Back in 2019, Refinery29 started a lovely new column: The Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where real women were talking about their trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. I was very glad to join and shared my experience in Egipt. The column died soon, maybe people were not that interested in math when it comes to holidays, so my journal never got published. I was kind of sad that useful info will go to waste so I decided to share it on the blog. So, there you go! Enjoy 🙂
This week’s travel diary: A 38-year-old programmer visits Egypt and gets a taste of the underwater world.
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Trip Location: Hurghada, Egypt
Trip Length: 7 days
Transportation Type (flight, rental car, bus, etc): Flight
Transportation Costs (Flights/rental cars booked in advance. Real time travel including cabs, buses, etc should be reflected within the diary below): $315, all taxes included
If flight, when did you book? Do you think you got a good deal? We booked in March, actually March 30th. We were keen to see Egypt, but all the flights were pretty expensive. We decided to talk with a travel agency and see if we could book a charter flight from them, without also buying the accommodation. They said “yes” and the price was lower than anything we found on the market.
Accommodations (Where are you staying/how much did it cost): We decided to skip the hotel trend and do an apartment instead. We used Booking.com and ended up at Regency Towers Apartments. Our apartment had a living room, bedroom and a nice spacious kitchen. 7 days here were only $180. The manager provided us with a mobile Internet connection and the place had Wi-Fi, but we agreed on buying our own Vodafone SIMs for the holiday.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much? No, we only have debit cards. We never borrow money for our travels, we try to keep everything at a minimum.
10:30 a.m. — We land and go through the passport control line. We have to buy an Egyptian visa ($25 each) and pick up our checked luggage. The manager of our rented apartment, H., will come pick us up from the airport, which is awesome because we have no idea how things work here or how safe taxis are. He is supposed to be at the arrival zone, but we run late and I find nobody. After a while I see someone holding a paper with our name. What a relief! We get to the apartment in no time. The ride is free, but we tip the guy $5. $55
12:20 p.m. — We need egiptian SIM cards, water and some other stuff for the accommodation. We Whatsapp H. and he comes over to take us by car. We first stop at a local ATM where we remove some cash ( $180 ), then head to a local Vodafone store. We buy 2 local prepaid SIMs ($20 both) and we get plenty of free Internet. We also stop at a small street market where we spend $12 buying soft drinks, water, cheese and mango. I always love buying mango outside Europe, it has a different taste. $32
1:20 p.m. – H. takes us to a diving center inside Marriott Hotel. We book a trip for the next day, rent all the gear and fill all the forms for the dives. We pay $155 for the couple and we find that pretty neat, since that is the main reason for our trip to Egypt. Lunch on the boat will be an extra something, but that is to be discussed on the trip. On our way back, H. suggests a restaurant nearby for our dinner, so we pin the location on Google Maps. We tip H. once again for carrying us around town, this time $10. $166
8 p.m – The restaurant H. pointed is really nice: not that big, more of a family business, but the food is good and not at all expensive. My husband buys a seafood soup and I have lamb with several kinds of sauce. Alcohol is pretty pricey, since Egyptian people do not consume it. A single bottle of wine doubles the cost for our dinner. – $24
Daily Total: $277
8 a.m. – Second day here and we already face a crisis. We booked a trip to Cairo via Viator, but the local agency doesn’t understand our address so they demand us to cancel. I am pretty upset and I call H. to ask for his help. After 30 minutes on the phone, H. says it’s better to cancel and he will arrange a new trip for us with an agency he knows. We pay $147 for that new trip, H. takes us to the diving center and we board for the scuba adventure. $147
10 a.m. – The relaxed atmosphere on the boat makes us smile and forget about the Cairo mess. We are assigned to an instructor and we find out where we are going and what we will see. We have 2 dives: one before and one after lunch. There is also this guy taking underwater photos. We do not have our Gopro with us, we wanted to be comfy in the water first, so we ask him to take a footage of us. We pay $60 for photos and small underwater movies. $60
12:30 p.m. – First dive was awesome. I always get so excited and hungry after diving, I can hardly wait for lunch. We buy coffee and hot tea ( water is kind of cold still, we needed something warm – $1.2 ) and we wait for our meal. Food and drinks go to $12, but we get a buffet, lots of veggies and it’s exactly what we love to eat. After lunch we each receive egyptian sweets. What a treat! $13.2
4:30 p.m. – Second dive gone and the boat is returning to shore. Everybody is cheered up and we make no difference. We saw an awful lot more than we expected. We check prices for additional diving days and decide to come and book another experience.
6:30 p.m. – We walk to the apartment, stop at a grocery store and buy some sandwiches for the next day’s breakfast($ 11). We spot a fast food( GAD Mamsha ) and decide to grab dinner there. We buy smoothies, hummus and two Falafel wraps ($12). We fall for this place and check out the entire menu, pledging not to eat anywhere else the entire holiday. $23
8:20 p.m. – H. calls The trip to Cairo will start at 5 a.m. so he will drive us at the meeting point 4:30 a.m. I do not know when this guy sleeps…
Daily Total: $243.2
4:20 a.m. – I wake up with the feeling that I did not sleep at all. My head feels heavy and we are in a hurry to pack everything for Cairo. H. drops us at the bus, we find seats in the second row, put the luggage away and go back to sleep. We have a 7 hours drive ahead of us.
