UAE Staycation Ideas That Don’t Cost the Earth:

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Hot on the heels of our top staycation hacks for Spring Break (and any time of year, really), here is a list of 10 things to do in the UAE during your staycation that won’t cost the earth:

  1. Park Days: Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi. This park has it all – playgrounds, walking/running tracks, playing fields, water features, and a mini zoo. The grounds are beautiful and in the early morning (gates open at 8am) or early evening, the weather is lovely. There are also some great eating options, including Salt burger joint and a new coffee spot at the end of the carpark called Snooze (which, ironically, only opens at 10am). The rules are fairly strict about bringing in your own food, which we find quite odd for what should be the prettiest picnic spot in the Abu Dhabi. The way around this is to pack your cooler box in the car and eat your picnic on the grassy areas outside the park gate and then head back in for more park time.
  2. On ya bike: Bike Share: There’s nothing better than feeling the wind in your hair and the breath in your lungs as you explore new parts of the city. We love biking along Abu Dhabi Corniche in the early evening or at Louvre Abu Dhabi in the early morning. If you don’t have your own bike, Cyacle bike share kiosks are located all over Abu Dhabi, while Dubai residents and visitors can look out for BYKY Stations around town. Simply insert your bank card into the kiosk, punch in your details and a bike will be released to you for an hour at a time. The bikes will cost you AED20 a day. You simply need to redock the bike every hour at any of the docking stations around town to keep your costs down and your account active, otherwise additional fees will apply.
  3. To Market, To Market: Ripe Markets at Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi. Back at our favourite park, the Ripe crew have a great set up on a Saturday afternoon from 4pm during the cooler months of the year. Check out http://www.ripeme.com for details on their activities over the summer months.
  4. Indoor Play: Funworks, Yas Mall. Say what you will, summer days in the UAE will eventually call for a day (or 100) of indoor play at a mall. Last summer we took advantage of the 100 Days of Play at the huge Funworks soft play area at Yas Mall. Valid at all Funworks, Fun City and Fun Ville outlets, this was a life saver for us over the extended summer break. At a cost of AED100 per child for unlimited play for the whole summer, we popped over to Yas mall at least twice a week. We would arrive in our active wear at around 9am, have our own little warm up jogging up and down the mall until the play area opened at 10am, and then spend a good hour getting lost in the maze of Funworks. We’d bring our own snacks or stop for a coffee at Starbucks where the kids would enjoy a free babycino before we headed back home.
  5. Get Cultured: Louvre Abu Dhabi. If you haven’t already checked out this treasure of a museum, you’re missing out. Beautifully curated, the stunning collection highlights the common threads that bind humanity and show our commonality across history, geography, tradition, culture or belief. The architecture and design of the building is breathtaking and worth at least one visit over your staycation.  General admission is AED60 and children under 13 are free. There are also discounted tickets for students, teachers and UAE military. You might consider becoming a member if you intend to visit regularly.
  6. Hit the Beach while you can: Abu Dhabi and Dubai have some fabulous public beaches which are best to visit between October and April. If you’re in Abu Dhabi, try the Corniche Beach. If you’re in Dubai, Jumeirah beach is beautiful, as is Al Mamzar. Bring your own food and drinks in a cooler and make a day of it.
  7. Be iconic: The Dubai Fountain, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Aquarium. Not all trips to Dubai need to cost you an arm and a leg. If you want an iconic day out, visit the Dubai Mall and check out the mesmerising Dubai Fountain which dances under the shadow of the colossal Burj Khalifa. Pop inside to see the Dubai Aquarium which you can view for free from the main atrium. Otherwise, you can pay to go through the aquarium tunnel and head upstairs to visit the Underwater Zoo that resides at the top of the mall.
  8. Explore Heritage & Culture: The UAE has some remarkable heritage sites and destinations that are well worth the visit. In Abu Dhabi, check out Qasr Al Hosn to learn more about the ruling Al Nahyan family. The Al Ain Oasis is a beautiful, tranquil UNESCO World Heritage site which showcases the unique ecosystems of the UAE’s oases and waterways. In Dubai, you must check out the beautiful Al Bastakiya heritage district, complete with with museums, art galleries and cafes. During March, the whole site is transformed into the Sikka Art Fair.
  9. Kayaking: The Eastern Mangroves. Here you’ll have vantage point of some of the best views in Abu Dhabi while paddling through the serene outcrops of mangroves and clear salt water inlets. While the cost is up to AED160 per person, check out Noukhada for special offers including two for one tours using The Entertainer vouchers.
  10. Everyone’s a photographer: Each summer, we give our oldest child an old digital camera and have him take photos of whatever he sees while we are out and about. Periodically, we’ll go through and delete the 190 selfies and download the interesting and unique shots he has taken from his perspective. We then put together a small album for him to have as a keepsake from his vacation. As he gets older, he can get more involved in editing and captioning the images.

Do you have any more money-saving staycation ideas up your sleeve? Share them with us and tag us on social media #theshiftuae.

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?