What You Need To Know About Claiming Back Taxes And Super After An Australian Working Holiday Visa

I normally don’t write how-to posts like this, but since struggled in this process I believed it was important for someone on the internet to search for and find.

You’ll need that money if you get your car stuck in the sand like this.

Foreigners working in Australia on a Working Holiday Maker Visa (subclass 417 and 462) are ‘residents for tax purposes’ and eligible to claim back superannuation and taxes (note that as of 1 January 2017, the first $37,000 earned will be taxed at 15%).

When I filed for my tax return in Australia in June, I got money back within a week. Now, after leaving Australia and filing for my tax return, it’s a completely different story. It’s not the quick turnaround I banked on. If you’re leaving Australia before the end of the fiscal year and you want to claim back taxes, don’t plan on getting it back quickly. Claiming superannuation was another obstacle. Make sure that even though you’ve left you haven’t lost track of any crucial information, such as your tax file number (TFN), Australian bank details, all previous Australian residential addresses and login details for online super and banking.

Below are some tips to making your process less stressful. But first: Here’s the key to getting back a ton of money after your working holiday visa:


It might seem tempting and it might seem like the best option at the time, but working cash in hand means that more likely than not your employers are cheating you while cheating the system. They’re not paying taxes which does nothing to help you, because  you don’t have to pay taxes! (at least not prior to 2017) This also means they are not paying into your superannuation, which you are also eligible to claim back.

This describes the process to getting all that $$$$.


The most important thing to note here is that this process takes time if you do it before the end of the fiscal year, so don’t expect to get your money back quickly.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Collect payment summaries from all of your employers. Sometimes they will resist (most frustratingly, Hays Recruitment), so if they do print out every pay slip you received.

2. Read this from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Make sure you fulfill the requirements to lodge your tax return early, which for those on WHM visas means you’ve left the country, your visa has been cancelled or is expired, and you will no longer receive income from Australia. Note that you have to mail in your paperwork if you lodge it early. It cannot be done electronically.

3.Download and print the tax return for individuals form for the appropriate year. To lodge mine this year, I downloaded the most recent, which was from 2016, and crossed out 2016 and wrote 2017 on every page. Nailed it!

FINALLY: Collect all your payment information paperwork and with your tax return form (#3), mail it to Australia. If you are mailing it from abroad (which you probably will be), address it to:

Australian Taxation Office
GPO Box 9845
Sydney NSW 2001, Australia 

Now,  all you have to do is wait. The ATO says it will take up to five weeks.

Maybe you worked in a cafe like this one in Alice Springs. 


Also known as ‘departing Australia superannuation payment’ (DASP). Claiming DASP seems simple, until you realized that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is giving you a headache. That’s right, they’re a pain in the ass. Even though you may have left Australia four months ago and your visa has expired, you still have to cancel your visa before you’ll get your DASP. In fact, they won’t even let you submit your application for DASP before the DIBP clears you a runaway. (I only found this out after a week of confusion and finally messaging the ATO on Twitter.) So here’s how to do it:

1. Email Super Hobart (super.hobart@border.gov.au) with the following information:

  1. a clear statement that you wish to have your temporary visa cancelled,
  2. your full name and date of birth (and those of all people who hold a visa because they are a member of your family unit, or hold a visa only because you hold your visa.),
  3. passport number when you visited Australia,
  4. subclass of the temporary visa you wish to have cancelled,
  5. current residential address,
  6. the date that you departed Australia.

Note that this process can take up to five weeks. Once this process has been cleared, you can complete your DASP application, or if you’ve already completed it, finally submit it.

2. Read the DASP application instructions on the ATO website.

3. Complete the online DASP application.

Now,all you have to do is….


Have you claimed your taxes and DASP after a Working Holiday Visa? How did it go?

Featured photo: Degraves Espresso, on Degraves Street in Melbourne’s CBD.




Read These Books & Watch These Movies Before You Travel To Australia



The country-continent Australia may only have a population of 23 million (compared to the U.S.’s 318 million), but it is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Films and books are an ideal way to begin to understand the history and society of this grog guzzling, coffee-obsessed, friendly country, even before you embark on your trip. This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but I chose some of the most informative and entertaining for me. I’ve put an * on my favorites.


