Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a Budget

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Early Christmas morning in 2014, Etihad Airways had a glitch in their pricing system and airfare to Abu Dhabi was priced super low. SUPER LOW.  When I woke up that morning, I had a number of notifications from the travel Twitter profiles I follow and from my friend Farran who had gotten in on the deal and booked tickets.

While I was fairly new to travel hacking and finding cheap airfare, I knew that a deal like this wouldn't last...and who knew when or if it would happen again!? I told Marcus the amazing news and we talked about it..for two hours. Our conversation was full of questions like:  "Should we go? Should we wait to see if the deal would last? Where is Abu Dhabi? How far is that from Dubai? Are we actually going to Dubai?!" Note* We take a lot less time deciding to book deals now*  We waited so long that we almost missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Finally, in the Bucc-ee's parking lot, we decided to book tickets from New York to Abu Dhabi for $250 a piece. That's cheaper than  roundtrip flight to Houston from Dallas right now. Just saying.

Excitement ensued. Then nervousness. Once reality set in, I realized that I had never been on a long-haul flight before and this one was 12 hours going and 14 hours returning. Aside from that, the only other country I'd visited outside of the U.S. was Mexico. Was I really about to make this trek overseas?

I was! I was so excited to step off the plane when we arrived in Abu Dhabi. Partially because I was exhausted and had gotten zero sleep on the plane, but mostly because I was about to have a my first overseas travel experience..in the United Arab Emirates! 

Most people associate Dubai with extravagance and assume that it is super expensive to visit. While Dubai has no shortage of extravagant hotels and nightlife experiences, there are some ways to experience Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a budget. Here's how we experienced the two beautiful cities and kept costs low.

 Image:  Farran Manuel

GETTING AROUND

  • If you're flying into Abu Dhabi on Etihad, you can get to Dubai for free using Etihad's coach. You can request the service in advance up to 24 hours prior to your flight. The ride is a little over an hour and the coaches have free wifi.
  • Neither Abu Dhabi or Dubai are walkable cities, so you will need to rely on cabs or public transportation to get around. Cabs are frequent and most hotels have consistent cab service. 

STAY

  • There are some beautiful luxury hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi..but we were on a budget. So we found  a great deal on a two-bedroom suite at the Auris Plaza hotel, right across from the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. We only spent two nights in Dubai and paid $500 total for our suite.  Our hotel had a free breakfast buffet which helped to cut down on dining costs. In Abu Dhabi, we stayed at the Hilton Abu Dhabi near the Corniche, which was a lively area along the Arabian Gulf.
  • There are many awesome AirBnb's in Dubai that are centrally located and reasonably priced.
 Image:  Farran Manuel

DINE

  • I was surprised to find so many American restaurants in Dubai. There was even a Texas Roadhouse! Food is a bit pricier in Dubai at the American restaurants so eating at a local restaurant can offer savings. We found a nice selection of a reasonably priced restaurants near the Dubai Marina.
  • Check Groupon for deals on restaurants and brunches. We found a great deal on brunch for two at an upscale hotel on Groupon.
dubai desert

DO

  • Groupon was also awesome for finding good deals on activities. We booked a desert safari for around $30 per person that included RT transportation from our hotel, dinner, dune bashing and a belly dancing show. There are tons of these safari tours for low prices.
  • Many attractions have low pricing. We visited the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Miracle Garden for under $20 per person.
  • In Abu Dhabi, we visited the free Guggenheim Museum and the beautiful Shiekh Zayed  Grand Mosque, both of which were free to enter.
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OTHER THINGS TO NOTE

  • While Arabic is the official language of the UAE, English is spoken by most people in Dubai.
  • We visited in March and the temperatures were mild. Summer temperatures can climb well over 100 degrees.
  • Although Dubai is very modern, women should still plan to dress fairly modestly ( i.e. nothing too short or revealing)
  • You won't find alcohol easily outside of hotels in Dubai. Plan accordingly :-)

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both awesome places to experience; and with airfare deals popping up consistently under $600 RT from Dallas, I may be returning sooner than later!

DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

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