When I was preparing for my tour in Egypt, I had so many questions about what to pack.
This was going to be my first time in the Middle-East (2 days in Istanbul back in 2012 doesn't really count), and I knew I would need to be more conscious about dressing conservatively than I ever had been before. But, as a non-Muslim woman, just how conservative did I need to be?
Did I need to cover my hair?
Were long sleeves required, or would t-shirts be acceptable in hotter cities?
Could I wear capris?
Did all my clothing have to be super baggy?
Would a cross-body purse accentuate my boobs too much?
It was easy to find the answers to some of these questions online, while other searches brought up nothing useful. So I decided to write my own guide to packing for a trip to Egypt as a woman.
First, let's address those questions about what to pack for a trip to Egypt! (Unless you just want to skip ahead to my full packing list – if so, just scroll down!)
Questions about packing for a trip to Egypt
As a non-Muslim woman, do I need to cover my hair in Egypt?
In short, no. As a tourist you aren't expected to wear a hijab or any other hair covering in Egypt. The only exception to this is if you're visiting a mosque – in that case, you do indeed need to respect the fact that you're entering a religious building and cover up. Usually just a regular scarf will do.
Some women choose to cover their hair at all times in Egypt, though, especially if they're traveling independently. This is definitely not necessary – but it's based on what you feel comfortable with!
Do I have to wear long sleeves all the time?
Again, no. Tank tops and strapless tops are generally frowned upon, as are tops that reveal too much cleavage. But as for arm coverage, the general rule is to make sure your shoulders are covered. Covering your elbows is polite, but you won't get too much unwanted attention if you go out in a normal t-shirt. I mostly wore tops with 3/4-length sleeves.
Can I wear capris in Egypt?
Yes! Just like you don't always need to wear long sleeves, you don't always need to wear long pants in Egypt. Capris are acceptable for women as long as they cover your knees. (For men, longer shorts are fine, but I wouldn't wear shorts as a woman.)
Does all my clothing have to be super baggy?
While skin-tight clothing isn't always considered modest, you don't have to pack baggy, shapeless clothes as a woman in Egypt. Obviously the more you emphasize your curves, the more attention you might receive, but I know from experience that it's sometimes impossible to find clothing that will “hide” big boobs and a backside without making you look like you're wearing a sack. (And I don't know about you, but I wanted to look at least mildly cute in my Pyramid selfies!)
The good news is that most local Egyptian women dress quite modern – you'll see skinny jeans everywhere! I tried to make sure that if I had on slightly more form-fitting bottoms that I wore a looser, more flowing top. I didn't have any issues.
Can I wear a cross-body purse in Egypt?
Any woman with a larger chest will know that you can't wear a cross-body hand bag without the strap strongly emphasizing The Girls. It doesn't matter how heavy the bag is; if you have boobs, they're going to stand out when wearing a cross-body purse.
My go-to travel bag is, of course, usually a cross-body one (they're much more secure, as they're more difficult to steal while you're wearing them), but I wasn't sure I would feel comfortable wearing one in Egypt. I opted for a pickpocket-proof backpack instead, which made me feel more comfortable when out sightseeing.
I did bring a small cross-body bag with me, though, for going out to dinner or for instances where I didn't need to carry my camera or water bottle or other heavy things. I didn't experience any harassment wearing this bag, though I did often wear it paired up with a jacket or scarf.
I don't have a definitive answer on this one, but I would say that if you're worried about it, go with a theft-proof backpack instead.
Is there any time I can just wear what I want?
Generally speaking, I always try to adhere to local customs when I travel. It's just respectful, and also makes your travel experience more positive. This isn't to say that I didn't see tourists wearing tank tops or short shorts in Egypt – I did. I even saw one woman at a temple in a short, strapless romper!
But I wouldn't recommend wearing your normal American or European summer clothing in Egypt. It's just kind of rude.
The one exception to this is if you go on a Nile river cruise. Things are generally more relaxed on these cruise ships since you're surrounded by other tourists (you can, for example, wear your bathing suit on the sun deck and in the pool). BUT, remember that the crew will be all Egyptian, and that there may be Egyptian or other Muslim families on the boat, too. I found the topless sunbathing on my cruise boat to be a bit insensitive.
