Burj al Arab Dubai by Joi on Flickr

48 hours with a Solo Female Traveler: Dubai

Destination: Dubai

On my Etihad flight to the United Arab Emirates, I had failed to consider the strangeness I would feel as a solo female traveler, no, the ONLY solo female traveler on a male-dominated plane full of Emiratis and a handful of foreign expats flying there at the same time. As if feeling self-conscious wasn’t bad enough, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I was asked if I was someone’s lost wife. Oh no, I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision going to Dubai alone.

Arriving in Abu Dhabi with an hour-long bus transfer to Dubai, I reached my couchsurfer’s front door at the prompt hour of 6am. Since there were very few female hosts in Dubai (and I was quite sure I would feel more comfortable with a female), I was quite fortunate to be accepted by M, a Malaysian expat who had been in Dubai for two years for work.

Etihad plane by Simon_sees on FlickrNote #1: With so many misconceptions in the media, I can report that Dubai is a modern metropolis with more than 50% of its population being foreign expats from both Asian and Western regions. Women do not need to wear head scarfs (unless visiting religious landmarks) or succumb to long-sleeved tops and heavy long pants in 40-degree heat when out and about in the city.

The first thing M planned for me was to go out with her and a bunch of her friends on a trip crab-hunting at Umm Al-Qawain, on the outskirts of Dubai. It’s a brilliant and fun concept – a small tug boat takes a small group of visitors out to the Arabian Gulf to try their hand at stabbing crabs for dinner. Obviously this is only a novelty factor as most of the people on the boat (especially me) could only manage to catch one measly crab, which is not really a dinner-sized portion at all. Our guides expertly caught around 100 crabs in two hours, and we headed back to shore for a crab buffet by the beach.

Note #2: Take a taxi. Public transport is horrendous and if you find yourself there in the middle of summer like I did, you’ll want the taxi. For a single female, taxis are cheap and safe, the drivers polite and respectful, and most importantly the cars are air-conditioned!

Burj al Arab Dubai by Joi on Flickr

For my next day in Dubai, images of me riding a camel into the sunset began to play in my head. I wanted to go on a desert safari, and managed to book an evening/night tour with a local company. M decided to join me after work.

The tour started out very small and intimate -– six people to a Hummer (which were everywhere!). Our group consisted of the local driver, M and me, and three Frenchies.

Starting out with a long drive to the al-Badayer desert to do some ‘dune-bashing’ (basically driving vigorously up and down the dunes in the desert – not recommended for people with motion-sickness), our group then joined the other Hummers to another part of the desert where we each got to try sand-boarding. It was fun when sand didn’t get in my mouth. After the deserts, we joined the other tour groups at a nearby camp site, where a big feast was prepared for us while we were entertained with henna-painting, camel rides, and belly-dancing. I had a fantastic time and made some new friends at the dining table.
Camels in the desert by Suwaif on Flickr

Interestingly, there are quite a number of things to do in Dubai should a lonely girl find herself there with no friends. It is not a city of subtlety. Rather, it is a city of extremes, providing everyone their own high in various forms of entertainment. Here is a list of some of my activities as a solo female traveler in Dubai, sometimes with M, mostly alone.

  • Gawk at giant stingrays and exotic sharks from the lobby of Atlantis Hotel. It’s free!
  • Sip fancy cocktails at the plethora of trendy bars and nightclubs around. Unfortunately I didn’t know a booking is required to have a drink at the Burj-al-Arab, so unlike me, I hope everyone else plans ahead.
  • Visit Bur Dubai, the ‘historic’ part of Dubai, and wander around the Bakasiya Quarter. I spent an entire half-day there just taking awesome photos. You can also hop on one of the agras (they ferry workers from one side of the river to the other) for the novelty factor at a price of only one dirham. I did feel slightly weird being the only female on board.
  • Check out the ski resort at the Mall of the Emirates. They have a black run there, although I didn’t try it out.

Note #3: Solo female travelers will not be intimidated or bored in this city. A word of caution – it’s not cheap to have fun in Dubai. However, a few days should be more than adequate to sample a bit of everything it has to offer.

Post-trip P.S.: Now that the Burj Khalifa is completed, it’s another must-see! I also missed out on a completed Palm Jumeirah and The World Jumeirah, all epic developments which were under construction at the time I was there. I would definitely go back again.

This article was originally published on Art of Solo Travel.

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8 Responses to “48 hours with a Solo Female Traveler: Dubai”

  1. Steph February 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    this came at about the right time. I am interviewing next week for a potential job in Dubai and the horror stories people (who obviously have never been there) tell me are ridiculous, I think they confuse Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

  2. Craig and Linda February 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    Good luck for the interview, Steph — and we look forward to hearing your views and your experiences there. We keep hearing conflicting reports, so it really seems to be a complex place.

  3. Dizzie February 23, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    Sounds like a lot of fun! I haven’t really ever though about Dubai as an interesting place, but I do now!
    I’m also very interested in your experience of a single female traveler doing couch surfing, as I’ve never done that before but am thinking about embarking on that exciting way of travel (and meet new friends)… more info? :)

  4. Steph March 2, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Update on the Dubai job: I’ll stay in London for a bit, the budget for the Dubai position was not approved :( I’ll go sometime as a visitor when passing through on my way further East, I guess.

    • Craig and Linda March 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

      That’s sad, Steph. Better luck on the next position!

  5. back to egypt March 14, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    back to Egypt Steph.. :)

  6. Serena April 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Great summary of your time in Dubai! When I saw that your destination was the United Arab Emirates, I was thinking the exact same things that you addressed in your first paragraph: how brave of you to go by yourself to a place where everyone will think you are someone’s lost wife!
    But thanks for setting the record straight of how modern Dubai is, clearly people (especially Americans) have severe misconceptions of Arab countries in general. I’m surprised even to hear that the taxis have air conditioning! The taxis I’ve rode in Mexico, Peru, and Thailand do not have such a luxury.

    Sandboarding! It (and surfing) are the extreme sports I would totally dedicate myself to if given the chance to live in both a dry/dessert-like country with awesome coasts and waves. Sandboarding, according to my personal (and possibly bias sources) had its roots in Peru.
    Thanks for sharing and breaking some ridiculous stereotypes.

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