Several days ago, a huge story exploded in the news about a couple who was jailed in Abu Dhabi for having premarital sex. The woman went to the doctor because she was ill and it turned out that she was pregnant. Soon thereafter, she and her fiancé were arrested and have been detained without charge. Stories like these have been permeating the news cycle lately. It’s creating fear among travelers and making people worry about visiting Dubai. Although I can’t speak for countries such as Iraq and Syria (I’m going to take a wild guess and say that they’re pretty dangerous), I can speak for the United Arab Emirates and I believe that Dubai is very safe. That being said, there are still some important dos and don’ts of visiting Dubai.
Dubai is not a pedestrian-friendly city and it can get so hot that you probably don’t want to be walking around. I tried to walk around once and became lost. Don’t be like me. Take a taxi. The taxis are fairly cheap and lots of the drivers speak English. Women and children can ride in a special taxi that is only for women. If you feel like spending a little bit more, you can take a luxury taxi. The cheapest taxis are still very nice and there’s really no reason to shell out the big bucks on a luxury ride.
Ride the Metro
If you want to get around like a local, do ride the Dubai Metro. The Metro is so impeccably clean and well maintained that riding it is an attraction on its own. For those of you who are traveling into the city from the airport, the Metro goes directly to the terminals. Choosing which train car to ride in can be confusing. There is a women and children car that only women and children can use. If a man is in it, all of the women will glare at him and bore their souls into him. On the contrary, women can ride in the ‘general public’ car without an issue. I personally prefer to ride in the women’s car because it’s usually less crowded.
Wear Light and Loose Clothes
News flash – it can get really hot in Dubai. Like so hot that virtually everywhere is air-conditioned. That being said – be prepared for warm temperatures, even in the winter. The stark contrast in temperatures can lead some people to wonder what to wear in Dubai. Well thankfully, you don’t need to stress out too much about your clothing. If you wear looser clothes, it will help the air to move around your body and won’t make you as hot. Additionally, looser clothes won’t show off your womanly shape, which is frowned upon in Dubai.
Be Prepared to Dress Modestly
Here’s the thing. Dubai is very westernized. The United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai, has an enormous amount of ex-pats. I saw plenty of women walking around without their legs or shoulders covered. That being said, I advise dressing modestly. There’s a reason that the saying “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is so famous. That is exactly how you should travel and it is applicable to every spectrum of the traveling world. When in the Emirates, do as the Emiratis do. And if you’re a woman, I recommend covering wearing conservative clothes. I found some websites like this one to be very helpful in deciding what to wear and how I was going to style my clothing. However, there are some things you should know if you’re a woman going to Dubai.
Some Places Have Dress Codes
If you choose to not dress conservatively, you won’t be thrown in jail for it or anything like that. Dress code laws do exist but for the most part, they can be fairly lax. Some restaurants may choose to not serve you and you may receive some judgmental stares, but you’re not going to get hauled off. Be aware that the Dubai Mall requires that you cover at least your shoulders and knees, so plan accordingly. However, I chose to be respectful of the Muslim faith and cover myself while in Dubai. It was a completely personal decision because I wanted to be respectful and blend in with the locals. I personally think locals treated me better in public because I made that choice. One driver even said that he thought more highly of Americans because I was willing to show respect for their faith.
You Will Receive Stares if You Aren’t Covered
Remember, the culture of Dubai is very conservative. So even if you don’t get in trouble for what you’re wearing, expect to see some disapproving stares. You’ve been warned.
See the Burj Khalifa
You can’t go to Dubai and miss the Burj. Visible from nearly everywhere in the city, the world’s tallest building commands the skyline. Tickets to the very top can be pricy and on hazy days you can’t see very much. If you go to the top on a clear day he view is outstanding. Regardless of the weather conditions, at least go to the bottom of the Burj and get vertigo by staring at the top of it. If you can, watch the fountain show that takes place in the lake in front of the Burj throughout the day! A bonus is that it is right by the mall, so you can kill two birds with one stone. A Dubai vacation wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Burj Khalifa.
