The Cost of Finagling a Trip to Abu Dhabi

Front_of_Sheikh_Zayed_Mosque Abu Dhabi

As a recent college graduate in a struggling economy, I would classify my two greatest strengths as anxiously micromanaging money and saying yes to things before really thinking about them. Both of these combined this September as I pinched and prodded my budgeting spreadsheets and then said, “Ah, whatever” and booked tickets to visit my friend’s family in Abu Dhabi for 10 days this December. Here’s how much it has cost me so far:

The Invitation: 2 Bottles of 3-Buck Chuck and A General Pushy Attitude.

After college, though a series of saying yes without thinking about it, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I was quickly tired and broke from sitting on the couch watching CourtTV, so I got a job waitressing for a local health food restaurant. A friend from college, Nate, was already here for grad school and one night after respective studying and serving we got together to play board games and drink wine with his roommates. He mentioned that his parents were planning an anniversary party in his hometown Abu Dhabi and after drinking cheap chardonnay and explaining how cool it was he said flippantly, “Everyone should come.”  While some may have heard, “I’m being polite and telling you about my life in a way you should not really be included” I heard, “You should come!” I continued to ply him with wine and hatched my plans to buy tickets.

Tickets: $1295 and Many Facebook Messages 

I sent emoji-filled message after emoji-filled message, double-checking with Nate that I really could come and he wasn’t just being polite.  The fact that at least one of his roommates is also coming assuages some of my fears.  So after the 1000th guarantee that it wouldn’t be weird, I started looking at tickets.

Man, were they expensive: easily $1500 roundtrip from Atlanta to Abu Dhabi. I was also trying to finagle a trip back home to Chicago for Christmas after the trip so as not to break my mother’s heart. I sat in a coffee shop with Nate, each attempting to work out our travel plans, trying multi-city trip plans with quick stops in Chicago, opening innumerable tabs of Southwest, even calling an airline representative on the actual telephone. Eventually Nate, the more seasoned international traveler, suggested it might be cheaper to book two round-trip flights Russian-nesting-dolls-style instead of a series of one-ways, particularly because Chicago is a major international hub.

I looked into it and was amazed, finding by far the best deal by flying round trip Atlanta to Chicago on days before and after my trip to the United Arab Emirates and then back and forth from Chicago and Abu Dhabi. I would never have thought of this as a cheaper solution as it adds a superfluous flight and evening in Chicago on December 10th, but it worked. The tickets from Atlanta to Chicago cost $259 and the tickets from Chicago to Abu Dhabi were $1,036. I almost cried.

Lodging: Three years of friendship groundwork

This is one of the main reasons I felt, in my state of penny-pinching waitressdom, comfortable with international travel.  When I go visit one of the largest tourist destinations halfway around the world, I will be crashing at a friend’s house. Just another reason to befriend the cool international students in college.

Opportunity Costs: 16 potential work shifts or ~1600 potential dollars

For me, this was the most difficult cost to swallow. My job is in shift work, meaning every day I take off work is, in my mind, money being taken out of my future bank account. I had to find a mental balance between taking enough time to fully explore a new place in the world and not going totally broke. This also resulted in me booking my flight back from Chicago on December 26th so that I could take the highly detested shifts between Christmas and New Years. My request to take off so much of December as the newest member of the team also cost me quite a few dirty glances from more seasoned wait staff.

Emotional Costs: Explaining, ad infinitum, that Nate and I are not dating.

So far, the voyagers on this trip are Nate, Nate’s roommate, and myself. There are two more friends potentially coming, friends talking a lot about buying tickets but who haven’t bitten the bullet. They are also male friends. This means I will be traveling around the UAE with 2-4 male companions, which honestly seems like the safest and easiest way to do it.  However, it has cost me a lot of explaining and worried phone calls from my parents. Immediately after buying my tickets I tweeted something original like, “Bought my tickets to Abu Dhabi with Nate!” And suddenly my phone received an influx of “congratulations, love birds” and “I knew you crazy kids would get together.”

I helpfully and continually pointed out that I was buying these tickets in September for a trip in December and that only a romantic idiot or engaged person would plan international travel with a boyfriend that far in advance.

I also have been getting a lot of “Why Abu Dhabi?” questions even though it is an international capital and hub of tourism.  One, albeit older, customer at the restaurant even asked, “Why go to Abu Dhabi when Italy exists?” To which I fake-laughed and claimed falsely that I’m not a huge fan of carbs. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a statement on culture or generational change or even a function of where I am in the United States, but I spend most of my time talking not about the logistics of my trip but the reasoning behind it. And I almost always end up sounding like one of those horrible motivational posters that says like, “Broaden your horizons, broaden your passport.”

Moral of the Story:  These are the costs, both economic and otherwise, that I have accrued in the planning process alone. Certainly there will be many tourist costs to come: bus tickets to Dubai, a layover in glamorous Frankfurt, exciting restaurants and expensive drinks you can only buy at hotels.  But thus far, the planning has gone relatively smoothly.  Here’s hoping things continue that way.

If I can leave you with anything it’s this: 1. Befriend the international students and 2. Tip your waitresses; they probably have cool and too-expensive plans in the works.


Christina Dana is a writer who splits her free time evenly between competition cooking shows, naps, and never-ending graduate school applications, all while trying to find the best fried chicken in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Photo via Wikipedia and FritzDaCat



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