*Tracks A 2013 film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. The film follows the story of a young woman who treks solo through the Australian outback in 1977, where she confronts physical as well as emotional challenges. This film is not only one of the  most aesthetically beautiful works of art, but gives the viewer an understanding of the dangers, distance and isolation of the outback. Robyn has to handle sexism, a changing tourism industry and the wisdom of local indigenous people she comes across.

Red Dog A friend at the mine told me, “Everything you need to know about the Pilbara, you can learn by watching Red Dog.” While I do think this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, this 2011 film will inform you about the 20th century European immigration,  the mining industry and the inhospitable region of Western Australia, all while making you laugh and cry.

Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures This 2001-2 mockumentary series starring Glenn Robbins was also recommended to me while working at the mine. The hilarious take on the travel genre gives viewers insight into the outback and Australian slang and humor.

The Castle This 1997 comedy focuses on one family who is faced with the threat of being kicked off their property. Viewers get an understanding of some of the most quintessential Australian values, including supporting the underdog. In 2010, 37% of Aussies chose this movie as representative of them.

Muriel’s Wedding Toni Collette’s first major role is of Muriel, an underappreciated girl in society and in her family. Muriel takes a journey from her home in Queensland to Sydney where she starts a new life and seeks to find the love her life. This movies gives a fictitious look at Queensland in the 90s.

*Prison Songs One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen (no expert here, but it’s amazing), it’s not just a documentary but a musical documentary. The filmmakers capture the lives of the prisoners of Berrimah Prison in Northern Territory, mixing sad histories with comedic interpretations of their present circumstances. It takes viewers into the complications of being indigenous, highlighting domestic violence, identity, alcoholism and tradition.

*Stingray Sisters Stingray Sisters is a (very) recently released documentary series that follows three half-indigenous, half-white Australian sisters in the indigenous community of Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The sisters showcase the confusions of having multiple identities and the grassroots struggle of modern day aboriginal land rights. Buy the series on their website. Trailer below.

Chasing Asylum Is a startling 2016 documentary that examines the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. They are detained indefinitely on Australia’s offshore detention centers on Christmas, Nauru and Manus Islands. This is a film that anyone with interest in current migration issues needs to see.


In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson Bill Bryson shares his tales of traveling through Australia, giving insight into social issues, history and travel. This book is a great way to get overview of the Australian character

*Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over, by Geraldine Brooks A lovely memoir of Brooks’s journey from being a child in a working class neighborhood in Sydney and dreaming of exotic locations, to her adulthood as a foreign correspondent and reconnecting with her childhood pen pals. Brooks teaches her readers about working class Australian life and gives a first-person look at Australia’s changing cultural scene with the influx of European immigrants in the last half of the 20th century.

*Different White People: Radical Activism for Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972, by Deborah Wilson An adaptation of Wilson’s doctoral thesis, this dense (yet fascinatingly informative) recount of the aboriginal rights movement and its relationship to the communist party of Australia. This book teaches about Australian history, politics and aboriginal land rights through a rarely examined lens.

*Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton One of Winton’s most famous novels, Cloudstreet tells the story of two families during the span of 2o years, 1943-1963. These families, coming from rural and working class backgrounds, live through the end of the war and the transformation of post-war society in Perth. This novel teaches readers of fundamental Australian themes and Australian vernacular English while Winton writes in profoundly lyrical language. (Note from a non-literary critic: I love this book in part because it reminds of Latin American magical realism.)

*The Crocodile Hotel, by Julie Janson Anyone traveling or living in the Northern Territory or other primarily indigenous populated areas would be interested to understand the identity, marginalization and history of indigenous communities in colonized Australia discussed in this novel. The main character, a half-indigenous single mother, who by her appearance passes as a white Australian, leaves Sydney in the 1970s and accepts a teaching position in a remote aboriginal community hours from Katherine. There, she encounters disgusting racism and sexism, becomes involved in the land rights movement and faces intense personal struggles. This beautifully written novel gives so much inspiration to work to combat the issues we still encounter today.

