Exploring the Emirates with Lauren Winston

Meet Lauren! 

Meet Lauren! 

Are you traveling to the United Arab Emirates soon?

Contemplating whether or not it's worth the trip? Guest author and fellow urbanista, Lauren Winston, gives a candid look into her recent travel to this Middle Eastern gem. Her experiences and insight are invaluable and will hopefully inspire others to fully immerse themselves into the culture of the Emirati people. 

By Lauren Winston: 

Like many of you reading this post, I snagged those dirt-cheap tickets to Abu Dhabi on the early morning of Christmas Day 2014, and a few weeks ago, my line-sister/bestie, Jessica, and I traveled there for Valentine’s Day.

While these cheap tickets provided us with the opportunity to travel to a place we could otherwise not afford to go, I was anxious to travel there because I wondered if the United Arab Emirates wanted to even receive a traveler like me- Black, American, and not wealthy (especially by their standards).

Because so many folks have their upcoming travel to UAE in weeks and months ahead, I wanted to post some observations, tips, and advice that I hope can serve you well as you prep, and just illuminate the amazing Emirati people and culture.


 

1) The United Arab Emirates

is roughly the size of Virginia, with the three largest cities Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain located diagonally across from one another to make a triangle.

Travel to all three if you can.

While Al Ain (pronouned like Al “Eye- Een”) is the smallest, it will give you the opportunity to see how Emiratis live in their own neighborhoods, restaurants, and within a smaller “local” city culture. Al Ain is on the UAE border next to Oman. Visit Jebel Hafeet Mountain, while there.

Sunset desert safari on Valentine's Day 

Sunset desert safari on Valentine's Day 

Rolling through the Jumeirah Beach District

Rolling through the Jumeirah Beach District

On the way towards Jebel Hafeet

On the way towards Jebel Hafeet

 

2) Ladies, cover up.

Dubai is filled with tourists and expats, so the dress code there is pretty lax, especially on the beach. You can wear a bathing suit at the public beaches in Dubai, but bring clothes to cover up, not a cover up.  Nonetheless, the UAE is still a Muslim country. When standing next to Emiratis and expats, who will be dressed conservatively or in abayas (women) or thawbs (men), you’ll just look silly, and quite frankly culturally unaware if you’re nekkid.

Sharia law states that women should be covered from the wrist to the ankle, that will be the norm if you visit Mosques, schools, and small communities. However, covering past your knees and at least your shoulders when you’re out on the town should be cool.  

Jessica all covered up at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE, and probably one of the most beautiful things I've seen. Ever. In my life. 

Jessica all covered up at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE, and probably one of the most beautiful things I've seen. Ever. In my life. 

Mosque selfie 

Mosque selfie 

3) Bougie Brunch.

Y’all! We’re not the only ones who love an opulent, overpriced brunch on the holiday… Friday is the holy day in Islam, and brunch is popping! It could run you anywhere from $30- $100 but it’s totally worth it. If you are in Dubai or Abu Dhabi on a Friday, you must go. Crowd favorites are Spectrum on One (will be reopening soon), and really anything in the Jumeirah Beach district. The liquor will keep flowing, and the decadent food (literally any and everything you can DREAM) is all you can eat. Moreover, this is a pastime shared throughout the country, and you'll experience some straight up opulence.

 

4) Souk.

The malls will take your breath away, with every store known to man within walking distance. But while you're in the Emirates you MUST shop at the Souks. They are like strip malls and bazaars that have street vendors. You can barter here, get gold (lots and lots of gold) all 18k or more, knock-offs, and local spices and foods for the low.

 

5) Festivals.

There are festivals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for days… Film festivals, health festivals, cultural and religious festivals, concert series, alladat. Check the community calendars for your trip, and try to attend some events. You can have a chance to see Emirati culture close up, and just see everyone out while you’re flexin’ and what not. 

The Qasr Al Hosn Festival was taking place while we were in Abu Dhabi which celebrates traditional Emirati culture, heritage and pastimes.

A falconer showing off traditional hunting/falconry with a masked falcon

A falconer showing off traditional hunting/falconry with a masked falcon

Food Truck Festival in Dubai on Jumeirah Beach

Food Truck Festival in Dubai on Jumeirah Beach

Food Truck Festival selfie.. post food, obviously 

Food Truck Festival selfie.. post food, obviously 

6) Be Open.

My parents were super nervous about me traveling to the Middle East (even though the UAE is like 1000x safer than the USA), but I was literally inspired by the amazing infrastructure of the young country. The roads are all new, unemployment is extremely low, education and health are extremely high quality and free, and other cultures, languages, and religions are not only tolerated but celebrated. While being a woman is still extremely tough there, and migrant workers have very little rights (sound familiar?) I have a newfound respect for modesty, and for the critical role women have played in civil rights in the UAE.

 

7) Accommodations

We stayed in Dubai for 3 nights, on the 40th floor of the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Dubai. Now for those of you with upcoming travel to Dubai, don’t go if you don’t like heights.

My view from the 38th floor pool, with the Burj Khalifa in the background - the tallest building in the world 

My view from the 38th floor pool, with the Burj Khalifa in the background - the tallest building in the world 

 

As for my favorite experience?! 

My dean’s mother is a principal at an elementary school in the UAE, and while we were there, Jessica and I had the chance to visit a school in Al Wagan (the countryyy) for a bit, too!

Welcome sign for the children 

Welcome sign for the children 

Students at every school had teachers from all over the world, and learned multiple languages

Students at every school had teachers from all over the world, and learned multiple languages

Ma’a as-salama and safe travels to those of you going soon!


About Lauren: 

Self-proclaimed institution infiltrator. I like to read, work, travel, and pray with social justice in mind. Currently reside in Durham, North Carolina, aspiring primary care physician, Doula at NC Women’s Hospital, gym rat, and avid traditional West African dancer (not well). I’m always reading two books at a time, and I try to be constantly simultaneously learning and giving. Current books on rotation: Nobody Knows My Name (James Baldwin) and Ghana Must Go (Taiye Selasi). I’m in love with love.

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