Traveling as a Single Woman in Dubai

 

While I now travel with my husband, I have spent the last 7 years travelling alone, and as a woman I am a huge advocate for travelling solo.  I was never willing to forgo a trip just because friends didn’t want to come along, and the experiences I gained from travelling solo have done wonders for my confidence and really shaped who I am today.  Not only does travelling alone completely push you out of your comfort zone, it forces you to interact with those who you wouldn’t normally interact with.   You’re free to wander at your own will, and don’t have to compromise your bucket list or itinerary to suit the needs of others!

While travelling alone as a single woman may have been a strange concept in the past, today it is very normal and quite common – everybody’s doing it!  I have honestly never really found myself in a position where my gender made it harder or more inconvenient for me to travel; however challenges do still exist in some countries despite the world generally being more open to women who choose to travel alone.  One such country is the UAE.

Megan Claire in Dubai – travelling alone as a single female in the United Arab Emirates.
Megan Claire in Dubai – travelling alone as a single female in the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country with very strong religious roots, and as with any country, travellers are expected to respect the local culture and customs while there.   The UAE is one of the safest places in the world to visit – however I learnt pretty quickly while in Dubai that women travelling alone are somewhat of a novelty, and attract a LOT of unwanted attention.  Never once did I feel unsafe while in the UAE, and my trip overall was a phenomenal one; however there were many instances when I felt incredibly uncomfortable.

As such, here are some tips for travelling through the UAE alone as a woman.

Dressing:

The biggest challenge I faced was respecting Islamic traditions while trying to dress for the desert heat!  Being a Muslim country, modest dress is expected.  Revealing, tight or short clothing is not appropriate by any means, and you will genuinely offend residents by not adhering to a modest dress code.  I was asked to put clothing on by a hotel security guard at one point while making my way from the hotel pool back to my room.  Singlet tops, spaghetti string shirts or dresses, shorts or short skirts should be left at home.  Not only will clothing like this offend the locals, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb, and you’re asking for sexual harassment.

Local women resting in Dubai after shopping. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user emmamilley
Local women resting in Dubai after shopping. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user emmamilley

Don’t be overly friendly:

One of the biggest reasons to travel is to meet new people, and form new friendships.   Immersing yourself fully into another culture and becoming friendly with the locals is how travellers truly experience a destination.  However in the UAE, be mindful that acting in a friendly manner, while normal in your home country, can be misinterpreted as an ‘open invitation’ by Muslim men.

I spent a lot of time at the private beach facilities offered by my hotel, which was a big help in escaping unwanted male attention, however there were some times I couldn’t even escape this while on the hotel grounds.  During one of the days spent at the hotel, I became lost while walking around the Atlantis water theme park, and ended up underneath the slides in a ‘staff area’.  A kind young gentleman escorted me back to the main area of the park, and we engaged in general conversation on the walk.   At the end, however, instead of a handshake he went in for a kiss, and only narrowly got my cheek after I turned to avoid his mouth!

I promptly spent $40 on a fake engagement ring to wear around during the rest of my time in Dubai!

The best way to handle unwelcome attention is to completely ignore it.  Ignore the wolf whistles – there will be many – and do not engage in eye contact with any strange men trying to grab your attention on street corners. Ignore any unwelcome comments, and if you are being directly harassed, making a lot of noise generally embarrasses the person involved.  Police in the UAE take sexual harassment extremely seriously.

I purchased a fake engagement ring to wear in an attempt to curb unwanted attention from Muslim men.
I purchased a fake engagement ring to wear in an attempt to curb unwanted attention from Muslim men.

Don’t Drink:

The laws in Dubai are incredibly strict when it comes to alcohol consumption.  While alcohol itself is not banned, you can only purchase it at Duty Free Shops when entering the country – residents of Dubai need licenses to purchase alcohol from liquor stores, so you won’t be able to as a tourist.  Drinks can be purchased at bars, hotel clubs and in restaurants; however it’s honestly not worth it.  Being drunk in public is just as serious an offence as drinking and driving.

 

Benefits:

As mentioned above, travelling alone has many benefits.   The great thing about being a woman in the UAE is that women are normally seen first at post offices, banks and police stations, and quite a lot of places have queues set up just for women!

Even airline stewardesses employed by Emirates are expected to dress modestly. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Ammar Adb Rabbo
Even airline stewardesses employed by Emirates are expected to dress modestly. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Ammar Adb Rabbo

Megan

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure! Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home. Follow their journey on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

36 responses to “Traveling as a Single Woman in Dubai

  1. I am a woman alone in Dubai alone currently, and would agree with everything you have said here. I am only here for a few days for work but would love to explore more over the weekend, I am married so I know that my wedding ring helps!

