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3 Things to Know Before You Go: Dubai

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.


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.

Dress code? Yikes…

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.

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Something I wish I’d known when I was packing my suitcase, back in Seoul.


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.

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Dusty Dubai 🚝#dubaimetro #metrolink #mydubai

A post shared by Vasyl Shpak (@vashpak) on

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!


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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29 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m so curious about Dubai. It’s a city that has come up a lot lately, in terms of possibly taking a job and moving there one day. So I’ve actually been looking into it a bit. Not that there is any plan in motion! Anyway, so interesting to read this. And very interesting that the public transport isn’t that extensive. I would have not thought that at all! They should get on that 😉

    May 15, 2017
    • Is the pollution in Beijing getting to you? Seoul has been getting progressively worse, so we’re thinking exit plan too…probably in a few years. There were a ton of expats in Dubai, so it must be a great place to earn money. To be perfectly honest, the city wasn’t so much my cup of tea, but I could definitely live there for a few years, provided the money was worth it. 😉

      May 17, 2017
      • I can’t say I’m a fan of the pollution. And that’s one of a few reasons I definitely can’t see staying here permanently. I was actually really surprised by Seoul’s air quality. I think it was around 150 when I was there. Yeah, Dubai isn’t my top choice (but really non of the cities we move to are!). But if the job were right we would totally consider it for a few years. Ha, maybe we’ll both wind up there 😉

        May 19, 2017
        • It’s a real shame, because on so many other levels, Seoul is absolutely amazing to live it, and getting better every day, with a wider variety of foods and services available. Hopefully the new government will put more resources into fighting the bad air – they already seem to be – shutting down a bunch of old coal plants for the summer… 🙂 Maybe you’ll wind up in Seoul. 😉

          May 25, 2017
  2. We have a friend who lives there so we may visit one day. Good to know about the dress code and car rental, *and* about booking accommodation way in advance.

    May 16, 2017
    • The thing I really wish I’d known about was the dress code. Even though it was winter when we visited, it was really, really hot! It’s an interesting place, so I hope you make it there one day. 🙂

      May 17, 2017
  3. I love the heat but even I cringe at the thought of that middle eastern sweltering heat wave. Still I’m glad you had such a great time. I didn’t know what to expect from Dubai and you make it sound so doable without much fuss.

    May 23, 2017
    • Oh man, it was really really hot, even in the middle of winter, but honestly, I’d take the dry heat of the desert over the humid Korean summers any day. Dubai was pretty chilled out, but then again, we were there with a lot of close friends so benefited from their knowledge (and language skills!)

      June 2, 2017
  4. Thanks for the heads up! I didn’t know about the dress code. I think I will try wearing their shawls to feel more like a local. I feel bad that some women can’t dress the way they want.

    May 25, 2017
    • Dubai was a real mix of expats and Arabs, and to be honest I didn’t see all that many women wearing traditional dress. You might stand out more if you did wear them! 😉

      June 2, 2017
  5. wrpalomo #

    A few years ago, my husband was was offered by his company to move to Dubai and bring the whole family there. He didn’t accept. Instead, he flew in and out of Dubai, Saudi and Qatar for a good 2 years while still maintaining Seoul as our home. But he didn’t have that magnificent photo of the buildings in your instagram. Beautiful!

    May 29, 2017
    • Dubai seems to be a great place to make money and a real expat hub. We’ve even considered moving there for a few years, especially since we have so many friends there, but when we finally visited.. now I’m not so sure… I hate to say it, and to use such a cliche word, but it really felt quite soulless to us. 🙁

      June 2, 2017
  6. I think I said it on your Insta, but it’s funny you thought you couldn’t wear sandals there. My cousin seems to go back and forth enjoying and not living there. Some amazing experiences to be had but the heat oh the heat.

    May 29, 2017
    • It was a combination of being overly conservative and also not wanting to pack more than a carry-on size bag. Ha! And since we had to go to Italy on the same trip, which was NOT sandal weather, I just didn’t. Bad move though. I totally could’ve squeezed in a pair of flip flop right? Never again!

      June 2, 2017
  7. Those buildings do look like something out of the future or a video game, or possibly Tokyo. You mentioned that renting a car wasn’t too expensive and that the gas was cheap. How cheap is cheap? I imagine with it being an oil-producing country, how much do they charge for it and does everyone just drive instead of walking/taking public transport.

    May 30, 2017
    • I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was just around $20 for a full tank. I felt like I was back in the 80s. Haha! But yeah, everyone does just drive, not just because they can afford it, but because it’s really really hot. I think it’s virtually impossible to walk anywhere in the summertime!

      June 3, 2017
  8. Modesty dress is the traditional attires of UAE, it is tradition of UAE to wear Abaya. But for foreign tourists, there is dress code.

    June 1, 2017
    • Yes, thanks…I mentioned that in the post above with a link already…but in my experience visiting the country, I noticed a lot of locals AND tourists not following the dress code. It seems like it is not policed very much in Dubai…

      June 3, 2017
      • It is not the case someone lodges a complaint.

        July 18, 2017
        • If someone**** sorry for correction.

          July 18, 2017
          • Yeah, I’m sure that’s always the problem…but from what I saw when I visited, people were pretty relaxed about the dress code there.

            July 21, 2017
  9. yeah good points. the car one especially. Taxis arent THAT expensive and there is public transport but having your own wheels would really make a lot more of the place accessible.

    June 21, 2017
    • Especially since it’s sooooo hot there. We were there in winter and it was already kind of unbearable. I can’t imagine waiting for a taxi or public transport in 45 degree weather! 🙁

      June 27, 2017
  10. Totally agree on the driving! I had to last minute book one last week after moving here. Can’t get anywhere without it

    September 14, 2017
    • Fortunately, renting a car (if you do it in advance) and gas prices are so affordable in Dubai! I can’t imagine how you’d get otherwise, especially in summer. Can you imagine waiting for a bus in that heat!???? 🙁

      September 19, 2017
      • Haha yeah. I am VERY glad to have a car. Plus all the hotels I have been in are free valet which is amaze

        September 19, 2017

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