Posted: 2/3/2020 | February 3rd, 2020
One of the countries high up on my “must visit” list is Egypt. As a lover of history, I long to release my inner archaeologist and explore the many ruins of the country. While it might be a long time before I get there, my friend Jeremy Scott Foster from TravelFreak has visited a couple of times. In this guest post, he’ll give you his best tips for saving money on your next visit to Egypt!
I’ve been to Egypt twice. On my first trip four years ago, I solo traveled the Sinai Peninsula along the Gulf of Aqaba, stayed in shared hostels for $5 USD per night and took overnight buses that cost just as little. On my most recent trip last year, I traveled from the very north of Egypt in Alexandria south to Cairo, and then further south along the Nile River to the border with Sudan.
And, throughout it all, I fall deeply in love with this country where foreign perception of violence keeps so many at arm’s length.
The tourism industry in Egypt is still feeling pain as a result of the political upheaval, civil unrest, and terrorism-related activities that have marred its recent history. As tourist numbers have dwindled and competition for the tourist dollar has become fiercer, travel deals have proliferated.
But what most visitors miss is what you can gain — free of crowds and for little money too.
From the chaos of Cairo to the more laid-back vibe of Luxor, Egypt is an ideal destination for budget travelers.
1. How to Save Money on Accommodation
Generally speaking, accommodation in Egypt is relatively affordable. However, there are a few helpful tricks that can cut down your expenses.
Stay in hostels instead of hotels – Typically, you can expect to find a bed in a shared dorm room (with 4+ beds) for between $5-8 USD per night, or a comfortable private single room for about $15 USD per night. You will likely have to share a bathroom, but at least you have your privacy.
Use Hostelworld to look for the best prices. I recommend Dahab Hostel in Cairo and Al Salam Camp in Luxor.
Use Booking.com to compare prices for hotels – If you’re looking for cheap hotels or guesthouses in Egypt, I recommend checking Booking.com. A private room in a guesthouse or hotel goes for about $40 USD per night.
Prices are generally listed per room, not per person. So, if you are traveling with a friend, you can save even more money by splitting the cost.
Look for accommodations that add offer a little extra – I also found that, coupled with accommodation, it was pretty common for hosts in guesthouses to offer extras such as breakfast and local tours at very reasonable prices. One of my incredible hosts cooked a traditional hot breakfast with tea and coffee for just $1 USD. Best of all, he was more than happy to recommend some inexpensive local places to eat and buy food.
Look beyond the standard hotel rooms for accommodation options – Vrbo and HomeAway are great Airbnb alternatives, as they’ve been connecting budget travelers and homeowners since the ’90s. HomeAway is geared towards people wanting a proper vacation rental, so you can expect a fully furnished home to live in which is great for longer stays.
Vrbo lets you stay in a local’s house, but at a slightly increased cost. You can usually find some pretty luxurious apartments starting from $50 USD per night.
The upside is that you’ll have full access to your own kitchen, which means you can further cut your costs by cooking at home.
2. How to Save Money on Food
Stick to the local eats and street food – If you want to save money on food while traveling in Egypt, do yourself a favor and steer clear of the Western chain food joints. While a cheeseburger is about half the price of what you pay at home, it’s still more expensive, less tasty, and far less adventurous than experiencing the local cuisine.
Why bother with a burger when you can eat the most delicious falafel in the world for $1 USD?
Navigate the narrow alleyways of any bustling Cairo market (like Khan El Khalili or Mohammed Ali Street) to seek out the best shawarma ($2 USD). Or grab a stuffed falafel sandwich from a street vendor on your way from one ancient relic to another ($2 USD). You can literally find Arabic bread for 5 cents. It’s all cheap and very filling.
And, the hummus. It’s so. Darn. Good.
If you’re staying at a guesthouse, it’s common practice for them to offer full dinners for about $10 USD. The truth is that they’re actually just sourcing the food from restaurants in the neighborhood and taking a cut, so by seeking out your own food options, expect to spend about ¼ of the price.
With that said, don’t be afraid of street food or street vendors, especially if the food is cooked in front of you. And if there is a crowd of locals waiting, then chances are you’re onto a good thing.
Eat at a kosheri – A kosheri is a small, local restaurant that serves up generous portions of pasta, chickpeas, lentils, etc. often for less than $1 USD! There’s no menu, you just select the size of your portion and then you’re served this mishmash of deliciousness.
Cook your own meals – As mentioned, preparing your own meals while traveling is also a great money saver. If you have access to a kitchen, just ask your host to point you in the direction of the nearest market. They also have the lowdown on where to eat for cheap, so take advantage of their local knowledge!
