Mom isn’t much of a traveler, so when she told me she was thinking of going on a girl’s trip to Dubai, I was surprised! She wanted to go on a girl’s trip for a few reasons. As she puts it…
5 Reasons Mom Wanted to Visit Dubai:
- She’s been married over 30 years, so having girlfriends has never been one of her priorities. Plus she has me! I’m a great friend. So when she started hanging out with a new set of 40+-year-old friends, she became more open to doing fun things with them. One in particular who usually travels alone suggested they all take a girl’s trip.
- Curiosity got a hold of her. It’s hard to see such a cool looking place in the movies without wanting to see it for yourself.
- Sometimes you have to fulfill your bucket list. It’s nice to say you lived a full life and to be able to say you tried something you never thought you would.
- She never thought she would travel without my father or me before. Especially not that far away. She has flown to San Antonio alone for my nieces 7th birthday, but clearly, that’s only an easy 2-hour flight.
- She never thought she’d actually enjoy traveling with a group of women before, let alone 9 of them. Ultimately, she can do that and have a fantastic time.
Planning the Trip
One of the girls took the lead to plan the trip using a travel agency she’s used in the past. As it turns out, it was the most reasonable price they could find for such a trip. They used Gate 1 Travel to book a 7 day 5 night trip to Dubai. The great part about using Gate 1 Travel was that they planned the itinerary, the trip included flight, accommodations, a breakfast buffet every day, a tour guide named Ricardo (who my Mom says was the BEST!), and a few planned cultural and shopping trips.
The next step in the trip planning process, once they found a company to book the trip with, was to find a roommate to share accommodations with as it would make the trip more affordable. Of the 9 friends, most of the original group were already paired off which left Mom having to look for a roommate. A friend of hers suggested someone that seemed like they would be a good match. She’s also from New York (like Mom), and they had hung out in the same circle before so it wasn’t that much of a stretch. In the end, it was the perfect match for my Mom.
Gate 1 Travel required that you and your roommate put down 70% of the total balance up front with a major credit card. The company is also only allotted a certain amount of slots for the price, so time was of the essence. The total cost of the trip per person was close to $1,800. Final payments were due 30 days before the trip. Through Gate 1 Travel there are a few ways to save money on your booking:
- Paying with a personal check saves you 5% on the remaining 30% of the balance of your total booking costs
- Referring someone to book through them gets you around $25 off your next booking
- If you book another trip through them for yourself, you get $25 off your trip
Preparing for the Trip
- Shopping– We’re big on shopping, so of course, Mom needed some new outfits and accessories for her upcoming trip. She wanted to buy things in fun colors like comfortable exercise clothes (she knew she’d be doing a lot of walking), and since she was going to a conservative country, she wanted to buy some cool looking infinity scarves. I get it, who wants to be all covered up without being fabulous, too?
- Passport– It is imperative that you have an up-to-date passport which can’t expire within 6 months of your return to the US. If you are smart and you qualify, we suggest you pay the extra fee for Global Entry which comes with TSA pre-check.
- Cultural Knowledge– Before going to a Muslim country, it is best to read up on rules and regulations prior so you can better prepare to immerse yourself properly into their culture. Thankfully, Gate 1 Travel sent all the information for them to read prior to the trip.
- Medicine– After reading that you can’t drink the water or have their ice, she called her doctor to get Cipro prescribed to help her if she came down with a stomach virus.
- Cell Phone and Credit Cards– She made sure she called her banks and cell phone provider (Verizon) to alert them that she’d be out of the country, and to make sure she had access to her money and cell service.
- Currency– All of the girls knew they needed to prepare to spend in the United Arab Emirates, so they researched the value of the US dollar compared to the UAE’s Dirham.
The Trip to Dubai
Most of the ladies decided to meet at the Maynard H. Jackson International terminal of the Hartsfield Jackson Airport before they went through security. They got through airport security and boarded their Air Canada flight. They had a 2-hour layover in Toronto, then they flew straight from there to Dubai which took 13 hours.
There was so much turbulence on the way there, that it was a miserable experience for Mom. Not to mention her seats were all the way in the back of the plane. She regrets not upgrading her seats.
