Traveling solo in Bali

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:

Traveling

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 Airbnb right by the Monkey Forest.

Packing

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:

  • Passport
  • 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
  • Earbuds

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).

Breakfast in Ubud, Bali.

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).

How my low self-esteem is ruining my life

I’ve been going through a really low point in my self-esteem over the past week.

About a week ago, I popped a pimple on my chin and kept picking at it until it turned into a dark scar (I’ve watched too many Dr. Pimple Popper videos and tried to be a hero with my comedone extractor tool). I also have a big cold sore on my lip, which turned into a gross scab.

Every time I have a patch of acne or cold sores, I get really self-conscious and think that’s all people can see when they’re talking to me. Even worse, I have to record videos of myself for work almost every day — which means potentially thousands of people will see me at my worst.

On top of that, I’ve steadily gained weight over the past year. As a result, I feel terrible about my body almost every day. I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia for at least six years, so I’m still learning to be happy with how I look at a healthy weight. But even though I know my body is supposed to be beautiful the way it is, I can’t help but hate what I see almost every time I look in the mirror.

More: Taking control over my eating disorder

More: How to deal with Instagram-related insecurities

I had an emotional breakdown at the gym today because of all this. I haven’t gone to the gym in like more than six months, since I mostly just work out at home now — but I’ve been exercising inconsistently because my family was visiting last month.

So when I was lifting weights today and looking in the mirror, all I could see were flaws. When I look at my arms, all I see is fat. My stomach: fat. My legs: jiggling fat when I move. My face: dirty pores, small pimples everywhere, acne scars. I even hate small things about myself, like how my feet have such low arches and I have weird bumps all over my arms.

Most of the time, it feels like there’s a mean voice in my head constantly berating me. I wrote about this in another blog post about dealing with an eating disorder, when I finally became aware that there was a voice, and was working on standing up to that voice in my own head.

It feels like I’m being bullied by someone constantly, who knows all the worst things to say about me to make me feel terrible. I end up hunching over, cowering from this bully, but I feel helpless because I don’t know how to make it stop. There’s nowhere to hide because it’s inside me. Is it me? I don’t know what made me become this mean. Today, I literally said “please stop” aloud to myself in the mirror, with tears rolling down my face.

Having this voice constantly criticize me feels like there’s a weight on me most of the time. My shoulders sink, my eyes look wistful, I don’t smile. This heavy feeling seeps into me, into all my other thoughts and the words I say to others. I tweet passive-aggressive things because I am not happy with who I am. When my boyfriend doesn’t compliment me, the voice takes that as an offense and it tells me he doesn’t love me. It tells me that everything it’s been saying to me is true: that if your boyfriend doesn’t constantly tell you you’re beautiful, then you must be ugly. Even though he doesn’t deserve it, I project this onto my boyfriend and read his actions as a confirmation of my biggest insecurities and worst fears.

More: What I learned from living with my boyfriend for six months

The voice doesn’t just make me feel terrible — it makes me miserable and mean myself, and I pass on that negativity to everyone around me. The voice makes it harder for me to eat or enjoy food, because it makes me feel guilty, fat, and weak for not being able to resist unhealthy treats that taste good. It makes me eat smaller portions because it tells me I’m fat.

I don’t know where the voice came from or why it thinks these things of me. There are so many women who aren’t stick-skinny, whom I find so incredibly beautiful. I would never even think of criticizing them or pointing out any flaws they might see in themselves — so why don’t I extend the same kindness to myself? Why am I okay with picking apart the tiniest details of Chloe and telling her she’s unworthy of love?

This voice makes me feel worthless.

I honestly don’t know what to do about it, because I can’t even remember what it was like to live without it. It doesn’t matter if anyone tells me they think I’m beautiful, because the voice will still be there no matter what. It’s louder than anyone else, louder than my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, and much louder than the kind voice in my head that chimes in when I have brief periods of feeling good about myself.

