Travel Budget: United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is, I think, a sort of infamously expensive place to spend time as a budget traveler. The city is built on conspicuous spending, only one hostel seems to exist in all of Dubai, and public transit is GREAT… as long as you want to hang out the Creek or Sheikh Zayed road. In fact, my biggest complaint about Dubai is that it is one of the worst places to explore by foot of anywhere I’ve ever traveled.
All that being said, it need not completely break the bank. My last trip through (in September of 2013), I spent 1047 Dirham over 6 days, an average of 128 Dirham/ $34.87 per day. This is no Eastern Europe or South East Asia, to be sure, but just being in the UAE doesn’t mean you’re going to have to spend hundreds per day.
My first night in town I stayed at the crummy youth hostel out near the airport. A private room here actually didnt sound too bad, but the dorms were basic. Breakfast was included, though, and the grocery store just down the street had an excellent counter in the back serving fresh cooked South Asian foods. In fact, this is one of the best ways to save money in the Emirates. There are doner shops and western fast food as well, but the Indian and Pakistani foods especially are delicious and a really great value everywhere (and every time) I’ve been in the Emirates.
For better options on accommodation, consider Couchsurfing/AirBnB. I found an awesome host who lived right near where I need to be in town (I was working as a photographer for a company I’ve mentioned a tons of times on this site, so I’ll skip repeating that here). My host was great fun to hang out with, full of tips, and just a generally fun person. (Much better than my original couchsurfing experience in Dubai!)
One final note, regarding tourism. Most of my favorite experiences in the UAE are either free or really cheap. Taking an Abra across the Creek, walking around the Burj Khalifa to try to find a photo angle to fit it all in, or checking out the admittedly impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. There are also plenty of ways to spend money as a tourist in the Emirates, perhaps most notably a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Choose your priorities, and just plan your budget to include those expenses. (If you’re going to the top of Khalifa, by the way, make sure to book tickets in advance. Buying a ticket for immediate entry on site is 220% more expensive!)
(Also, a tip: If you’re flying out of Abu Dhabi you can pay 30 Dirham to check your baggage in the city center long before your flight. If like me you get to the city midday and want to wander a few hours unencumbered, the cost is absolutely worth it. This City Terminal is also where the Airport Bus departs from, roughly once per hour.)