to ease up on the acne. I haven’t really had major acne problems since the torturous days of junior high, but this was really bad. I didn’t have my usual skin products with the pH and strength my skin had adjusted to…coupled with the daily sweat and cycle of using more concealer to cover up pimples which is caused by more concealers to cover up more pimples…Take care of your skin, or it will bite.
In addition to this, take care of your hygiene. When spending time abroad in different living conditions and different local hygiene products, for a longer period of time, it’s very easy to turn into a sweaty, gross mess of a human. I didn’t really take this into account because, well, I’m used to the Phoenix summer struggle and am used to just a simple rinse usually sufficing to clean off sweat.
Wear flip flops in the communal showers. Wash with a body loofah, use body soap (I used shampoo for the first weeks, until I ended up seeking out a pharmacy to buy Lux shower gel). Wash your face. Wash behind your ears. Scrub your feet. Clean your nails. Everything your mum told you when you were growing up. It makes a difference, trust me.
- Travel / work notebook and pens
- Microfiber Towels
- Nonperishable snacks
- Cold medicine, Stomach medicine, Pain medicine – Advil, Sleeping Pills, Bandaids
- Basic black purse
- Small pencil holder tub
I’m not a purse person at all. I prefer a backpack, or my pockets. But my black purse (basic, simple medium sized purse with both short straps and one longer, cross-body strap), was one of the most useful items….well, up until the zipper broke. But I used it for basically everything – weekend trips, work days, outings at night, etc. It could carry my wallet, my water bottle, gum, spare change, eye drops, makeup bag, phone, notebook, tablet. It’s much easier to navigate with (especially at the metro and through security scanners) than a large backpack. Also looks a bit more professional.
The backpack is great as an overnight bag for weekend trips though – same goes for the travel sized shampoo and conditioner and all. When going to Alexandria or Sinai or Upper Egypt for the weekend, you want to travel light.
Bring medicine, all of it, especially for a longer trip like this. I got food poisoning and used up all of my stomach medicine. I got a cold for two weeks and used up all my cold medicine. I got a few migraines (for variety of whatever reasons), and used up my Advil. Same with some scrapes and cuts, especially after snorkeling in the Red Sea. Sleeping pills were used for every 10-hour bus and plane ride. I’ll do a post about transportation in Egypt later.
I really liked this pencil holder – sized tub that I brought. I’m sure you can find one in any office store in the office supplies or plastic tub section of a Walmart / Target. I used mine to hold all the little things in place, like loose change, hair ties, my tweezers, nail polish bottle, pens, daily meds. Later on, I got a shoebox with a pair of sandals I bought, and used that just as much for holding all of my bottles and receipts and stuff together. —This is so, so useful when you’re living in a tiny room with 4 other people.
2. What I wish I brought
- A one-piece bathing suit (or two piece if you like)
- Lightweight, patterned trousers
Some of the interns, especially from India, brought these lightweight, breezy, patterned pants – the kind you would see in the World Trade Market or Urban Outfitters. Of course, try to buy them somewhere cheaper – and the markets in the beach towns like Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, North Coast – even Khan el Kalili, will have them too. Just be prepared to bargain on the price.
I personally didn’t feel comfortable wearing a two piece suit in Egypt, and didn’t have a one piece – so I just wore black shorts and a tank top, and that was fine. You can wear a two piece suit at the beaches, especially in touristy locations, but be sure to cover up when going around town. One intern wore just a two piece bikini…everywhere. Everywhere we went in the beach town, even when wandering the streets and entering shops.
There were lots of disapproving looks from locals, so if you want the respect of Egyptians, I would advise against doing this. Always important to understand that as a tourist, you represent all tourists as well as the people from your country and will leave a lasting impression on others of what people from your country are like. If you don’t care what people think, then you do you. The choice is yours.
- Otterbox case for phone
The Otterbox is a godsend. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Since, I’ve had no issues with cracks and damages on my phone – however, since coming to Egypt, even with the case, I’ve accumulated several small cracks and chips in the top protective screen of my phone. It might be coupled with the heat, but Egypt has not been kind to my phone. I’m just grateful it hasn’t gotten stolen, however.
My phone battery has significantly deteriorated since I arrived here, though, I don’t know if it’s from the constant use for communication and time-killing, or if it has to do with my outlet convertor, but it’s battery life has gone down from a new phone’s 2 – day duration, to a quick 8 hour gig. Because the new Samsung doesn’t have a removable battery, I can’t do much for now, but a Powerbank has been a life saver for other interns.
Also, if you’re only charging electronics with USB chargers (like a tablet, phone, etc.), then don’t buy a convertor – it’s a waste of money. It’s better to come to Egypt and buy a USB Charging head from a store for about 15-50 EGP instead. Less bulky, more useful.
- Needle and thread
(Many of my clothes ended up having holes in them, often because their fabric was so lightweight. The lightweight quality of the fabric was great in the summer heat, but terrible for wear and tear.)
- More hand sanitizer
- Makeup: More finishing powder / eyebrow pencil
- Face moisturizer (lotion that won’t clog pores)
- Foot scrub / body loofahs
- Makeup brush cleaner
- Good smelling body spray / perfume
One week in, my single, small bottle of hand sanitizer‘s cap came undone and spilled out all inside my bag. Although it’s not the most necessary item, I would say it’s incredibly useful for staying healthy and keeping your hands clean around Egypt.
