When I booked my fights to Bali I was beyond excited. I imagined sandy beaches, beautiful rice terraces, tropical drinks, exotic temples, and first class dive sites. It didn’t disappoint. The beaches were busy, but nice. The rice terraces were gorgeous to walk through (when it wasn’t pouring rain). The temples were great to explore and the diving was phenomenal. But after spending a month in Indonesia, a couple weeks of that in Bali, I was more than happy to leave. Because as beautiful as it was, my experience of solo travel in Bali kind of sucked.
I should clarify that my disliking solo travel in Bali had nothing to do with the fact that it’s a romantic honeymoon destination. While this tends to bother some people, I’ve never let it get in my way (in fact, Venice is one of my favourite places for solo travel). I should also mention that just because I’m saying my experience of solo travel in Bali sucked, doesn’t mean that Bali sucks. Bali is really cool with plenty to see and do, and was an awesome destination for a girls’ getaway. However, as a female traveller on a budget, who likes to get off the beaten path, my experience of solo travel in Bali was frustrating and left me disappointed and wanting more.
Solo Travel in Bali: Getting Around was a Nightmare
Bali does not have a public transportation system. Uber and Grab Car do exist, however at the time I visited (September 2016) they were at odds with the taxi drivers and there was a bit of a battle going on. Angry signs on the roads, and horror stories about Uber drivers being pulled over and passengers being forced out and threatened by taxi drivers meant this was not a service to use or rely on. Which left taxis, shuttles, and tour guide-type private drivers.
The most affordable option is the shuttle; however, it is also the most inconvenient as they follow a set route that usually adds hours to travel time. Not that it matters as you need a minimum of two people going to the same destination to be able to use the shuttle. For travelers going to the main areas like Kuta, Seminyak or Ubud, that isn’t usually a problem. But for me who wanted to get to Tulamben for diving, it was a nightmare. I even offered to pay the price for two passengers (still cheaper than a taxi or private driver) but was told no.
As is expected, taxis and private drivers are the most expensive options. Blue Bird taxis are the best option (they will operate on a meter) but are only in south Bali. And, while not as pricey as North American standards, a ride may still leave a hole in your wallet.
You can try to bargain with private drivers and will probably be able to drop the price a bit, but not much. I ended up having to pay $60 to get from Ubud to Tulamben (3-4 hours). While that may not be such a terrible price considering I had a private car, the fact that it was my only option to get there was a major bummer and definitely influenced my trip. Originally I really wanted to go to the west coast of the island, but with private cars being the only option, it just wasn’t financially feasible.
Solo Travel in Bali: Day Trips are Geared Towards Groups
Part of the magic of Bali is being able to go into the country side, see the rice terraces, the waterfalls, the coffee plantations, and the temples. I had a massive list of places I wanted to see but my list was quickly narrowed down upon finding out that there are no public busses, or easy ways to get around. Like with travelling between cities, the only option was private drivers or hire your own motorbike (which wasn’t a good option for me as explained later).
Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do some site seeing and was able to easily rope in fellow travelers to join me in going to Pura Titra Empul temple, the rice terraces, and even to see a local magic man. Being in a group meant these day tours were affordable, but if I had been alone it would have cost me a small fortune. While it was nice to have the company on these day trips, it also meant we had to decide where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see as a group. Thankfully I’m pretty easy going and wanted to see almost everything, but I can imagine it could be frustrating for someone who wasn’t as flexible and had their mind set on certain places.
Note: Since being in Bali I’ve discovered Get Your Guide which uses local tour operators and guides, but they have been vetted and have reviews. If you are looking for a tour but are a bit concerned, I suggest checking out their options for something a little more reassuring.
Solo Travel in Bali: There is a lot of Sexual Harassment
I’m not usually the type of solo female traveler who advocates wearing a fake wedding ring or making up a fake significant other, but in Bali I quickly told everyone that I had a boyfriend. I’m not sure what it was about me that encouraged all the men to ask me if I would like to drink and party with them, but it ended up being pretty unnerving on my end.
I had a particularly uncomfortable ride to Ubud with a driver who kept trying to take me drinking rather than to my hostel. I also left my dive shop in Tulamben a day early because the staff, all males, were a bit too interested and questioning about my love life and the fact that I was there alone. While nothing ever happened, I constantly felt on edge around many Balinese men.
Solo Travel in Bali: Cellphone Service was Crap
I will fully admit that having a sim card and a working cellphone is a complete luxury while travelling. However, as someone with a penchant for getting hopelessly lost and into some sticky situations, I usually get one if I’m going to be in a country for awhile. It’s a bit of a security blanket.
I bought a sim card as soon as I arrived, and although it didn’t cost me much I was disappointed to find out that service was verging on non-existent most places I went. While nothing happened in the end that required me needing one, it easily could have, especially when I met up with Chantae and we both crashed our motorbikes.
Normally, not having a working cell phone wouldn’t bother me that much. However given my seemingly constant unease around many of the local men, it definitely bothered me.
Final Word on Solo Travel in Bali
Did I dislike Bali? No, but my frustrations with the parts listed above didn’t allow me to love my time there as much as I thought I would. Perhaps I’m to blame; maybe I didn’t do enough research or plan well enough ahead. Maybe I should have budgeted more, or not spent as much time on the island.
Do I suggest avoiding solo travel in Bali? No, not at all. But based on my experience I do recommend having a plan and extra money, especially if you want to get more off the beaten route. Don’t leave booking transportation until the last minute, ask around and see if anyone is interested, and try to be flexible.
PS: If you are going to Bali and looking for a guide book, my good friend and travel journalist Chantae Reden recently wrote this Bali Travel Guide for Moon Guidebooks.
Must Have Travel Accessories for Solo Travel in Bali
I love solo travel, but it does mean I need to take some extra precautions. For any other solo travellers out there, especially my ladies, I highly recommend you pack the following:
- A lockable backpack for when you are in crowded areas and have nobody to keep an eye on your back.
- A whistle in case of an emergency. It’s an easy and reliable way to get attention worldwide
- A lightweight power bank. There is nothing worse than your phone dying when you are using it as a map!
- Activated charcoal for tummy troubles– the best solution when there is nobody you can count on to go to the pharmacy for you.
- Door stopper. Most hostels/hotels are safe, but if you are worried this will help you sleep better.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Indonesia
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.
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