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11 Travel Hacks to Make your First Trip to Bali Truly Memorable and Worry-Free

11 Travel Hacks to Make your First Trip to Bali Truly Memorable and Worry-Free

Bali is, without question, a one-of-a-kind travel destination — arguably one of the best in the world. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to experience it, especially if it is your first time.

After being “stuck” there throughout the pandemic (trust me, I am aware that there are worse places that I could have been stuck), I learned a lot about the island and its wonderful people. Perhaps the only thing more beautiful than Bali’s pristine beaches and evergreen rice fields are its people. Not surprisingly, they put tremendous prestige on aesthetics — in their architecture, their traditional dress, and their unique Hindu faith.

However, like any major tourist destination, there are pitfalls, hustles, and scams that need to be navigated. Here are ten tips to help you maximize your time and minimize some of the frustrations associated with the tourist industry.

Below are 11 Bali hacks that will maximize your enjoyment of the island and minimize your worries… 

1. I hate to lead off with something as boring as travel insurance, but as someone who wished he had it as a result of a motorbike accident (See tip six), but didn’t, I highly recommend it, simply for peace of mind. And post Covid, I feel like travel insurance has become industry standard. There is no shame in being protected and it is a small price to pay. 

2. Bali belly is no joke. This doesn’t mean the the food is ill-prepared, it can simply be a result of your body not being accustomed to the local bacteria. Be cautious with street food, especially if it’s sea food which can spoil quicker. Carry activated charcoal, it can be a lifesaver. All said, don’t be overly-cautious and NOT try new things. Get out of your comfort zone a little bit. Buy a coconut from a beach vendor. Try the sate and the gado gado. Have fun! Bali belly won’t kill you. 

Throughout the course of your trip, it is likely you will experience GI issues, but don’t cast blame and don’t let it ruin your trip. Lastly, drink bottled water. 

3. Bali has such charm and mystique, don’t spend all your time in the touristy areas, especially Canggu and Seminyak. If you know, you know. And if you want a better  idea, follow the Canggu on Acid Instagram page.

As with any major tourist destination, you’ll have to deal with the tourists, the best of them and the god-awful worst of them. These are the Instagram-fabulous wannabe celebrities who holiday in Bali not to appreciate it, but to exploit it for likes. The best way to avoid the influencer fools is to simply avoid  a couple of places – Seminyak and Canggu.

In 2015 when I first visited Bali, Canggu was a cozy and quiet destination to itself, just north of all the hustle and bustle of Denpasar, among the rice fields and surf beaches. Now it is completely overrun with beach clubs, vegan taco restaurants, and overpriced coffee shops. If there is a downside to Bali’s beauty, it’s undoubtedly the overabundance of idiot influencers, but these areas are easy enough to avoid. 

4. Get a local SIM card. This may sound foreign, literally and figuratively, to Americans because we’re accustomed to contractually renting our phones from service providers. However, in most countries, it’s not done this way. When you own your phone, you can easily switch out SIM cards to get a local number. If you are currently in a contract and cannot jailbreak your phone, find an old phone that is no longer under contract.  Or, buy a cheap used iPhone. You don’t need anything flashy. The purpose is solely to purchase a local SIM card at the airport. It’s extremely cheap — around 150,000 rupiah (about $10) for a  14 days SIM card with unlimited talk and text, accompanied by plenty of data, as long as you’re not streaming heavily.

Having a local phone number not only assures you of the best service on the island, but it also opens a lot of doors, as you’ll soon see in step three.

5. Now that you have your local phone number, it’s time to download the Grab App and Gojek App. These apps are like the Southeast Asian versions of Uber and Lyft. While Gojek requires a local phone number, Grab does not. I recommend having both apps, as Gojek is Indonesian so it has the most local ride-share and delivery options. These apps make it easy to order late-night food or drinks, utilize ride-share services, and even book hotels and travel packages.

