Posts Tagged United Arab Emirates

What Does World Travel Cost?

People often wonder how much it costs to travel around the world.  The answer is whatever you want!

There are people who enjoy camping, while others will only stay at 5-star resorts.  I fall somewhere in between.  I enjoy my creature comforts, but I’m not over the top (unless you want to bankroll my next trip and then I’ll go all out).

On our 30/40 World Tour, we didn’t camp or stay in dorm-style hostels.  We always stayed in private rooms and almost always had private bathrooms, except when it wasn’t an option on group tours like our “sailing” safari in Fiji and bus tour through Australia.  We stayed in a range of hotels from the $13 internet special to a 4.5 star resort with more staff than guests.  We even stayed for free with familybrand new friends, and while volunteering.

For the most part, we didn’t rough it and our final price tag shows it.  Our 10 week around-the-world tour of 8 countries ran us $25K.  To top it off, we were still maintaining mortgages, car payments, and utilities at home.  Although we did cancel phone, cable, and internet service during our time away.  While taking on all these expenses, I was on a 3-month Leave of Absence from work and had no income.  So the trip was not an inexpensive proposition.

Flights

The biggest chunk of money was spent on flights — $4K/person.  It may sound like a lot of money for flights, but when I priced out a couple of different RTW (Round the World) airline tickets, they were $6K/person.  Plus, those RTW tickets did not allow some of the exotic locales we visited due to number of hops or milage constraints.  I was quite pleased with our individually booked flights because we almost always flew direct, and were able to use a week-long layover (included in the price of our ticket) to visit New Caledonia.  Our flights ranged from $137 to $946 per person.

Flight Costs

The cost of each flight purchased for the 30/40 World Tour

Expense Categories

I was curious to see how we allotted our money across various categories while traveling.  As mentioned above, our biggest expense by far was transportation including flights, car rentals, trains, airport shuttles, ferries, and subway rides.  I separated out the transportation (sailing and bus tour) where accommodations and meals were also included.

Expense Categories

All expenses by category on the 30/40 World Tour

Our next biggest expenditure categories were accommodations and food.  Some of our accommodations in Fiji and Mauritius included meals, and are categorized in the Lodging with meals category.  Food and shelter seem like reasonable expenses.  We had to meet our basic needs!

After transportation, lodging, and food, our next largest category was cash.  Oh what a black hole of undocumented expenditures!  Cash was withdrawn from ATMs in country and probably spent on food, taxis, and other cash-only vendors.  We never converted cash to a new currency, so I always tried to withdraw a small amount and spend it all before leaving the country.  It may sound a bit gauche, but in New Caledonia I used my leftover cash and coins to pay our hotel bill and charged the remainder.  The clerk was super nice about it, even though I was being a hobo.

We only spent 2% on entertainment, which included all the theater performances and a museum.  Gas was for our rental cars in New Zealand.  Goods consisted of toiletries that we purchased as we ran out (since we could only carry 3 oz. of each), a few gadgets (universal travel adapter and auxiliary cable for the rental car), sunglasses (after I left my mine in a hotel room), and a cute hat.  Our other expenditures were for internet, laundry, and spa services.

Expenses by Country

So where in the world did we spend $25K?  As you can see in the chart below, we spent most of it on flights.  But the country where we spent the most money was New Zealand.  That’s not surprising since we spent the most time there — 3 weeks.  We were only in the US for half a day and in the UAE for less than 2 days, so those bars look pretty small in comparison.

We also had almost no expenses in UAE and Germany since we stayed with Sir Expat and my cousins.  They were super generous and treated us to everything! So those countries skew low.  Spain is also lower than normal since our lodging and meals were covered for a week during VaughanTown.

Country Expenses by Category

Total expenses in each country in various categories

To try to normalize the data a bit, the chart below shows the cost per night in each country.  Again, this is skewed by staying with relatives, so don’t think UAE and Germany are inexpensive places to visit.  They certainly are not …unless you know people!

