Vagabonding Field Report: Dubai and the world’s most extravagant, well, everything
Cost/day: $175/day. It isn’t the cheapest place to travel to and there were too many fun activities (that cost money) to not spend money, but it can be done reasonably and you only really need a few days to get a good experience.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Dubai brings a whole new definition to the concept of a desert oasis. Being surrounded by nothing but desert, it has become a trade and tourism mecca, focusing on making everything as big and extravagant as possible. Seeing such a futuristic and international city in the middle of the desert was strange in itself, but snowboarding in an indoor ski resort while it was 108 F (42 C) outside was the strangest experience I had in Dubai.
Describe a typical day:
My girlfriend met me in Dubai and we started the morning off with a trip to the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. We went to the top and saw views of the entire city, including the man-made private islands shaped like the world. Afterwards, we walked through the Dubai Mall and met up with a friend who lives nearby. After grabbing a late breakfast, the three of us went to Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort. We snowboarded for a couple hours and took a couple turns of getting into a giant cushioned ball and rolling down a snow slope. We went to the beach for a little while and took a dip in the Gulf – quite the contrast from being freezing cold and covered in snow just minutes before! We changed into some nicer clothes and headed to a delicious roof top, all you can eat sushi and seafood restaurant. After a long and fun dinner, we saw the dancing fountains and then topped off the night at Antlantis’ nightclub, which is located on the beach at the tip of the man-made Palm Islands.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
The term “local” is a unique concept in Dubai as 80% of the population is an expat. While it is easy to meet people that live there, they are very rarely from the UAE originally. I met a lot of “local” people, but I never actually found an Emirati. I spoke with them about their experience living in Dubai and everyone seemed to quickly share their opinion on how much they love it or how much they can’t wait to move back home. Either way, almost all of them viewed their stay in Dubai as temporary. I also found it interesting that because almost everyone is an expat, people rarely presume you are a tourist.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I like Dubai’s drive to become an internationally renowned city. Everywhere you turn, it seems like they are saying “look how great we can be.” Seeing this perspective is quite inspiring. And while I was initially taken back by the apparent lack of local culture, I soon realized that the fact that its people were from everywhere in the world and everything, but the sand, seemed to be manmade was in fact part of their unique culture. This of course translated into fantastic restaurants and there always being something fun to do.
I dislike how spread out everything is in Dubai. I enjoy exploring cities by foot in order to get a better feel of the place and its layout, but that isn’t something you can do in Dubai. You are forced to simply go from one spot to another and ignore most of what is in between. However, at least taxis are inexpensive in Dubai and there is never a problem finding one.
Describe a challenge you faced:
I wanted to check out the famous “7-star” Burj Dubai hotel (yes, 7 out of 5), but the whole perimeter is restricted for hotel guests and those with dinner or cocktail reservations only. Since my girlfriend left the day before, I didn’t feel like spending several hundred dollars on a cocktail reservation fee just to see a hotel and have a drink by myself. I was inspired by Rolf’s “Storming The Beach” story in his recent book and decided to get creative. I convinced the hotel to hold a reservation for me and allow me to call back with payment, and then convinced the security guards of my legitimacy. After several steps executed with flawless timing, I almost made it in before being stopped because my khaki shorts didn’t meet the cocktail dress code. I thought about swimming, buying pants or finding another way in, but I realized that my motivation simply wasn’t strong enough. I accepted defeat instead and never saw this “must-see” attraction.
What new lesson did you learn?
I learned how valuable it can be to research the best connections to cities and ignore the flight search engine’s automatic routes. This enables you to create multi-city itineraries and stay in those cities for a few days. I was able to fly from a small city in Poland to Barcelona to Dublin to Dubai to Cape Town (and stay a few days in each) for actually less than it would cost to fly straight from Poland to Cape Town. Sometimes you simply need to combine the busier international hubs and local discount airlines, but also look into countries with close economic ties and former colonies in order to find cheap connections.
In between my last field report (Extra servings of history and kielbasa in Poland) and this post, I also went to Spain and Ireland. I recently arrived in South Africa and I plan on making my way throughout East Africa, starting in Mozambique next. If interested, you can follow my trip on Facebook, Twitter or my blog.