Praise, by Andrew McGahan Reading Praise feels a bit like reading The Catcher in the Rye or even On the Road. Not much happens. There’s a lot of doing nothing. Of contemplating. Of taking drugs and feeling worthless. But that’s just the point. The book explains that the 1990s in Australia was “A time when the dole was easier to get than a job, when heroin was better known than ecstasy, and when ambition was the dirtiest of words. A time when, for two hopeless souls, sex and dependence were the only lifelines.” What I liked about reading this book was that even though it was written in the 1990s, I saw so many parallels between the attitude of the characters and some millennial Australians I met. It was like they were a misinterpreted version of relaxed Australian attitudes, that instead of being ‘chill’ formed into utterly lazy people.

Great Australian Ghost Stories, by Richard Davis This suggestion is coming from the unabashed ghost tour participant. These short stories are sometimes scary, sometimes boring but most of all historically interesting, giving readers a glimpse into Australian culture and colonial rhetoric. Especially interesting for those residing in Victoria and New South Wales, as many of the scary stories come from those states.

As seen on my road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.

Are you Australian or lived in Australia? What books and films would you recommend to visitors? 

Featured photo: a tree with fabric hanging out of it, taken along the Red Center Way near King’s Canyon.

Want to learn more about Australia? Check out these resources for visiting or living in Melbourne:
where to learn something new,
websites to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening around the city, and
how to find feminist events.

What I Did In…Guangzhou, China

This is the first post of my new series, “What I did in…,” where I aim to detail some of the most fun (or worst, if I want to warn you) activities, eateries and places to stay. I might also give helpful resources I used to prepare, if applicable. This isn’t meant to serve as a an all-encompassing travel guide, but merely an example of some of the possibilities for that destination. 

Guangzhou, China


Sunset near Liwan Lake Park

In this Pink Pangea article, I give advice for those stopping by on a 72-Hour Free Visa on how to most easily enjoy their time. This guide is a resource for those who don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

This Photo Friday post, I aim to show you some of my favorite images I took while I was there. I show the people, some of the food and interesting sights.


Grand Continental Services Apartment – Nomo Beijing Road
A moderately priced hotel just two blocks from Beijing Lu, one of the busiest pedestrian-only shopping and eating districts. The room had WiFi, multiple plugs and comfortable beds. The staff spoke English well, but a warning: be careful with the staff you trust for directions. I was told wrong directions multiple times, and once spent two hours at a bank trying to find my way to where I was meant to be going.

Haizhu Square, Guangzhou.


Dim Dou Dak 點都德(聚福楼)
I got this suggestion from Thanis Slim and was not disappointed. Go to the location near Beijing Road (470 Hui Fu Dong Lu  惠福东路470号). According to those in positions of authority, one of the best places for dim sum in the city. I ate Har Gow (shrimp dumplings), mango and coconut sweet dim sum, and herbal tea.

Coffee Corner
This Korean-owned cafe has spectacular machine espresso, pastries to accompany and delectable Korean desserts. The WiFi works great and the rustic chic decor is pleasant. Location: right across from the Haizhu Square metro stop.

Cafe de Coral
This chain has disgusting instant coffee, but it was a great place to people watch and journal. I went to the Haizhu Square location, but there are several throughout the city. Plus, who doesn’t love the positive affirmations written on the wall? Examples: “Best of THE best/A Beautiful Day/Time of Your Life.”

Unknown Dim Sum place
Right down the street from Huangbian metro station, the third shop along Huangbian N. Road, is a place with delicious dim sum. I was here by accident after being told wrongly how to reach a museum.

Tao Tao Ju
Excellent traditional restaurant near Shangxia Jiu Lu, another pedestrian-only street near Beijing Lu, whose specialty was apparently ginger chicken, until the waitress laughed and told me they don’t serve it. I got the goose. That was interesting. Location: DiShi Fu Road 22.

PanXi Restaurant
Location in the heart of old Guangzhou, Liwan, this traditional restaurant had great food, fast service and an intricately decorated decor and gardens. I tried black fungus, sweet and sour fried fish, taro with blueberry sauce and savory min quiches, among other Guangzhou specialties. Well known by tourists and locals alike, it is definitely a must-eat!

Bubble tea chain from Taiwan. They say they’re the best. Find them in shopping areas.