Remember that we also stayed in a range of lodging styles, so the chart below isn’t meant to compare similar living expenses in each country.  It’s merely a representation of what we spent while experiencing life on islands without electricity to splurge hotels like Sofitel when we needed to recover.  Our food also ran the gamut from quick sandwiches to extravagant sit down meals throughout the trip.

When splurging, one of Mr. HalfFull’s favorite phrases is, “How can we afford NOT to do it?”  Often when you’re far from home, it’s wise to take advantage of the chance to experience things that may seem pricey because the opportunity is fleeting.

Another factor is the strength of the US Dollar versus local currency.  All amounts in this post are in US Dollars.  While we were traveling, the US Dollar was stronger than the New Zealand Dollar.  But our American currency was weaker than the Australian Dollar and Euro, which made things seem more expensive for us.

Average Country Cost

Average cost per night in each country

Credit Card Fees

Before we left home, I called my credit card companies to uncover their foreign transaction fees.  Visa and MasterCard always charge 1%, but your card issuer (Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, USAA, etc.) can charge an additional percentage.  So my USAA card was only 1% because USAA does not charge an additional fee, but one of my other credit cards ended up being 3%.  While my credit card foreign transaction fees ranged from 1% to 3%, I discovered that my bank debit card did not charge a fee.

It makes me a bit nervous to use a debit card, especially while traveling, since it taps into my actual bank account and doesn’t give me time to review or dispute charges.  But no transaction fee sealed the deal.  We used my debit card throughout the trip for ATM withdrawals and purchases.  But we still used credit cards on sites like hotels.com that process in US Dollars so foreign transaction fees were not an issue.

Tracking Expenses

Before our trip, I had always used an old-fashioned paper checkbook register.  This matched nicely with my old-fashioned paper planner.  Although I’m far from being on the bleeding edge, I have always embraced technology.  But I was still attached to these paper relics.

My work environment necessitated a paper planner.  I also occasionally write paper checks to businesses that don’t accept credit cards.  Since I no longer have duplicate checks, it made sense to record those checks in the checkbook register at the time of the check writing.  It also forced me to practice simple math, which we rarely do anymore.  Hopefully, this will save me from embarrassment the next time a 6-year-old tries to stump me with a rapid-fire addition or subtraction problem!

But the paper method drove me crazy on the 30/40 World Tour.  It just wasn’t practical.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very worried about using a debit card linked to my bank account.  What if there wasn’t enough money to cover an automatic mortgage payment?  Questions like that made me nervous and drove me to spend a lot of time tracking receipts in my paper register.  The problem was that currencies fluctuate.  All my receipts were in local currency, but my bank account was in US Dollars.  So I had to estimate the USD amount to track in my register.

But I never knew when the transaction would clear, meaning that the USD amount could change from day-to-day.  Granted, we didn’t visit any places with highly volatile currencies, but I’m a perfectionist who balances her checkbook to the penny.  Pretty close just doesn’t cut it for me.

Trying to keep track of all that on paper with a running balance was a mess.  So I moved to an electronic register — a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet allowed me to track currency fluctuations easily and was much easier to maintain since I could move pending rows and know the true balance at any time.

I still use the spreadsheet today, so I no longer practice simple math.  Keep your 6-year-olds away from me! =)

Verdict

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on our trip and experienced a range of living styles from staying on an island where toilets only flushed at high tide to a boutique hotel with flower petals on our bed.  You can always spend less, but life is about choices.  We were constantly reminded that you get what you pay for.

  • What country was most expensive in your travels?
  • What do you splurge on while traveling?
  • Do you subscribe to Mr. HalfFull’s philosophy on splurging?
  • Do you use any antiquated tracking systems in our world of technology?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dubai Whirlwind

Yoga in the Desert

Mr. HalfFull and I arrived in Dubai at 4:25 AM for the start of our 36-hour whirlwind tour of the United Arab Emirates.

