Summer is here, and in the Middle East, the season usually signifies a mass exodus as residents and locals pack up, and escape to cooler climes. While travel has finally returned to normal, there’s been a noticeable rise in costs, from plane tickets to hotels. These are being fuelled by pent-up demand, rising costs and external political factors, like the war in Ukraine. But these shouldn’t stop you from travelling, and there are still plenty of ways to satiate your wanderlust and explore new and exciting cultures this summer because, as we all know, travel isn’t just about the weather and beautiful hotels, but getting under the skin of a new destination, learning from its locals, seeing how other people live and experiencing food, culture and energy. From trips closer to home to up-and-coming Mediterranean destinations, here are my summer travel tips for travelling wisely, more frugally and mindfully.
Broaden your horizons
We all have our go-to summer destination – mine are the South of France, Italy (anywhere, I just adore it) and the Greek islands. But these popular destinations have been hit by rising flight costs and hotel stays, which has seen your usual holiday price rise dramatically. For me, the Balkans is the most exciting place to turn to this summer for a more affordable break – and a short, direct flight. Once behind the Iron Curtain, the Balkan countries – in the east of Europe- are emerging as some of the coolest and most evolving tourism destinations.
The Albanian Riveira is having a moment; Albana is where Croatia was 10 years ago before it boomed into a tourist hotspot. You can find those charming, peaceful pebble beaches, pine forests, towns with affordable restaurants, bars and accommodation and sparkling Ionian seas. Positioned between Greece and Montenegro, Albania benefits from a similar topography to these popular spots, but there are much fewer tourists, and those are usually Italian or Albanian. The Albanian Riviera can be reached by car from the capital of Tirana – a direct flight from Dubai on Flydubai (prices are currently around AED1,500 return, an absolute steal compared to other European rivieras).
Another Balkan summer spot, and an affordable direct flight from the UAE, is Batumi in Georgia. Located on the Black Sea, Batumi is one of the country’s most popular resort towns and a beguiling place of faded grandeur and good times. There are long pebble beaches, boulevards lined with palm trees and Belle Epoque buildings, throwing you back to the seaside resort’s heyday.
Your destination doesn’t have to be final
As I said, many travellers will be put off by flight prices to summer hotspots, particularly those to Europe this year. But be a little savvy and check what airports are around your desired destination. Are there any other airports I can fly into, and then drive or take a train? For example, Italy, France and many other countries are connected by a fantastic network of trains. This year, we are flying into Nice, France, but driving to northern Italy, last year, we returned from Florence via Rome, but we could’ve also easily flown back from Milan or Bologna – all equidistant from the city by train.
This is very true for the Greek islands. In the UAE, we are lucky to enjoy flight routes to a handful of some of not only the most popular and beautiful but the most well-connected. Fly into Mykonos on Flydubai or Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, but instead of staying and battling crowds and spending much more than you anticipated, get on a ferry to neighbouring islands like Paros, Milos, Syros and Ios. These beautiful islands have the same white-washed villages, turquoise waters and tavernas, yet there’s a lot more choice and variety of accommodation and offerings. Paros – one of the most beautiful Cyclades islands with two buzzing ports, plenty of beaches, and so much varied accommodation – is just a 40-minute ferry away.
Explore new flight routes
Airlines like Flydubai and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi are always launching new flight destinations, and this year we’ve seen routes to Sardinia, Corfu, Greece, Pattaya, and Thailand launch. Use this as an opportunity to venture to somewhere you couldn’t fly directly from before and, perhaps, avoid the uber-crowded flights to popular destinations. Corfu is one of the most beautiful Greek islands; it’s a little further away from the popular Cydlades and lies in the west of Greece. Those who’ve watched The Durrels will recognise the island as nature, adventure, and beautiful scenery, plus a big old town and plenty of ports and towns.
Stay closer to home
We’re so quick to prioritise leaving the region, but there’s so much on offer, just a short flight or drive away. I’ve visited the west coast of Saudi Arabia (to Tabuk and AlUla) for the past two summers in a row and was so surprised at how much cooler it was than the UAE. During a visit to Habitas AlUla last summer, I hiked in the early morning – but not 6am like you had to in the UAE, lay by the pool, cycled around the resort and even had dinner sitting outside. Oman’s Salalah is also in the thick of Khareef season, where the southern reaches turn into a micro-climate bubble where the weather is tropical and cool, and there’s an abundance of vegetation and sites like waterfalls. It’s truly stunning and just a short, affordable flight away from most GCC cities.
Don’t be tied to your favourite airline
We’re all guilty of being extremely loyal to our favourite airlines, particularly when it comes to accumulating points. But, in reality, these points have such a tiny monetary value, and it’s not worth choosing over a more affordable flight. For those living in Dubai, check airports like Sharjah and Abu Dhabi – both short drives away and home to more low-cost carriers offering cheaper flights to many popular destinations.
And be flexible with dates
This is an age-old travel tip, but no year have I seen this be more important and true than 2023. See if there’s flexibility and look at flying on an ‘off day’ and returning on a Monday instead of a Sunday. When booking flights from Dubai to Nice for the summer, we were met with prices of 4,400 as a standard, rising to AED5,500. However, flying out on Wednesday instead of Tuesday and back on Monday instead of Sunday allowed us to secure flights for AED3,100 – with 5,500 displaying for just a few days later. There’s no need to take more annual leave; just play around with leaving later and maximising weekends.
Think beyond hotels
I love staying in a beautiful hotel, and a lot of the time, this is actually the holiday for me and the part I truly enjoy the most. This year, we’re staying clear of our usual five-star establishments and exploring guest houses and self-catered accommodations. Not only are these more homely, but they’re much more affordable and a lot of the time, so much love and attention has been put into the design and comforting touches. Those travelling to Italy need to know about agritourism- literally translating to tourism farm stays. They dot the country and are found in historic farmhouses, often set on vineyards, and offer traditional decor, swimming pools, and wine tasting. Having stayed in many world-famous luxury Italian hotels, the rooms are incredibly similar, thanks to a focus on traditional and elegant Italian design. Check out the best agriturismos across Italy here.