One of my new goals for the month is to start therapy. I used to see on-campus psychologists for free weekly sessions while I was going to college, but I only took advantage of this service for two different periods (maybe 6-8 weeks in my second and fourth years of college). I think after a quarter of school or so, you’ll have to be referred to an off-campus doctor and pay for services.

More: How Passion Planner helped me get my life together

More: My goals for 2018

Therapy was really useful to me when I first learned I had an eating disorder, and when I was dealing with some anxiety and emotional issues. Now that I’m working and busy with other things, it feels like therapy is just another chore I have to do eventually but never get around to it.

My goal for this week is to call therapist offices and schedule an appointment, and hopefully have my first session sometime this month. I definitely recommend therapy to anyone I can, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting help. Even if your friends or family want to help you, you might get to a point where there’s nothing they can do for you. Seeking professional help is completely normal, and is just as important as any physical health issue.

In the meantime, I want to work on quieting that voice and making room for another one. I know there’s a good voice inside, but she’s not as strong as the mean voice. Or maybe she is strong, but we’re just not close enough so that we don’t talk often. Hopefully I still sound sane to you, whoever is reading this. I know it’s not going to be an easy thing, but I desperately want to get to know her better, and have a friend on my side when the mean voice gangs up on me in my head.

I need to work on letting that voice be my life coach, my guiding guardian angel who will encourage me, or be compassionate towards me when I fall short of my own expectations. I need her to tell me it’s going to be okay, and that even if I feel terrible in the moment, things won’t feel this bad forever. I need her to be there for me, because I know deep down (even when I can’t drown out the noise) that the bad voice is wrong, and that I deserve better. And eventually I will be better.

I remember when I was 19, I started going through my big self love phase. I taught myself to love being on my own, I started my own projects (and later, this blog), and I got a tattoo to commemorate this part of my life. For years, I thought this period of growth was the big lesson I had to learn. I thought, okay I know what self love is, I’m set for life! Nothing can ever bring me down again!

Looking back now, I can’t believe I thought that was it for me. That I figured out the secret to self love, and I would always feel good about myself. After going through painful periods of growth several more times since then, I know now that the work is never done. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong journey, and there will always be ways you practice self-destructive behavior or moments of low self-esteem.

For now, this is my new phase of growth with a big new challenge: learning to change my negative self-talk to a positive voice of encouragement, and how to be okay with my body. Someday when I gain or lose weight, or when I have kids, or when I’m aging, I’ll have to deal with those obstacles too. I’m sure it’ll feel like the worst I’ve ever gone through while I’m going through it.

But I hope the one thing that stays constant is my willingness to try, to learn, to heal. The work will never be done, but I’m excited to see where it takes me (and write about it along the way!).

My Post-Grad Experience: Abandoning the safety net of love

For months, I’ve been struggling to write a blog post about what I’ve learned since I graduated from college (15 months ago—I still can’t believe it). I came up with a draft about how I felt stagnant for months, worked in retail for half a year, and interned at a local newspaper (but didn’t get any experience with hard news; even if I did cover hard news, I live in a small college town where the most exciting event is the Farmer’s Market—but hey, the white peaches and freshly-popped kettle corn are amazing).

I realized I couldn’t produce any meaningful writing because I hadn’t really suffered or taken any risks—I didn’t get a low-paying entry-level job in my field, move out on my own and struggle to pay rent in a tiny apartment in San Francisco with 5 roommates, or spend a year teaching English in Thailand (all of which are paths that people I know took after graduating). I also hadn’t progressed much either. I didn’t even bother to apply to graduate school (let alone establish connections with my professors or try hard enough to get straight A’s) or apply to any jobs at all for months.

