MEET THE WRITER
Barbara Woolsey is a Canadian journalist and guidebook author whose travels have spanned over 50 countries and five continents by plane, train, and motorbike. Born and raised on the prairies to a Filipino mother and Irish-Scottish father, her multicultural upbringing has fueled a life's passion for storytelling across cultures and borders. Barbara's career started in Bangkok working for Thailand's largest English-language newspaper, then traveling Asia as a TV host. Now based in Berlin, she writes guides for Lonely Planet and Fodor’s, and contributes to Thrillist as well as other publications such as Reuters and The Guardian. Find out more via her Facebook and Instagram.
When was the last time you were in Dubai?
My first visit to Dubai was last year with my good friend and mentor Andrea Schulte-Peevers, who has authored Lonely Planet’s Dubai guidebook for several years now. She already had me at “world’s tallest building,” but researching the cycles of the city’s evolution, I knew I had to go. I’m hoping to attend World Expo next year.
What was the most surprising thing about Dubai you didn't expect?
Despite being drawn in by all the newfangled mumbo-jumbo, I fell hard for Old Dubai. The DNA of modern Dubai is all about showing off, and Old Dubai’s souks and little streets are the polar opposite. For me, that contrast is a large part of Dubai’s appeal.
What’s your favorite memory from your trip?
On my final night in Dubai, I stayed at the Palazzo Versace working on an article for a luxury hotels magazine. It was a hallucination of opulence. Marble columns, elaborate chandeliers, Medusa heads, loud baroque prints, and beautiful Russians everywhere you look -- just a taste of how the high-flyers roll here and how insane the hotels here are.
What’s the number one can’t-miss thing you’d recommend doing in Dubai?
Book an experience at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, such as a guided tour of the gorgeous Jumeirah Mosque, which is open to non-Muslims, or a traditional Bedouin sit-down meal.
How easy is it to get around for English speakers?
Dubai is mostly populated by foreign workers, so you’ll get around fantastically with English. While you’re bound to hear some Arabic from the neighboring restaurant table or mall passerby, English is widely used. For the most part, Dubai is very “tourist-friendly,” but travelers should still respect the strict rules and customs in this part of the world, as punishment for breaking the law can be harsh.
What’s your top tip or piece of advice for someone going for the first time?
Downtown Dubai can get pretty expensive, but you can save by staying in Old Dubai and checking out furnished apartments on sites like Airbnb. There are Carrefour supermarkets everywhere, and plenty of basement-hidden (but perfectly good) Arab and Indian restaurants, as well as cheap street falafel and shawarma. Dubai is super spread out though, so be prepared to compensate with time in taxis and Ubers, as it won’t be realistic to take the metro everywhere.
Next big trip you have planned in 2020?
In 2020, I’m starting off by working on guidebooks for Prague, Glasgow, and Burgundy for Lonely Planet and Michelin Green Guides. However, I’m certainly hoping for another adventure to Central Asia or the Middle East soon.
What's your ultimate bucket list destination you've always wanted to visit?
Wiling out in a ger in the Gobi Desert.