I did it, guys. I finally went to Bali, after years of pining over it. And, without sounding really corny, the experience has actually changed my life and broadened my mind, re-igniting my love of faraway destinations and long-haul travel. This idyllic Indonesian island is quite simply paradise on Earth, and spending three weeks there was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. If you read my post on preparing for a South East Asia backpacking trip, you’ll have read that I was planning on heading to Thailand, too.
I loved Bali and the Gili Islands so much that I decided to spend the entire time there, instead.
The smiles of the locals, the stunning natural beauty and the abundance of things to see and do, as well as the laid-back, tropical vibe that’s unlike any other place I’ve been, were just a few reasons why I made the decision to stay on longer.
So, if you’re planning on backpacking around Bali on a budget, or if you’re just after some crucial tips on the island, read on to find out my 9 essential tips.
- Use the Grab app to get around.
The South East Asian version of Uber, Grab is the best way to taxi around the island. With long car journeys for around 50,000 IDR (about £1.25!) and scooter rides for as little as 10,000 IDR, Grab is cheap as chips. Don’t be fooled by the guys who stand on the roadside yelling “Taxi!” every time you pass; you’ll usually spend a fortune if you opt for this method. Unfortunately, having just arrived in Bali and with no knowledge of Grab (yet), I fell for this way too many times, and ended up spending a lot more on scooter taxis than I should have. Download Grab before you arrive and you’ll save so much dolla in the long-run.
2. …Or just rent a scooter instead.
Getting around the island is best done via scooter. It’s easier, faster, and way more convenient. It costs about 30,000-50,000 IDR per day to hire one, and most hostels offer this service to its guests. Of course, you need a driving license, since you’ll risk paying a hefty fine if you’re caught driving without one. Hopefully I’ll finally manage to get mine in time for next year, and I can cruise around Bali like a local.
3. Master the art of haggling.
Being a female (and clearly Western) traveller on the island, I quickly got used to stall owners doing everything they can to persuade me to browse what they were selling. The Balinese people are the loveliest people I’ve ever come across, but most of them will try and sell you items for way more than what they’re worth. In the grand scheme of things, I get it. They don’t earn a lot of money, so of course they’re going to try and make every bit of money they can from the Westerners. But, if you’re a backpacker on a tight budget, it’s crucial to learn the art of haggling. Come up with a price that you think is reasonable for whatever it is you’re buying, and stick to it without budging. When you begin to walk away from the seller, chances are they’ll give you the item for that price.
4. Stay out of Kuta.
So many people advised me not to go to Kuta, but I wanted to see it for myself and make my own decisions. And I decided that they were right. I didn’t even last 24 hours there before I was ordering a Grab taxi to take me to Seminyak. If the ‘Asian Benidorm’ is your thing, then you’ll probably enjoy Kuta. But, if you want to see the real Bali and experience the peace, quiet, tranquillity and culture that the island is famous for, Kuta has pretty much wiped all of that out. I’ve never felt more stressed and unsettled anywhere else. If you want to see the real Bali, stick to Canggu or Ubud.
5. Eat like a local.
The best way to save money on food in Bali is to do as the locals do and eat at a “warung”, a small roadside café or restaurant serving up local fare. Here, you can expect to sample the best of Indonesian cuisine whilst paying less than half the cost of the same meal at a hotel or a more Western restaurant aimed at tourists. Eating lunch and dinner at warungs regularly will save you so much money in the long-run.
6. Take advantage of the abundance of free WiFi.
Rather than spending a bomb on data, keep in mind that 99% of bars, cafés, restaurants and even warungs in Bali have WiFi available. When I was outside of my accommodation and I needed to use the Internet for whatever reason, I’d take advantage of the free WiFi when I was eating out or stopping off for a drink. Plus, using WiFi in Bali is worth it purely to find out the weird and wonderful passwords that seems to be a “thing” amongst the Balinese folk. Most of them are either really cute or just downright hilarious. Some of my favourite WiFi passwords (yes, I’m sad) were “iamhappy”, “buyabike” and “drinkacoconut”. So adorable.
7. Try not to let the “dog situation” ruin your trip.
One aspect of Bali that I was not at all prepared for was the “dog situation”. If, like me, you’re a massive animal lover, expect to feel like shit and lose a little faith in humanity every time you see a dog lying on the roadside with its ribs visible and, a lot of the time, covered in open sores. And, you’re going to feel like this a lot, because there’s usually around 5-10 dogs like this on every street you’re on. It’s really sad, and it took me a while to get used to seeing it. The fact is, most Asian countries just don’t place as much importance on animal welfare as Western cultures do – probably because they’re experiencing severe poverty themselves, unlike most Westerners. You can buy some dog food from the shop and feed them (without touching them!), sure, but apart from that, there’s not much else you can really do to change the situation. It took me a while to accept this, but it’s important to be prepared for it before you get to Bali.
8. Take lump sums out of the ATM.
Rather than taking small amounts out at a time, it’s much cheaper and easier to withdraw lump sums. Unlike me, try to have enough cash before you go so you don’t need to use an ATM at all – I was being charged pretty hefty sums every time I withdrew any money. Of course, most people will, at some point, run out of cash and need to withdraw more – just make sure you take out the maximum amount you can, in order to avoid being charged several times for taking out smaller amounts.
9. Use Tinder as a way to make friends.
It might sound a bit crazy, but I found that using Tinder as a solo traveller in Bali was a really good way to make friends. I quickly found I wasn’t the only one – in fact, loads of solo travellers and backpackers on the island do exactly the same thing. I updated my bio to state how long I was there for and what it actually was that I was looking for. This was one of the best ways to make friends, I found. If, for whatever reason, you don’t have the app, just get out there and talk to people. You’re obviously confident enough to travel solo, so it shouldn’t be too hard to spark up a convo.
I had an absolute blast on the paradise isle, and I’m already planning my next trip there.