Traditionally, the least stressful and most environmentally friendly commute is by foot, but in the UAE, few people are lucky enough to live within reasonable walking distance of their office – not least because of the high temperatures for much of the year.
The reality for many is driving, which often results in us turning up to work feeling uptight. Meni Koslowsky, co-author of the book Commuting Stress: Causes, Effects and Methods of Coping, says driving a car is more stressful than taking a bus or tram. "Drivers feel responsible to find the best and easiest route, which is a lot of responsibility, whereas bus or tram passengers give over full responsibility to someone else," he says.
Another way to arrive at work with your stress levels in check is to opt instead for the peace of a chauffeur-driven car. Careem is one of the UAE’s biggest business success stories, having started in Dubai in 2012 and now spread to 53 cities across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
“Our passengers can relax in comfort and catch up on emails, message friends or scroll through social media with the knowledge the driver is getting them directly to their destination hassle-free,” says Aura Lunde, general manager of Careem UAE.
Koslowsky argues that the commute to work is less stressful than the journey home. “When you’re on your way to work, the time in the car is part of your workday. When going home you’ve finished your workday, so it’s stressful being in the car rather than being home already – because it’s your time, not your manager’s.”
From lengthy journeys to unusual forms of transport, we have scoured the country to find some of the UAE’s craziest commutes.
Teacher Jon Turner has long commutes.
Christopher Pike / The National
Teacher Jon Turner has an unenviable two-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in Abu Dhabi to the remote Western Region (recently renamed Al Dhafra Region), where he teaches at colleges in Ruwais and Madinat Zayed. Turner spends up to 20 hours a week commuting. His toughest day is Monday, when he leaves the house at 5.45am and doesn’t return until 10.30pm.
Turner’s route, along the E11, has been plagued by roadworks for the past few years, and large stretches have no street lights.
“Driving back at night is pretty scary,” he admits. “The other problem is you’ve only got two lanes, one for trucks and one for everybody else. You get drivers who break the 120kph speed limit, so you’re constantly trying to get out of people’s way. Other drivers can make the journey stressful.”
Despite the downsides of his long commute, Turner finds the actual act of driving pleasurable, “because it’s a chance for me to be on my own and have a bit of quiet time”.
According to Koslowsky, commuting is made considerably more stressful when it’s hard to predict how long your journey will take.
“It’s better to have a commute that’s always one hour than a commute that could be an hour but sometimes takes 45 minutes,” he explains.
The length of Turner’s journey is particularly unpredictable when it’s foggy.
“One morning, my commute took me six hours. When I arrived, I discovered the college was closed, so I had to turn back.”
Turner used to while away the hours listening to rock music, but two years ago, he discovered the joy of podcasts, which have made his time in the car pass faster.
“I’ve built up a huge selection, from BBC history podcasts to quirky phenomenon like the history of action figures or black holes – it’s quite random.”
Three times a week, organic farmer Elena Kinane makes the drive from her home in Dubai to her farm near Kalba. She tries to make the most of her hour-long journey by learning to speak French en route.
“We’re thinking of ultimately buying a house [in France], so I need to have the language,” the German-American explains.
Aoife Duggan flies from her home in Dubai to London Heathrow Airport, where she’s based as a British Airways short-haul pilot. Philip Allport / British Airways
Imagine a commute that’s a 14-hour round trip to a different continent and back. That’s what the British Airways pilot Aoife Duggan faces when she flies from her home in Dubai to London Heathrow Airport, where she’s based as a short-haul pilot.
“I do have a very long commute to work, and I’ve become used to spending time on long-haul airplanes,” says Duggan, a 30-year-old from Ireland, who has been flying commercially for nine years.
Duggan admits sitting in dry cabin air for long periods can be dehydrating.
“I find it’s important to drink lots of water up in the air. I notice the dry skin after a long flight,” she says.
Another UAE resident, Omar Ghazanfar, is also familiar with commuting to the United Kingdom for work. The Briton is an A&E doctor who commuted to Oxford from his family home in Abu Dhabi for a year, working as an NHS emergency medicine senior registrar, until he finished his Oxford fellowship.
“It was every two weeks because I’d annualised my hours to be two weeks on and two weeks off,” he explains. “It was very tiring, and I was jet-lagged for a majority of the two weeks I wasn’t in the UK. But it worked out in the end when I finished my fellowship and secured a post here in Abu Dhabi.”
On two wheels... and more
Boat captain Jay Eler cycles to work. Delores Johnson / The National
Jay Eler, captain with sightseeing and private charter cruise company Jalboot, cycles several kilometres on his bicycle from his home in Abu Dhabi’s Al Zahiyah to the company’s station behind Abu Dhabi Mall. And when Jalboot holds a meeting at its Aldar office, Eler commutes there by boat. But his current commute is a breeze compared with journeys that the 35-year-old has undertaken in the past, in the Philippines.
“After graduating from college and qualifying as a captain, I got called at short-notice for a job interview, which was 130 kilometres away,” he explains. “I used a bus, a train, and hitchhiked to get there, then arrived on the wrong side of the water to where I needed to go. I nearly had to swim the last leg to get there, until a passing rowing boat came to the rescue. But I was on time for the interview – and got the job.”
Government employee – and onetime Miss Lebanon – Gabrielle Bou Rached says that she really enjoys her commute. That’s because she’s able to dart past traffic on her Harley-Davidson Sportster motorbike, between her home in Al Reef and her office near Zayed Sports City.
“The feeling of freedom is unbelievable,” she says. “On the bike, I forget all about work, kids and home commitments, and just enjoy the wind on my face and the sound of the wind in my ears.”
Rached has had her motorbike since 2015, but didn’t immediately start using it for her commute.
“I was scared that being a lady biker and Arab, and working for government, I’d be frowned upon,” she admits. “Plus there were dress-code restrictions and I didn’t have saddle bags on my bike to carry my purse and papers. But as I got more addicted to riding, I found solutions to those problems. I got bungee ropes to strap my purse behind me, and now carry an extra pair of office shoes to change into when I reach work.”
Rached has found that people are more open-minded about her motorbiking than she had expected. “But I get intrigued looks when I park my bike at the main gate [at work],” she says.
The National is looking for stories of the UAE's craziest commutes. Careem will offer one lucky winner, chosen randomly, a week of free rides. To enter, go to The National Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thenational.ae.