I began 2014 completely exhausted after coming off several months of much-too-fast travel and without any sort of direction. Do I keep traveling even though the thought of being on the go makes my stomach hurt? Or do I lie low and go back to work even though the thought of sitting in a cubicle makes my heart hurt?
I made a compromise: travel a bit, work a short contract, and travel some more.
While I didn’t set out on an endless nomadic journey again, I still managed to travel quite a bit while still holding down a job and building up some more travel funds.
When I visited Dubai a few months ago, I ran across quite a few naysayers; people who disagreed with my choice to travel there because of their moral objections to the city. As a traveler (and wanna-be anthropologist), my goal is to visit and observe a place and its people. I am not there to pass judgment or to tell people how to do things better or differently. It’s my belief that every country–its culture and its people–are different and should be respected for those differences. But given the response I got from some when I decided to go to Dubai, I began to think about the ethics of travel–both with regards to Dubai and in general.
I’m not the world’s foremost expert on solo female travel, but I have traveled around (at least) ten countries alone so I have a bit of insight on the subject. There are people on both sides of the fence regarding solo female travel–some are strongly for it and some are strongly against it. I fall on the side that stands strongly for it. While I don’t like always traveling alone, I think there’s something really special about going it solo–relying on yourself for every decision, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, etc. I think you can learn a lot about yourself and the world while traveling solo.
Before my very first solo trip, I was so nervous that my teeth were chattering and I swore my heart my burst. Things were a bit crazy, but I fell into a routine that was comfortable for me. Then, years later, when I decided to travel alone for an extended period of time, I was dreaming up every imaginable horrible thing that could possibly happen to me. I decided that the best way to go about it was to ease myself into the long-term solo travel by starting with an “easy” country. So, with that, here are my top solo female travel destinations.
I visited Dubai with a friend who’d been a couple of times before, so while there, I allowed him to take a sort of tour guide role, showing me the best of what Dubai had to offer. I knew I wanted to get photos of the city’s skyline and he wanted to show me the Jumeirah Beach Residence area, which ended up being the perfect place to take photos of the skyline. While we were there, taking a stroll in the sand late one evening, a storm started to roll in over the Gulf. The thunder rumbled and lightning began striking the water, and soon the rain came pouring down sending us directly into a Starbucks to wait it out for a bit over a cup of chai. I loved this photo of my friend looking up to watch the lightning across the sky while the storm brewed over the water.
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Dubai is an interesting city of contrasts. This young city was built on the backs of hard-working and grossly underpaid expats—Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos—yet it’s almost a futuristic theme park for the wealthy. When looking around, it’s hard to see what is truly authentic and what is just here for show. Though, I suppose that perhaps that’s what makes it truly Emirati—the blurred line between reality and fantasy. There is so much money in Dubai that you can almost create your ultimate fantasy life, one which includes skiing in malls; watching fountains dance twice hourly at night in front of the world’s tallest building; and walking through a tunnel surrounded by stingrays, sharks, and fish.
Before going, I’d heard mixed reviews about Dubai. I was unsure if I’d be turned off by its glittering and ostentatious fakeness, or if instead, I’d be enamored and drawn in by its charm and unique breed of the Middle East meets the hybrid of Disney and Las Vegas on crack.
Before my trip to Dubai, I was sort of torn about what to pack. I knew that the United Arab Emirates was Muslim, and thus I’d probably need to be mostly covered, but I’d also read that Dubai was sort of a fashion metropolis, jam-packed with malls teeming with awesome clothing stores. So–what do I do? I wondered. I scoured the Internet (Google searches, Pinterest, etc.) to see what I could find, and I really didn’t find much that told me what was appropriate. Instead, what I found was, “cover your shoulders and knees.” Okay, easy enough, I guess.
So, I thought it safe to pack what I would ordinarily wear and feel it out on the first day and alter my outfits if need be from there on out. Honestly, I don’t know what I was so worried about. I saw girls in skirts, tank tops, spaghetti-strap dresses, etc. Sure, there were plenty of other women completely covered, but lots of Westerners got away with bare shoulders and knees in malls (where you’re supposed to dress modestly as even the signs on the doors tell you so). I always try to respect local customs, so I remained covered while I was in Dubai.
One of the things I loved the most about Dubai was the huge population of Indians and Pakistanis. Of course this is for purely selfish reasons: it’s my favorite cuisine.. ever. (In fact, my friends would probably tell you that it isn’t even worth asking me what kind of food I want to eat when going out–my answer is always “Indian”.)
One evening in Dubai, I was dying to visit the older areas of the city–the areas that aren’t flooded with tourists, malls, and skyscrapers. So my friend and I headed towards the gold souq so I could do a bit of ogling and we could see a different side of the city.