Hot Pizza
For when you’re really down and out and want some western food. The margarita pizza wasn’t very good. Near the Central Business District (CBD). Location: 1/F, Tianyu Garden, No.136 Linhe Zhong Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, 天河区林和中路136号天誉花园首层

Old HK Cafe
Located a few feet away from Beijing Lu, this eatery is open late night. There were lots of youths around. I tried the taro filled buns, Congee and pork dumplings.

Grand Hyatt
I spent way too much money on bomb-ass high tea high up overlooking the CBD. Excellent service, the kind that makes you feel like you’re not a broke traveler. Need I say more.

High tea with my friend Carina. We did, however, get massive sugar headaches. We brought it upon ourselves, most obviously.

What I did (that wasn’t eating)

Disclaimer: There is so much to do in Guangzhou, even culturally even though it doesn’t have as much fame for it as other Chinese cities. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up doing much between catching up on sleep from jet lag and getting lost. I did do some cool stuff, though.

Walk, walk, walk
I walked around Haizhu Square, Liwan district, the CBD district, Beijing Lu and Sh. angxia Jiu Lu. It was great for people watching, observations, shopping and eating random dim sum. In Liwan, we saw the elderly playing games, street musicians, local markets and even a Peking Opera performance.

Redtory Arts and Design Factory
I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved this space. This abandonded factory compound has been reappropriated to create a space for museums, galleries, design and offices. The various exhibits in various buildings featured artists from China and other parts of Asia, Europe and North America, among others. As the old buildings remain, the eerie and tragically beautiful space is ideal for photography.I saw the videography exhibit “Time Test: International Video Art Research Exhibition” that left me speechless.
Location: No. 128, Yuancun Si Heng Rd., Tianhe District, Guangzhou City Tel: +86 20 8557 4417;

Massages at Fu Yuan Tang
I read about these massages on this page. I had a lot of stress in my back from my heavy purse and this traditional Chinese massage forced it out of me. Address available on the link.

High buildings in the CBD.

Featured photo: this will be the offical photo of the “What I did in…” series. Taken at Sunshine Juice in Tokyo, Japan. 




Where To Continue Your Learning In Melbourne

Sign originally featured in this post.

Long- term traveling makes me loose intellectual capacity and critical thinking skills. That’s a big issue if you consider the fact that I’ve been traveling for more than two years. Going from the demanding readings and essays of university to a different type of learning, I yearn for the “ah-ha” moments of critical analysis and experience of group learning.

I learned a lot at the mine, but it wasn’t the same sort of education I’m referring to. Sadly there was little opportunity in the middle of nowhere in Northern Territory, unlike in Melbourne.

If you’re on a working holiday in Melbourne, just visiting or living, may be looking for some intellectual stimulation. During my four months there on a working holiday visa, it was hard to motivate myself to expand my horizons only by reading and watching documentaries.

Luckily, Melbourne is a city full of innovation and ideas. Anything from art to music to film can be easily accessed throughout the city. I was grateful to find places that hosted the type of learning I missed. Whether you’re like me and love the classroom or are just looking for some extra inspiration, these centers or organizations offer workshops, lectures or weekly classes on a variety of subjects.

Some of the organizations and centers on this list overlap with those mentioned in my post about how get your feminist on in Melbourne

Electrical box in Melbourne.

The Wheeler Center 

Born out of Melbourne’s declaration as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008, The Wheeler Center is a center focused on writing and ideas. Aside from publishing videos and original writing they host hundreds of talks a year on subjects ranging from human rights to technology at location in the Melbourne CBD. Their free events fill up fast, so make sure to follow their calendar of events and reserve your spot quickly.

Can’t make it to a talk? Find them on social media, subscribe to their newsletter and subcribe to their podcasts for learning on the go.

Center for Adult Education (CAE)

Melbourne’s CAE offers accredited courses for adults to finish secondary education and certificates and diplomas. It also offers short courses on a number of subjects from the humanities to practical life skills. You can learn anything from Swedish, sewing or floristry for a relatively low cost. Courses can last anywhere from one day to a few months. 


If you’re interested in learning photography in a non-competitive, relaxed setting, Photoh offers individual or group classes and weekly photography workshops in Melbourne from seasoned photographers. I took May’s Photo Challenge of the Month photo on their workshop on storytelling.

