The Nuts and Bolts of Living in Bali for a Month
When I first set foot in Ubud, Bali in 2012 I felt a surge of comfort — the sensation of coming home, even though I had never been here before. I get the same feeling with New York City — I call these my two “soul cities,” with Amsterdam a close third. These are places that feel like more of a homecoming than an adventure quest; the other people passing through feel like “my people” and the values and ethos at every level of the culture resonate deeply.
After my first two-day trip to Ubud, I knew I had to return even though it was halfway across the planet. On a bigger leap of faith, I spent a month living here in January 2013, and in January 2015 I went back for a month’s stay again. It feels so re-energizing that I will do it every year if I can from now on — being here is healing, and a reminder of the heights of health and happiness I sometimes forget are possible.
TRANSPARENCY FOR POSSIBILITY
Many times when I tell people I will be living in Bali for the month of January they will say something like, “You’re so lucky! Enjoy!” There are many things in life I am very lucky to have, but travel is one that anyone can methodically work toward. At the end of the day, it is a question of money, time, desire and overcoming any fears about making the leap.
You know how I love making a good template and demystifying complexity — that’s what today’s post is about. I’m sure there have been a kazillion posts on how to live and travel to Southeast Asia. But for those of you who might resonate with my form of travel, count this as one more tool in your arsenal to help you plan your own trip someday. You can do something like this, on any scale, if and when you want to.
Okay, time to get down and dirty with all the numbers.
But first, a giant caveat: I am not the world’s most frugal traveler! I am not a travel hacker or a backpacker. But neither am I a luxury-seeking spendthrift. I am a very middle-of-the-road traveler — I like to get somewhere, be comfortable, settle in, and find routines quickly. I like a nice room with Internet and amenities, and I like to eat delicious, healthy food, and take yoga classes every day. These are things I am willing to spend money on.
- 100,000 in Indonesian Rupiah is approximately $8 USD (calculator here).
- It can be a bit of a confusing conversion at first! Feels like you’re playing with paper money, as taking out 1 million Rupiah from the ATM equals less than $100 USD.
- As longtime expat Dan Andrews of Tropical MBA advised Elisa who I first came to visit here, “Subtract zeros until it makes sense.”
Basic Travel Costs — Flight:
The flight is the biggest shock and cost to swallow by far. I could have done this much better if I had travel hacked my way through it, but I knew if I waited to travel hack the trip, I would have never booked it at all. So, I swallowed hard and purchased the “normal” way. I also upgraded a bit on my trip back and did not optimize fully for cost — coming home is always a bit hard for me (emotionally and physically), so I paid a few hundred extra for Virgin Atlantic.
- Flight from LAX to Denpasar, Bali (connecting through Taipei) via China Airways (~25 hours): $700
- Flight from Denpasar to Singapore, where I’m delivering a training for Google before coming home: $80 on AirAsia (like Southwest)
- Flight from Singapore to NYC (connecting through London), via Virgin Atlantic: $1,000
- TOTAL AIRFARE: ~$1,800
- Taxi from Denpasar to Ubud (1.5 hours): $30
- Ubud is somewhat of a hippie-town in the jungle (not along the ocean) with a large emphasis on spirituality, organic food, meditation and movement. There are many beautiful beach towns across Bali, and some bigger cities like Seminyak that are great. The aussies all party in Kuta (Vegas of Indonesia) since it’s a 3-hour flight — not a place I spend much time if I can help it!
Note: to enter Indonesia, you have to show that you have an outbound flight booked. The default tourist visa is 30 days, but you can pay to extend.
Basic Travel Costs — Hotel:
- Hotel: $30/night with bulk discount for booking one month. Includes wifi, air conditioning, morning coffee and breakfast. I’m okay with paying a bit extra because it is next door to the yoga studio and the people who stay are quite friendly and interesting — I’ve kept in touch with many people I’ve met here in my various trips!
- There are dozens, if not hundreds, of “homestays” in Bali where you can easily and comfortably stay for $15-$20 per night.
- If you can rent out your place back at home, that can offset a major portion of these travel costs, otherwise it is a bit tricky to take a double-hit on rent.
Food Cost Examples:
I eat in restaurants a lot (they have tons of organic, healthy cafes here) — so you could do this much cheaper by eating street food. Ubud is more expensive than other places in Bali because it has become quite a “farong” (foreigner) destination — particularly among the Eat, Pray, Love set! From what I typically order, here’s the breakdown:
- Nasi Goreng (fried rice) with 2 chicken satay skewers: $2.50
- Fruit smoothie or pressed juice: $2.50
- Capuccino: $1.70
- Big salad with ~10 toppings: $4.00
- Full three-course meal: $20-$30
- Fresh coconut (drink the coconut water, then scoop out the insides to eat): $1.20 (!!!)
- I also brought a big bag of almonds and two boxes of Perfect Bars — those are great snack back-ups when I just want something clean and healthy without eating in a restaurant.
- I take yoga classes at Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive; classes are ~$10 each but cheaper if you do a class pack
- I took a half-day cooking class and market tour at Casa Luna (thanks mom!!) for $32
- The Nahko concert I attended had a $15 cover charge
- Attending talks, events, and meditation talks at a nearby gallery-theatre costs ~$8 each time
- Massage (and facials): this is where it gets unreal . . . one hour is typically ~$12-$15!
- The co-working space here, Hubud, charges monthly at around ~$50. They have great people, great amenities, coffee, a cafe, and boast the second-fastest internet on the island, second only to the government!
- On a related note, I’ve been doing a few coaching calls each day via Skype — you can either call Skype-to-Skype for free, or pay a small amount (¢1/min) for Skype Credit to call someone’s phone directly, which is what I use to call family.
- You can also hire a driver for the entire day to take you touring to the volcano, coffee plantation, and temples for ~$30
- I’m a bit of a boring traveler (being a routine-lover and all) so I don’t do as many excursion-type activities . . . most people here rent scooters or motorbikes ($50 for the month) and go all over the place!
For specific hotels, restaurants, and attractions, check out the Google Doc for Bali and Chiang Mai Thailand that Elisa and I set-up a few years ago based also on recommendations from many others.
Making it Happen
Once you figure out how to manage the flight costs, you can live very comfortably here for ~$50/day (including room and board), and this is not even the cheapest city in Southeast Asia by a long shot! That’s ~$1,500 for the month. A stretch, but nothing you can’t save up for little-by-little.
The Time Factor
Of course, the major issue I haven’t addressed in this post is taking the time off. My strong feeling is that a trip like this benefits from at least two weeks, ideally three or four. Even if you’re working full-time, many people have earned at least 2–3 weeks of vacation time. How it unfolded for me:
- The first week I spent skidding in on blinking “red battery” from a year of hard work in the lovable chaotic jungle of New York City
- By the second week I was starting to feel human and restored again, but by no means ready to leave
- By week 3 I was in a groove with creative ideas flowing fast and furious
- By week 4 (the home stretch), I feel fully recharged and grateful to have had time to settle in before gearing up to return after my trip to Singapore
Now for the most important question: where do you want to travel next?
When? And for how long? Whatever it is, write it down and start crunching some numbers . . . you might find out it is not as intimidating or impossible as you might think.