The past couple of years have not been the best for the travel industry: The 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris have deeply impacted number of tourists visiting the city, and now the U.K. is projected to suffer a similar decline in light of recent incidents in Manchester and London. However, these downturns pale in comparison to Egypt, a former holiday hot spot where tourism numbers fell by 40% last year as a direct result of political turmoil as well as a 2015 Russian plane crash.
The startling figures and negative media coverage did not deter Sarah Richard, the blogger behind Coffee With A Slice Of Life and the founder of Girls That Scuba, from moving to Egypt in December 2016 without knowing a single soul. We invited the solo travel enthusiast — who has visited 50 countries in the last six years and has lived around the world — to explain in her own words why fear should never stand in the way of discovering new cultures and experiences.
Before I started traveling, I thought I was pretty set up in life. My dad's in the property business and that influenced the path I wanted to follow: buying houses and selling them. I worked at a bank in Brighton, U.K., and saved 90% of my income to buy property. I purchased my first house at 19. I led this life because that was all I knew.
Everything changed when my mom passed away suddenly when I was 22. It happened completely unexpectedly. One minute she was talking, and the next she was gone. When my mom died, I realized I was sitting on an important gift: the gift of life and being able to use it as I wish. I stopped caring about money and being "successful" in society's standards. Now, it's all about what I want to do. I sold my house, got rid of everything I owned, and bought a backpack.
I took all these scuba courses so I could master it and start earning money from diving — the combination just made a lot of sense to me. Along the way, I taught English, started my blog, and subsisted on very little money for a long time, but I've always been proud of financing all my travels by myself. I lived in Micronesia and worked on a boat for three months before moving to Hong Kong in a spur-of-the-moment decision.
I was in Hong Kong for two years and absolutely loved it: As a writer there, you get accustomed to this amazing and stress-free champagne lifestyle. I was in this bubble of cool events and socializing, and it's the most convenient city ever. I had zero struggle whatsoever. It didn't feel like real life, and I wanted to be challenged to become better. I was visiting my brother — he lives in Jordan — when a friend suggested that I extend my trip to scuba dive in Egypt.
Once I realized how much cheaper rent is in Egypt, I decided that's where I need to be. (Ed note: Sarah currently pays about $150 a month for her own studio with a swimming pool, while her rent in a shared Hong Kong apartment was about $1,300 a month.) It's also one of the best places in the world to scuba dive. It's mind-blowing what you can see just by putting your face in the Red Sea — you get to swim alongside dolphins, whale sharks, and manta rays.
I live in a city called Sharm el-Sheikh, a place many people perceive as dangerous because a plane from Russia was struck down here in 2015. Since then, tourism has taken a serious nosedive. It used to be such a bustling town for European tourists. Now, there's hardly anyone. You can stay in hotels for $20 a night.
You can't just say "Egypt is dangerous". Parts of Egypt are dangerous — just like parts of London are dangerous.
I went to Giza recently and was stunned by what I saw: There was absolutely nobody at the pyramids. It felt like I snuck in after-hours. I couldn't believe I was standing in a land with thousands of years of history — one that my teachers told me about in school — and it was deserted. So many hotels have shut down in the past few years, and people tell me about how busy it used to be. Most family-owned hotels are struggling in Cairo. but the international chains are still holding up.
I want to show how safe (and fun) life can be here for a solo female traveler — a different perspective from what's in the media.
Nothing has happened to me since I've been here. People think Egypt is this tiny place that if something bad happens in Egypt, the whole country must be unsafe. Every single day I am reminded — and amazed by — how big of a country this actually is. I'm in South Sinai, and North Sinai is where a lot of the political conflict takes place. You can't just say "Egypt is dangerous." Parts of Egypt are dangerous — just like parts of London are dangerous. My passion is to give people an option to see Egypt other than what the media portrays, so I started recording my everyday life here.
Street harassment is a major issue. And while many local women are more covered up, I'm a foreign woman who dresses differently. I can see why a first time solo traveler might be uncomfortable, but you have to be confident and just say "no."
In the last six years, my mother's death has been at the front of my mind. I've been saying yes to every opportunity because you just don't know if you'll die the next minute — it's not going to make any difference where I die.
In Egypt, I am challenged on a day-to-day basis: It's hard to feel settled here and traveling around is not easy. At times, it can feel unwelcoming since it's difficult to meet like-minded people and make new friends. But, I'm planning on staying in the Middle East for at least two more years and give people an outlet to follow my daily life. I want to show how safe (and fun) life can be here for a solo female traveler — a different perspective from what's in the media. Some days can feel like uphill struggle, but that's the only time I feel like I'm achieving something.