My favourite thing about travel is its potential to surprise. Stepping outside an airport's sliding doors into a brand new destination, you never quite know what you're going to find.

Last week, I visited Abu Dhabi for the first time. I knew little about the UAE's largest Emirate before I arrived and assumed it would be much like Dubai, all big, brash buildings and overstated luxury.

Yes, there are definite displays of unbelievable wealth, but I found there was a lot more to Abu Dhabi than I first gave it credit for, and it quickly made a positive impression on me.

My preconceived ideas were that it would be overly conservative, unwelcoming to Westerners, and an unpleasant place for female travellers. I couldn't have been more wrong.


There are close to 200 nationalities residing in Abu Dhabi, with Emiratis making up only 20 per cent of the population. I met expats from Britain, the US, Pakistan, Serbia, France, the Netherlands, Morocco — and of course a few Kiwis thrown in for good measure.

When asked what they liked about living there, all the expats said a similar thing — it's a safe, welcoming place for all.

Speaking on last Wednesday's International Day of Tolerance, Minister of State for Tolerance Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi said "every day is a Tolerance Day" for the people of Abu Dhabi. The Government makes concerted efforts to sustain and encourage respect for all people, all year round, and has even launched a National Programme for Tolerance to continue the good work.

May I respectfully suggest the US President-elect takes some notes?