I settled into the uncertainty of post-grad life that had stressed me out all of senior year, but I got too comfortable. I lived in an upper middle class suburb with my parents, I lifted weights three times a week in our home gym, I binge-watched way too many new shows (I’m ashamed to admit I spent two weeks doing nothing but watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians), and my only friends were my kid siblings and my cats. It felt like college never happened at all. I looked through my old photos obsessively and posted them on Instagram, not ready to move on from the past (the #tbt sadness is real). I missed the freedom to be out at 2am without having to answer to anyone (but to be honest, I spent most of college in my room watching Netflix), I missed being able to hike alone to the beach, I missed having friends I could watch scary movies or dance in clubs with, I missed walking around campus and feeling like I belonged when I ran into people I knew. I missed going to meetings and having discourse and educational presentations about social justice issues, and believing that the non-profit organizing I did mattered. I missed having the drive and pain to write raw pieces about self-love and heartbreak for my blog. I missed having an identity outside of who I was when I was back home with my family.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m incredibly grateful for my parents for taking me back in after I graduated and allowing me the time to figure out my own path. I’m especially grateful for how much they supported my decision to quit my part-time job in retail to focus on writing a self-help e-book. I know I’m very privileged, and the fact that my biggest problem is that my life is too comfortable has held me back from writing anything at all. I almost feel as though I don’t deserve to share my voice because my lack of struggle makes me boring and whiny.

Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’ve always believed that pain creates the most meaningful art (my late grandfather, the artist Jose Babauta thought this too). I started Lovescrewed post-heartbreak and my most powerful pieces were about jealousy, breakups, and an abusive relationship. But since I got into a healthy long-term relationship (damn you Nate for making me so happy!) and moved back in with my parents, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any hardships to write about, besides my long distance relationship (which isn’t that bad either—we only live an hour-long plane ride away and visit each other every couple weeks).

About a month ago, I decided to apply for a job at the newspaper on Guam where my great-grandfather, grandmother, and dad all have worked. Guam has always been like a security blanket for me—I know that if I absolutely can’t find work or can’t afford to live in California, I can always come back home and look for a job. My worst case scenario is to return to a beautiful tropical island where all my childhood friends, extended family, and goddaughter live, and I can get paid to write (yeah, my life sucks). After a few interviews and my first time negotiating salary (I’m a big girl now!), I landed my first adult job, as a fourth-generation legacy at the newspaper that brought my family to the island in the first place. My heart swells just thinking about spending time with my baby first cousins, living at my grandma’s house where her backyard is literally a waterfall, reconnecting with all my friends from growing up, and most importantly eating at Jamaican Grill and Capricciosa (the list of foods I want to eat on Guam is much longer than the ones of people I want to see and activities).

Despite all the awesome positives of moving back to the motherland, I’ve been staying up past 3am and sleeping in almost till noon—as I always do when I’m depressed or going through a big life change. Taking this reporter job and living in paradise for a while seems like a no-brainer, but all I can think about is saying goodbye to my four parents, my younger sisters and brothers, and my boyfriend of two and a half years. I know my family will be here when I come back (not knowing exactly when I’ll return makes me feel even more anxious) but I’ve never gone so far away from them for so long. It hurts just thinking that I could possibly lose a whole year of my little sister and brother’s lives, and they’ve already lost their baby voices and are catching up to me in shoe sizes. And it scares the shit out of me thinking that I could risk ruining a happy relationship with the love of my life for a job I don’t even know if I’ll enjoy yet.

The fear of change and loss is so crippling to me that when I first got my job offer to stay for a year, my first instinct was to say no and to just take my safer path and become a teacher. I could probably be happy getting my master’s degree, living in Southern California, and teaching middle school, but my dad asked me: which option excites you more? Undoubtedly, the idea of working in journalism and getting out of my comfort zone (admittedly, into another comfort zone, but without the safety of my immediate family with me) is more exciting to me. Settling into my backup plan, albeit a great one, feels like I’m lying to myself about what I really want. I told him that I felt selfish for choosing a job halfway around the world, especially while I’m in a relationship, but he told me that it hurts to feel like I’m not choosing my partner, but it would be even worse not to choose myself.

