About a year ago, I took my first solo trip (ever) to Bali!
At the time, I was going through a new self-love phase, after a difficult breakup and living away from my family. I finally had a job where I made enough to pay for my own travels, and after hearing my aunt talk about how much she loved going to Bali alone (for yoga training), I decided I was going to go there myself.
It was scary thinking about going to a new country alone for the first time, but my aunt assured me the area she went to was really safe, with many other travelers and friendly people.
She stayed in Ubud, which is considered the cultural heart of Bali. Ubud is up in the mountains, with so many cool little shops, and it basically feels like you’re in some magical jungle village. Even coming from my tropical paradise on Guam, being in Ubud felt like a dream. The trees are amazingly tall, and everywhere you turn just walking the streets there are different statues and hidden gardens.
My parents had just visited Ubud and other parts of Bali months before my trip, and my dad recommended I stay away from popular tourist areas like Kuta. I read reviews online about the beaches being trashed and just full of western tourists partying, and felt bad thinking about the impact of outsiders on a beautiful country — especially because we experience similar things on Guam with trying to take care of our island. I decided I wanted to avoid that area and stay in Ubud, to try to have a more authentic cultural experience in Bali.
Although my experience in Ubud was amazing in many ways, I think it’s just getting way too popular among western travelers so I felt like a lot of places were too touristy to cater to that demographic (myself included, ironically). There were shops selling yoga clothes and tank tops that read cheesy things like “namaslay” or other puns on “namaste.”
At some points, I felt kind of disillusioned seeing everyone taking photos and thinking about them posting like Bali is some mystical place when really it felt like a westerner fantasy and not authentic due to the mass amount of tourists coming through.
I feel like remote places in the world like Bali and Guam get their authenticity sucked out by catering to tourists and watering down culture in some ways, but a lot of our economy depends on tourism. It’s just a complicated experience traveling as a westerner and also being part of an indigenous population struggling to keep its culture despite outside influences.
Anyway, if you choose to venture to Bali, I highly recommend going to Ubud. Just know that even though some parts of it are definitely beautiful, you should still expect it to be pretty touristy (probably even more so over the past year since it’s becoming an increasingly popular destination lately).
Here are some tips I learned through planning my own trip:
First, I recommend using Google Flights to search for the best prices for your trip. It’s simple: you just put in the dates you’d like to travel and it’ll show you the most inexpensive options.
Flying from Guam, I used Philippine Airlines to book my trip. I went from Guam to Manila, and had a long layover (more than six hours, I think) so I went to the SM Mall of Asia. It’s not far from the airport (just take a Grab, or taxi if you haven’t downloaded the Grab app). Shopping options aren’t so great on Guam (besides buying from local makers, which I try to do as much as I can), so I had fun browsing the shops like Uniqlo and Zara. They also have a ton of food options (from fast food to dine-in/sit-down restaurants), so I had an inexpensive meal at a small Japanese restaurant at the mall.
It’s best if you have cash exchanged before you get out of the airport — maybe exchange cash for Philippine pesos at your local airport. I ended up not having cash with me so the taxi driver brought me to a stall in the city where people exchange money, but it was sketchy as hell and I was scared I was going to get robbed, especially as a woman alone. Luckily it was fine, but I wouldn’t recommend exchanging money unless it’s at a credible place. Also be sure to download an exchange rate app so you can check if prices sound reasonable to you and don’t end up over spending.
I made sure to book a hotel room near the airport when I first arrived in Bali, then headed to Ubud with a driver from the hotel the next morning. It was great to have a room waiting for me nearby, because I was so tired from traveling the day before, and it takes like an hour or so to get to Ubud from the airport (that’s an extra two hours of traveling you don’t want to do at the end of the night).
