Egypt: February 2015
Our first stop in Cairo was the Citadel. What immediately struck me was the price difference between foreigners and Egyptians. The entrance fee was 60 Egyptian Pounds each for us three girls, but Samir’s ticket was only 5 EP. Now, when we convert that to dollars, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s worth noting. This happens to some degree or another all over the world, but I’ve never found a discrepancy quite this large before.
I laughed. “Wow. They don’t even try to hide that they’re ripping you off. It’s just like, ‘You’re foreign. You pay more.’” After discussing this with the girls I was traveling with, we agreed that at least it’s a fixed price and we knew what to expect.
We had paid for a tour and we knew that entrance fees were not included, but we were not told exactly how many sites to plan for, how much each monument would cost, and how many guides and drivers we would have to tip. Egypt, rightfully, just wanted to make a little money…We just wanted to save a little money…
It wasn’t until we got to Luxor that we tried to use our school IDs to get the student price (50% off). Our first attempt was at the Valley of the Kings.
The only student card that all these sites wanted to accept was the International Student Identification Card (ISIC). I was required to purchase one of these cards when I studied abroad.
It. Was. Worthless.
NOT ONCE did it get me a discount that year. What DID get me a discount was the flimsy ID card Salzburg College gave me. Many of the museums in Europe only gave discounts to EU students. My Salzburg College ID made me look like an EU citizen, while the ISIC identified me as American.
Needless to say, we didn’t have the ISIC and, no, we’re not students anymore. Yes, this was dishonest (try not to judge me throughout this story), but so is what happened next…
Our guide tried to help us get the deal. “He needs another 20 pounds from each of you.” Wait. What? No, he doesn’t. “I’m trying to help you. It’s still a cheaper ticket.” I couldn’t believe it. That was a 1/3 bribe!
We reluctantly paid the bribes, took our tickets, and proceeded to the entrance gate where we were greeted by another man who wanted to see our tickets before we walked in… And our student cards… So then I thought, “Am I gonna have to pay off this guy too?”
Luckily, we didn’t… But the entire exchange made me pretty sour for a couple hours. Our guide was like, “Fine, I won’t try to help you again,” because we obviously weren’t as grateful as he expected us to be. Had we just accepted that we would pay 60 EP at each place and never tried to be dishonest [and get away with it], we probably would not have worked ourselves up about how much extra this trip was costing us than we expected (which is the grand scheme of things, again, was not breaking the bank).
Should we have done what we did? Probably not. But the idea that this ticket man would “help me” if I blatantly put some money in his pocket is something I had never confronted before. Sure, shopkeepers make money off of me, but I don’t have an exact amount taunting me the rest of the day.
At one point I said, “I should have just paid for a full price ticket…” But who’s to say that man wouldn’t skim off the top still? Hopefully they check the cash register as diligently as they checked our student cards.
We never paid another bribe, but we did always put up a fight to have our student cards accepted at the ticket booths and again at the entrance gates. I had so much anxiety each time, as one does when they a) feel taken advantage of, b) feel the need to avenge themselves, and c) are being dishonest.
Fellow travelers, like in any travel situation, it may just behoove you to ask your tour company for more information, accept that it will cost you more than you plan, and be honest. Traveling is less stressful that way.
Stay tuned for my shopping, dining, and tipping tales!