Melbourne Free University

Started in 2010, Melbourne Free University provides a space and opportunity for anyone, no matter their income or education level, to learn and discuss from experts and researchers. Topics include anything from social issues around the globe to the international politics of weapons. The free uni offers some six week courses as well as one-off seminars. The best part about it? Unlike most university experiences, participants get to enjoy learning the information without stressing about their grades.

Libraries in the City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s libraries aren’t just beautiful (see the branch in the Docklands) buildings with good coffee nearby and free Wi-Fi. The library also hosts mostly free events, including history outings, recurring book clubs, lectures and art exhibitions. Check out their “What’s On” section for the latest events and don’t forget to reserve your spot online.

The School of Life Melbourne 

The School of Life was first founded in London in 2008 and opened its Melbourne branch in 2014. A bookshop cafe and learning space, it scatters provocative question ideas around for the purpose of facilitating meaningful interactions, The School of Life writes. The space also hosts various lectures on “how-to’s,” such as their upcoming January 2017 lectures “How to Find A Job You Love” and “How to Have Better Conversations.” It’s academically minded, critical and unique approach to various life skills will inspire you to think differently about your life. The only downside to this center is its hefty attendance fees. Ouch, that hurts the budget traveler’s wallet.

You first met this koala triste in this post.  Now she’s sad because she wants to learn so much!


Do you live in Melbourne? What other places do you go to learn? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Want to simply learn more about what there is to do in Melbourne? Check out these websites you should be reading.

Featured photo of my friend Erin (author of this post on escaping from the outback) and I in front of a mural on Hosier Lane, one of the most famous graffiti spots in the city. Don’t forget that, of course, the city itself is a great place to learn.

How To Get Your Feminist On As A Traveler in Melbourne

Instead of only visitng the must-see lists of each city, one of the most amazing things about traveling is experiencing what you’re passionate about in a new environment.

For example, my experience living in Buenos Aires was enriched by taking taking folk dance classes and volunteered at a human rights organization. Just imagine what might be memorable: a visit to a statue that you don’t have any inherent connection to, or going to a discussion night at a local NGO about the genocide in Guatemala and sitting silently in the back until you couldn’t hold in your tears any longer. No matter where you are, either if you’re studying abroad for a semester or just passing through for a few days, taking an afternoon to participate in something you care about can have a great impact on your trip.

Geeking out in Melbourne at the QVWC.

For me during the months I spent living in Melbourne on a working holiday visa, I survived the mundane repetition of working at a salad bar by participating in feminist activism events. If learning more about the feminist struggles is one of your passions, here are seven ideas for you to broaden your understanding of it in Australia. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it can give you a starting point to delve deeper.

Queen Victoria Women’s Center

The QVWC is a building in the Melbourne CBD which houses offices for several nonprofits relating to women’s welfare. It also hosts speakers and events. To celebrate International Women’s Day the QVWC held lectures throughout the week of March 8th- they even involved complimentary wine. Check out their library or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.

Radical Women

Radical Women is a grassroots leftist feminist organization that started in the United States in the 1960s. Today in Melbourne the organization is present at political rallies and even hosts events at their Brunswick located library, called the Solidarity Salon, including feminist book clubs and speakers.

Melbourne Free University

While not inherently feminist, Melbourne Free University hosts lectures related to topics from technology to the FARC and gay rights movement in Colombia and often tackles the struggles of the global power imbalances including gender and women’s rights. The goal of the free uni is expand discussion and debate of important issues to all, and while lecturers often come from academia, participants come from all walks of life.

One Roof

A coworking space for women entrepreneurs located in Southbank, One Roof also hosts networking events and professional development workshops for women usually relating to business and leadership.

Miscellaneous Activist Events

Local grassroots political activist organizations organize rallies, lectures and discussions related to a variety of topics, and most of them often intersect with the feminist cause. For example, I subscribed to the Green Leftist Weekly’s activist calendar,  which advertises any number of events hosted by different organizations in different areas of the city, from the Socialist Alliance’s CBD office to Melbourne University.

Meet Ups

MeetUp.com, which connects people with others who share similar interests, lists several local feminist groups in Melbourne. Use these socials to network and learn more about activism in the city.


EthicalJobs.com  and Seek.com list open jobs and volunteering positions related to gender inequality (just make sure to use the right search terms). The possibility of volunteering is increased with the longer you might stay in Melbourne, especially when the work is regarding sensitive issues such as domestic violence.