3. How to Save Money on Transportation
Bargain with your taxi driver – In most Egyptian cities, taxis are an inexpensive and convenient way to get around.
Now, when I say convenient, I mean they’ll get you to where you need to go relatively quickly. But I would be remiss if I didn’t add a few disclaimers.
Taxi drivers can be aggressive on the road, leaving you white-knuckled from hanging on for dear life. I’ve never experienced a more heart-stopping journey than a Cairo taxi ride.
Furthermore, while Cairo does have metered taxis, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Meters are notoriously unreliable or rigged, and drivers frequently “forget” to turn them on. It’s one of the oldest travel scams in the book.
The best practice is to use an unmetered taxi and agree on a price with the driver before getting in. (Outside Cairo, most taxis are unmetered, so no matter what, always agree on a price upfront.)
If you’re not sure how much is an acceptable price, ask someone at your hostel or guesthouse for a pricing recommendation, and then start your bargaining at about ½ that price. Oftentimes even they will give you a higher estimate than is normal (it’s locals helping locals), but the real price should be about ¾ of what you’ve been recommended.
For longer-distance trips, hiring a car with a driver is the most cost-effective option. The price will be the same whether you’re traveling by yourself or with a group of four, so round up some travel buddies and split the cost.
But of course, be prepared for some aggressive haggling to get the best price. Be clear about where you want to go and for how long you will need the driver. Don’t worry if negotiations break down, though. When it comes to haggling over price, never be afraid to walk away. There are plenty of drivers available, so just move on to the next one.
Take the local train – Taking the train between Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan is the most popular mode of transport for this route.
If time or budget is a concern, you can take an overnight train. By taking the sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor or Aswan, you’ll save a night’s worth of accommodation in a hotel. A deluxe sleeper cabin for one is about $110 USD, while a two-berth cabin is $80 USD per person. Cabins are secure, and fares include an airline-style dinner and breakfast. The food is basic, but it’s edible.
But for a real bargain, you can book the day train between Cairo and Luxor or Aswan for as little as $10 USD. However, there’s one caveat: for safety reasons, the Egyptian government prohibits foreigners from purchasing day train tickets for this route. Officials say this is because only the night trains have armed guards in case of a terrorist attack, but this is an incredibly rare occurrence.
It’s easy to get around this, though. You’ll need to book tickets online at enr.gov.eg (you’ll have to register an account but it’s easy to do) or ask your guide, host, or driver to book the tickets for you. They will likely oblige for a small fee.
There are no reports of ticket attendants kicking any foreigners off the day train, so you’ll be fine. And if not, you’re only out $10 USD.
Get the Flight Pass – The fastest way to travel around Egypt is by plane. Egypt Air is the national carrier and Star Alliance Member serving most major domestic destinations. Its Flight Pass is a cost-effective option that allows you to lock in low fares for domestic flights even if you haven’t determined your travel dates.
All you have to do is purchase a minimum of four flights (or credits) and choose a time when you’d like to travel in the next 12 months. You can then book your flight up to seven days before departure.
On the downside, you’ll have to always fly back to your original departure point. That is, instead of flying from Cairo to Luxor and Alexandria, you’ll need to fly Cairo to Luxor and back to Cairo before going to Alexandria. That said, the Flight Pass is still about 30% cheaper than booking the same multi-destination flights with other airlines.
The Flight Pass is super customizable. You can select the number of flights (e.g. four, which is two round-trip flights) for a period of time (e.g. within one month), and also how early you can book your flights (e.g. one week before travel). This means that if you pick Cairo as your origin, you can select two round-trip flights to Aswan, Luxor, Alexandria, Sharm E Sheikh, or Hurghada. Each flight is $73 USD one-way.
But if I were to book a flight from Cairo to Luxor for one week from now, that same leg would cost at least $142 USD!
You can play around with this pass. For example, if you purchase a similar pass to the one above but select “one month” for how early you can book, the flights become $66 USD each per one-way.
If that’s too much of an inconvenience for you, there are plenty of other airlines offering affordable flights. When it comes to finding cheap flights on other airlines, I use Skyscanner. By being flexible with your dates, you can save up to 50%. Keep in mind, though, that you might be traveling at inconvenient times, like the middle of the night.
In the Skyscanner search bar, instead of entering specific dates, select the “Entire Month” option. This will show you a calendar with fare prices for departing and returning flights for every day of the month. This also works for one-way flights. However, it does not work for multicity flights.
4. How to Save Money on Tours and Guides
The best money-saving tip I can offer here is to avoid booking online before you arrive in Egypt.