Observe Friday as a Holy Day
Holy days vary in different religions, and in Islam, Friday is considered a holy day. The Metro will not run until later on Friday afternoon, and some things may be closed on Fridays. Since Dubai is such a worldly metropolis, the city does not completely shut down on Fridays but just anticipate that when making your plans.
Leave the City
Dubai is an incredible city with so much to see but you should definitely leave the city at some point during your stay. One of the most common ways to do so is to take a desert safari. There are dozens of different desert safaris ranging in price from moderate to expensive. Most of them are very similar, so don’t feel like you have to over indulge. Desert safaris usually consist of a four-wheeler ride, henna tattoos, holding a falcon, a camel ride, and a festival for dinner. Even though these desert safaris aren’t technically in Dubai, they’re still one of the top things to do in Dubai for tourists. It may be typically geared toward tourists but is still a fun way to experience some authentic culture and see more than just the hustle and bustle of Dubai.
Be Overly Affectionate in Public
Another thing that can deter people from visiting the U.A.E. are their strict public affection laws. Homosexuality is illegal, and public displays of affection are considered a strong offense to public decency. Holding hands in public is the furthest that public affection can go, and even then it should only be between married couples. I did see a local couple (presumably married) holding hands while they walked down a street at night, but that was the most PDA I saw the whole time.
Photograph Locals Without Permission
This should go without saying, but don’t take a picture of a local without their permission. Nobody wants to have his or her space invaded or have a camera thrust in their face. If you want to take a picture of someone, do it from far away enough that it looks like you’re taking a picture of something else. If you want to take a picture of someone, ask for permission. There’s no guarantee they’ll say yes, but at least you’ll be polite about it.
Take Pictures of Government Buildings
If it looks like a really important and official building, just don’t take a picture of it. For the Emirates, they could consider your photo to be an issue of national security and I really don’t think you want to end up in trouble with the law.
Be Drunk in Public
Some countries don’t care at all if you’re drunk in public, but the U.A.E. is not one of them. In fact, only certain four and five star hotels and restaurants will even sell alcohol. Go there if you’re fancying a drink (or seven) but just be careful of your behavior. Whatever you do, DON’T drive drunk because it can get you thrown in jail, regardless of your BAC.
Spend Time Working
Okay, maybe this one is for me and all of the digital nomads who are constantly working. I spent one entire evening in Dubai on my computer, watching Netflix and doing work. Sadly, while doing cool things, sometimes work interrupts. If you’re doing a lot of online work, access your hosted virtual desktop from anywhere through Cloud Desktop Online and save all your important documents on your your collaboration site through Apps 4 Rent. That’s a way to help you out when you’re on the road. So if you absolutely HAVE to work, it’s okay. But don’t spend all of your time with your nose buried in your computer or phone. After all, you’re in Dubai!
Worry about Your Safety
Maybe I haven’t reiterated this enough, but Dubai is incredibly safe. I only felt uneasy one time and that’s when I was after the sun had set and I wasn’t in a touristy area. My mom and I were the only women around and we didn’t know if we were breaking any rules for women by being out so late. Since we were unsure of the rules, we were uneasy and ended up returning to the Burj. That was the only problem I ever had while visiting Dubai, but I wasn’t even scared, I was just being aware of my surroundings.
Dubai is a foreign place to many people; there is no getting around that. But a person’s ability to adapt to that shows how good of a traveler they are. After my trip to Dubai, my messages were inundated with questions from friends who were shocked that I had traveled to such a foreign country. The questions ranged from, “was it hot?” to “were you mistreated as a female?” I can’t get upset with them for their questions because they’re completely valid. For people who haven’t been to these places, it can seem like a vast unknown.
But Dubai isn’t a place that should be avoided. Dubai is an extremely liberal place when compared to other places in the Middle East but people should still take extreme precaution and follow the laws. That being said, I highly recommend visiting Dubai, or if you’re feeling very ambitious, it’s a good place to live. Even if you are on the fence about visiting, a layover is a good way to see some of the city. Emirates airline offers many layovers because Dubai is a large hub, so a long layover may provide you with just enough time to get a feel of the city. Check out Skyscanner to plan the best route to Dubai!
For further information on life in Dubai and what to expect, visit this website about all things Dubai.
Have you ever been to Dubai? Let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips to include!