Experience Dubai with Me - Travel Recap
I had the opportunity to start 2023 outside my comfort zone by taking my first solo long-haul flight across the globe! Just a year ago, I explained to my therapist my nerves regarding solo travel and my desire to live a full life. Looking back, this trip feels like a testament to growth and I'm excited to see where life takes me next!
"To experience time travel, we must travel the world!”
Dubai has been on my travel list for a couple years now, but I didn’t prioritize it because I thought I needed to be wealthy to enjoy the experience. But I’m happy to share that I was wrong – I’ll share my realization in a moment. But let me explain how this destination got moved up on my list.
In the middle of October 2022, one of my close friends texted that her MBA classmates were planning a trek through Dubai. Once I saw it was a pre-planned group trip, I checked the price and immediately responded, “I’m down” without checking my bank account. However, I associated group trips with group discounts and saw the itinerary hit all the major tourist attractions plus included personalized group activities so that made it an easy decision. Once my friend confirmed that she was planning to go, with or without me, I drafted a quick saving plan to ensure I could afford the trip and then paid the deposit.
The trip was hosted by Tour Hero. I hadn’t heard of this company before, but they are a full-service agency. They managed our group’s itinerary, booked the hotel, and coordinated all our transportation, including transfers to and from the airport. So, the only thing I was responsible for leading up to this trip was my airfare and packing.
What I Packed?
Since Dubai and the U.A.E is notoriously known for their conservative dress code, I spent a little time ahead of my trip researching other people’s experiences by watching vlogs on YouTube.
I was also grateful that Tour Hero developed and sent us a pre-departure guide with some packing tips. Overall, my rule of thumb became the more touristy the activity, the more relaxed the dress code would be with the exception of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
I ended up packing 2 outfits per day with the morning set including some type of Bermuda shorts (~9” inseam) and a blouse then a nice maxi dress for evening events. This formula plus swimsuits, PJs, workout clothes, and shoes filled one suitcase and a carry-on. I also had a personal duffel bag for the items I wanted easy access to on the plane. Because of our jam-packed itinerary, most days I only wore one of my planned outfits, and I usually preferred the maxi dress because I found them the most comfortable.
How I Spent My Time?
Day 1 – Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023
Unfortunately, my flight landed at 1 AM and the hotel couldn’t accommodate an early check-in upon my arrival, so I had to spend a few hours in the lobby waiting for a room to become available. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone, and they were plenty of couches to relax on.
Since arrival times varied across our group, this day was intentionally left free. Once I received a room, I was finally able to take a nap to recover from my 14-hour flight before dinner.
For dinner we went to Avli in Dubai’s International Financial Centre (DIFC) followed by drinks at the award-winning Galaxy Bar.
Day 2 – Wednesday, January 4, 2023
The trek immediately hit the group running on the second day. We started the day at the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo located inside the Dubai Mall. Then toured the 124th and 125th floors of the Burj Khalifa which is currently the tallest building in the world (standing at 2,722 feet from base to tip).
We ended the night with a private yacht party. The party included a lot of dancing on the Marina followed by dinner at Siddharta Lounge at Grosvenor House Dubai. We also got lucky because this lounge was offering an AMAZING ladies’ night deal – 3 drinks and 1 appetizer for $40 USD/120 AED.
Day 3 – Thursday, January 5, 2023
Despite our late night, everyone was up early on Thursday for a full-day tour of Abu Dhabi. The bus ride was about an hour and a half, but it was well worth the trip! Our first stop was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which was breathtaking. The mosque had a specific dress code that required women to have full-length sleeves and pants/skirts with a hair covering. I opted to purchase a traditional abaya, which covers the entire body from head to toe.
After the mosque, we explore the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Fun fact: Abu Dhabi paid the French government $525 million (€400 million) to use the “Louvre” name for 30.5 years.
Following the Louvre, we went to the Saadiyat Beach Club to enjoy the sunset before our candle-lit outdoor dinner at Em Sherif. Needless to say, we were all knocked out on the ride back to Dubai.
Day 4 – Friday, January 6, 2023
On Friday, we ventured into the desert. Unlike the days prior when our whole group was together in a bus, we were picked up in SUVs this morning which was essential for dune bashing. The SUVs also brought us to a desert camp where we had the option to participate in various activities like ATVs and Camel rides. The day concluded with a BBQ Dinner and live entertainment.
Day 5 – Saturday, January 7, 2023
Saturday was very culture-focused; we had the opportunity to tour Old Dubai, and learned about the native way of life before the country’s current modernizations. As part of this tour, we went to the spice and gold souks (“souks” translates to markets) for some good ol’ bartering and shopping. I didn’t know Dubai was known for its gold trade, so I was underprepared for this but still managed to successfully negotiate a great price on a gold chain.
We transitioned from old to new by visiting the Museum of the Future where we learned about Dubai’s ambitions for the year 2071!
The night wouldn’t be complete with drinks at Soho Garden and some dancing at the Soho Garden Club.
Day 6 - Sunday, January 8, 2023
Initially, Sunday was meant to be another free day and the only thing pre-planned were 60-minute morning boat tours. Knowing that I scheduled spa treatments for me and my best friend at the Anantara Spa on Palm Island. We both enjoyed relaxing Turkish baths which I guess worked because when we met our group at the dock for our Dhow dinner cruise, everyone commented on how zin we appeared.
Day 7 - Monday, January 9, 2023
On our last day, we visited the Atlantis Waterpark. I’m proud that I went down most of the slide because I couldn’t swim so I’m always extra cautious at waterparks. Then for our final dinner, we went to Gaia which was in Dubai’s International Financial Centre (DIFC) so we ended the trek where we started.
Day 8 - Tuesday, January 10, 2023
This was our departure back to the states and I had an early flight. In my next post, I’ll share how I survived my flights as someone susceptible to motion sickness.
First, during our day in the desert, I didn’t expect the wind to be chilly. I’ve always associated the desert with heat, but January is considered part of Dubai’s “winter,” so the temperatures, even in the desert could hit a low of ~60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Second, I fell in love with the customer service. Dubai is striving to be the world’s premier tourist destination and it shows in its expectational attention to detail in service. I felt so welcomed, safe, and catered to that I even said to myself, I could imagine coming back to Dubai on my own.
Lastly, I experienced jet lag on both ends of my trip. However, I felt like it worked to my advantage when I arrived in Dubai because waking up felt easy which allowed me to maintain my morning workouts. But now, being back for a few days, I’m still having a little trouble staying asleep through the night. I tend to wake up awake 2-3 AM EST and I’ve been having to force myself back to sleep -- I'm over it.
Would I Do It Again?
Short and sweet, YES! This was my first trip where I didn’t prioritize laying on the beach all day which allowed me to expand my definition of travel. I enjoyed the people I met on this trip and with every activity, I was intentional about putting my phone away, absorbing my surroundings, and reflecting on my life.
Based on my recap, would you go to Dubai?