Gate 1 Travel arranged for a shuttle service from the airport to their hotel. They arrived at night, so half of them went to the bar downstairs for a nightcap and some light bites before bed. The next morning they had their breakfast buffet that was included in their travel booking through Gate 1 Travel. They finally met Ricardo, their tour guide, and they joined the rest of their tour group that included a total of 30 people.
Day 1 was all about seeing where the rich people lived. Mom learned an interesting fact:
Apparently, you can tell how rich someone is in Dubai by their license plate. If they have just 1 number, they are extremely rich. If they have 2 numbers, they are rich, any other amounts of numbers above 2 progressively get less wealthy as the number grows.
They visited the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. It also has one of the things Mom loves the most–a mall! Next stop was the Jumeirah Beach. There are man-made islands where the rich and famous dock their yachts nearby.
One of Mom’s favorite places to go was to the souks located in Deira. There are 3 main souks:
- Gold Souk– which had gold jewelry, of course, but they also had silver as well. You could also find all the souvenirs you want at this particular souk. One of the best things Mom got from the Gold Souk was our names spelled out in Arabic on a sterling silver necklace (she also got earrings). Beware– there are so many artisans making knock-off designer goods and they usually need you to follow them to a private location to look at them.
- Spice Souk– This souk had so many dried herbs and spices that are super affordable. The main fruit served in Dubai is the date. If she lived there, Mom would buy all her fruits and spices from the souks.
- Perfume Souk– This is the 3rd souk, but honestly, Mom wasn’t interested in it. In my research, I found that you can’t miss this particular souk, because the many aromas of all the fragrances are quite noticeable from a distance.
The weather in Dubai in March is very tolerable (in the 70s), which is not what Mom expected. On one of the girl’s birthday, they went on a night cruise and had dinner. It was actually freezing on the cruise, but on other nights it was just chilly.
They rode in a fleet of white SUVs through the dunes in the desert thanks to Knight Tours in Dubai. Mom said it was a scary experience, but she ended up enjoying it. It’s such a cool experience to jump over all the dunes with a bunch of other groups of people. You’ll keep hearing, she’s not into adventure, lol, but she doesn’t regret this one. She also enjoyed getting henna tattoos afterward.
One memorable experience was when she got a chance to ride a camel. The camels were all laying down when they arrived, allowing time for everyone to take pictures. It wasn’t until the camel stood up that Mom noticed just how tall they are. FUN FACT: A full-grown camel is approximately 6’1″ tall at the shoulder, and 7′ tall at their hump!!
Mom mentioned that she felt like the people were mean to the camels. There are so many articles about traveling and opting for tours that have ethical treatment of animals, but knowing all the facts require prior research. She said it stood out to her that if the camel didn’t do what was asked of him, that the trainer would hit him hard. She asked him not to do that in her presence, and he stopped, but that’s just sad.
After the camel ride, they had barbecued food: lamb, salmon, chicken, etc. There was even a bar out there in the desert, which was nice. The package they had through Gate 1 Travel included a drink ticket. At night they had fireworks, belly dancers, and live entertainment! It ended up being a good experience. They were even allowed to wear black abayas for the cultural experience (and pictures apparently). Gotta love tourism.
The last notable thing Mom loved about the United Arab Emirates was the architecture. They visited the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, located in Abu Dhabi, which is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. To her, it looked like it was out of a movie. Check out this CNN article about all the wonders of the “world’s grandest place of worship.”
What she learned about her first international trip without my father or myself was that she has been in such a comfortable bubble. We help her look up things, we drive her places when they are far away, and she is always surrounded by familiarity. She realized she needs to be a bit more independent, and it was such a scary experience for her. It was also very tough for her being away and not having open access to her phone the way she wanted to. She had to pay $10 a day to use her phone with Verizon.
She honestly needed this trip. She never thought she’d want to be one of those girls going on trips with their college friends, their colleagues, or their group of home girls. As she’s gotten older, she realized that having a group of friends isn’t so bad. She truly enjoyed traveling with those ladies, and now she understands why women do it (when they have a great group of friends). Her 60s is definitely her decade of coming out of all her comfort zones.