Melbourne Feminist Action

Melbourne Feminist Action is Facebook group that helps organize feminist activists around pressing issues in the feminist movement. As of the time of writing this post, the page hasn’t been updated,  but you never know when they might become active again.

Featured photo taken at Hosier Lane in Melbourne. 

Not obsessed with the feminist cause? There’s still a lot to be discovered about Melbourne! Check out these five websites to tell you where. 


Coming To Melbourne? Check Out These Websites

Traveling to a new city or relocating can be overwhelming, especially when you start from scratch. When google isn’t doing the trick, you may have no clue where to begin your search for restaurants, events, meet-ups and other social activities. Luckily for those coming to Melbourne, there is a huge community of people who love to share the best parts of the city and what they have to offer. These five websites will keep you informed about “what’s on” in Melbourne. Subscribe to their newsletters and always be in the know.

1- TimeOut Melbourne

Hilariously written, cheeky and informative. From basic area information to specific lists to help me find everything (Where’s the best high tea? Where are the best Mexican restaurants? What’s there to do in Portsea?), Time Out has kept me updated with new restaurants, cultural references and answered all those things I’d always been wondering. They are even a bit annoying. Any time I saw something new in the city that intrigued me and sparked a writing idea, a quick search would show that they had already written about it.

2- Concrete Playground

Similar to TimeOut, Congrete Playground focuses on city life – eating, events, and must-see spots. I’ve learned about cool art exhibits, the latest indie film screenings and the latest on alcohol debuts in the city. You may not have money to consume it all and see it all, but you can at least drop it in a conversation and look like a Melbourne pro. My favorite section is “The best things to do in Melbourne this weekend.” Take a look at that and you might not even have to plan an itinerary.

3- The Culture Trip

Excellent current information on events, festivals and pop-ups, this site also has cultural information to keep you in the know about literature, film and culture around the city. Check out their article 20 Facts You Never Knew About Melbourne for some mind-blowing facts.

4- Weekend Notes

Written by locals, Weekend Notes is a place for community members to write articles on what they observe from their surroundings as well as reviews of places around the city. Contributors post information about local events. This is a great place to get information on smaller, more community-based events. For example, I found out about a garage sale in Kensington on this website.

5- Broadsheet

Similar to TimeOut, Concrete Playground and Culture Trip, Broadsheet gives the latest on Arts & Design, Food, Nightlife and Shopping. They give you all the best insider’s information to what’s behind the best of what the city has to offer. How else would you know that a nutella food truck is about to terrorize Melbourne’s streets (when I say terrorize I mean tantalize).

Other resources:

Besides those five resources to help you get to know the city, there are still others out there. Check  Groupon and Living Social for great deals on dining out and activities (including touristy activities, like walking tours). The CBD News also shares stories on local residents and includes a section of what’s on. Melbourne Libraries host a number of cultural events, including Carlton Coffee Tours and a lunch hour story time for adults.

5 Ways Not To Spend 12 Hours In Dubai

Everyone raves about Dubai. Visiting it elicits the kind of responses that people get when they say they’ve lived in Ibiza; a mixture of awe, disgust and dollar signs cartoon eyes. People stuck with layovers have managed to hit the beach, buy gold and even eat like a local (well, I suppose we more or less did that…).

We didn’t pop champagne or even have a real meal, but we did see this real estate sign.

Here’s a spoiler alert. We didn’t win the “Dubai challenge.” (But we did have “Young Abu Dhabi” in our heads the whole time.) When Erin and I had a 12-hour layover in the city of gold toilets, we pretty much did everything wrong. We had high hopes for our visit after being groomed on a luxurious 13-hour Emirates flight from New York. Only two out of a hand full of passengers, we were treated like royalty, or better, like the young flight attendants’ best friends. We washed our hands with lemon scented towels, ate gourmet food from a beautifully designed menu and got tons of free alcohol. (I know it’s “included” but they still have a way of making you feel elite.)


When we arrived in Dubai and got off the plane, we remembered the phrase “all good things must come to an end.” Spending a total of $27.00 in 12 hours, we managed to eat oily mall food, miss the major sites and somehow failed to make it to the beach for sunset, our one goal. That’s a list of what we didn’t do. But here’s 5 things we did that I don’t (not) recommend you doing.

