travel | how i planned my dubai trip

travel | how i planned my dubai trip

In my first year at UCT, I quickly learnt that this wasn’t going to be an easy ride to the finish line. As a result, I promised myself that not only would I achieve my academic goals, but when I finished, I was going to take myself somewhere beautiful to congratulate myself for really getting that degree. Finally, after years of saving and months of planning/visualising/praying, it came to pass and I, along with my two friends/thesis partners went to Dubai, UAE, for a little girls trip. Since I planned this trip (i.e. we didn’t use a travel agent), I thought it would be helpful for others to learn from my mistakes and use this as a little bit of a guideline for their own travels. This is by no means an exhaustive list/planning document, just what I did/considered.

Why Dubai?

I had been to Dubai when I was around 11 years old and even though it has changed drastically since then, I always knew that I wanted to go back. Mostly because it has everything you want in one place. *Bonang voice* You want beach darling, there it is! You want snow darling, there it is! You want metropolitan city while peaceful desert darling, there it is! Dubai is truly the GOAT of giving the people what they want, so I thought it was easier to combine a variety of experiences in one destination. It’s also relatively affordable to travel there.

How did I set up my budget?

Since this would be the first time travelling to a “new” city (i.e. I don’t have family there) without a parent, I wanted to mitigate as much risk as possible. I thought travelling through STA Travel and Flight Centre, or even through Dubai Holidays would be cheaper and less stressful than having to plan and execute a trip on my own. However, after consulting with my mom about flight/visa cost and doing some preliminary hotel scouting, the quotes I kept receiving (excluding activities) just weren’t adding up. To my calculations, we could get hotels, flights and visas for about R12500-R13000 each, yet all of the above kept quoting me R17000-R23000 excluding visas. I just knew something wasn’t right and in hindsight, I’m glad I stuck to my gut. In summary, to help me set up my budget, I asked for quotes from travel agencies and Emirates Holidays, and I also did my own research to look at the costs of hotels for a week, flights from CPT (generally more expensive than flying from JHB), visas and some activities and that’s how I came up with a budget of around R16000. Excluding food, transport/transfers/spending money, this was a decent budget to cover flights, accommodation, visas and set activities (such as desert safari, dinner cruises, fountain lake ride, Wild Wadi, city tour, etc.).

How did we plan the itinerary?

Firstly, we chose a hotel that wasn’t too far from everything. Deira, Al Rigga and Downtown Dubai may not be the bougiest areas (i.e. they’re a bit far from Jumeirah) but they are quite central. Close to the creek, Bur Dubai, the souks/markets, Dubai Mall and the airport. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Pearl Creek in Deira and it gave us a Burj Khalifa view, breakfast included and it was close to the Gold Souk and right on the creek, making it convenient for our dinner cruise.

Now because we tried to mitigate risk and surprise costs by planning and paying for everything ahead, this worked to our favour and disadvantage. It was favourable because we at least knew that before we even set foot in Dubai, all of our major activities were paid for in full so we didn’t have to budget for that cost. However, our mistake was that we planned/paid for too many activities so when we learnt about other things to do, we were dipping into our pockets and scrambling for time to see it all. My advice would be to definitely plan and pay for the big/expensive attractions ahead (e.g. things like Wild Wadi, city tours and desert safaris) and then leave yourself a lot of time and free days so that you can juggle which days you want to what in between. So plan what activities are at your disposal/in the area but don’t commit to anything until you’re in Dubai, in case you change your mind.

While I definitely recommend researching activities to do on Groupon and The Entertainer, we booked our activities through because they also partnered with Skywards (I also booked the hotels through Emirates and because you can get miles there too). If you intend to travel frequently and accruing miles/airline rewards can be beneficial to you, this is a good route to follow. GetYourGuide did offer a lot of specials and at the time, the value proposition was decent enough for us to book but we did learn that we could’ve done a lot of activities for cheaper through Groupon and The Entertainer. Essentially, when planning, we chose 4 or so activities that fit into our activities budget (part of the aforementioned R16k) and had to book for certain days specifically. For this, it made more sense for one person to make a booking for 3 people rather than everyone book individually because the days can get full and then it gets very awkward trying to cancel and rebook.

Things we underestimated…

Going to Dubai, we knew we had to convert money into USD and then convert that into AED (Dirhams) once we got there, but that also coincided with the rand being incredibly weak. While the ZAR/AED is about 4 to 1, having to go through a weak dollar kind of made it a bit worse. So if you’re about to travel (within the period you can buy forex) and you see the rand strengthen, go to the bank and order your currency using that rate. I didn’t know I could just call FNB and order my USD, so instead I waited until a few days before (while the rand reaaaally sucked) and had to order and still come back a day later to pay and collect. This whole story is important because we also underestimated how expensive living costs in Dubai were. Yes, we were fortunate enough to have saved and been able to afford to come to Dubai but we were still on student budgets, LOL. The first day, we learnt very quickly that eating out at restaurants and enjoying the shisha lifestyle was just unrealistic. Also if you drink alcohol, just embark on a period of sobriety in Dubai because it is ridiculously expensive. Uber also adds up.

My advice would be to eat from the small cafeterias and in the hotel, and give yourself one splurge restaurant evening if that’s what you desire (trying to eat the local food in Dubai isn’t reaaaally that important in my opinion so just eat what you can afford). Taxis tend to be cheaper than Ubering (however splitting amongst a group can be more sustainable – it’s also cashless) – but the metro/bus/boat may be the cheapest. If you’re comfortable driving on the left hand side of the car, it may be even better to just rent a car for the duration of your stay. But things in Dubai are generally just more expensive, even at Sephora and that was a huge shock for me! I might as well pay for makeup resellers in SA because its the same price. So definitely be aware of that (not even because of the exchange rate – things are just expensive).