I thought my makeup brushes would be okay for just two months – I know, I know, you’re supposed to clean them like once every week or so, but usually I’m fine with going an entire semester with only one cleaning. I was wrong. Two months is too long to go without cleaning them out. If I had time, I would search the internet for makeshift cleaning solutions from perhaps white vinegar or of the such, but it hasn’t been a priority. Still, hygiene, hygiene, hygiene.
With this, I also made a mistake in body spray…and trust me, you need it. I haven’t used perfume or body spray much in college since I’m usually so busy and on the go, and it’s never really a priority either. So, when I packing, it was the last thing I packed, and grabbed quickly from some moving box since all my other things were packed up and in storage. Mistake. Whatever I brought with me smelled awful, like some animal died in a neglected flower shop, then sat there decaying with the roses for 3 months. I didn’t have luck with Egyptian perfume, so it took a while until I could go to to City Stars and buy some overpriced spray from The Body Shop.
- More gifts! Lots of them! More American things, esp. small American flags
- Neosporin / Other Anti-bacteria gel creams
- Alcohol swabs
- Tote bag (like the black purse)
I didn’t bring enough gifts. I don’t know what I was thinking, but bring lots of gifts that represent your country. You will use them and give them out (if you’re a half decent person). Homestay families, coworkers, hostel friends, apartment roommates, internship / international friends, etc. Anyone you spend a little bit of time with and get to know, you want to share with them something from your country. I only brought like 3 magnets, a little scorpian filled rock, a t-shirt, and 2 bags of gummy bears (I mistakenly thought it was a very American thing to do, but every store here sells them).
Bring t-shirts. Bring post cards. Bring wrist bands. Red solo cups. Anything American. I’m not sure because, as you can tell, I’m terrible at homestay gift-giving. Google it. “What to give as homestay gifts when abroad.” Don’t be like me.
Also, small American flags would have been great for the 4th of July.
3. What I’m glad I bought later on in Cairo
- Needle and thread (See above. Supermarkets, convenience stores, & metro vendors sell these).
- USB Charger Head compatible with South Europe / North Africa outlets
- More sandals
- Tea (Green tea, St. John’s Wort)
- Lux body shampoo
- Laundry detergent
- Face scrub
- SIM phone card
- Kleenex tissue packets
Bless St. John’s Wort and Kava Kava. Helps get past periods of stress and moodswings, which is important in an environment like this. Also, they’re legal, which is great. Talk to your doctor before adding St. John’s Wort or Kava Kava to your diet.
I nabbed some scarves from Khan el Kalili and used them constantly afterwards. I used them everywhere. Whenever you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, you can just hide into your scarf. You don’t need to cover your hair unless you’re at the mosque, but it’s nice to cover your collar bone / shoulders, and chest if necessary.
Don’t buy an international phone card or phone plan. It’s much cheaper and more sensible to just buy a SIM card / prepaid data plan when you arrive in Egypt. I would recommend Vodafone because their stores are everywhere and have fairly decent coverage quality.
A lot of beggars will offer out kleenex tissue packets for just 1 EGP – you can find them around any metro station, or even on the train. Honestly, I’d say these also saved my life. It really helps to dab sweat away from the brow, or wash hands at the bathroom (paper towels aren’t a thing and hand dryers are rare), or just wipe off any dirt that collects on…anything you have.
Finally, use laundry detergent for cleaning clothes – and let your clothes soak. You will see the difference when you rinse out your clothes – there’s so much dirt and dust that just settles over everything in Cairo, you can trust that it will infiltrate everything you wear. After living through West Texas and Phoenix haboobs, I can honestly say Cairo’s dust is much worse. For 3 weeks, I used shower gel that another hostel guest left behind. The detergent was significantly more effective.
4. Things I didn’t need
- 10 Tanktops
- Flats / ballet
- Lightweight hoodie
- Small purse
I wear tank tops often in Phoenix, but 10 tanktops? Useless. Can’t wear it under shirts – it just traps heat and makes you all that much sweatier. I only needed probably 2 or 3 basic black tanks and only wore them under my jean / hoodie jacket and as a bathing suit at the beach.
Because of my hair length, I didn’t use the comb a single time in Egypt. I didn’t need it. Only really bring if you have long hair and do comb your hair in your daily routine. Even when I had long hair, I liked to do that long, tousled, beach-wave look and didn’t need to comb much, but to each their own.
I didn’t use the hoodie at much, except on weekend trips with other internationals. As an intern, whenever I was at work and in Cairo, or travelling alone, I tried my best to look like an Egyptian and blend in. It just helps if people assume you’re probably Egyptian – less likely to be harrassed by shop owners and Egyptian boys with a “foreign girl complex.” But, when we travelled together to tourist towns and to the beach, I had no problem wearing more Western clothing – I still avoided short shorts and just tank tops, but wore tighter jeans and leggings, short-sleeved t-shirts, and my lightweight hoodie. A lot of interns will wear whatever they want, and I feel fine with wearing my usual clothes when there aren’t many Egyptians around.
That’s about it. I’ll try to make posts like these a little bit more organized and easier to read; I apologize for the mess of this one – this week is just very busy as it’s my last week in Egypt. For anyone who found this useful, I’m glad! If you have any other questions to ask, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll try to help you out the best I can! Safe travels and best regards.