Single female travel in Dubai, solo – is it safe?

Solo female Dubai

Single solo female in Dubai: my first time solo!

I just got back from a crazy trip to Dubai and I’m still reeling (mainly because I drank 5000 Breakfast Martinis on the flight home). I was flown out Business Class on a secret mission and explored the city alone in the 24 hours I had spare. I was nervous because I haven’t done many solo trips, but I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe once. Instead, I found that the city is wonderfully designed for people to feel safe, and that nothing is as scary as people who haven’t done it will tell you it is.

Travelling to the Middle East at a time of terror

After the horrific Paris attacks on 13th November and the ongoing atrocities around the world, people have understandably gotten nervous about travelling. Tunisia and Egypt’s tourism trade is practically nonexistent now, and it seems it will take a long time for these countries to recover – both from emotional scars and the negative impact their economies are suffering in the wake of recent events there.

outdoor burj khalifa viewing platform

It’s often conveniently forgotten that Dubai is close to Iran and other trouble-stricken countries, but while the world is quaking, the UAE’s government’s efforts to brush over this fact aren’t working. Airports are strange places at the moment. I couldn’t help but notice the cancelled flights on the departures board, and the all too frequent loudspeaker announcements warning travellers to report unattended packages.

Regardless, I didn’t feel like I should turn down a trip to Dubai because of recent events. It’s important to remember that disaster can happen anywhere, at any time. In fact, when my taxi driver asked me, “Aren’t you scared to travel with everything that’s going on in the world, pet?” I replied, “Aren’t you scared you’ll crash this taxi tomorrow?”

Perspective, people.

We cannot let extremists deter us from our adventures. These hideous beings will not win. We will continue to board flights, to lay on beaches and to explore every corner of the world. We will do so without fear, because these people are the minority and there is power in numbers and in strength.

Travelling to the Middle East as a solo single female

I was an unmarried girl travelling alone to Dubai. Now, the emirate is one of the most lenient and safe of its neighbours, but caution should still be taken. Despite its huge expatriate population, Dubai is still a Muslim country and travellers should be careful not to offend. I read this on every site I looked at before my trip, and it was at the front of my mind during my time there.

 

What to wear in Dubai

I’m partial to having a shoulder on show, so I did have to be careful that I was covered up. A maxi skirt and t shirt became my staple outfit during my stay in Dubai. Bikinis are fine on the beach, but tourists shouldn’t wander around in their beachwear. It’s useful to carry a cover-up for the metro and mall, where security guards will warn you if your attire isn’t appropriate.

Terrorism wasn’t going to deter me but there was one thing weighing on my mind. Having not done much solo travel before (besides accidentally spending a night in Borneo by myself) and also being an annoyingly anxious person, I was nervous. Add to that the fact I was in a country where females have less freedom than men and yeah, there was a moment when I stopped and wondered what I was doing. Then, I realised that I was nowhere near as anxious as I was when I got on that plane to Borneo earlier this year. Travel in general makes you a braver person, and it seems that my few solo trips had sneakily raised my confidence without my noticing. I wasn’t scared! Someone call my mum and tell her I’ve grown up. Next stop world domination.

Dubai’s Ladies Only Taxis

It was tempting to just spend all day in the safe, air conditioned haven that is Dubai Mall and forget about exploring outside of my comfort zone.

However, I decided it was time to be brave. I knew I’d regret not seeing the souks while I was in Dubai and I had already spent longer than I’d planned in the mall (Oh wait, there’s Zara!), so I forced myself to go to the taxi pick up point. I had been warned by a fellow solo female travel blogger about a bad experience in a Dubai taxi, but the metro just seemed like too much hassle.

There was a queue for ladies only taxis, which is great if you’re a single solo female in Dubai. It was dark but I had googled ‘are dubai souks safe at night?’ and got reassuring results, so I figured it would be okay.

