Women Traveling Alone to the Emirates – Dubai & Abu Dhabi: Story & Tips!

In the Fall of 2015, I took a trip to the Middle East, starting in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and traveling through many parts of Jordan (details in another post!) The most common question I am asked is not, “did you enjoy it?” or “what was your favorite part?”. Counter to common belief, women traveling alone to the Emirates can have an enjoyable and wonderful trip!

Sadly, the most frequently asked question was “weren’t you afraid? Especially alone?” One of the first things you’ll notice when chatting with “locals” is most aren’t local at all, but expats who never left. That removes a bit of the cultural aspect, but there is still plenty to see.

Fear: Women Traveling Alone to the Emirates

Even in the “western-looking” Dubai (except the “local attire”, most of Dubai looks more like Vegas but with soft sand and humidity) we read about stories of young people detained because they’ve had premarital sex, entered the country openly gay or revealed a bit too much skin. Recently, a story was published about a couple held in a prison because she was pregnant and (gasp!) not married to her boyfriend. These stories understandably frighten westerners who are already leery about traveling to the “Middle East”. A lot of partying happens “under ground” in Dubai.. actually throughout the Middle East.

I’ll share a bit about my experience, some things I did, lessons I learned and what I would do differently if I traveled there again. Women traveling alone to the Emirates, or any part of the Middle East, may feel some unwanted attention. I’ve found that most of it is curiosity and engaging the locals (in a culturally appropriate way) has been my answer to that “issue”.

Flight from Heaven

I got lucky  — my inbound aircraft flying from Los Angeles (LAX) to Dulles (IAD) and then onto Dubai on United was delayed – severely delayed. Lucky you say? Yes! I’ll explain.

Of course, even at the club lounge for business class travelers, the counter agents were (or pretended to be) blissfully unaware that 30 or so of us in the lounge were about to misconnect and have to spend an entire night of our trip in good-ole’ Dulles.  It’s already an uncomfortable aircraft with (IMO) subpar service and seats, so dragging it out another 24 hours was not an enticing thought.

While the agents continued their supposed ignorance because “our computers say so” (defying all logic, when the aircraft we needed was still in Denver and we were supposed to depart in 1.5 hours), TripIt (a God-send travel tool) was alerting me every few minutes as to the real status of the flight. I simply stood at the counter until their computers reflected the accurate information and encouraged others to line up behind me. The agent explain that she’d need to book me on a different flight – tomorrow. Uh.. no. I’ll save my “how badly United, American and Delta all suck for another post).

I know the airlines have pools of bucks to spend to put people on discounted fares on other airlines, and three hours later an Emirates flight was leaving nonstop from LAX to Dubai. That ticket is about $10,800US and it’s the flight I (and 8 others) demanded we be placed on. Many phone calls later, we were all shuffled to Emirates, and the Emirates team located our luggage, kept us informed in the club and escorted us to the plane. Service .. yes, service at an airline. By comparison, the United flight is about $6,800US.

The A380 Experience

It’s quite an experience.. walking up to the A380. Passengers stop and take photos. Flight attendants appear to care about the passengers, not just “primarily here for your safety”. (Okay okay, by now you can tell I am not a fan of domestic airlines and their no-service no-care model).

The flight in was smooth, on-time and as comfortable as a 19 hour flight can be. Best yet, it cost me $0. I am not cheap by nature. When I complained to United online about the agents lack of insight, knowledge about their own rules and general rudeness, they refunded the entire ticket. Essentially I flew on Emirates in business class for free.

Airport and Transportation

I practiced what little Arabic I had learned over the past year studying online and with a tutor when we landed. I was proud to say “marhaba” at customs, which was met with giggles from a beautiful young women who was a customs agent. Later I learned that I accidentally welcomed the Emirate to her own country.  Whoops. I picked up the lessons again after that!

I moved to baggage claim, a bit dazed and confused (and with some Ambien hangover) and found a car that was pre-arranged by the hotel to take me to Jumeriah Dar Al Masyaf-Madinat Jumeriah. (You read that right). You can’t say “Jumeriah” because there are tens or more hotels in the Jumeriah. That’s not the name of a hotel, which again I learned the hard way with a taxi driver.

Probably the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t see more than several feet in front of me.  This photo was taken from my hotel balcony on a clear moment (which were few and far between). The second was from the Sea.. again in a clear moment.

Thinking it was fog, I settled into my hotel room (which felt more like a villa; king size beds in Dubai are made for 9 people or something), found the Red Bull in the oversized fridge, got WiFi going so I could get to work and quickly connected to the VPN (I like PureVPN and HideMyAss) so I could see sites with “concerning content” (like my own websites or news sites – eek).
A local told me that technically getting around the “security measurement” using a VPN is illegal, but no one seems to enforce it.

The First Morning…

I woke up to thick fog.. or.. wait.. was it humidity. Check. Almost 100% in fact. Strolling out to the Arabian Sea (my favorite of all the oceans and seas I’ve ever been to) with the all-white seashells, incredible sand, and crystal water with the Burj Khalifa on display was beautiful. I had dinner there one night and the elevator ride alone made it worth the money!

