This year, most of my friends and I turned 30 and we wanted to celebrate in a major way. So, we planned the most extravagant trip of our lives– a vacation to Dubai! We’ve been planning this trip for almost a year, ever since we caught the Christmas Day flight glitch ($200 roundtrip flights) Yes, you read that right. We traveled from NYC to Dubai for $200 roundtrip on Etihad Airlines!
Now, although you probably won’t catch an amazing deal like this there are still a few ways to make the most of your time in the UAE. Before we left, we did a ton of research but there were still a ton of unanswered questions– some things you’ll never know until you experience it for yourself.
But, in the meantime I wanted to at least share a few tips that I picked up on our excursion. Check out these 10 Ways to Prepare for your Trip to Dubai:
What to wear
The biggest question we had before going was “What should we wear?” We did a bunch of research, read tons of blogs and asked our friends who made the journey to UAE previously. When we got there we realized Dubai is very laid back. Although they have certain customs (women covered from shoulders to knees) they aren’t very strict. In fact, we were sometimes over dressed because we packed according to their tradition. The great news is, you can pretty much where whatever you’d like. Now, don’t take this to mean you should be dressing like you’re going to South Beach, but you don’t have to worry about covering your whole body. When it’s time to party, feel free to wear your favorite party dress! You’ll fit right in!
Get your coins ready
If you’ve ever complained about the prices in NYC, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Dubai has every American city I’ve ever been to BEAT! As you know, this is the richest country in the world..the finest of everything and you’re going to have to pay to play! Luckily, the American dollar is worth about 3x the Dirham so that’ll help out. But, it’s still a very expensive place to be! If you’re not careful, you could go broke by day 3!
Notify your bank
I had to learn this one the hard way! After unsuccessfully using my VISA gift cards (I was gifted a $500 gift card to use as spending money for my bday and quickly learned it was useless) I tried to swipe my bank card. Only to hear the dreaded phrase “your card declined.” Now, I KNOW good and well I have money in the bank so I was really frustrated. Only to find out, the bank had declined the transaction because I didn’t notify them I was in Dubai. Needless to say, just go ahead and let them know. Even if you don’t plan to use your debit card, better safe than sorry. All it took was a quick call to customer service and I was back in business!
Exchange your money
As I mentioned, the US Dollar is about 3x as valuable as the local currency (Dirham). Most of my friends exchanged their money before they arrived in Dubai, I did not. When I got there, I was told that it makes more sense to just use their ATM instead of going to an exchange center because the ATM fee is less than the exchange fee. So, however you choose to do it–just get it done. You’ll definitely want to have Dirhams when you visit the local markets and for taxi rides. Other than that, most businesses (pretty much all of them actually) will accept cash or credit.
I paid $30 to upgrade my AT&T phone plan to International. Although I didn’t plan on making any phone calls, I wanted to be able to if need be. This actually came in handy when I needed to call my bank. Plus, I was able to send and receive text messages the entire time I was there. (If you have an iPhone, you’ll be able to receive iMessages as long as you’re on wifi)
What should you do?
We had a BLAST celebrating our bdays because we were prepared. Prior to the trip, we purchased several groupons for the activities we wanted to do. Everything from renting a private yacht to a desert safari. Visit Groupon.ae to find discounts and deals for Dubai. One activity that’s a MUST DO is the Saffron Brunch. You won’t find this one on groupon though! Be prepared to pay $144 (US Dollars) to attend this all-you-can-eat extravaganza at the Atlantis Hotel. Trust me, it’s well worth it! This was the biggest brunch party I’ve ever been too! You’ll enjoy lobster, shrimp, crab legs, sushi, steak and other dishes from all around the world. PLUS, it includes unlimited champagne, wine, beer and liquor…AND TONS OF IT! Do not go to Dubai and miss this brunch! Although you can’t pay in advance, you can make a reservation for your group.
What will you drink?
The unlimited bar at the brunch is to die for, but what will you drink when you’re not there? Dubai has ZERO liquor stores, you’re only able to buy drinks at the hotel bars/restaurants and night clubs. I suggest you purchase a bottle or two at the Abu Dhabi airport (which is where you’ll most likely fly into anyway) so that you don’t get stuck paying the outrageous drink prices. I don’t even drink hard liquor and I still ended up paying $20 per glass of wine! Since this is a Muslim country, they don’t go out of their way to provide liquor..in fact they make it pretty difficult (& expensive). This is one lesson we had to learn the hard way. Luckily, one of my girls packed a mini bar (the little baby bottles) in her checked bag which came in handy! **Don’t try to pack liquor in your carry on bag, checked luggage only.
Should you go to Abu Dhabi?
This is a hard question to answer. But, I’ll do my best. Abu Dhabi is completely different from Dubai. I mean COMPLETELY. From the people who live there to the laws and customs, it’s like a totally different place. There aren’t any nightclubs, the hotels aren’t as fancy and the people aren’t as excited to see tourists. The one tourist attraction that’s a must see in Abu Dhabi is the Grand Mosque. It’s truly an amazing sight. Unfortunately, we got there too late for the guided tour so we had to tour it alone, without really knowing what we were looking at. Even still, it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. My recommendation: don’t spend more than a day in Abu Dhabi..you’ll be bored and ready to go.
Don’t end up locked up abroad
One thing we learned on our tour of Dubai is that they are very strict about their rules/laws. We’ve all heard about the extreme drug laws, but this was my first time learning they have laws about how to treat one another. In fact, it’s illegal to use abusive language (don’t get caught cursing anyone out) and the middle finger is damn near illegal too! Even if you think you’re getting away with something, this country is full of undercover agents to ensure you’re abiding by their laws. Their undercover cops could be sitting at the bar next to you, driving your taxi or checking you into your hotel. So, don’t do anything you don’t want to get caught doing. Since they are so strict however, they’re crime rate is virtually 0% so you don’t have to worry about your safety.
Document your dream vacation
One of the best parts of our trip, was the movie we made at the end! Throughout our time in Dubai, we captured video clips of everyone and combined them at the end to make a movie. If you have an iPhone, you can use the iMovie app to make an amazing documentary of your experience! Check out our movie “Baddies in Dubai” below.
Without a doubt, your Dubai vacation will be one of the most amazing experiences of your lifetime. I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as this city!
Don’t know how you’ll afford to go? Connect with sites like TravelNoire.com and FlightDeal.com to catch a great deal on your vacation. You can also check out Groupon Travel–they have some amazing UAE offers as well!