  • Update: I got massively ripped off because it was actually a VIP taxi I had gotten in to! I didn’t learn this until I moved to Dubai to live. For your own reference, Dubai’s ladies only taxis have pink roofs and female drivers who wear pink headscarves. They’re only a fraction more expensive that regular taxis.

Hassle in Dubai’s souks

Dubai souks near creek

I have perused markets around the world in everywhere from Turkey to Bangkok, and I’ve never quite known how to handle the hassle that inevitably happens in these places. In addition to the hawkers’ cries, solo women (and even 14 year old me walking next to my mum), face leering eyes and men calling you Shakira. What’s that all about, anyway?

Fortunately, fellow travel blogger Adventurous Kate had given me an idea during my research. After relentless stares from men in Dubai, she spent $40 on a fake engagement ring. I think it’s sad that women should have to pretend to be married to avoid men’s advances because it signals that men respect other men more than they do women. They won’t approach someone else’s wife for fear of disrespecting him, not her.

If I was at home, I’d call the creep out and shame him. But I was by myself in a strange environment where foreigners can get in trouble for public disorder, so instead, out came my secret weapon.

I sneakily slid a ring from my right hand onto my engagement finger. I had used this trick once before, to ward off a tour guide’s proposals of marriage in Lombok. With my hand forced out in front of me so that the ring was visible, an unapproachable scowl (bitchy resting face comes in handy sometimes) and a purposeful walk, I was left alone. It’s crazy how much a ring and an unfriendly demeanor can come in useful!

This was my first completely solo trip and it was something of a personal accomplishment for me, the girl who has to text her boyfriend in a panic when the train is cancelled or I can’t make sense of google maps.

I actually ended up moving to Dubai and you can learn about what life is like for a twenty something expat girl in Dubai in my dedicated blog section. There are also restaurant and brunch recommendations and ideas for things to do.

If you’re an unmarried female planning on travelling to Dubai alone, I wouldn’t worry. Though Dubai is much more westernised than the rest of the Middle East, you should still be respectful of local culture but aside from that, just enjoy this amazing city!

I stayed at the Premier Inn at the airport and felt well looked after by the staff. Although there was a free shuttle bus, it was a long trip to Downtown so this might not be the best option for you. Depending on your budget, JA Ocean View has great reviews and if you’re looking for serious luxury, try the Waldorf Astoria on the Palm.

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22 Comments

  1. November 29, 2015 / 9:26 am

    I was happy to read that you ventured outside of the mall, despite being a little cautious. What’s the point of traveling all that way if you’re not going to explore a little, right?

    • Dannielle Lily
      November 29, 2015 / 6:35 pm

      That’s what I kept telling myself Lesley!

  2. November 29, 2015 / 11:06 am

    First of all your skirt is BEAUTIFUL! Now, let´s get to the juicy part: I have many friend (girls) who went to Dubai and they more or less told me the same things that you wrote. They told me that it felt weird, that they felt that women were considered as less important, ecc, but that they never felt threatened and that everything was ok!

    I found very funny the story about the ring! I am in Morocco now and I am in the deep and conservative southern countryside, so I bought one as well! it´s incredible how safer I feel with that little thing on my finger!

    Hope to read something new soon!!

    https://pandaonavespa.wordpress.com/

    • Dannielle Lily
      November 29, 2015 / 6:34 pm

      Thanks Arianna, it cost like £6! Yeah I think that above all Dubai is a safe place. Can’t believe how many people are saying they use a fake engagement ring too! I’d love to see Morocco, will have to keep up with your adventures!

  3. November 29, 2015 / 1:58 pm

    Most of my travels have been solo–including in the Middle East. This is the case most places–it is mostly safe, you just need to be respectful and knowledgeable of local customs/dress and be aware of your surroundings. Other than a lot of stares in places that didn’t receive many tourists or hassles from vendors trying to hawk their wares, I usually wasn’t uncomfortable. Kudos to you for exploring on your own!

