#100: The United Arab Emirates

sunrise from the palm

It didn´t really feel like a desert or the Middle East when I arrived in Dubai. The city was huge, full of highrises and smog, water and palm trees, and Australians and Indians who were all called ‘Boss’. I was staying with my friend Brooke, who lives in a 52 storey high building of Emirates Air hostesses. From her apartment on the 46th floor, you could see the shiny glass buildings fade into a dusty desert, and from her boyfriends apartment on the Palm Jumeirah we looked down onto a Caribbean blue beach, so I never really figured out what the rest of the U.A.E is actually like. But, it was technically my 100th country, and it´s like no place I´ve ever been before, although I have a feeling Dubai isn´t exemplary of the rest of little Arabia.

me and Brooke under the Burj Kalifah

My main interests in Dubai were sun and heat, but you can´t really avoid the shopping culture since malls the size of Reykjavik are full of most of the tourist attractions. We went to one mall that had an ice skating rink and an aquarium in it. And this wasn´t just a tank with some fish, but an entire underwater world with sharks and sting rays in it that you could pay to go scuba diving in. When we left the mall, we walked outside to a mix of Venice, Las Vegas and Shanghai; bridges and canals stemmed from a lake with dancing water fountains under the shadow of Burj Kalifah, the tallest building in the world. The other big mall had a winter wonderland built inside of it, complete with a snowpark, snowslides, toboggan runs, 5 ski slopes and a ski lift, all kept at a cool -1° while temperatures reached 30°C outside.

We baked in the sun every day, and our evening shenanigans always involved a lot of Savannas and Australians. We went to Barasti beach bar, Dubais iconic nightlife destination for hundreds and hundreds of people every day. I had the most expensive meal of my trip at Meat Co., eating steak and Quinoa salad beside the lit up fountains dancing to Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” and some Arabic songs that made me want to belly dance. We smoked hookah at a New York steak house that felt more like an all-inclusive Mexican resort restaurant, and had a 7 hour brunch date with 20 of Brooke’s friends who managed to eat more than 50 different entrees and appetizers over the course of the day.

paradise in the city

Other highlights were paddle boarding around the palm´s beaches, driving to Atlantis at the end of the palm, seeing the Palm from a highrise observatory, and finally believing the Burj Al Arabe is a real building. I really wanted to see a helicopter land on it, but no such luck. I also missed the Dubai World Cup $10 million stake race by half a day, so I have two reason to go back.

Why It's Okay to Travel Alone

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” has sold over 9 million copies worldwide, according to Forbes, and this love letter to the soul has changed many people’s perspective on the virtues of traveling alone. What was once considered dangerous and not worth the risk is now being considered a rite of passage to getting to know yourself. I´m constantly setting out on my own mini voyages of discovery, because every backpacking experience I´ve had so far has helped shape me into who I am today.

For many people, the thought of saving, planning and embarking on an adventure alone is terrifying, an option that’s completely out of the question. But why let fear keep you from experiencing something incredible? You

End the Excuses

You don’t have the money? Start saving, putting aside a little money each week. You don’t have time to plan a trip? Read a novel that’s set in your dream destination and try to take notes about everything you want to see when you go. Are you worried about leaving your dog or or partner while you’re away? Find a pet sitter, and invite him/her next time or tell them to go on their own solo trip too. Are you afraid you’ll get lonely? Matador Network travel contributor, Katka Lapelosa, said it best in a recent article about solo travel, “You can feel just as insecure in your own backyard — if you’re going to feel sorry for yourself, do it somewhere cool.”

Most reasons not to go are simply excuses. If you want to have a life full of adventure you can’t let excuses cramp your style. There are some valuable life lessons to learn on the road to self-discovery.

Learn to Rely on Yourself

Solo travel can help you become more decisive and confident in your decisions. You learn to deal with the positive or negative consequences of every decision and have no choice but to accept full responsibility.

Sharpen Problem-Solving Skills

Nothing develops problem-solving skills like getting lost in a foreign country, especially when you barely speak the language. Whether you’re attempting to navigate the Paris Metro system or climb glaciers in Patagonia, you’ll keenly develop your problem-solving abilities out of necessity.

Turn Up the Volume of Your Inner Voice

Often that little voice inside you has trouble being heard over the din of daily life. Between rushing to work, attending meeting after meeting and tending to friends, family and your kids, it can be tough to hear yourself think. But when you eliminate all of the obligations and focus on doing things for your own enjoyment, suddenly that inner voice finds its volume.

Don’t Worry About Anyone Else’s Feelings

Have you ever taken a trip with a companion who did little but complain? Do you feel guilty indulging in your own interests instead of catering to the group? When traveling alone, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Enjoy not making apologies for sleeping in to cure jet lag. Eat whenever you want to eat, whatever you want to eat, and wherever you want to eat. You can finally feel warranted in being incredibly selfish and let your own wants and needs guide the way when you travel alone.

