UAE Spring Break Staycation Hacks

IMG_1558.JPGSpring Break is nearly here! Can I get a “hallelujah!”?

We’re so ready for a break from school and work. However, this year will be the first time in a while that our family has not taken an international vacation over Spring Break.

(Disclaimer for the newbies: Most expats take an international vacation at least once a year to visit family and meet certain obligations in their home country. Many employers pay for an annual ticket home for each family member, although as things shift this is becoming less common.)

My husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary at the end of March, so we usually like to skip out of town and take our annual family vacation at this time of year. However as a pilot, he doesn’t usually get summers off, so we have played our fair share of “Summer Survivor” (You’re looking at the Abu Dhabi Champions, five years running!).

I don’t know about you, but spending money during staycations can be way too easy, sometimes completely defeating the money-saving purpose of the staycation itself. A couple of trips to the mall to avoid the heat and let the kids stretch their legs, and we’re down at least a hundred dirhams on snacks, lunch and incidentals. And that’s without doing anything in particular.

Keeping with the main theme of saving a dirham or two, I thought I’d share a few of my UAE staycation hacks for those of you planning a similarly low-key spring break.

  • Theme your days: Perhaps my most successful sanity-saving idea is to theme our days of the week so we don’t find ourselves spending every day at home with the kids in front of screens. For example, “Splashy Sunday”, “Make Something Monday”, “Take a Trip Tuesday”, “What’s Cooking Wednesday” etc. If anything, it helps create a framework within which we can plan the whole vacation and gives me (and the kids) an idea of what’s happening next.
  • Plan, plan, plan! I like to print out a calendar of the whole holiday, theme the days of the week (as above) and write out our “wish list” on sticky notes. Then I can visualise what can happen when, and we don’t end up cramming everything in on the last days after getting the guilts from not doing anything “fun”.
  • Go outside!! The weather during spring break in the UAE is amazing and it won’t be long before the summer heat and humidity hit us like a fan-forced oven. Take advantage of the many parks, beaches and fun outdoor attractions around the Emirates. For example, you can easily spend a whole day at Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi with its many play grounds, water features and mini-zoo. (Hint: Since you can’t take picnic food inside, leave your lunch in a cooler in the car and eat it on the grass or on the benches outside the front gate. That way you don’t have to eat at expensive cafes with a tribe of ravenous children.)
  • Think outside the box: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great time in the UAE. For example, one night last month I took my husband on a date night to Louvre Abu Dhabi. I baked brownies and made a flask of our favourite tea and we sat outside under the stars and enjoyed the quiet ambience and views of the magnificent structure. All it cost was the petrol in our car (and the ingredients in the brownies).
  • Avoid the malls: If you want to save money, don’t go shopping. I’ve recently started buying my groceries online through Kibsons and I’ve noticed how much money we have saved on incidentals and coffees since I haven’t physically gone to the shops to get what I need. And that’s not even during school holidays! The moment you take the kids to the mall, you’re guaranteed to buy snacks for everyone and walk out with items your children never knew they needed until that day. Avoid the whole drama and shop online.
  • Plan one big-ticket outing only: If you do want to splash out during your staycation and perhaps go to a theme park or resort, limit it to one or two days. When I ask my kids what they want to do for vacation, they list all of the expensive options on one piece of paper. Then my husband and I choose what is the most realistic, affordable and suitable option for the whole family and we schedule it in. The kids love being able to count down to the big day and have a better time having looked forward to it, rather than it being just one of many activities jam-packed into the staycation.
  • Build in some down-time: Sometimes the best days of our staycations have been the ones where the kids play with their toys or ride their bikes around the compound while we sip tea and get some housework done. Don’t despise the day of small things.

Coming up next, I’ll share a list of some specific locations and activities to include in your staycation.

Until then, why not share some of your staycation hacks? What do you like to do and see around the UAE during Spring Break?

Will you be my “Kabayan”?

IMG_1355.JPGLiving in the UAE opens to door to the world. Over the years, we have collected the most extraordinary group of friends and family from all corners of the earth.

Being part of such a multinational community means being exposed to the best of what the world has to offer. From food, to parenting, to new words and phrases, we love being able to integrate these gems into our own family and community culture.

Perhaps one of my favourite cultural quirks is the “kabayan” culture of our friends from the Philippines.

“Kabayan” simply means “fellow countryman”. Walk around a UAE mall long enough with your Filipina friend and you’ll want a dirham for every time another Filipina calls her “Kabayan”.

There is comfort in knowing you’ve got other people “on your team” when you’re in a foreign country, and folks from the Philippines have this thing nailed.

A couple of weeks ago our Filpina friend went to the mall in search of a new sim card for her phone. She went off to one of the main telecoms branches to make the purchase, however when the sales clerk saw her and heard her request, he directed her to another phone kiosk that sold the same item for 50% of the price – all because she was his kabayan!

As a girl who’s always up for saving a few dirhams and gets major buyer’s remorse when I’ve found out I’ve been jipped, this made me think – “Where is my kabayan when I’m at the mall?!”

 Let’s be honest – no one likes to be ripped off and we all love a bargain.

I think it’s time we all did a better job of sharing our insider knowledge of where to get the best deals in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

So here’s your platform, people!

If you have the inside scoop on a great bargain, send me the details or post it on Instagram and use the hashtag #theshiftuae

Off we go!