    • Dannielle Lily
      November 29, 2015 / 6:32 pm

      Yes, I think that was what it was in the souks Vicki, though I was surprised that I was the only tourist because they’re featured in all the ‘things to do in Dubai’ lists! Thanks for reading and for not mocking my nervousness, it was a big deal for me 🙂

  4. November 29, 2015 / 5:27 pm

    I’m so glad you had a positive experience. I think I need to go back and try again! I didn’t feel threatened but did feel unsafe once. I think women are treated differently and its not the most comfortable place I’ve visited. I would never let that put me off trying again or telling other solo female travellers to give it a go! Great post

    • Dannielle Lily
      November 29, 2015 / 6:31 pm

      I’m so glad I read your post and spoke to you before I went Kate, it always makes me feel more confident to read about others’ experiences first. I wouldn’t have bothered going to the top of Burj Khalifa had you not shared your experience, so thank you!

  5. November 29, 2015 / 6:52 pm

    It’s great to know how you found Dubai from a solo female perspective! I’d be tempted to do an extended stop over there on a trip to Australia but I have to admit I would be a little nervous but it seems like an easy city to get around as long as you respect their values and ways of life! And I love that maxi skirt you’re wearing, it’s beautiful!

  6. November 30, 2015 / 2:58 am

    I loved visiting Dubai! It’s like any place when traveling, you just have to make smart choices. Granted you can’t predict everything that will happen, but traveling smart will help eliminate those possibilities and have you prepared if they do happen.

  7. November 30, 2015 / 10:35 am

    I would be nervous to travel alone there too, but my adventurous side would have pushed me to take advantage of the trip as well. Glad you had a good time and it is nice to hear that you felt safe. I would have never thought about a fake engagement ring. Great idea.

  8. November 30, 2015 / 9:55 pm

    When I was your age, I was too timid to travel alone. Over the past few years, I’ve grown more comfortable. I think you’re absolutely right — travel. We can’t let the world dictate our actions. I’m also glad you took some reasonable precautions — both with dressing respectfully for the culture (it is theirs after all), and the ring. Smart young lady!

  9. December 2, 2015 / 7:33 am

    Dannielle, thanks for this post. Seems like you really enjoyed your time in Dubai.

  10. December 3, 2015 / 5:36 pm

    I think Dubai for solo traveler is quite nice place:) But what about South East Asia? You think still safe?

  11. December 3, 2015 / 11:32 pm

    I’ve only been to Dubai airport when I changed the planes so it’s the city I still have to explore.
    I’m happy to hear you ventured outside your comfort zone and saw more than just a mall 🙂 – it’s important to overcome your fears and explore even if you’re on your own. I often travel solo as well, and I understand well how it is.

  12. December 4, 2015 / 1:20 am

    Good to know you feel safe in dubai:) I can’t wait to bring the kids to this amazing city!!! Happy travels… xoxo

  13. December 4, 2015 / 4:33 pm

    Great to know that you were able to travel in Dubai so safely! And that sounds pretty boss that you were able to fly out first class ^^ I really like the first pic and the angle of it. Definitely going to be putting that up on my travel list!

  14. December 6, 2015 / 7:02 am

    I love your blue and white skirt.
    This post is quite helpful for women that want to visit UAE on their own.

  15. December 6, 2015 / 9:58 am

    I love how travel often forces you to step out of your comfort zone. Well done for following your adventurous side, I think you would have regretted it otherwise!

  16. December 6, 2015 / 5:56 pm

    Nice to hear that you adventured into your first solo travel 🙂

  17. December 8, 2015 / 8:58 am

    Dubai is super safe place! People can be a bit pushy with all the talks and trying to approach you, but they will not do anything more than talk talk. I am not sure which mall did you go to from Creek, but if its not IBN batutta, they scammed you for a price big time ? creek to Dubai mall should be around 50 or less 🙂

  18. May 13, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    “While I’m Young and Skinny” HAHA!! LOVE it. I’ve heard that mall is to die for… glad you ventured out though. Great post 🙂