7:45 a.m. – Our first stop, somewhere at a sort of large petrol station combined with a vintage souk. I need to go to the bathroom and, since it’s a paid spot, I give them a $1. My husband looks around for some coffee, but nothing seems to appeal, so we quit. $1
11:00 a.m. – We arrive at the Museum of Cairo. Our guide takes us through the collections, pointing out the important stuff. Then we have some leisure time and we can admire everything without hurry. The guide suggests a cruise on the Nile before lunch and we enthusiastically agree, although that means an extra cost. $22
12:30 p.m. – Enjoying lunch on a nice terrace. Lunch is more of a buffet, but since egyptian food uses a lot of veggies we are thrilled with it. It is also included in the trip, which makes it even better. The restaurant prepares amazing mango smoothies, $2 each, too cheap not to enjoy. $4
3:15 p.m – We stop at a local papyrus shop and the owner walks around showing us everything in the store. We are not particularly interested in buying real papyrus, but it is pretty interesting when you check out the technologies used to produce it. We spotted some banana leaf papyrus back in Hurghada and we are planning to buy that as a souvenir for our friends and family.
5:00 p.m. – Finally, the pyramids! I have been wanting to see them since I was in highschool. The only issue is that you cannot visit that spot without a camel( which, I think, is a local agreement to boost some local businesses ). That will be $20, thank you! I am not happy about that, because we usually avoid animal exploitation wherever we go and I am faced with a moral dilemma. We say yes, in the end, and we also tip the small child who carries us around $5. $25
12:10 p.m. – We are back in Hurghada. H. is waiting for us at the bus station, ready to hurry us back to the apartment. I am awfully tired and can’t wait to get some sleep. We tip him $10 for staying up that late and we pray on finding some food scraps in the fridge. $10
Daily Total: $62
10:30 a.m. – I start my day late today. My husband is away, riding a dirt bike through the desert with some Norvegian guy based in Hurghada. Pretty pricey ($167), if you ask me, but it is a one time opportunity and I didn’t want to negotiate on the subject. I pour myself a cup of coffee and WhatsApp H. We would love to visit Luxor and we did check it online, but I like it better for him to arrange our trips. $167
1:25 p.m. – H. check us in on a Luxor bus. We will visit 3 temples, there is also a buffet lunch and the entire thing will be $120. I am thrilled but scared about the departure hour: 3 a.m. We head for the beach and grab fruits on the way ($7). $127
3:30 p.m. – Dream Beach is a private beach inside Elysees Dream Beach Hotel that H. suggested we should try. If you are not a guest you can still use the beach, but have to pay $15 for two. Chillin’ here is my favorite part of the day. We order mango smoothies and check the place out. ($4). $19
6:10 p.m. Seems like a lot of selling is going on here. We are surrounded by people trying to sell us trips, massages or spa tickets and it’s getting pretty annoying, although the place is great. Wind starts blowing and we soon get going because it is chilly. We stop at GAD Mamsha and order some lamb, salads and two more mango smoothies($16) then hurry home to get some sleep before the big Luxor trip. $16
Daily Total: $329
3:00 a.m. – I stumble around the room, trying to gather all the stuff while H. is waiting for us at the door. Where does this guys get all that energy? We are, once again, dropped at the bus station and we tip H. for being such a sport and waking up in the middle of the night for us. We find two spots and fall asleep in a minute. $5
10:10 a.m – I wake up and check out the view outside. Luxor is so different in terms of scenery! Everything is emerald green and there are flowers everywhere. We are heading towards Karnak temple, the most massive temple ever built by man which expresses the flourishing period of construction in Ancient Egypt.
12:30 p.m – Our guide is showing us the way around the temple. We should watch out for guys trying to sell statues and trying to exchange money in order to trick you, he says. We do see some statues we like and negotiate with the seller to get 7 for the price of 5. They make good souvenirs for home and we only pay $5. The temple is impressive, so we take tons of photos and try to imagine the atmosphere back in the old days. Egypt is such a diamond all together! $5
2:00 p.m. – We have lunch at a local restaurant and get am wonderful Nile view as a bonus. We do not have to pay, it is all included, but waiters keep showing up with smoothies and we cannot resist anymore: we buy two and pay $4. I guess this is a standard price or something. We are heading towards Valley of the Kings and we will split into two groups: one is going to see the Valley of the Kings, the other one the Valley of the Queens. We end up in the Kings group, for some reason, but I do not mind. We did not see any of it yet, so it’s almost the same for me. $4
3:20 p.m – The entire Valley thing is just a big rush. We have little time to see the toombs( amazing, if you ask me ) as the guide is more interested in taking us to an alabaster factory. I am a bit nervous about the subject, since I have no interest in shopping overpriced statues, but have to bear with it until the end.