You may be wondering why we spent less than 2 days in Dubai.  Valid question.

Travel Plans

We wanted to minimize airport layovers during the 30/40 World Tour.  But sometimes there are no direct flights.  Usually, we were able to make week-long layovers in a separate country, as we did in Fiji and New Caledonia.  But sometimes it just didn’t work out.

International flights only entered and departed Mauritius on Wednesdays, so that was a limiting factor.  The original plan was to fly from Mauritius to Munich to visit my cousins, and the best flight was via Air Emirates with a layover in Dubai.

We really had no intention of visiting the desert in the middle of the summer.  But my mom’s cousin, Sir Expat, a British gentleman (in the most chivalrous sense of the word) living in Dubai was willing to host us!  He has lived there for years, speaks Arabic, and has a car and an extra bedroom.  What more could we ask for?

We figured we could handle 104° temperatures for 36 hours and booked the layover.  It turned out to be a great decision!

Dubai Airport

Ms. HalfEmpty at the baggage claim in the Dubai airport

Airport

We experienced one of our best flights on Air Emirates and arrived in Dubai very early in the morning.  The UAE customs agent was perhaps the least friendly we encountered.  He didn’t seem to think traveling around the world was a valid reason to visit Dubai.  Perhaps it was because we were spending such little time in his country.  But after some stern looks, he stamped our passports.

The airport was expansive and modern with cultural touches.  For example, there were huge rugs with cushions and trunks in various locations like baggage claim.

Please don’t blow up the picture and look at my sleepy expression after our red-eye flight.  I kept wanting to cuddle up on those cushions while waiting for my luggage.  But after the encounter with the customs agent, I thought it was probably best to wait for an invitation before sullying a ceremonial area.

Despite being before 5 AM, Sir Expat was waiting for us at the airport to shuttle us back to his flat.  As we stepped outside the heavily air-conditioned airport, the blast of heat hit me.  The sun wasn’t even up and we were in a covered parking garage.  What had I gotten myself into?

Sir Expat asked if we wanted to drive with the top down.  Ordinarily, this would have been a rare treat.  But it just seemed too hot.  How does anyone drive with their top down in Dubai???  I guess they can only do it in the dark before 5 AM in the summer.

Driving Tour

Driving in Dubai

Driving toward Atlantis, The Palm Resort

Thankfully, Sir Expat invited us to nap for a few hours before setting out to see the city.  The city is filled with skyscrapers and lush manicured lawns surrounded by desert sand.  It is decidedly non-environmental.  But it’s an architect’s dream.

One of the trends in the UAE is land reclamation.  Basically, they create more land by filling in the sea.  But they don’t just dump the rock and sand in a circle or rectangle.  Of course not!  This is Dubai.  They do things big.

No Boat Parking

It seems like they are really big on rules in Dubai!  (In case you can’t make it out, those are a bunch of boats around the No Parking For Boats sign.)

Dubai is home to the Palm Islands, where each man-made island is in the shape of a palm tree — a tree trunk with a crown of fronds surrounded by a separate crescent-shaped island.  The original plan was to create 10 islands, but the real estate bust hit and they only completed 3.

Sir Expat drove us to the first palm island — Palm Jumeirah.  The trunk is populated with apartment buildings, while the fronds are filled with private villas.  We drove through an underwater tunnel to reach the crescent island that surrounds the palm and is home to Atlantis, The Palm Resort.

Armadillo Subway Station

View of the subway station on the left nicknamed “The Armadillo” because of its color, shape, and scale-like exterior

The next artificial island project in progress is World Islands, which will be a map of the world in the ocean.  How crazy is that?  We were able to see some of the progress looking down from the top of Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world.  But I wasn’t really able to make out any specific country.  Pretty soon, I guess you will be able to say that you live in Japan — Japan Island off the coast of Dubai!

