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.
Note #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!
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.
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.