Egypt packing list for women
Now that we've covered the packing FAQs, here's what I actually packed in my bag for my 12-day trip to Egypt. I visited in November/December, which is “winter” in Egypt. Temperatures were mild (even cool in the evenings), but I would probably have packed similar things for a trip during the warmer months, since you can't really wear less clothing in such a conservative country!
- 2 dresses (midi/maxi)
- 1 maxi skirt
- 2 pairs of capris (like these or these)
- 1 pair of skinny jeans for evenings
- 2 pairs of leggings
- 1 tunic top
- 2 long tops with 3/4-length sleeves
- 3 t-shirts
- 1 tank top
- 2 long-sleeved jersey wrap tops
- 2 bras
- Breathable undies (these ExOfficio ones are my favorite)
- 1 light jacket
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of walking sandals
- 2 scarves (one a hidden pocket travel scarf)
- 1 packable sun hat
- Lifestraw water bottle (which makes most tap water safe to drink)
- Travel toilet paper rolls (they take up even less room than tissues!)
- Hand sanitizer (crucial for bathrooms in Egypt)
- Toiletries like sunscreen, shampoo/conditioner, contact solution, and moisturizer (OMG bring a good moisturizer or lotion – it is SO DRY in Egypt!)
- First aid kit with Band-Aids, motion sickness pills, pain killers, Imodium, and rehydration salts (and I sadly needed some of this – our group passed around a stomach bug!)
- Small convertible cross-body bag by Pacsafe
- Theft-proof 15L backpack from Pacsafe
- Belkin surge protector/power strip
- Skross travel adapter (Egypt uses the same wall plugs as Europe)
My bag was a hard-sided, carry-on size spinner from Delsey, with an extra front pocket and TSA-friendly locks. Yes, this is a small bag, but I really didn't need anything bigger since I was mixing and matching my clothing and wearing things more than once!
What was I glad to have?
I packed pretty well for this trip – I wore everything that I brought for Egypt and don't feel like I took anything unnecessary. That being said, I was happy to have a few specific things:
Hidden pocket scarf
I got two new hidden pocket travel scarves from Speakeasy Travel Supply, and took one of them to Egypt with me. I LOVE these scarves for travel – the pockets are large enough for your passport and money, making them excellent to wear on travel days. And they make them in all sorts of materials, too, including a lightweight rayon, which doesn't make you super hot.
I also used my scarf at temples when I needed a pocket (sadly not all women's clothing comes with pockets!). You'll want pockets in Egypt since nearly every temple, tomb, or other historic site you visit will give you a paper ticket that you may have to show more than once. I also tucked my phone into my scarf once or twice when I was lacking a pocket but didn't want to have to keep digging in my backpack in order to do in Instagram Story.
My Teva Verra sandals
I take my Tevas Verra sandals with me almost everywhere as long as the weather isn't supposed to be cold. Not only are these sandals comfortable and supportive for walking, but they're also perfect for a destination like Egypt. Why? Because everything in Egypt is DUSTY (it is mostly a desert, after all), and unlike my sneakers I could easily rinse these sandals off in the shower every night. (Plus, even though they're technically “hiking sandals,” I don't think they're hideous!)
Lastly, taking my Pacsafe theft-proof backpack on this trip was a great idea. I didn't have to worry about the cross-body strap of a purse accentuating things I didn't want to accentuate, and I could fit everything I'd need for a day inside it (including my camera, wallet, sunscreen, hat, water bottle, and scarf), and I always had extra room for a souvenir or two.
The bonus of taking a Pacsafe bag is that you don't have to stress about pickpockets since all the zippers are lockable and the material is slash-proof. Even when we were in areas where our guide told us to keep an eye on our bags, I wasn't worried about anyone getting into mine.
I usually travel with a camera-specific Pacsafe backpack, but the following ones are great too:
And if you want to keep your things *even safer* (or, if like me you usually travel with a laptop and expensive camera that don't fit into hotel safes)? Consider taking a packable, portable safe with you, so you can lock things up in your hotel room.
Interested in visiting Egypt for yourself? Check out these posts about my trip there:
- 7 Things That Surprised Me About Traveling in Egypt (and One That Didn't)
- 8 of the Best Ancient Sites to See in Egypt
- Exploring Egypt Safely with Intrepid Travel
Have you ever been to Egypt? If not, do you have questions about traveling there? Feel free to ask me in the comments below!
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