5:00 p.m. – We are offered the opportunity to take a Nile cruise and stop at a banana farm. That is $20, but the other option is to wait in the bus. The cruise is very nice, we have lovely egyptian music and the sun is slowly dying away. When we reach the banana farm we are rushed at a table. They show us the plantation and give us free fruits to try. The place is beautiful, but the entire experience is such a big marathon! We barely have time to wash our hands or use the bathroom. I am not really sure I like it… $20
11:00 p.m. – The driver takes us home. He already called H. ( which is very funny ) and won’t allow us to leave the bus alone( which is very weird ), but we do not argue too much. H. is very happy to see us and rushes us to the apartment. We arrange a new trip at the scuba center tomorrow and tip him some more, then die of exhaustion. $5
Daily Total: $39
7:20 a.m. – We are planning a new diving trip over a cup of coffee. We contacted the diving center at Marriott again and we paid $130 for a second diving day, all gear and lunch included. Trip starts at 9 o’clock, so we should be on our way soon. $130
9:00 a.m. – First diving site: Ras Disha. We still have an hour to reach that place by boat. We are given a brief of the site while sipping a tea( $1.2) This time our group will be bigger – 6 people. I am amazed by this diving teams in Egypt, they all are like a Swiss watch – well coordinated and efficient. When we finally reach our destination it’s like diving in Paradise. $1.2
12:20 p.m. – Another lunch on this awesome boat. As the one before, filled with salads, veggies and condiments. We pay again $12, but we feel like stealing – all this is too good! $12
3:00 p.m. – Shaab Talata is our new diving spot. Maximum depth: 9m. I see tons of seahorses, clownfish and other colorful creatures. I am so happy I manage to get over my anxiety of deep water and do this! It is such an accomplishment for me to be here, on the bottom of the sea, with all the other guys. I feel safe with the egyptian team and sad that this will be our last dive for now. Back on the boat the music started and the cook offers us sweets. We sit there, watching the fish follow the boat and enjoying the sun. Tomorrow all this will melt into the Romanian winter, with her tall snow…waiting…
7:00 p.m. – We have to buy some souvenirs for our friends and relatives back in Romania. We stop at the papyrus shop in the city center. There’s this guy there, white skin, blue eyed, not exactly egyptian. And he cannot stop talking. We buy several papyruses that we like ($25) and ask him to write down some traditional food that we should try before leaving. $25
9:00 p.m – We hop into GAD Mamsha with the piece of paper in our hands. The waiter smiles while greeting us, we are like friends for him now. He laughs when he sees our written menu and walks back to the kitchen. We receive some green soup, a big cheese pie with all kinds of vegetables and some more salads. We are not very sure what we eat, but love it! $23
11:15 p.m. – We WhatsApp H. to let him know that we leave tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. and we would need a lift. That was a short holiday…
Daily Total: $191.2
10:20 a.m. – Luggage – done. Now we have to buy some egyptian chocolate dates. Everybody back home loves them, so we stop at the small supermarket nearby. We also buy sandwiches and water for our trip. $57
12:00 p.m. – H. drops us at the airport. We tip him for the last time and shake hands. We like this guy a lot! He works 24/7! $10
12:20 p.m. – We now have a long queue in front of us. In order to drop our check-in luggage we have to wrap it first. The only weird thing is that only Romanians seem to do that :/. We leave it at the counter and head for the gates. À bientôt, Hurghada! $5
Daily Total: $72
How did you prepare for this trip?
We knew all about diving in Egypt from my scuba diving instructor, Alex. He does regular trips there so we wanted to check it out. Cairo and Luxor are popular destinations in Romania and I am fascinated about the egyptian history, so I watched hundreds of TV shows over the years. Some of the locations were new to us, but that was the beauty of the trip.
1. What was your favorite part of the trip?
GAD Mamsha was great and the entire scuba experience was amazing.
2. What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there? Not sure, I liked everything. If I should choose one … maybe the Falafel at GAD.
3. Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided? Viator. I usually use Viator for trips, but this time the local trips were half the price. I am glad we had that misunderstanding in the beginning and end up buying everything local.
4. Would you stay at your hotel/airbnb again? Oh, yes! Definitely! The apartment itself is not amazing – just a simple apartment with everything you need inside. But H. is such a treasure!
5. Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town? The apartment was right in the city center, the entire neighborhood seemed nice. At first we were a bit scared about all the half – finished apartment buildings around it, but H. explained that since the crisis hit many investors could not afford finishing their hotels and office buildings. Such a shame!
8. Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t? Valley of the Queens. That is, for sure, in my mind! And also spend a little bit more time in the Valley of the Kings.
9. Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance? 2 or 3 more days in Egypt would have been nice. Maybe switch location for a day or two, spend some nights in Luxor. But we will have to do that in our next trip 🙂