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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!