By Nivriti Butalia
Idon’t mean to be a pessimist. But for a lot of folks in the UAE, the situation right now is something like this: Eid is around the corner, a probable Sunday off, and you haven’t done squat. No planning, no booking, no prospects of cooler air. In fact, no relief. There’s a grim fairytale in store: three trips to three malls, and a shortened life span trying to find parking at Al Seef or Al Majaz Waterfront or Al Wherever.
I spoke to Abdul Rasheed, a corporate sales manager at Deira Travels who’s been in the UAE for 13 years and whose office is opposite City Centre Deira, and he said unsurprising things: People who are off to Europe have planned well, months in advance.
Paris and Switzerland are popular destinations. Some 25 families in the UAE who booked their June vacays through him, did so sensibly, many months ago. The packages, per person, including flights for something like three nights in Paris and four in Switzerland cost about Dh6-8,000. (For kids, the same package is not that much cheaper — Dh5,500-7,500).
The only recent travel trend he could speak of was the rise of solo travelers.
“Rise means how many?”
“You can say 10-15.”
“That’s not a rise, that’s just… some
“Yes, they’re going to visa-free destinations”
“Tbilisi is the obvious one. People are going to Yerevan and Baku.”
Turns out, Armenia and Azerbaijan are increasingly featuring on the travel itineraries of several Gulf folks. Short flights, cheap stays, a dose of culture. I’m thinking of heading there myself, maybe next year. My colleague, Kelly Clarke, if you turn the page, you’ll see, is a step ahead, already inspecting monasteries in Yerevan as we speak.
I heard from people over at flydubai that, “Eid holidays is one of the busiest seasons for us, we unfortunately don’t give out passenger numbers but we expect our flights over that weekend to be operating at very high load”.
What about the others who aren’t taking any flights? I wanted to know who was headed where in cars, within the Emirates. What’s going cheaply? Where are the rays of hope for those who haven’t yet planned? What can still be done? And why do I feel that come next weekend, RAK and Fujairah and the roads to Musandam are going to be clogged with four-wheel drives carrying families eating Oman Chips — or is it Chips Oman?
Hotels have been advertising their three-days-two-nights packages (“all-inclusive weekday packages starting at Dh475 per person”, etc, etc). Whenever I see another ‘all rooms with sea view’ ad, I think, what a waste. Instead of burning money, just stay home and save to go somewhere when the Eid rush subsides, no? Hanging around at a resort just because there’s a pool and room service… I don’t know.
My suggestion is ‘window travel’. Let’s face it, there’s no way you’re getting a Schengen visa last minute, unless you’re a bigwig with the power to pull magic strings. That leaves everyone else. What is one to do? Window travel. It’s like window shopping, you don’t have to buy tickets. Just start keying in random destinations. This could ignite the soul and spark hidden wanderlust. Forget about expense and your office leave policy and the measly nine days of PL (paid leave) you have left this year. Think of what might be possible if money and time and PL were no issue.
Always wanted to go on that safari to Kenya? Look it up. Look up Maasai Mara, move, move. Look up places that have been at the back of your mind. Get on Tripadvisor and Make My Trip or whatever sites you favour, and click on any dates. It’s a charming mental exercise that gives shape to plans, and importantly: gives you something to look forward to.
Morocco. I want to go to Morocco. I feel no urgency to head there, but I wouldn’t mind venturing there ‘someday’. If you’re not going anywhere for Eid, you have time to plan your ‘somedays’. Doesn’t Santorini look great in pictures? Why not check Airbnb rates? How much do rooms closer to the beach cost versus the ones with a volcano view, but no beach? Wishful thinking is a severely underrated pastime. Before you know it, you’ll be considering going to one of these places for the long weekend in August or November, or both.
I checked with some people where they were headed. Several were going back home to India. Not too much Kerala though — Nipa scare, according to Abdul Rasheed. Some were making a dash to Sri Lanka. Many are staying put. Reasons aren’t all pretty. There’s no money. People have lost jobs. Kids are in schools that are too expensive. Someone’s had to deal with a medical emergency. Some are getting paid in instalments so can’t afford it. Basically, an Eid break for several people is just not working out.
There are plenty who can’t justify a Dh3k ticket for a four-days break. So, if you’re going to be in town, take heart. At least you won’t be tired after a hectic trip. Focus on the silver lining, on all the money you’ve accumulated by staying put. And besides window travelling, think of how much headway you can make on Netflix. Also, treat yourself to a head massage, a pedicure, a movie, three movies, a trip to the beach — you’ll find parking, eventually.
Nivriti dreads travelling without ear plugs — different from earphones. All that noise!