1- Observe families in the mall and the airport

Somewhere along the line, someone decided families shouldn’t just match, they should match in neon colors (easier to find if one of the ten kids gets lost). There was the matching minion family and the family with matching checkered button down shirts.

Then there were the families in the airports, each with at least four matching children each. It just so happened that one matching family was friends with another matching family. Sitting across from them, we witnessed an interesting social dynamic. One of the family’s children threw things at each other in silence. Meanwhile, the more active matching boys kept running in circles or in short sprint drills. The boys from the other family just stared without saying a word.

2- Take pictures with odd things

Forget trying to inspire or even get some naysayers jealous on Instagram, here’s what you should actually take pictures of.

Notice the Burj Al-Arab in the background. Evidence. Photo: Erin Morris.

3- Get stared at

Sitting at Cafe Blanc, we were warned via stern facial expressions to pretty please shut our traps because we were laughing too much trying to imitate how Moroccans poured their tea.

I took this picture last year in Merzouga, Morocco. Do you see that skill? That’s what I was attempting to imitate….in Dubai.

We were severely judged for not being fancy enough at Jumeirah Village. We felt vulnerable, dirty and too “poor” to even be using the public toilets there. (I later looked on Kayak for room prices at Jumeirah Al Qasr [see below for incident] and a “deal” was advertised at $1,046 USD/night.)

But when we saw the beacon of hope – the bright red cherries of the entrance to Pacha Dubai – we were right at home.

Fitting in quite well, given our expertise of the club…

In a drawn-out attempt to just get to the beach, we walked almost an hour along the coast attempting to cut through mega-hotels and gated subdivisions just to see the sand. We found a way at Jumeirah Village below Jumeirah Al Qasr, except, I can’t lie. You had to be a guest to take the boats to take you to the beach.

“Are you a guest here?” the man asked when I tried to board the boat. He could tell from one look that we didn’t belong among the wealthy patrons that frequent the boats. “Yes,” I said. When he asked me for my room number or key, I panicked. Then admitted I had lied about the whole thing, mumbled and kept walking.

4- Walk way too much

Erin poses near(ish) to the Burj Al Arab. The walk from this picture to the building took us around an hour and a half.

They say that people like Erin and I who underestimate time are highly optimistic. Well, what a better way to express our optimism than the huge miscalculation we faced when thinking the space between the metro and everything on the map wasn’t very far away.

What seemed like no more than 20 minutes took at hour. What appeared to be across the street was like five normal city blocks. It even took 15 minutes to walk from the metro through a tunnel to the Dubai Mall entrance. Even the bathroom sign was 5 minutes from the actual bathroom.  After the incident where I lied at Jumeirah Al Qasr about being a guest, we had to do the long walk of shame towards the exit and an extra 20 more minutes to find the “next left turn”towards the beach- the public entrance. Aka, the entrance for everyone else who isn’t shitting gold in Dubai.

5- Spend way too much time at the mall

Everything I know about Dubai I learned at the mall. Said no one. But me.

Feeling the staleness of artificial air felt natural after being 13 hour on a flight. Then the extended time in the metro and further indoor time in the mall made it unbearable. Even though I was wondering what real Dubai air smells (and feels) like, the mall was still a fascinating place. It was a mini sampling of what I can only assume is the diversity and opulence of the city. We heard the  call to prayer, saw a weird Pinocchio store, passed by electronics stores, clothing stores and chocolate stores. We had gelato samples and sucked on the plastic spoons until we got on the metro (that’s a 15 minute walk if you remember correctly).

We just couldn’t get away from the mall. But who could when just across the street you can watch a choreographed fountain performance to Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero” in Spanish. As soon as the music started, the crowds of people (us included) went running to the edge of the pond beneath the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and oooed and awed as the water rose and fell and twisted to the notes of the dramatic Spanish love song.

Maybe we did it “all wrong.” Maybe we didn’t feel like paying $30 for a cup of tea to sit at the top of the tallest building. Looking back, though, it wasn’t so bad. Feet aches go away and eventually everyone has to breathe real air. On second thought, maybe those are five things you should absolutely add to your Dubai itinerary!