After a bit, I made my way back to the terrace of my room to change and enjoy the view, the birds and the peacefulness of it all (yes peacefulness, which is how I felt from the beginning of my stay here).

View from the hotel

Unique Things To Do

I have heard most westerners head to the Dubai Mall – the world’s biggest mall. It seems about every major luxury retailer is wrapped up into one beautiful showcase. In Dubai, they do everything in extremes. There is an indoor ski slope, Arabian Adventures (the name of a company that provides delightful trips to the Sand Dunes, full course meals at the end complete with camel riding – so touristy but so fun!), go sky diving over the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s only 7 star hotel is in Dubai, and Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Maserati’s own the city.

Here are some photos of the Arabian Adventures!

I know .. this is so touristy! It was nice to have no cell reception and quite an adrenaline rush to jump in the dunes though!

My Own Adventures

I avoided the mall, and tried to stick to more “locals” things to do. I personally enjoy meeting people, asking questions (like “what do you think of the US?” and “what do you think of our President?” and “what is your favorite restaurant here?”) to get to know and understand the culture a bit more. I paid for a guide and a car and went into Abu Dhabi (I don’t do group tours unless I am forced to.. aka.. no other option) for a day. I visited a mosque, a church, checked out the vending machines that sell gold bars, talked with shop owners and looked at the amazing architecture.

women traveling alone to the emirates

Toward the end of my trip, I befriended a gentleman on the only-tourist-thing I did (the Arabian Adventures) who showed me around some parts of Dubai that tourists overlook. Here he is taking a pic for me:
Arabian Adventures in Dubai
Perhaps a bit naive or perhaps feeling secure (or both), I tend to use my gut and look for red flags and if none are present, I “go for it”. (I do have a lot to lose by the way… I have a young child at home, so safety is crucial for me, too).

Do the young men like the young’ish (hehe) blondes from America (or anywhere else)? Yeah probably. I have some entertaining stories from Jordan on this matter! Was I given special treatment (the guide acted as my personal photographer and chauffeur) by going alone? I believe so. Did I ever feel in danger? Nope. Did the guy obsessively text me after we connected on WhatsApp and our adventures were over? You betcha. (When the “hey it was fun to see the place but I am not interested in dating” didn’t work, I simply hit block).


I learned to always pick a meeting spot that is almost never my own hotel. I don’t let anyone drop me back off at my “place”, but instead tell them I’m meeting a friend at the lobby of another nearby hotel or food court and take a taxi in.  When asked where I am staying, I usually say “with a friend”. I use hand sanitizer combined with hand washing diligently before I eat (many times it’s the germs on your hands making you sick, not the food in new countries).

Personally, I try not to get too crazy with new foods the first couple of days as my body adjusts. I never tell anyone if I am single (I don’t discuss my marital status at all), and try to make friends with a couple of other people traveling and get their info by WhatsApp (a traveler’s dream app) as a safety net. I don’t let my passport out of site and I keep a copy of it on my phone. My friends and I register my trips with the State Department. I make local contacts. (Several of us on the Arabian Adventures swapped info and we created a group and stay in contact still). They knew I was alone and it was a nice safety net.

Interestingly, after “did you feel safe?”, the most common question I am asked is, “did you wear a burka to the beach?” This one makes me laugh, and it’s an image we have in our heads of all things Arab. No, I wore a traditional bikini with lots of sunscreen and most guests at the hotel did. I wouldn’t go walking around the mall this way (and dressed relatively conservatively the rest of the time), but there are a lot of tourists here and I didn’t feel unsafe doing so one bit. You’ll meet as many Europeans and other Arabs as you will Emirates.

Would I Go Again?

It’s not on my go-to list anymore. Why? I’ve been better places and still have a whole world to see. (I’ll be documenting some past and present trips very soon). I enjoy Arabic culture, Middle Eastern cuisine and talking with people who are perceived to be extreme in thinking by so many in the West – and asking them hard questions after I get to know them. Most are far, far from extreme by the way. And almost all people I queried there who were locals (or expats) missed President Bush and felt safer under his leadership, an echo I heard throughout the Middle East and a surprise to me.

But … ultimately, Dubai feels like Vegas-meets-Abu Dhabi-meets-Paris.. with a lot more emphasis on the Vegas part, done-up in Trump-like gold pretty much everywhere. It’s so over-the-top that it’s difficult to get a feel for the real Middle East, make genuine friends (compared to Jordan for example), and is highly overpriced (or just expensive). The water is the best I’ve experienced, but 120 degree temps plus 99% relative humidity was not my friend. I felt like I was about to pass out when outdoors.

I recommend going at least once – there’s no place like Dubai. As a woman traveling alone to the Emirates, I felt safe, secure and even (I know I know, wait for it …)… respected by the men.


This is a personal luxury world traveler blog. Seek expert opinion before taking action! Women traveling alone to the Emirates, or anyone/anywhere else, should always seek professional advice!

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