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Mr. HalfFull and Sir Expat marvel at the architecture in the Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Next on the tour, Sir Expat shuttled us to Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a traditional Arabian souk with wind towers and lantern lit hallways.  It’s filled with boutique shops and restaurants throughout the beautifully adorned hallways.  We sat down to enjoy iced coffee and a snack before proceeding on our 36-hour whirlwind tour.  Plus, it provided a great view of another architectural icon — Burj al Arab.

Burj al Arab

Sir Expat found the perfect photo-op location to capture Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull with the Burj al Arab

Remember how I told you about the heat? It’s so hot that it’s illegal to labor outside between noon and 3 PM. Sounds a bit like Spanish siesta time, but I’m not sure that’s the custom. I’ll tell you more about my Spanish siestas when I update you on our trip to Spain in a post to come.

Dubai Creek

Ms. HalfEmpty along Dubai Creek with the sacks of goods and crazy painted boats

Sir Expat also took us for a drive along Dubai Creek where we were able to see the import/export business. We saw fleets of decrepit multicolored boats that didn’t look especially seaworthy. But apparently, these ships travel back and forth from Dubai to India carting all sorts of goods including refrigerators, car parts, and sacks of unknown goods. It was crazy to see stacks of all these items along the shore. I was only out there for a few minutes before I was too hot to move — and I wasn’t even lifting goods!

Shopping Mall

Dubai International Mall

Look at the tile work on the ceiling of the mall!

Since it’s so hot in Dubai, malls are a favorite hangout. These malls are magnificent…if you like that sort of thing. I don’t really find malls to be exceptional havens of culture, but when in Dubai, do as the Emiratis.

Dubai International Mall (Spain section)

Ms. HalfEmpty and Sir Expat walk around inside the mall designed to look like Spain at night

We visited a couple impressive malls over our 36 hours. One had each section decorated in the style of a different part of the world – China, India, Persia, Egypt, Spain, etc. It was almost like a museum. We saw ships, elephants, and impressive tile mosaic work. Don’t worry, the mall has stores and restaurants too. I even saw appropriate Muslim swimwear for women.

Mulism Swimwear

Ms. HalfEmpty finds swimwear for Muslim women

Matt wanted to hold my hand in the mall.  Ordinarily, this would not have been an issue, but Dubai has fairly strict PDA rules.  In fact, Sir Expat told us about a recent case where a British couple was jailed for kissing in a restaurant.  I only had 36 hours; I couldn’t end up in jail!  When Mr. HalfFull tried to be funny and touch my booty in the mall, I just about lost it. Why is he such a rule flaunter?

Desert Safari

What trip to Dubai would be complete without a desert safari? Sir Expat booked us on a tour at the hotel next door. He knows about everything!

Mr. HalfFull, Sir Expat and I piled into a Land Cruiser with our driver, Ahmed, for the drive out to the dunes. First there was a stop at the gas station so we could caravan to the dunes with the rest of the fleet of Land Cruisers. Little did we know how important it would be to have those other cars with us.

Sand Dune Driving

Roller coaster ride through the sand dunes

Before driving on the dunes, each SUV pulled over to let air out of the tires for optimal sand driving conditions. Of course, I sat in the front seat to truly experience the thrill of the drive. It was a bit like a roller coaster, but without the safety features. At any time, this SUV could flip over. I’m not sure my already battered neck appreciated the ride, but how could we not do it?

Climbing up the Sand Dune

Sir Expat lends a hand to Ms. HalfEmpty as she ascends a sand dune. It was a workout!

Remember how I told you that my mom would have freaked out on the narrow, curvy roads along cliffs in Australia? I’m not sure she would have survived the sand dunes. She’s the type of person who would grab the “oh sh!t” handle in a car on a normal drive and use her pretend passenger brake pedal. But even I was grabbing the “oh sh!t” handle on the sand dunes. I’m not sure I would have been able to stay in my seat otherwise!

Sand Dune Jumping

Mr. HalfFull gets mad air

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned how being in a fleet of vehicles turned out to be a good thing. Our driver had only been driving the dunes for 6 months. One of the keys to driving on the dunes is never, I repeat NEVER, drive along the top ridge of the dune.  Or you will get stuck!  Like we did.