If you’re a Type A traveler who needs a plan in hand before you even arrive, you’re not going to like this. But online agencies charge massively inflated prices, and you will end up paying a lot less if you deal directly with the tour company or guide locally on the ground.
Add in the feel-good factor of your money going directly to your guide, their family, and community (and not to some middle person, agency, or large corporation) and you’ve got yourself a win-win situation.
You may need to be a little more flexible with your dates. But you will have the added advantage of being able to negotiate (haggle, in reality), which translates to overall savings.
Tours, private drivers, and the quintessential cruise down the Nile can all be booked locally at significantly lower prices than booking in advance. So, if you can stomach it, wait until you get your boots on the ground before booking your tours.
Guides, in my experience, are an invaluable source of local knowledge and information. They have the inside scoop on the best vantage points for photos at all the epic landmarks. In addition, they’re great at dealing with those persistent and sometimes aggressive street vendors.
The best guides can be found by asking for recommendations from other travelers who have used their services, but I always recommend my Egyptian brother, Rami.
Back in 2015, on my first trip to Egypt, Rami and I connected by way of a mutual friend. We hit it off, and ever since then, I’ve helped him to grow the little tour business he and his family-run. It feels good to be able to help a local family in such a positive way.
He’s honest, affordable, reliable, incredibly communicative, well connected, and did I mention honest? That’s one of the difficult parts about traveling in places like Egypt: when people are selling you things, it’s hard to know who you can trust.
But Rami is my man. Send him an email at [email protected] and let him know Jeremy sent you (there are no commissions here — this is just a helpful referral to a well-deserving friend). He will sort you out or put you in touch with someone else in your preferred destination.
5. How to Save Money on Entrance and Admission Fees
Get the International Student Identity Card – Entrance and admission prices for almost all monuments and attractions in Egypt are set as advertised. However, you can get discounted tickets with an International Student Identity Card, including 50% off some of Egypt’s best museums (including the Luxor).
Get a travel pass – You can get a Cairo Pass or a Luxor Pass (multi-entrance discount passes) from the Ministry of Antiquities, the Egyptian Museum, or the Giza Plateau for about $80 USD. You’ll save about 50% off entries to over 30 attractions in Cairo and Giza. You’ll find very little information about these passes online, however, so your best bet is to just show up at one of those locations and inquire there.
Suggested Budgets for Traveling in Egypt
While you can spend money on luxury resorts or private tours, it’s entirely possible to travel through Egypt on the cheap. In fact, you can easily spend as little as $30-$35 USD a day.
The biggest way to reduce costs is to stay in dorm rooms or hostels. If you opt for a private room or mid-range hotel, you can expect to spend $30-40 USD more per night.
Where and what you eat also adds to your daily budget. For example, street food is an affordable and filling option for dining in Egypt. You can eat everything from falafel and sandwiches to shawarma and koshari noodles for as little as $1 USD.
Eating in a restaurant is more expensive, but still relatively cheap compared to Western countries. Meals in a mid-range restaurant start at $4 USD, while international dishes can be around $10 USD.
Transportation is another added cost. Train travel can be cheap but may not be the most efficient option if your time is limited. So, if you plan to fly between your destinations, expect to add $50-$100 USD to your budget for each flight.
Of course, your daily budget will also increase if you book private guides or splurge on souvenirs and gifts.
And remember, haggling is one of the most important skills if you’re looking to save money in Egypt. Taxis, excursions, and other services can usually be bargained down to a lower rate than what is initially quoted. So, if you have a high tolerance for haggling, your daily budget could easily be less.
Regardless, it’s always better to go slightly over budget, especially somewhere with as many must-see sights and experiences as Egypt!
The key to budget travel in Egypt is to be generally well informed and to have a good sense of humor (the latter goes a long way when dealing with vendors). Haggling and scammers are all part of everyday travel life in Egypt. There are very few goods and services that can’t be bargained for.
Most importantly, always, ALWAYS ask for and agree on a price first before accepting any goods or services. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to politely say no and walk away.
Now it’s time to start planning your trip to Egypt for maximum adventures at minimum cost in the land of Pharaohs, pyramids, and wonders of the ancient world. Get to it!
Jeremy is the adventurous traveler behind TravelFreak, a website dedicated to helping people create lives they are passionate about. You can check out his blog to learn more or find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time. Some suggested hostels to stay at are:
- Dahab Hostel (Cairo) – The rooms are basic but the owner is friendly and helfpful and the hostel is in a great location.
- Al Salam Camp (Luxor) – Great location and incredible staff. it’s away from the noise of the city and a great place to relax and meet other travelers.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and that will save you time and money too!