  2. While this all sounds fabulous…I can think of 2 dozen OTHER places in the world I would go before the United Arab Emirates. Somewhere that I don’t have to worry about my light, airy attire appropriate for the hot weather, my alcohol consumption, how friendly I come off while I am chatting with the locals, or the unwanted attention from men that was so uncomfortable that I would need to buy a fake engagement ring.
    REALLY? You call this a vacation? You have to be out of your mind. I don’t care HOW safe they tell you it is…I would be so fearful of offending someone that would land me in a really bad situation. Tell me all about your “bucket list”…I’ll remind you how important that bucket list is when you come home in a “body bag.” This is the problem with people who want to go on all these “cool and daring” adventures…when the shit hits the fan they come crying to the U.S. Officials to come rescue them from the dangerous situations they have gotten themselves into. Everyone – especially, today’s youth need a freakin’ reality check as to what is going on in the world these days.

    1. I agree with you tottally. No thank you, I know it’s their tradition, but no woman should ever feel that they cannot talk to people for fear of them making advances towards them. Wolf whistling is harassment and I for one wouldn’t be able to stand it without letting my feelings know. So I would never go!

    2. I agree with Deb. Stay away from these places, people. I live near a heavily Muslim/Arab populated city here in the U.S. and they can barely contain themselves around women without acting like savages even here. BEWARE.
      Lori – it’s necessary to read the entire article to get the full picture of the writer’s outlook and by that time, our negative opinions are already formed. Further,It’s our right to respond accordingly (not like I’m writing from the UAE after all).

      1. That’s fine, so if you can’t respect their culture then you do not have to go. Same goes for Emerati women who do not travel west. Debra Dawson’s post was out of line though, saying you’ll come back in a body bag, etc., jumps on the stupid stereotypes and is blatantly disrespectful.

    3. Come on, your remarks are very harsh and frankly really disrespectful. With this attitude I do suggest you stick to the US for your vacations. Any deviation from what you are comfortable with seems to be a problem for you.

      Intelligent people have a tendency to be very curious and want to explore a world they are not familiar with and see how other people live. This doesn’t mean you will come back in a “body bag”; it is perfectly safe to travel to Dubai. If you have to adhere to their culture then what is wrong with that?. No different than if you go to Italy. The expression goes….”while in Rome….do as the Roman’s do”.

      Of course if something goes wrong; like it did to the tourists in the Las Vegas shooting, or the Florida Club fire or…should I go on? then you should have assistance, like the consulate, to turn to.

      Please be careful when you banish a whole country because of the actions of a few.

  3. Very helpful tips here! I’m traveling alone for work and am here for a week. I am also wearing a fake ring as I assumed it would help in general. I would love to hear what kind of activities you took part in while here.

    Debra – If you don’t want to hear about her adventures, don’t read it. Not everyone is scared to experience life.

  4. Young–and not young–women could benefit from wearing a fake wedding ring or engagement ring in certain situations just about anywhere. I wear one in the USA when I get car repairs done, have repair men at my house, etc. This isn’t just a Dubais precaution.

    Debra, the writer made it clear that she respected the laws and customs to stay out of trouble.

  5. It makes me really genuinely sad that women in our so-called equal society need to be seen as other mens’ property in order to not be harassed or made to feel uncomfortable. I have experienced this as well in the U.S. and it’s really not something we should just accept. We have a long way to go.

  6. Ugh, no thanks. I can’t accept all this “oh you can go, but don’t wear this, don’t wear that” etc or “you’ll be fine, just don’t be too overly friendly–oh and don’t give men too much eye contact–oh and make sure you–oh and–and–and–” I would NEVER go here. Gross.

    1. Then by all means, don’t go. No one is forcing you to.. The writer made this post for those who want to go!

  7. Love the article! I too am a solo female traveler. I have a question not necessarily about safety or harassment but about regulations. I heard that you have to be a certain age to be able to stay in Dubai if you are alone. I’m 24 years old and would like to go to Dubai but am I allowed to enter and stay in Dubai if I don’t have anyone with me the whole time?

  8. I’ve been to Dubai over 5 times in the past 4 years and I have to say I slightly disagree.
    1. It has a party destination that I known for its beach bars and night clubs.
    2. Go to Jumeirah Beach restaurants and you will literally see women wearing bikinis while eating a burger.
    3. I found men in Italy more sleazier than Dubai if I’m honest, Its not just subject to a ‘muslim’ country.
    Yeah its not a Western country, but you make it seem as if you have to take huge precautions before travelling there. As a female I never felt the need.
    The alcohol thing is annoying, thats one thing I agree on.
    p.s Stop saying ‘muslim’ men, why don’t you just refer to them as locals. Associating their behaviour with their religion is inciting hatred. Its 2016, be a bit wiser.

