Backpackers, what do you think of Dubai as your next backpacking destination? Exciting? You got that right. Dubai may be expensive and glamorous and all the rest, but it’s definitely the most exciting city. If you’re wondering whether backpacking through Dubai is possible at all, let’s assure you that yes, it is possible. Despite its ostentatious hotels and buildings that pierce the sky, Dubai is backpacker-friendly. It all depends on how well you do your homework. Our post on Dubai Guide for First Time Visitors will help you build your backpacking itinerary in Dubai. So here goes!
Saving on Flights
Look up competitive airfares for months before you book your ticket. It makes sense to fly a UAE airline such as Fly Dubai, Etihad or Emirates; sometimes you can land a 2 for 1 deal, which is great. Sometimes these airlines offer free layovers in Dubai as well. If you can brave the heat, fly during the off-season summer months in Dubai.
Saving on Food
You’ve got to eat 3 square meals a day and if you’re not careful, you’ll end squandering your entire travel budget just on food. Try one of the mid-range eateries mentioned in our backpacking guide. Avoid expensive restaurants and head to mid-range, unlicensed restaurants, and mall eateries instead.
- Head to The Beach and The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence and Deira for cheap eats on Al Rigga Road and Al Muraqqabat Road. Our favorites are Aroos Damascus in Deira. Zaroob offers some cool Lebanese street food.
- You can pick up excellent and authentic Emirati food at Al Fanar in Festival City Mall. Eating at Mall eateries is also a good idea.
- Check out the excellent food stalls at the Mall of Emirates and the Dubai Mall.
- Try the famous Ravi restaurant at Jumeirah and Karachi Darbar in Satwa.
- Salt is a range of silver food trucks that offers excellent street food on Kite Beach. Also, try 3 Fils at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour.
- On Fridays, be sure to attend one of the all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches at Westin’s Bubblicious, Palazzo Versace’s Giardino, or at a restaurant at Marina Social and Bread Street Kitchen.
Save on Dubai Accommodation
What you want is clean, affordable and accessible accommodation for your budget. We recommend the hostels in old Dubai – Deira and Bur Dubai areas and the neighborhood of Al Barsha. You’ll find many midrange hotels that are keenly monitored, so you’re assured of comfort and cleanliness. Look up Airbnb offers, homestays, cheap apartments and couch surfing options as well.
Save On Transport
There’s a lot of traffic in Dubai during the week, especially during rush hour time. The workweek in Dubai is from Sunday to Thursday, with the weekend on Friday and Saturday. Traffic is much lighter on weekends, which means you can get taxis much quicker.
- Take advantage of Dubai’s excellent and cheap metro system. The Metro links the airport to several key spots within the city. Just pick up a Nol pre-paid smartcard at any metro station and use it to travel on the metro, tram, and bus network.
- If you opt for a taxi, do so only in areas not covered by the Metro. You’ll find that taxis are reasonable, though the minimum fare is AED 10. During rush hour traffic, make sure the meter’s on, or else you could be taken for a ride. Download the Uber or the local ride-hailing Careem service. You can hail cabs from these services and negotiate fares based on wait time, demand and distance. Also, hail regular taxis, not the fancy Lexus taxis.
- Another cool way to get around Dubai is the hop-on-hop-off tour bus. Just hop off the bus whenever you want, do your own touring on foot and then catch the next big bus on that route. Do this on a weekend to avoid rush traffic and be sure to purchase a multi-day pass.
- If you have the wind, try renting a bicycle from one of the tourist bike stations. You can bike around Dubai Marina and Downtown and there’s even an easy 11km-long route around the Palm Jumeirah Islands.
Save on Clothing
- Unless you plan on dining at a fine hotel, you won’t need any formal wear. Dubai is fairly laid back when it comes to clothing. As long as you are modestly attired – with your shoulders and knees covered – you are fine.
- If you are a woman, you’ll need to wear a traditional hijab and abaya when you visit mosques. Other than that, pack just a few pairs of easy pants and shirts or loose, long skirts. Cotton works best and thin but not transparent cloth will serve you well in the heat.
Save on Communication
Dubai hostels and hotels provide free Wi-Fi; take advantage of this service to communicate with your family and friends. Also, you can use the public telephone service, called Etisalat or Emirates Telecommunication Corporation to call anywhere in the world. There are phone booths on most streets that allow free calls within Dubai. If you’re calling outside of Dubai, be sure to pick up a phone card from any supermarket, hotel, tourist shop or petrol station.
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- Exchange your foreign currency for AED at the airport or at the malls for better rates. Avoid using run-of-the-mill exchange counters.
- Pick up your alcohol at the airports duty-free itself. You’re not allowed to buy alcohol within the city unless you have a license. Alcohol is expensive at pubs and bars, so it’s best to purchase your lot in advance to avoid a dry holiday.
- Be careful not to carry alcohol around with you in your bag. Also, be careful not to drink more than you can handle. Drunk and disorderly behavior is punishable and can be fined.
- Avoid any and all public displays of affection while in Dubai. Also, be sure not to swear or use cuss words in your social media communication.
- There are many exciting places to visit in Dubai but most of them come with expensive entry fees. If you are on a tight budget, best to make a list of free and cheap attractions and visit those. Include one or two expensive ones such as the Burj Khalifa’s At The Top experience to add some interest. If you are savvy about what you want to experience, you can have successful backpacking on a budget trip of Dubai.
- One of the best things to do in Dubai is to check out the world’s largest indoor theme park, IMG Worlds of Adventure. Add this one to your budget and don’t miss it.
As a backpacker, you’ll need to watch out for how much you spend when you’re traveling. It’s best to set a budget for each item in this guide beforehand, including attractions, so that you know exactly what you’re spending and on what. Be sure to allow yourself one or two luxuries though – after all, you’re in Dubai, the city of luxury!