Wander or Bust is an Elite Daily travel series that follows young women all over the globe to record their journeys as they experience the thrill of the far-flung and unknown.
They'll track their budgets, where they stay, where they eat and drink, and where they took that amazing Instagram that got them ~maximum exposure.~ The internet is full of travel advice, but none from women just like you. Read on for the tips no one else gives you, and when in doubt, get on the plane.
Here's Kaitlyn Cawley's Wander Or Bust guide to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
My Name: Kaitlyn Cawley
What I Do: Editor-at-Large, BDG Media
Where I Live: Brooklyn, New York
Where I Went: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
How Long I Stayed: 4 days, 3 nights
My Spending Style: Occasionally indulgent. I don't throw money around, but I will definitely splurge on more than a few expensive things on a vacation.
Where I Got My Recommendations:
I have a few friends who are from Dubai or surrounding areas. I was on a trip with the UN, so there were a few guided experiences. Otherwise, I did a lot of Googling and ending up on weird Quora forums.
Exchange Rate At Time Of Travel: $1 USD = د.إ 3.67 AED
What That Looks Like IRL: $50 USD = 183.6 د.إ AED
Preferred Payment Method: Everywhere took debit, and I was happy to use it, as I had no idea how much money I'd be spending this trip and hate going home with large amounts of different currency.
Phone Bill: At the time I was still a Verizon customer. No more. I was charged $150 just for turning on my data once to see where I was. Certain countries have really poor data packages, so make sure to do a little research beforehand. A few months later, I switched to Wing, and now I only pay $~6 on top of my phone bill when I'm traveling internationally. It's like night and day.
Mode of Transport: Airplane
I flew business class on Emirates. It was my first time ever flying business on an overnight flight and OMG. Emirates has a business class bar/lounge on the plane. Like, you can go mingle with other people at a bar... on a plane. If you spring for first class (a cool $15,000), you get your own cabin and shower access, so there's that.
Price: $6,500 — this was an upgrade I couldn't personally afford, but I was on a trip with the U.N. so they helped!
Extra Costs: $0
When you fly Emirates Business, they include private chauffeurs in your ticket price, so I spent no extra money on getting to or from the airport in either city.
Transport Total: $6,500
Accommodation: Jumeirah al-Naseem
Extra Costs: I got room service once or twice; otherwise, everything is included!
Would I Recommend It To Someone Else:
This hotel was probably one of the nicest I've ever stayed in. It's hard for me to recommend any hotel that's so expensive, but Dubai sort of screams this type of luxury. I had a king-size bed, a full-on dressing room, a claw-foot tub, and a rainforest shower. I felt like a queen, and that's something I can certainly recommend.
Accommodation Total: $3,300
Breakfast-Lunch Cost: $35/day
Dinner Cost: $50/day
Average Total Cost: $85/day
Tip Situation: There is a tipping culture in Dubai. It's customary to give a few extra dirham to your taxi driver or hotel valet, and you should definitely throw on an extra 10 to 15 percent to any food bill.
You can get absolutely everything you want to eat in Dubai — from its seaside Nobu to a local Five Guys. Dubai has a bit of reputation for being a playground for a lot of countries in which alcohol and partying are more readily restricted, and a lot of people traveling from those countries have a lot of money to spend. Needless to say, some places are astoundingly expensive, but if you find a few cute spots, you won't end up spending your life savings.
Favorite Restaurant: Betawi JLT
Location: Lake level, Lake Terrace Tower, Cluster D, Jumeirah Lakes Towers
This Indonesian restaurant is well-priced and tasty. Dubai has the benefit of being a huge hub for so many different countries, and its cuisine really benefits.
Food Total: $250
Nightlife in Dubai is huge, although their weekend is shifted slightly. In New York, we usually go out on Friday, Saturday, and brunch on Sunday... in Dubai, they go out Thursday, Friday, and brunch on Saturday. So if you're planning a weekend jaunt, keep in mind that the Saturday night you were saving for might be a little quiet. Of course, if it doesn't work out that way, people obviously go out every night of the week — and you'll still have a good time!
What People Wear Out:
The places I went ranged, but everyone I met was dressed elegantly and smartly. Most of the clubs were filled with girls in short dresses and heels, which is a stark contrast from being told to cover up during the day. If you do want to dress up as such, make sure to bring a light coat or shawl for any walking or taxi rides home. It's respectful to keep your arms covered.
Average Cost Of A Pint: $8 — and only certain places are allowed to serve alcohol.
Extra Cost To Know About: A lot of people participate in bottle service culture, so I ended up getting tons of free drinks anyway. The only extra costs I had to worry about was getting home, but they have Uber, so it was relatively inexpensive.
Last Call: Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
Average Total Cost Of A Night Out: $60
Cheapest Bar I'd Actually Go Back To: Miss Lily's
There are actually a few Jamaican spots in Dubai, and I've even been to Miss Lily's in New York (both locations), but this specific one was amazing. People were packed to the brim, dancing to hits I hadn't even heard in America yet. I was very impressed with the dancing moves.
The majority of staff and chefs are actually from Jamaica, so the food we picked at was phenomenal. Would go back every day if I could.
Going Out Total: $150
What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Worth It:
Getting a beach hotel was incredibly expensive, but the views at night made it feel worth it. I was overlooking the Burj al Arab and the sight from my little balcony was breathtaking.
What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Not Worth It:
This may be because I'm from New York and have never been on top of the Empire State building, but I didn't think seeing the top of the Burj Khalifa was all that necessary. Sure, it's the tallest building in the world, and that's really cool, but when you're seeing the rest of the city from the most impressive monument, you miss out on seeing the Burj Khalifa itself. I preferred the views from down below.
What I Spent Little Or No Money On That Was Awesome:
One of my favorite things to do when traveling to a new country is to check out their Netflix selection. Every country, depending on what's available through other apps, has its very own library. I particularly enjoyed the UAE's Netflix, as I can't read Arabic in the slightest and it was just fun poking around.
I watched me a little Sister Act II: Back In The Habit. I really enjoyed the subtitles.
Favorite Thing I Did, Regardless Of Cost:
Getting dinner under the Burj Khalifa as it danced with crazy lighting effects unlike I had ever seen was breathtaking. Every bite was complemented by a dazzling display, and the water fountains moved in stride. It takes you a full head tilt back to get all the majesty in one glance, so it's fun to continually throw your head back in awe every few minutes.
Hidden Gem I Found:
Alserkal Avenue is an industrial-looking stretch of walkway that is lined with some of the coolest little shops, cafes, and venues I've seen. It feels very artistic and doesn't look like a lot of the other places you see in Dubai. There were even hoola hooping classes.
The Photo I Took That Got The Most Attention:
Excursions/Extras Total: $80
General Shopping: $0
I brought back a beautiful hookah my boyfriend later smashed into a million pieces, as well as a few plush pashmina scarves that he hasn't destroyed yet.
Souvenirs/Shopping Total: $150
Best Dubai Hack:
Dubai is such a meeting point for different cultures, don't be weird about making friends with a lively group of people on the dance floor. Everyone is there to have a good time.
Advice For Anyone Traveling Alone:
I was traveling alone, and the only advice I can think of is to keep a scarf or shawl on you for the in between transit times. I made a lot of friends in a short period, and it was just from going out and asking to join other groups.
Total Trip Cost: $10,655
Worth It? It was expensive, but something I always wanted to do. I'm very happy to check it off my bucket list.