Dubai wasn’t even on my radar as a possible travel destination, until one of Agri’s besties from high school decided to move there, met the girl of his dreams and got married.
Of course I knew about the Burj Khalifa and the Palm – I mean, who doesn’t? But aside from its reputation for grandeur, and that it was Muslim, I didn’t know much else. Which wasn’t much to go on.
My flurry of pre-trip googling gave me the usual travel advice – restaurants to visit, activities to take part in, malls to visit – but not anything else that was of much use, and some things that were outright wrong, from a practical point of view.
Now that we’re back home, here are the 3 things I wish I’d known BEFORE I stepped foot in the UAE.
THERE’S A DRESS CODE (NOT REALLY)
Despite it’s ultra-modern reputation, the UAE is a Muslim country after all, so some amount of conservativeness is to be expected. What surprised me was that Dubai has an actual dress code.
According to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, rules around dress include:
– Wearing respectful clothing, which means that low-cut dresses or tops, short skirts and short dresses are not recommended in public.
– Men should wear a T-shirt or shirt at all times.
We were visiting in winter, the most comfortable time to visit most countries in the Middle East, so, I packed accordingly, erring on the side of caution. I didn’t bring any shorter length bottoms, tank tops or sandals to Dubai.
And have never wished for a pair of sandals more. As it turned out, the dress code was pretty much a non-issue. I saw locals and expats in all manner of shorts, low-cut dresses and tank tops, and even saw a shirtless guy wandering the streets. I’m not advocating you do that, since he REALLY stood out (and not in a good way), but you can definitely relax a bit about the dress code.
Something I wish I’d known when I was packing my suitcase, back in Seoul.
YOU’LL NEED TO RENT A CAR AND YOU SHOULD BOOK IN ADVANCE
Did you know that Dubai has a metro and tram system? Yeah, me neither. Online reports made it seem like the public transportation system could get you pretty much everywhere you needed to go, but it’s just not the case.
Right now, there are 2 subway lines with 49 stations, and 2 more lines planned (though there are no current plans to begin construction anytime soon), and they don’t cover the entire city by a long shot.
In practical terms, you’ll need a car. There are a huge number of rental agencies connected to the airport, but just walking into a Budget, Hertz or Avis isn’t your best bet. We tried that and were quoted astronomical daily rates – something like $75/day for a basic car. Fortunately, the airport had free wifi, so we were able to book a car online (for $20/day) minutes before we picked it up.
I wouldn’t recommend that though. It was a last minute hack that paid off for us, but better to book in advance. Keep in mind that the rental agency will probably add some extra fees that makes the rental more like $35/day. Gas is dirt cheap though. 🙂
Driving in Dubai is not necessarily difficult, but can be confusing with urban planning that requires a lot of strange u-turns, accessing parallel roads, and drivers that are not the most aware. We saw 2 completely preventable accidents during our 4 days in Dubai. Be careful!
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE
Everyone’s idea of expensive is different, and my own definition of it has certainly changed over the years. Before visiting Dubai though, I’d assumed that I’d REALLY have to up my normal travel budget and spend much more than we usually do on a trip.
But it turned out not to be the case. By booking far in advance, we got our room in a 4 star hotel in the Tecom/Al Barsha area of Dubai for just around $100/night. Apartments and hotels in the Dubai Marina area are also a great option, and deals can be found if you follow the same strategy.
And one of my favourite meals was a simple falafel we got for just 5AED.
Sure, we didn’t make our way to the top of the Burj Khalifa, eat any over the top meals, or take part in any of the expensive activities the city has to offer, but we still got a taste of what Dubai is all about. And we did it without breaking the bank.
Have you been to Dubai? Was it what you expected? Share your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
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