'Everything a woman needs to know about visiting Dubai - in one place'
So where to start. The endless questions about what to expect, the culture, the dress codes and respect rules, the temperature or the cost of eating and drinking…?
As with any trip of this scale, research is key. Not only to tick all the boxes for planning etc. like where to stay and what to wear, but also to be sure you arrive fully understanding the basic level expected of you as a visitor to another country. I was lucky enough to know people who had lived recently in Dubai as ex-pats and also frequent visitors, so of course my first port of call was to bombard them with endless questions.
As a woman, I knew from bits of information online and by word of mouth that the UAE is pretty strict about it's Islamic culture. Dubai is widely known to be the most liberal of the UA Emirates with it's approach to enforcing the beliefs, but even so it is not a matter to be undertaken lightly when travelling with your partner. For instance, it is illegal to co-habit as an unmarried couple, and that means sharing a hotel room. However, as is pointed out on a lot of forums offering endless streams of advice (though some just plain scaremongering), the major hotel players are unlikely to question any couple staying in their establishment and will assume you are married anyway. What they won't do is ask you outright of your marital status, try and trick you into 'revealing' your marital status or generally care either way about your marital status. That is assuming you use common sense and respect the basic boundaries in place like no big PDA's or kissing in public. It really is a sensible mix of common sense and respect for the beliefs and values of others and it goes a long way to explaining why the UAE have such low crime and public disorder rates, compared to the rest of the world….
The biggest issue would be drinking too much outside your hotel resort and then being seen to be 'under the influence' when in public and/or returning to your base. This is extremely frowned upon and has been know to end with jail time for those caught, so just be sensible, respectful and never confrontational to figures of authority, should you ever find yourself being questioned.
Can I drink alcohol outside the hotel?
Yes, though not on the streets and you cannot purchase alcohol from supermarkets and shops without a licence, which is only granted for residents with an Employers written authority/reference. One Pro Tip I got was to buy your required alcohol (for consumption during your stay in your room) from the Duty Free on arrival in Dubai. It's decently priced and will save you a fortune on bar bills if you enjoy a little aperitif or night cap once alone in the lap of luxury ;-)
To summarise, I was a real nervous nelly about the trip and honestly got myself worked up about every imaginable possibility about what could go wrong. None of it happened. I'm really not that interesting to the average UAE resident or worker, which was exactly what I hoped would be the case.
My feelings of vulnerability started to lessen as the first day progressed and I realised that everyone else was getting on with their business and I should do the same, instead of watching for every little response ("are people looking at me because I am in a bikini?" Etc). You could send yourself mad second guessing every little look from strangers, so I would like to say right here and now, it's a total and unnecessary waste of your precious holiday time. You're on holiday – ENJOY IT!
One thing it may help to know, is what kind of thing you can wear and to where. So I have out together an idea below, with links to retailers that may be able to satisfy what you need with out breaking the bank!
Malls - Shorts to just above the knee with a t-shirt
Skirt and a top
Dresses to around knee length or longer if preferred
Capri trousers with a vest top
Whatever combination you choose, I would recommend taking along in your handbag a short sleeve cardigan or wrap, as the air-conditioning can be quite harsh (more so at the Mall of the Emirates).
The Old Town
Maxi dress and a cardigan or blouse that covers your shoulders
Trousers and a t-shirt
Maxi skirt and a blouse with sleeves or a vest with a short sleeved cardigan, again to cover the shoulders
Swimsuit or bikini with shorts and a vest top or skirt/t-shirt combo
(To be honest, pretty much anything is okay here..)