Lifestyle & Culture

Lift off: First stop is Dubai for Baby Boomer digital nomads

(Editor’s note: This is this the second in a series of posts by Keith and Dianne Perrett. Inspired by “Twenty Good Summers” by Martin Hawes, the couple headed out on the road as Baby Boomer digital nomads. Their first stop is Dubai. See Pt. 1 here. Read more about their adventures here on their “No Ties, no Heels” blog.)

So there we were sitting in International departures at King Shaka Airport, Durban, getting ready to board our Emirates flight to Dubai for the start of our adult gap year. Six crazy weeks of getting ready were behind us.

Now we could relax.

Except It was the 10 March 2022 and Putin had invaded Ukraine two weeks earlier. The markets were in a tizz, exchange rates were topsy turvy and our budget had a hole in it before we even started using it.

Oh, well. Onwards and upwards.

World Expot (Images courtesy of Keith and Dianne Perrett)


At times like these it’s a good idea to have a bit of stoic philosophy at hand. “Focus on what’s in your control” (Epictetus) and “What stands in the way, becomes the way” (Marcus Aurelius) came to mind.

So off we flew to Dubai for a month with our kids whom we had not seen for 15-odd months courtesy of the COVID lockdowns. We had a joyous reunion with them at 4 a.m. at Dubai Airport before they went off to work and we went off to the apartment they had organized and started catching up on sleep.

Our first impressions of Dubai 2022? My word the cappuccinos are expensive!

We soon re-learned one of our basic travel lessons: When in a First World country, never convert prices back into South African Rands. It’s guaranteed to ruin the moment!

The World Expo was in town (COVID delayed from 2020/2021). It was due to close on 31 March 2022 so
we had a few weeks in which to visit it. We made the most of the opportunity and visited it three times. It was huge in all respects.

Our outstanding memory of the Expo is the Ukrainian pavilion. The war had been going on for less than a month, but the entire Ukrainian pavilion – all three floors of it – was covered in coloured sticky notes stuck to the walls. All of them were handwritten notes of support and encouragement for the Ukrainian people, written by visitors to the stand.

We found a gap on a wall and added ours. It was a strangely moving experience.

In Dubai, it’s all about the ride. And the Perrett’s is, uh, on the right.

Lots of challenges

The World Expo also affected our lives in another way. Taxis were at a premium to go anywhere other than the expo. And they had their own premium. Getting to the Expo was normal price, but getting back from the Expo incurred a standard basic charge before the meter even started ticking.

After two weeks, we hired a car. It was an unplanned but economically sensible decision. But of course, that decision resulted in a few other challenges.

In South Africa we drive on the left-hand side of the road. In the UAE they drive on the right-hand side. Several times I got into the right hand front seat of the car and wondered who had stolen the steering wheel. If that wasn’t bad enough, traffic circles are prevalent in Dubai and it’s not unusual for a 4-or-5-lane highway to be interrupted by a massive traffic circle that can boast several sets of traffic lights on the way round it.

The lifelong ingrained habit of going left around a traffic circle was incredibly hard to overcome! Twice we went round one the wrong way but luckily both times were on small roads in quiet residential areas and there was no one coming the other way.

The weather in Dubai in winter and spring is awesome. T-shirts and shorts/skirts are perfect for all hours of the day. That’s not a dress code that would have passed muster only a few years ago in Dubai. But then neither would one have expected to have a Monday to Friday working week with a Saturday and Sunday weekend.

As Bob Dylan sang – “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

Discount visa? Seriously?

All too soon the end of March came around. We had seen enough of Dubai to know that we hadn’t even scratched the surface of what was on offer in this remarkable city. We had made new friends, hired a car for a month and my birthday was coming up in the latter half of April. Leaving at this stage seemed a bit silly.

And then something really weird happened. The UAE authorities started offering 50-discounts off the cost of visa extensions.

We had never heard or seen anything like it before. We applied straight away. And after some admin and a brief flurry of e-mails, Plan A for our adult gap year went out the window as our one-month stay in Dubai became a three-month stay.


Read more about Dubai here in Dispatches’ archives.

Keith Perrett
+ posts

Keith was born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is a retired veterinarian who spent the last twenty years of his career working in the Disease Control, One Health, and Antimicrobial Resistance fields in South Africa. His wife Dianne was born and raised in the Waikato region of New Zealand. She has worked extensively as a business strategist/consultant and is currently the founder and CEO of three businesses and serves on a number of business and welfare organization boards.

Keith and Dianne have been married since 1989 and have two children, both teachers, who currently live and work in Dubai.

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