My dream to come back to the Middle East after a six-year absence came true by accident. Last summer, I was scheming for ways to find cheap flights from Asia to America…and what I found surprised me. An Abu Dhabi stopover was the answer to saving hundreds of dollars on my trip. Here’s how I spent my 24 hours in the United Arab Emirates on a budget.
Sleep off jetlag by Couchsurfing in a villa
Not only was I on a tight student’s budget, but I also wanted to experience Emirati culture firsthand. What better way to do this than by Couchsurfing?!
Many women are afraid to do this in the Middle East. However, if you follow proper Couchsurfing etiquette, you will have a wonderful experience. My host was very respectful and open.
Even though I went to bed right away and he had to go to work the next day, he was kind enough to go back to his apartment at lunch to take me to a traditional Middle Eastern restaurant. From there, he offered to drop me off at the beach so I could relax for a couple of hours until he was out of work.
At night, he gave me a tour of downtown Abu Dhabi and took me to the spectacular Sheikh Sayed Mosque. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Relaxing afternoon at Saadiyat Island
Opening hours: 8 a.m. until sunset; AED 50 per adult includes lounger.
My 3 p.m. arrival to Saadiyat Island’s public beach was surprising. The blinding-white powdery sand and sky-blue waters could have fooled me into believing I was in Florida. That is until I noticed that less than 10 of over 300 sun loungers were occupied.
The weekly beach yoga class wasn’t in session that day, but I experienced my own kind of zen. I decided to forgo the eco-friendly water sport activities and just relax until sunset. It was, by the way, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
Sheikh Sayed Mosque at night
Saturday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Free admission.
Sheikh Sayed Mosque, the highlight of my Abu Dhabi stopover, is one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited. It is even more special if you visit within an hour of its closing time, like I did. While its grandeur flabbergasted me, it was its special aura that touched me deeply. I coined it 82 Domes of Holiness, as that also happens to be one of its key architectural features.
Also known as UAE’s Grand Mosque, it is the third-largest in the world. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 people may kneel underneath its Swarovski-Crystal chandeliers during Eid and other important Muslim holidays.
My transatlantic journey wouldn’t have been the same without my Couchsurfing host. Between hotel rooms, taxis, and guided tours, I would have spent more money on this stopover than I would have saved if I booked a shorter flight itinerary. Thank you, Adel!
One thing that I really admire and respect about Muslim culture is how beautifully intricate their Mosques are. It’s like looking at a life size masterpiece. And the “Call to Prayer” is just such a humbling experience. I really need to get my butt out to the Middle East!