Things I wish I knew/advice to future Dubai travellers

  • Travel in their winter (November/December/January) and wait for flight specials. Dubai flights usually cost around R8500 at this time but using the Emirates special, we paid R6680 and received extra luggage. However plan yours days carefully because the sun will set early so you’ll lose daylight sooner.
  • If you can squeeze in a day to Abu Dhabi, do it. Its about 2 hours away but most tourist packages have hotel transfers. I wish I got to see Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Ferrari World/Warner Bros World!
  • Go to places like the Marina, JBR and La Mer – they’re beautiful.
  • The Dubai Miracle Garden is stunning! But it’s also just flowers so consider that especially if you’re on a budget (it’s around R250 for entrance alone).
  • Shop around for packages and activities! iVenture Card and GetYourGuide were super helpful but also check on Groupon.
  • Eating out is overrated. Get your Shake Shack once or twice but beyond that, eat on a budget.
  • Don’t go shopping on the first day unless you’re disciplined and budgeted for it. 
  • Respect the laws/cultures/religions of the country you’re in! Don’t think because you can get away with it in SA, you can do it overseas. Just don’t take the risk.
  • Ladies Night at clubs is great because you get free entry AND free drinks! Take advantage of it but know that 1OAK requires heels lol.
  • Don’t buy the first thing you see in a shop at a souk. The more stalls you see, the more you can gauge its true value and negotiate a better price. Negotiation is your best friend! Don’t feel pressured to buy because the sellers are persistent – that’s their job. Be firm in what your want/are willing to pay for or walk away. And don’t let strange men touch you lol.Whatever you budgeted for food/transport/shopping, double it. Just so you can enjoy your holiday stress-free.

Anyways, I hope this post has been helpful and feel free to ask me any questions! To see more from the Dubai trip, watch the vlogs on my YouTube channel here or search the #foyINdubai hashtag on Instagram and Twitter!

outfit | tumblr taught me

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Photos by Khensani Makhubela

When you’ve been on Tumblr for as long as I’ve been on Tumblr, you’ve seen lots of things – maybe more than you’ve wanted to by accident – but one thing you’d definitely have noticed are the fashion trends. Remember the Great Hipster Trek of 2013? The Indie Revival of 2014 (and probably 2015)? The Grungepocalypse?

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read | when in doubt, polaroid out

have you ever looked through your parents’ photo albums from back in the day? i have, and i’m proud to say my parents were pretty swag. they posed nonchalantly by trees or cars, with their jerry curls (mom) and their afros (dad), and took polaroids from parties that are now stuck between the flaps of the album pages… and when polaroid cameras became cool again thanks to you darn hipsters, i just knew that i had to have one and make my own memories.

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many floating umbrellas

if you’re currently in johannesburg, you, like me, will be and have been experiencing rain, and lots of it since saturday morning, and even though this is my favourite kind of weather, trying to enjoy a friend’s birthday weekend in braamfontein when its pouring can really put a damper on things. so i thought it would be nice to reminisce about a sunnier time, literally a week earlier in the same place, so we can hope to remember what it feels like not to constantly be soaking wet.

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bastille, bastille

in light of yesterday marking the annual J&B Met (of which i was unfortunately not in attendance), between sneezing and coughing my way through my saturday and habitual instagram stalking of those at the actual Met (the tgether girls exponentially increased my fomo – i am still waiting for my sunglass hut inner circle invite too), i was reminiscing of a saturday, three weeks former on the 11th of january, on which i got to see the band bastille perform live at emmarentia dam, also including the acts matthew mole (my faveeee), beatenberg and bed on bricks.

matthew mole

matthew mole kickstarted the show and i was so excited to see him perform, it was unreal. not only is he the cutest person and performer everrrrrr, his whole one-man vibe on the stage makes it so easy for him to connect with the audience. even though i missed beatenberg’s performance (we had to find somewhere shady to sit – the weather on the day was absolutely ridiculous. it was so hot i felt like i was in australia), i could still hear them perform chelsea blackmore and a cover of frank ocean’s thinkin’ bout you, which made my heart smile. buuuuuut because of the incredibly hot weather, by 3:30pm, mother nature had decided that it was time for some rain, so that had a few hundred people all trying to squish under tents and trees while bed on bricks’ performance had to be cut short. fear not, though, because literally right before bastille was supposed to come on, the rain stopped and the sky cleared – it was magical. dan, who is a british born south african by the way, was so charismatic on stage, he was giving the backstage crew man a heart attack with his incessant microphone moving because the cable got tangled. dan was climbing the scaffolding, moving across the apron of the stage and during flaws, he put on his hoodie and walked through the crowd. not even joking, he was a metre away from me – it was incredible. all in all, i think all 15 000 of us had a great time, come rain or shine (or both). a particular shoutout to jenna because it was her 18th birthday on the day!

a huge shoutout must go to nokia, seed experiences and 5fm – but in particular to nokia because without them, i literally would not have been there. their free tickets and complimentary picnic basket and blanket honestly made that day more comfortable for me and my friends! seed experiences always hosts such amazing events – their latest one is the olmeca tequila mad decent block party, this saturday the 8th of february in joburg in mary fitzgerald square and on the 9th of february in cape town at the dias parking lot – you can get your tickets here. an extra special thank you to the organisers for not making this a ‘no camera’ affair – this is one of the only concerts where i’ve been allowed to bring my dslr and what a world of difference it makes! thankyouthankyouthankyou!

i hope everyone has a great week/new month of february! with valentines day coming up soon, may the odds be ever in your favour. continue reading to see more pictures!

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