  9. .I myself could like to visit Dubai..I like the country but couldn’t get a sponsore.
    I need a guide to help me

  10. as a local from Abu Dhabi, I find most of what you said is ironic at least, and reflects a prejudice that didn’t change even with an actual visit. I mean, I would expect this type of ideology from someone who never left his/her hometown but from a traveler!!

    and that tip about wearing a ring!! as a man, let me tell you something, if someone wants to sleep with you, a ring will never ever stop him!! some guys even into that kind of thing all around the world!! you are entitled to your opinion but, i honestly don’t agree with all of those so called tips!!

    i mean, who wants to travel to such a country anyway…and why…what for?

  11. I will be traveling to Dubai to visit my sister-in-law and nieces who live there. I was glad to read your tips because I was wondering. I have more than a few tattoos and was worried about offending anyone. Now I know for sure to cover them up. I will cover them because I try to be respectful of other people’s social mores when traveling in their country. I find that doing so makes my trip smoother and promotes many positive responses. Seems like a better way to go than walking around offending people without even knowing it.

  12. I am traveling frequently – alone – as a female to Dubai . I found all these comments rather disturbing. Dubai is a very safe place , and believe me no fake ring is needed to keep men away, just general knowledge of how to act in a Muslim country .

  13. We enjoyed the Desert Safari Tour very much. It was amazing and so much fun! We also did the Dubai city tour and had lunch at the Burj Al Arab Hotel. Unforgettable stay and great memories that we won’t forget a life-time.
    Gracy

  14. Thank u for the tips..its a useful post..i also wanna visit Dubai especially burj al khalifa.. seems it will be great experience to be in world highest building

  15. I need to go to Dubai for work for just 3-4 days. The flight arrival time will be almost mid night in Dubai. I wonder is it safe for me to take a taxi alone as a woman from airport to my hotel?

  16. I find it very strange that the hotel security told you to put something on? I just came from Dubai and I were spaghetti straps everywhere and no one told me anything I even had on tights to go to Burj Khalifa no one said anything . The only time they will advise you to cover up is if you’re going to the mosque. Even on the Safari I hide on tights and a sleeveless shirt. A lot of the Tourists wear the same thing short jeans. Even when I went to the atlantis club I had on a tight revealing dress with my husband no one said anything at all and we caught it uber there . we stayed at the Hilton

  17. Hi all..i just did a solo trip…wasn’t stressfull until the last day…after the safari trip which was in a group..the tour guide (of pakistani orgin abt 45 yrs) of north tours llc offered me a drive to jumeria beach..thinking he was being generous…he dropped off all the other passengers than took me for the ride where he started touching my hand inappropriately..that was my cue and told him to drop me at the hotel….basics are ..don’t trust the pakistani and indian workers there…and when they say ‘good friend’ to them its a favour

    1. Out of 1000s if one person does same thing you should blame on all nation. I am from Pakistan and I know Dubai tourism has 80% workers from Pakistan’s & Indian and both sides works are very professional. This kind of things always happens everywhere in Europe, USA, Russia. So just skip that thing and remember your good moments. Shedi

  18. These are things I needed to know. I’m off on my first solo trip to Dubai tomorrow, I am quite nervous. But these points have given me a bit of mental preparation and insight. Thank you and I will make sure I wear an engagement ring

    1. Hi bhakti

      I am an Indian 26 years old girl from Mumbai
      i want to travel with my boyfriend to Dubai in August.

      will i be allowed to get visa??
      will it be safe to travel? how less effortlessly i can clear immigration?

      Will they raise an eyebrows if they find out i am.travelling with my bf

      please reply
      appreciate it.

      thank.you

  19. I live here but I really couldn’t say it’s safe to walk alone and stay alone.. Harassments will always be there whether ur married or not.. don’t travel alone in this type of country where race are mixed, find a buddy.. think of your safety first than your travel experience..I couldn’t say more than this in here freedom of expression is not tolerated..

  20. Is it safe for female alone to go on a local tour or camel tour in the desert? How could I get a guide that I can trust to go with me to the souks?

  21. I’m a solo male traveler and Dubai seems to instill a sense of fear in me. Only ever been on pass thru but one of these years i’ll have to explore the city.

  22. 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 travelers to give it a go! Great post

  23. Great Megan! Salute to your courage and the idea of a fake engagement ring.
    The way you handled the situation really needs an appreciation. This post is a motivational one for the female solo travellers. Yeah, women may have to face difficulties, what we need is the courage to respond.

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We Said Go Travel