As I write this, I’m actually on a plane coming back from an 8 day, 7 night stay in the United Arab Emirates- Dubai. If you clicked this article it’s probably because you have some interest in traveling to Dubai yourself and maybe have some questions about heading there. My goal here is to help answer some of the questions you do have but if I don’t feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may still have. I’m going to use my experience as your guide and present this as someone going from New York to Dubai because, well, it’s the experience I have but hopefully it will help you wherever you are traveling from. Now before we get to my actual list, let’s get to some quick basics that you should keep in mind when planning your trip. For starters, understand that their will be some jet lag, Dubai is 8 hours ahead of New York so that’s an adjustment. Unless you’re way better than me you’re not going to hit the group running when you land because your body isn’t able to reset like that. Likewise you probably want to give yourself a day or two to catch up upon your return. Next, no your driver isn’t an absolute maniac. You may take a peak and see that you’re driving speedometer is approaching 100, but fear not, he isn’t driving 100 mph but actually 100 kmph which is equivalent to 60 mph. Likewise, please don’t bring your winter coat on your trip to Dubai. It will take up space and you won’t need it despite it being 37 degrees outside. This is because Dubai measures temperature in degrees Celsius so that 37 degrees is equivalent to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally realize that when you book a place in Dubai, don’t necessarily look for a hotel near the city centre. This does not mean your hotel will be in the city center where it’s busy but actually a place near the city centre mall. Hopefully this helped you in someway and if you are planning on visiting Dubai, have a safe trip. Without any further ado, let’s get right into the list.
1) Safety First- The reactions I got from people in my home town New York when I told them I was going to Dubai ranged from a plethora of places. Some people were happy and shared in my excitement over the trip. Yet for every person that was excited, there were an equal number, if not more, that were generally concerned. I even had best friends or family members who thought I was nuts for traveling to the middle east most of which stemmed from general concern for my well being. I can’t say I necessarily blame people as for those who don’t know about Dubai immediately equate it to the middle east and who in turn equate it to war or to 9/11. So which one is it? Is there cause for concern here? The answer, pretty simply is no. Dubai is one of the safest countries in the world and I can tell you that I felt better about taking my girlfriend to some of the clubs in the Dubai after 1AM than I have ever in Manhattan. Dubai is one of the most luxurious countries in the world and plays host to millions of tourists annually. I have never felt so welcomed by a country and you can put any fears you have at ease. Sure there are some things that may make you uncomfortable in the city, like prostitution, but no where near as many as you would see along the Las Vegas strip.
2) The Expense: Behind safety, the number one thing I heard about was how much money I was going to be spending while in Dubai. Well it’s important to be aware of the money change in Dubai. One US Dollar is equivalent to 3.67 durhams. This means that while it may seem like 7 Durhams for a bottle of water is outrageous, the fact is that the bottle of water is equivalent to a little less than 2 dollars USD, not as bad huh? One of my first nights in Dubai, my girlfriend surprised me by booking us an all day safari tour across the dessert, one of the premier to-do excursions while visiting Dubai. I asked her how much she spent on the trip and she replied about 400…I about lost my mind, FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS?!?!?! What was my girlfriend thinking? After I collected myself and checked the receipt, I saw a little box checked off that said $140 USD, again not so bad. The point is as long as you do your research you can actually get a great meal for $30 or a bottle of water for $.50. Of course expensive restaurants are still expensive but in what city aren’t they?
3) The Exchange Rate- Keeping on the topic of money, the most important thing you need to do in regards to money in Dubai is to get the best exchange rate. Having simple knowledge of this is a great way to protect yourself from being ripped off. Your first instinct is to change your money prior to boarding your plane when you reach JFK. After all it’s what you know. The problem with that is this, most exchange stations in all of New York City know that money exchange is a great way to make money because nobody wants to go to a new country without any money. Thus the exchange rate at JFK when converting from is usually anywhere from 3.0 DHS per USD to 3.2 DHS. On top of that there is usually a fee that JFK charges in order to do the exchange for you. If you wait until you cross over into Dubai, however, you’ll be able to get that same exchange in the Dubai airport with no fee for as much as 3.695 DHS per USD. From there if you need more money throughout your trip I’d suggest attending any mall to do your exchange rather than your hotel because the rates as hotel are typically a little lower in the hotel since your paying for that convenience (ours was 3.45 for example whereas most malls you can get 3.6 DHS per USD easily). Besides at the end of the day if you don’t have cash in Dubai, you can always use Visa or Mastercard virtually everywhere and your bank usually won’t charge any fee for using the card in Dubai.