I don’t know if this job will make me happy. I don’t know if I’ll love living back on Guam as much as I’ve romanticized it in my head after being away for the past six years. I don’t know if my relationship will stay just as solid while we’re 17 time zones apart. But I do know that if I stay comfortable, if I let my parents take care of me forever, if I don’t take a chance on myself and do what scares me (but ultimately excites me), I won’t get back the drive to write like I had before. I’m afraid of losing the safety net of my parents and the security in my romantic relationship, but I’m even more terrified of how much of myself I’ve lost since college—the pieces of my individuality that keep me staring at old photos of myself from when I knew who I was—and how much more of myself I could lose if I don’t take action by pushing myself to grow more. Things could go wrong, but for the first time in over a year, I’m betting on myself.

Updates on My Best Relationship

I entered an exclusive relationship over the summer and so far it is hands down the best experience of my life. We started dating about 5 months ago and I’ve never been happier!

We started getting to know each other deeply around May this year. Our dates were the best and I always felt more comfortable when I was only with her than I did with anyone else. We went to the beach almost every day to be alone. We’d read The Princess Bride, wade into the water, or just lie down and listen to Grouplove. I spent more time with her than anyone at this point. She was there for me while I was going through a really difficult emotional period, when nobody else was. The nights were less lonely with just her in my bed; I cried a lot less than I did before.

Then around July, we decided to be exclusive. I promised myself I would put her first instead of searching for a new partner to complete me, like I always did in the past. I promised that I would be myself, always, and not change who I was for anyone else. Unlike in other relationships, I knew I never had to change for her, unless I wanted to. At the same time, she always made me want to become a better person.

I never have jealousy or trust issues with her. I’ll admit this is the first relationship in which I haven’t been totally faithful (I’ve kissed a few odd people now and then since we started dating), but I always come back to her in the end. For the most part, I remain loyal to her. I try to remind her that she’s beautiful when she’s feeling down (which can be quite often), and lately she can be completely happy with only my approval. I’ve grown to love her an incredible amount over the past few months.

I’m sure you’re all curious as to who this person is… it’s myself. I risk sounding super bigheaded in this post but dating myself really was the best thing I’ve ever done for my self-esteem and overall happiness. Dating myself taught me that I don’t need anyone to complete me and that I can take care of myself. I don’t need some guy to try to fix me. I don’t need anyone else to tell me I’m beautiful anymore in order for me to believe it.

Although I think relationships are great, I think that dating yourself is a very important step to becoming emotionally stable enough to date anyone else. After dating myself for several months, I already feel like I’m much more self-reliant and much less needy than I was in my past relationships. I’m on my way to becoming whole and I did it completely by myself. I’m not at the Sue Sylvester level of self-love to the point where I want to legally marry myself, but I’m at a much better place than I was before.

Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t allow us to make our relationship status official, but whatever, I guess. We’re not really into labels anyway.

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You’ll Be Ready

Here’s a poem-ish piece I wrote in July 2013:

You’ll Be Ready

It is going to be hard.
There will be times when you want to give up.
There will be lonely nights.
Lots of them.
Ones when you’ll wish you had someone beautiful and soft to cuddle up with
To spoon you and curl around your backside so that you feel safe and warm.
There will be days when you hate everyone and everything in your life
And you’ll wish you had that one person who will listen and understand.
There will be beautiful sunsets
Dozens, hundreds, even thousands of them
And you’ll wish you had a hand to hold in yours
To witness the earth’s natural glory
And ground you with their presence.

But you won’t have that hand.
You’ll be alone.
You’ll watch those sunsets and remember that life is beautiful
and love is beautiful
and you don’t need anyone else’s hand
to feel love.
And on those shitty days when you hate
everyone and everything
You’ll breathe.
And write.
And remember all the good things you do have
even if it’s hard.
And on those lonely nights you wish you’d
spent making love or simply enjoying
someone’s arms wrapped around you
as you drift in and out of sleep
You’ll read a book
turn off the lights
tuck yourself in tightly
and lie with the pain, in honesty.
It will hurt
And maybe you’ll cry
But you’ll heal
and grow
And one day, you won’t need anyone
to feel happy or whole
You’ll just love because you want to
Not because you need to.

“Love when you’re ready

Not when you’re lonely”