Minimalist in Dubai: a personal dilemma (travel story)


See the person in the center of the photo? That’s me.  The one person in awe of their surroundings. This is how I spent most of my time in Dubai. 

How does a newly minted minimalist survive in the most ostentatious city in the world? 

Two and a half months ago, my husband and I sold 90% of our belongings and put the rest in a 5x5 storage unit, before packing a 40L backpack each that would carry our belongings for the next 9-months. At that time, I declared myself a minimalist

The plan for the trip was to not buy any souvenirs. No magnets,  no slogan tee shirts, no cute wood-carved ducks, nothing. This trip was solely to experience the world. A camera phone was the only way to capture memories.

Arriving to Dubai, I had no idea it would take less than 3 days to put my newfound beliefs seriously to the test.  

Regardless of what you think of Dubai, it is opulent and I love it. Having spent the previous four months in towns with cobblestone streets and in ancient 9th century ruins and religious temples, we were ready for a change of pace.

Dubai is modern and luxurious. With the only 7-star hotel in the world, man made islands like The Palm (that is in the shape of a palm tree ) and The World (you guessed it in the shape of the entire damn world) and seeming endless oil money on display with the volume Mercedes Benz and other luxury cars on the streets. Dubai is also home to the tallest building in the world, and The Burj Kalifa and is already planning to retake the title from Saudi Arabia once The Jeddah Tower eclipses The Burj Kalifa. Dubai is always planning for the future. The future as they see it consisted of everything opulent. And in three days, I wanted to be a part of it.

So why would a minimalist think that going to the UAE wouldn’t be challenging?  The most obvious and simple answer is I wasn’t thinking.

Our good intentions of living a more simple life, which had been going well, were challenged so quickly, you would have think I put absolutely no thought into why I wanted to live minimally in the first place. But I assure you, we had put a lot of thought into it .Yet…old habits and all that, I guess.

At this point, I was just in awe at the sight of the spectacle that is Dubai. I mean, in my wildest dream I could never afford any one of the toys they displayed so casually. No harm done in looking, right?


It was at The Dubai Mall that I knew I was in real trouble.  I’m not even a shopper yet upon entry I quickly reverted back to pre-minimalist mindset of “if you want it you should have it.” The mall sparkled as crystals hung from the ceiling and light bounced in every direction. The restaurants featured foods from around the world not just Sabaro’s and Hunan Express like in the malls in the US. There are over 1200 stores from the rare toy store to staples like Top Shop and designer fashion and jewelry stores. There are also rare candle shops, painting galleries as well as the largest aquarium in the world, in the mall! And if you need to go from the LV store on the first floor east wing to the one on the fourth floor west wing, you can take the mall taxi. 


Locals and tourists alike haul handfuls of shopping bags from store to store while only the tourists look up in awe. This was a regular day for everyone else, The Joneses.  I remember a woman dressed in an abaya and niqab (with only the eyes showing) bumped into me as we both ogled an array of freshly baked cookies at a kiosk. She apologized to me by saying sorry and raising a manicured hand. My eyes shot to her wrist adorned with a delicate yet blinding diamond bracelet. After a few hours with nothing but a cookie wrapper in hand I got the itch to buy something, anything.

I’ve never been into expensive brand names. I did own a fake Prada handbag once that a friend brought back from China. She sold it to me for  a “very, very low price.”  But on this particular day, I wanted everything from Top Shop to Fendi. I even told hubby that I wanted to have a selection of body lotions in our next apartment. Body lotions?! In the apartment we were staying our friends wife had a large collection of soaps and body lotions. I admit to sampling more than a few in the days we were there. I hadn’t realized it had rubbed off on me but I was serious when I said it. I wanted a selection of body lotions. 

Three days was all it took to get sucked back into wanting it all and for no reason other than to have it. And I could have it all but it comes at a price. A price that 2 1/2 months ago I determined I was no longer willing to pay. 

It culminated in a small panic attack from opulence overload. Death by suffocation. Trapped in between walls of soaps and body lotions. The thought alone makes it hard to breath.