4) To Dress Can Be A Stress- Dress code in Dubai is one thing to really think about before heading anywhere in the country and this mostly pertains to women. The belief in Dubai is that women are sacred and should be protected at all times. Due to this belief women are expected to be covered up in Dubai. Hold on, hold on this does not mean that women are expected to wear burkas from head to toe everywhere they go, that’s usually only when visiting mosques (and burkas are provided for the women if they want to visit the mosque). That said, women are expected not to expose their stomachs, knees and shoulders nor wear any shirts that are low cut, doing so is seen as disrespectful and you likely won’t be allowed into many establishments, including the malls. While rules are a bit lax for the men, I saw one guy who was on a tour with us be denied entry into some of the more fine and religious establishments because he was wearing a muscle shirt and tank. It’s going to be hot in Dubai but play it safe and cover up. No shoulders, no knees and you’ll be fine!
5) PDA? No Way!- That’s right public displays of affection are really not accepted in Dubai. This obviously goes for kissing in public which is probably the biggest no-no out there. While we were at one of the more risque clubs in town there was a man taking photos for the club’s website. When he approached a couple and asked them to pose, they kissed. This wasn’t tonsil hockey but more like a simple peck. It didn’t matter as people everywhere were disgusted. The man quickly put away his camera and security warned them that this wasn’t allowed. The same goes for holding hands is public. If you pass by security in a mall or town they will likely politely ask you to let go of each other’s hands. This only intensifies when you enter the mosques. I made the mistake of putting my arm around my girlfriend while posing for a photo and was quickly warned that we had to stand shoulder length apart. Again, I realize this could be seen as a prehistoric way of thinking but it’s the rules of the country and you should respect it while visiting. The good news is most hotels do allow men and women to share a room but make sure you check ahead of time because some do require proof of a marriage certificate.
6) Food For Everyone- If classic Arabic cuisine isn’t your cup of tea have no fear. There are plenty of different types of restaurants throughout the city of Dubai, virtually at every turn. From chain favorites like California Pizza Kitchen to Chilis to fast food places like McDonalds and KFC to cuisine specific to Italian food or Japanese food, Dubai has it all.
7) If You Like Cocktails, try Mocktails- While smoking cigarettes is accepted at bars and many local establishments (in designated areas), this isn’t really the case when it comes to alcohol. Dubai law, in particular, states that there is no alcohol consumption allowed in malls which means that if you eat at any of the thousands of restaurants in the malls, you won’t be able to buy alcohol with you meal. Be careful, most places will still have a drink menu complete with all of your favorites like mojitos, margaritas and even beer but they will all be non alcoholic.
8) Save On Excursions- Tours are a lot of fun and can really add to your experience but, they can also be quite pricey and aren’t all that necessary. Dubai has a great metro system that is both inexpensive, brand new (having launched in 2009) and is really easy to navigate. Everything is listed both in Arabic and English throughout Dubai so you can get around on your own. The Metro even has designatd section in which only women and children are allowed. Many of the locals in Dubai also speak English and are willing to help if you get a little lost. As it pertains to the buildings like the Burj Al Arab and Bouj Khalifa, while you have to pay a pretty penny to get into the building for a dinner reservation, you can get great photo ops right outside of the buildings for free either on the public beach, in the case of the Burj Al Arab, and right outside of the Dubai Mall For the Bouj Khalifa.
9) Don’t Expect Local TV and Sports- While OSN has done a great job in offering a variety of packages for most American TV and Sports, most hotels have very limited amount of these channels. This probably means that your local television favorites will have to be waiting for you on the DVR when you come back home. Netflix and Hulu are both not available in the UAE and so you’re basically limited to what’s available to both Youtube and Dailymotion. In regards to sports, baseball is about nonexistent as can be. If you are in Dubai right now, you would have no idea that the World Series is currently ongoing. I asked a bartender if there was a place to catch the games and he suggested I try watching a sport whose World Series includes more than two countries. Ouch! Thankfully, however, both the NFL and WWE are available both online and offer free trials to no users. The NFL’s is free for 7 days but be sure to cancel or you’ll be charged $270.00 thereafter. WWE Network is available free for one month for new subscribers and is just $9.99 per month after that.
10) Fly With Emirates– Yes Emirates Airlines is the most expensive way to fly but this is the one time I’m going to tell you to suck up the price. You’re going to be flying (if you’re going from NY to Dubai) for 14 hours, wouldn’t it be nice to do so with a bit of comfort? Emirates also pays back for itself on what it offers in terms of complimentary wifi, complimentary meals (usually three per flight and they are hearty four course meals), complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks and, perhaps most important, complimentary bag fees, up to two per person. Emirates airlines also has a kick ass entertainment system that is complimentary and so expansive offering thousands of choices in games, movies, tv shows and music. On this flight alone I’ve watched, Ant Man, San Andreas, While We’re Young and Pixels so these are all new movies that won’t be on Netflix for another month. In the end in booking Emirates as a part of a package on Expedia or Travelocity I was able to do so for only an additional $300 for the two of us and it was more than worth it.
In the end Duba is a a great city and a once in a lifetime experience to visit. Hopefully this helped you in some way and if you are planning on visiting Dubai, have a safe and enjoyable trip.