On Tours

“When something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Just when traveling on our own was becoming more of a familiar and enjoyable way of life, we had to go and mess with it. During the past few months, upon meeting other travelers and discussing and comparing itineraries, we would get a bit of advice when mentioning Egypt. We owe a lot to the Lonely Planet, but when on the road, the best tips usually come from other travelers. So we took everyone’s two cents to heart and made the somewhat last minute decision to do a portion of Egypt with a tour. Of course we had our doubts, but ultimately decided that despite the increased cost, we would benefit from joining a tour group. Too bad we were wrong. Much of it was due to the specific company we chose (Delta Tours, for anyone thinking of going to Egypt), but also the whole experience just confirmed what Jeff knew and what I suspected-that we are just not “tour people”.

To say that the tour was disorganized would be an understatement. The amount of miscommunications were too numerous to count. We did our best to be understanding, given the fact that most were based on cultural and linguistic differences, but by the end, we were fed up. We were able to see all the major sights, but between or after were subsequently driven to workshops, galleries, or specialty stores where we were sat down, served beverages and then “strongly encouraged” to buy whatever items were on display. As irritating as this was, it became even more so when we would see the same items being sold for a fraction of the price in the bazaar or elsewhere. Most of our issues with our tour company boiled down to money-that appearing to be the only factor of any real value to them (not customer satisfaction, nor genuine desire to share the best of their country). Of course, Egypt is not a rich country and people need to make a living. Understood. However, being a foreigner, one is an easy target. And to top that off, being on a tour apparently automatically means that one has lots of money and wants to spend it. I felt trapped between a rock and a hard place. It is impossible to explain that we are on a tight budget, and yet be on a tour (with a guide and transport and all the luxuries that come with). Add to that, the fact that we don’t have jobs, yet are able to travel for an entire year, and that lends itself to quite a contradiction. Obviously to the locals, we must have loads of money, and comparative to the general population of Egypt (and most of the other countries we’ve been to), it’s true. Joining a tour just added to this conception-for most of the experience, I felt like a walking dollar sign and felt little genuine warmth or reciprocity from everyone we dealt with, and there were countless times where I wished we were on our own with only our packs. Typically, everywhere else we’ve been the locals (at the very least some) have shown such kindness and interest in who we are, whether we like their country, and want to share their knowledge and culture. The fact that we never felt this way this time around, I blame mainly on our decision to experience most of the country through a tour (…and partly on the tour company itself). Once the tour ended and we were left with three days on our own in Cairo, we felt that the city and the people fully redeemed themselves. Despite the warnings, we were not hassled and the locals were helpful, friendly, (and only a little pushy). Our last three days (as well as the first few tour-less days in Dahab), were by far the best in Egypt.

Needless to say, some people never learn. We are again with a tour guide in Kenya. This however was planned months and months ago, when we were fortunate to meet someone in the Bay Area with a contact in Kenya who could tailor a tour to our budget. It has been outwardly much better than our tour in Egypt, but inherently the same issues are underfoot. This is going to be the last time we “tour it”. I have surprised even myself a little by how strongly I want to be an independent traveler again.

Posted: July 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Egypt | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “On Tours”

  1. 1 Penny and Mark said at 1:48 pm on July 23rd, 2009:

    We laughed at your description remembering trying to get out of a furniture store in India that our taxi driver knew about and “thought we’d like to see”. Can’t blame him for trying but dining room sets to take with us??

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