On the way back to Guam, I had like a 12 hour layover between Manila and Guam which was ridiculous. I was exhausted from traveling on a redeye flight, so all I wanted to do when I got to Manila was take a shower and rest. As per a recommendation from one of my coworkers who travels a lot, I booked a cheap hotel room in Manila just for the day so I’d have somewhere to relax. It wasn’t in a very safe area, but I just tried to stay in the hotel most of the time and went to the mall nearby to grab food. If you do something similar, I would recommend booking a hotel closer to the airport so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic on the way back. Rush hour in Manila is no joke!
My dad taught us to travel light, with just a backpack (even on a month-long trip to Europe). It’s faster and easier than bringing luggage, because you don’t have to check anything in and can skip the super long wait at the luggage carousel.
I only went on my trip for about four to five days, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to pack light. I made sure only to bring comfortable shoes and clothing (especially stuff I didn’t mind getting dirty, just in case). I packed a white t-shirt, sports bras, a couple tank tops, a light maxi dress and jean shorts (plus undergarments and socks). For the flight and travel days, I wore Adidas track pants, a t-shirt and a hoodie to stay comfortable.
I also bought clothes at the mall in Manila which I ended up wearing during the trip, but I made sure everything could still fit in my backpack.
Instead of bringing my laptop for the flight, I bought an iPad the day before the trip (which I realize isn’t an option for everyone, and was probably a rash decision on my part). If you have a small portable device to bring on your flight, I’d recommend leaving laptops at home in case they get damaged (plus they’re heavy).
Here’s my packing list I kept on my trip planning Google Doc:
- Global Entry card
- Yoga clothes
- Basic clothes
- Small toiletries: face wash, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner
- Basic makeup: mascara, brow pencil, lash curler
- Portable charger for phone
- iPad, charger
- Journal, pen
- Book/Kindle, charger
- Medicine, melatonin, birth control
- Eye mask, ear plugs
For lodging, spas and activities, you can check out a story I wrote for work with all my recommendations: Chloe Babauta explores Ubud, the heart of Bali.
I would’ve just written out all my recommendations in this post, but I think I already wrote it best in that article (and I can’t copy/paste it here because it belongs to my work company lol).
Also a few more tips I wrote down after my trip:
- If staying in Ubud, best to book a room/Airbnb closer to the center of the town. I was on the edge next to the Monkey Forest, which was nice because it was close to that attraction and a bit away from the noise, but it was a far walk to get anywhere and made me want to go out less. Pro: it made me walk more.
- Make sure to pull a lot of cash before getting there, exchange rates are expensive at ATMs (I think) and I had to pull a lot of cash. Also best to use cash because not everywhere accepts cards.
- Greenbike cycling tour was hands down the best experience of my trip! So beautiful cycling/touring through parts of Bali I would’ve otherwise never seen on my own. It’s worth the price — includes food and tour guides are great.
- Get a massage every. damn. day. They’re cheap as hell and if you find one you like, the masseuse will know how to take care of your body better if you want to come back. Tip big: a little money goes a long way there. Book ahead for a full spa day, which is so worth it (like $60 for a 5-hour spa package). I booked mine with Nur Salon Ubud.
- It’s fun to be spontaneous, but plan ahead. If you want to do classes or tours, they’ll probably already be booked. I wanted to do a silver-making jewelry class, yoga at the Yoga Barn, etc. but didn’t have enough time and couldn’t work within their time slots because they were booked.
- Get a DRIVER. This was the best decision I made on my trip. It’s like $40 for them to drive you around and show you around for a day and you get to hit all the spots in comfortable transportation. Also mine ended up being my photographer since I was traveling solo!
- It’s a bit obnoxious, but bring a selfie stick just in case if you’re traveling alone. Going to Bali is a once in a lifetime experience, so take as many pictures as you can (but stay in the present as much as you can too). I only used the selfie stick when I was alone in my room or at the pool at my Airbnb, so I wasn’t disturbing anyone or being outwardly annoying (as some tourists can be whipping out their selfie sticks in public places).