In Indonesia cash is king. The local drivers prefer cash as payment, as they may not have bank accounts. As a result, it is best not to connect the app to a credit card, but rather pay in cash. If you attempt to pay with your credit card within the app, it’s likely that you’ll be overlooked for a ride. 

6. If you’re traveling with a group of three or more people, it might be more economical to hire a full-time driver for a day or even the duratin of your trip. Things that are not affordable in the US are in Indo. Very affordable.

While Grab and Gojek are fine for the more populated towns and beaches, finding a ride in remote area can be challenging. To hire a driver, be resourceful. Network with your hotel or negotiate a deal with a Grab or Gojek driver for a full-day rate or multi-day hire. Most drivers in Bali speak English and are generally friendly and helpful. In addition, they are very proud of their island and enjoy showing it to gracious tourists. 

The ride-share apps also are a good way to understand pricing in Bali. To get an idea of transportation costs, use the Grab or Gojek app to find the price from one destination to another. This will help you in your negotiation for a driver. If you know the Grab/Gojek price you should not pay more than that. Obviously, if you hire the driver for a day, you must also pay them for their time. For a full day hire, you should consider paying around 500k to a million rupiah. Possibly more if you’re putting a lot of miles on the car. 

7. Renting a motorbike can be a thrilling experience if you’re adventurous and have prior experience riding. However, if you’ve never driven a motorbike or motorcycle Bali is NOT the place to learn. To say that traffic laws are not strictly followed in Indonesia is an understatement. It’s the wild west on the roads – chaotic and unpredictable.

One idea is to consider renting a bike at home, or even taking a class before your trip if you’re truly interested in riding a bike on the island. A motorbike is a great way to explore hidden beaches and secluded sites in Bali. Additionally, having experience riding a bike can be beneficial if you plan to explore other islands as described in step 6. And ALWAYS wear a helmet. 

8. If time allows, consider embarking on a day trip or weekend getaway to one of Bali’s neighboring islands. These islands offer a more remote experience compared to Bali itself. Depending on your interests, you can choose an island known for surfing, scuba diving, or simply enjoying beach life. For diving enthusiasts, Nusa Penida is highly recommended, and it’s just a short ferry ride from Sanur. The island offers some of the best diving spots in the world.

Another fun island to explore is Gili Trawangan, commonly known as “Gili T.” It’s famously know as the “party island,” but it’s crucial to note that it’s the only place where one should even consider purchasing any illegal substances, even marijuana, although it’s strongly advised against. Referencing tip number 7, it’s crucial to be cautious and abide by the rules, especially in regard to extra-curriculars.

9. I can’t stress the enough, it’s of utmost importance to avoid purchasing drugs in Bali. The consequences are severe, as indicated by the prominent warning signs upon entering immigration at the airport stating that “drug trafficking is punishable by death.” To truly understand the risks involved, you can read the book “Hotel K – The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Prison.” Corruption is prominent in Bali. If you’re found to be in possession, they’ll shake you down with threats of jail time. You could be sent immediately to Hotel K as a scare tactic, which will result in a terrible trip and empty bank account at best, and prison time at worst. 

10. Respect is key, especially when visiting temples and religious sites in Bali. While there are plenty of places on the island to party and dress sexy, the temples and religious sites are not one.  It’s important to dress modestly and be mindful of local customs when visiting these sacred places. Locals visit these sites for prayer and spiritual reflection, not merely as photo opportunities. Ensure you wear appropriate clothing and behave respectfully to avoid causing offense or disrespecting the local culture and customs.

11. Southeast Asia isn’t Mexico or the US. Sure, there is petty theft, there is a small  chance you’ll get your phone or bag stolen, but there is no violent crime like there is in the west. So be adventurous. Get off the resort. Get lost – it’s an island so you cannot TOO lost. Don’t be shy asking locals for advice, they love to help grateful tourists. 

The World Isn’t as Big as it Used to Be

As I’ve always told my son, the world isn’t that big anymore and it’s becoming more and more connected everyday. The Balinese vacation of your dreams doesn’t have to be a dream. You can make it a reality. Take the leap…