Touts in Egypt can be relentlessly annoying and aggressive in their attempts to extract money off tourists, and this can for many people ruin what should be an otherwise enjoyable experience visiting some of the worlds greatest historical sites and treasures. Here are some of the ways you can deal with them and still enjoy Egypt in relative peace and quiet.
Egypt is one of the friendliest, most fascinating places to travel through on the planet, and with one of the highest concentrations of UNESCO heritage sites and unique archaeological and historical treasures to see in the world it still remains one of the worlds premier tourist destinations, despite recent heavy hits to its reputation. The problem with Egypt is that – just like any heavy tourist destination – wherever there are tourists there are touts scrambling like hungry vultures to take money off them.
And the reputation for touts often puts people off visiting this amazing country when it really shouldn’t.
Touts are annoying, there is no getting around that fact. They often descend on tourists like a biblical swarm of locusts and continue to pester and cajole them until they manage to extract some money out of them for some cheap, worthless trinket or some nonexistent service such as pointing at the thing you were already looking at. At its absolute worst, these touts can even – rarely but still – descend into scamming tourists or even committing outright criminal fraud.
It is annoying, enough to put many people off visiting at all, but it is really important to remember two things.
First of all the touts trying to get money off you is an entirely different thing altogether than the normal and cultural practice of giving baksheesh, many people get the two things mixed up.
Second of all these people are just trying to earn a bit of money from what is one of the main industries in Egypt, tourism. They often go about it in the wrong way in my opinion but they are just trying to learn a living too.
If you remember this, and temper that thought with a healthy dose of caution and common sense when it comes to avoiding scams, the incessant pestering does get more tolerable and you will find that there are a lot of easy ways to get around the majority of touts or avoid them entirely.
Just ignore them. Seriously.
No matter how good you are at spotting and avoiding touts, you will never escape them completely. In these instances where you are being hassled just blank them. Pretend they don’t exist. If you make eye contact even once or give them a simple opening to start their spiel, they will pounce! So don’t give them a chance. It is an extremely simple but also an extremely effective way to get rid of them, and if you do it long enough they will get very frustrated and eventually just move onto the next walking ATM known as package tourists.
Learn the basics about the common scams and cons.
Scams and cons are generally the same all over the world and are quite often inventive variations on the same few themes, quite often a confidence trick or an unsolicited offer of assistance. Become familiar with the basic travel scams and you will be able to spot these a mile off and avoid or divert them as necessary, and if a tout does try to get a fast one over on you, you will be better able to protect yourself from them.
Avoid the tour groups and crowds.
Visiting most of the biggest sites and attractions in Egypt it is almost impossible to avoid the crowds and the tour groups entirely, but if you travel independently and don’t go with the groups (which is not only possible but very easy,), you can avoid many of the problems with the touts.
Touts are essentially vultures and they will wait for the easy and more lucrative targets. So if they spot a lone traveller who looks like they are comfortable in their surroundings and know what they are looking at, and they spot a huge group of obviously fresh of the air con bus tourists with upside down maps and bum bags full of cash, who do you think they’ll go for?
You will never avoid them entirely, but by travelling independently you won’t mark yourself out as much of a target and will avoid a lot of the swarm.
Learn a bit of the language.
This is always a good piece of advice wherever you are travelling. No one expects you to become fluent overnight but learning just a few basics such as yes, no, please and thank you is just common courtesy and will greatly enhance your travel experience.
In this case learning to say no thank you, ‘la shukran’ in Arabic, will throw off a lot of touts and mark you out as less of a tourist and therefore less of a target. It’s all part of blending in and looking – and sounding – like you belong.
Speak another language entirely.
Experienced travellers are often well versed in at least a few phrases from a variety of random countries, so use them! Touts are often extremely well versed in at least a few basic European languages so if they find out you are English, German or French for example they will usually know enough to be able to try and sell you something in that language. I learnt that the hard way when I tried saying sorry I don’t speak that language in German, French, Spanish and then even Italian, and the damn tout threw every one back at me with a fluent pitch! He made me laugh at least and gave me a nice story to tell so in that instance I did reward his persistence by buying whatever tat it was he was selling. So if you can just confuse them by throwing a bit of Japanese or Swahili at them. Hell if you know a bit of Klingon throw that in too! Confuse them enough to make them think they are wasting time on you and they’ll leave you alone.
Just say you have no money.
If the avoidance tactics don’t work and you get caught in the conversation trap then your best bet is to just say to them you have no money and everything they can show you or do for you will be for free. Touts are there for one thing and one thing only, money, so if they realise they are wasting their time on you they will go away. If they don’t and they still explain the majesty and history of whatever attraction or ruin it is you happen to be near to and put their hand out for payment after then just keep repeating no money and then smile and walk away.
Question their authority.
If you are stopped by anyone claiming to be in authority then question it. Remain polite and respectful obviously (there is a chance it may actually be a guard or police officer after all) but it is a common scam for touts to pretend they are in a position of authority in order to extract bribes and baksheesh from you. Ask for credentials and don’t be afraid to wave over a uniformed guard or officer for back up either.
Don’t give them power over you.
By this I mean don’t make yourself vulnerable by allowing them to hold you or your property to ransom. Don’t give them your expensive camera to take a photo, you may not get it back until you have paid a decent amount in ‘baksheesh’, don’t let them marshal you into a shop where they can block the exit until you buy something. A common scam is to get tourists on the top of a camel and not let them down until they have paid the ‘right’ fee (usually a substantially higher sum than what the ride should cost). There is no need at all to be paranoid here, just be careful and be aware of your surroundings and your actions.
This isn’t an in depth guide but these simple rules will allow you to avoid or shrug off the advances of most touts.
The best thing you can do though is just think of it as part of the experience and maintain a positive attitude about it. Yes they can be annoying, especially when they are relentless, but they are just trying to earn a living and they aren’t as bad as many people think they will be.
It is really important to remember that touts are not in any way an immediate physical danger to you. Far too often I hear the often unfounded fears about safety in Egypt and the touts mentioned in the same sentence and that really isn’t fair at all. As always maintain your spatial awareness, keep your guard up and take anything they say with a good dose of salt but don’t fear them.
Be friendly, treat it all – just like haggling – as part of the experience and even a bit of a game, and you will enjoy yourself a whole lot more.
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