Our Land Cruiser was straddling the top of the sand dune with the undercarriage resting on the sand and the wheels touching nothing.  Ahmed tried several times to move, but we were stuck.  Fortunately, another vehicle from our group was nearby.  We all hopped out while they towed our Land Cruiser (in case it tipped over).  The first time, the belt came loose.  But eventually, our wheels were back on the sand.

Dining Bedouin Style

Sir Expat and Mr. HalfFull dine Bedouin-style at a low table in the desert

We drove further into the desert until we reached the camp.  There, Mr. HalfFull and I rode a camel together.  It was pretty much what I expected until it was over and the camel made an abrupt drop down.  Perhaps they should have told us to hold on.  But this was more about adventure than safety.

The camp was also our dinner location at low tables surrounding a stage.  Apparently, the camel knew where the food was too.  After we all got through the appetizer line and the camel rides were over, the camel decided he would enter the walls of the camp and help himself to a few hors d’oeuvres as well!

Henna Tattoo

Ms. HalfEmpty shows off her “poop finger” tattoo

I also got a henna tattoo in the camp.  My original idea was to get my name in Arabic, but the woman doing the tattoos didn’t know Arabic.  Instead, she had her own style of tattoo swirls.  It all looked fine and dandy until she got to the end of my finger close to my nail.  Instead of a nice elegant line, there was a blob of paint.  For the rest of the trip, Matt called it “poop finger.”  Of course, “poop finger” was the darkest and therefore, the last part of the tattoo to wear off.

Burj Kalifa

Burj Kalifa

Mr. HalfEmpty and Ms. HalfFull pose outside the Burj Kalifa

Sir Expat made us a reservation to go to the top of the Burj Kalifa on our final day.  Yes, it’s the same building of the Tom Cruise stunt in Mission:  Impossible — Ghost Protocol.  We only went on the inside of the building, Tom was on the outside.  Minor difference.

Gold Machine

Mr. HalfFull discovers the gold vending machine at the top of the Burj Kalifa

Have you ever seen a gold vending machine?  We encountered one at the top of the Burj Kalifa.  It only takes cash and this one contained gold nuggets in the shape of the building.  So it’s a souvenir AND and an investment!  No, we didn’t actually buy gold to cart around in our duffels.

The entrance to the Burj Kalifa is actually in a sprawling shopping mall.  So after our building tour, we walked around our second mall of the trip.  This one had a wing of super high-end stores, an aquarium, and a skating rink!  One of the most interesting things for me to witness was women in full veils, with nothing showing but their eyes, eating in restaurants.  I’m not sure I would even want to eat out if I was so encumbered.

Apparently, we also exported Kim Kardashian to this Dubai mall.  There was a larger-than-life poster announcing her appearance at the grand opening of a new milkshake shop in the mall.  Aren’t they lucky!

Kim Kardashian at the Mall

Ms. HalfEmpty poses next to Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, La Toya Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, Pamela Anderson, and the larger-than-life Kim Kardashian in the mall

After our final mall adventure it was time to grab our bags and head to the airport for our afternoon flight.  Dubai reminded me a bit of Vegas.  Both are deserts filled with skyscrapers and the craziest things.  When considering if they should build the next outlandish feature, they probably ask why not rather than why.

  • Excluding airport-only layovers, what’s the shortest amount of time you’ve spent in a country? 
  • Have you found customs agents to be generally friendly or gruff?  Did the length of your stay matter?
  • Have you visited super hot climates?  How did you fare?
  • What crazy things have you seen in a shopping mall?
  • Have you ever required a tow out of an unusual place?
  • What atypical item have you acquired from a vending machine?
  • What American “exports” have you been surprised to see overseas?
  • How do you feel about turning a desert into a lush, green oasis with air-conditioned skyscrapers?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,