Birthdays and stars in the City of Angels and Joshua Tree

I started reaping the benefits of a family member working for Icelandair with me and my cousins Boston trip, but then I dragged her to LA to reap all the benefits of my former California livin´, dreams and friends included.

cruisin down Venice beach

We were picked up at LAX airport by a friend from San Diego, who spent the day with us sightseeing Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, and Hollywood´s many sunny boulevards. We met uncountable crazies at Venice beach, zooming past us on skateboards yelling ”Under the sea!”, and even the trademark Harry Perry came by playing electrical guitar on his rollerblades. We got our own bicycle cruisers to join in on the boardwalk fun, almost got Sara tattooed,  and were asked forgiveness by the street folk who were either constantly cat calling or asking for weed money.

We went in and out of tourist shops to buy postcards and souvenirs, but otherwise we blended in perfectly fine. I´m not sure if that´s a good or bad thing, but we were also a bit crazy. Sara´s favourite store was the CVS pharmacy (which she could have spent an hour in just ´browsing´), and I insisted on beer and mexican food as our only staples for the entire 5 days we were in California. We drank oversized coffees and In n Out burger as a couple exceptions to the rule, and tried not to look like kids in a candy store everytime we went shopping for clothes – the prices and selections of things were overwhelming to us Reykjavik dwelling girls.

Luke at the Fonda Theatre box office

We were staying with my friend Luke, who works for the concert promoting company Golden Voice. We went to a concert with him on Hollywood Boulevard, where he worked the Fonda Theatre´s box office. There´s an amazing roof top terrace at the Fonda, where we watched Amon Tobin perform, and learned that the bartenders there really like vodka cranberry. We got stuck in ridiculous traffic getting out there, and could only laugh insensitively at Luke´s road rage (favourite quote: ”For the love. of. GOD. GOOO!”). There was another friend of Lukes throwing a birthday party on Feb 28th that we atttended, and didnt realize it was a black-tie/Cocktail dress event, so we ended up looking pretty silly in my new Lululemon yoga jacket and Luke´s faded leather jacket.

Sky House view

Luke and I have a mutual friend named Bracewell from northern California, who I went to school with at UBC, but me and Luke had never met until he came to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves ´12 and crashed on my couch in exchange for an all-access pass to the festival. Under those kinds of circumstances, youre bound to become best friends, and we also have our birthdays 4 days apart, so the main mission of this vacation was to meet Luke and the house he rented in Joshua Tree for a weekend out in the desert, celebrating our getting older.

the Joshua Tree

The house was called ´Skyhouse´, perched on top of a hill looking over the town of Joshua Tree and with the national park to the east. The star gazing at night was inexplicable, with numerous firepits and a hottub outside to enjoy it from. The house is meant to sleep 6 people comfortably, we invited about 20, and somehow 26 people showed up. Three of my Berkeley friends (and some of my most favouritest people in life) drove 8 hours+ to join us, Bracewell came, and my startruck cousin was there, which was more of a birthday gift than I could ask for. Sara was star struck because the rest of Luke´s band members showed up, Y Luv (who make great music, by the way… check out their facebook page), and one could safely say their young, bandly influences started rubbing off on her pretty quick…

Pioneer town saloon

We had a day long photo shoot in the desert, compliments of Mike Reiter (whose birthday is also the last week of Feb), after hiking 5 miles around Joshua Tree trails. We visited Pioneer Town, a small village outside of Joshua Tree that was built as the set of a Hollywood western movie and stayed on as a regular street in Pioneer town. I found some big western horses to cuddle there, as per usual, and even rode one that I couldn´t get one without standing on a hay bale for leverage.

We finally drove back to LA, in half the time that it took to leave LA (the traffic is unbelievable in that city), and had one last birthday shebang on Abbot Kinney street in Venice. My friend Jake, who I met in Reykjavik working on visual effects for a Baltazar Kormakur film, had just gotten back to LA after 4 months in Iceland. He took us out to the Taste Kitchen, followed by the best butterscotch dessert in the world at Gjelinas. His music movie producer friend Peter Harding joined us, and gave us a sneak preview to a John Martin film he´s making. He makes all sorts of promotional material for artists and music, and his 9 minute short on Swedish House Mafia´s angelic voice made me totally John Martin star struck.

Hope, half clydesdale

After a few days in the city of Angels, and glimpsing into the lives of Hollywoods gear grinders, we both left LA sunkissed, star struck and shop crazed, with repeated promises to come back soon and relentless attempts to invite our hosts back to Iceland again.