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1-Way Tickets To Bali: A Guide To Life 8° South

By Julie C. Trubkin

A 1-way ticket is as romantic as it is frightening. Two years after scribbling these words in my cramped economy aisle seat, with my life’s essentials in the cargo hold below, squished into a carefully packaged elaborate system of Ziplock bags, both the romance and the fear remain. Writing this guide of sorts feels at once like a love letter to, and a break-up letter with, Bali. Part of me wants more than anything to find a way to sustain the life that I’ve created here, another loud part of me is ready to try somewhere new. Here is my ode to Bali.

Living in Bali Guide: Oh the places you will go
"Oh The Places You'll Go." The old versus new. You will find street art juxtaposed with the traditional art almost everywhere you go in Bali.


"Selamat malam! Nama saya Julie.” I practiced and repeated these words again and again, ready to utter them to whomever the rooming house had arranged to pick us up. But I lost my nerve almost immediately. The scene that greeted me when I arrived was a bit much for my jet-lagged, introverted senses. It took weeks to even attempt to try to utter my overly practiced phrases. Upon arrival, I scanned the sea of Batik-printed shirts. Eventually, I found my name scribbled diagonally on a placard held by a man with the most amazing two-toothed smile I have ever seen.

No matter the time of year you arrive, the moment you feel the Bali air, you smile, and then quickly wonder how you will survive the heat. You will get used to it.

Rice field in Bali
Rice field.

Setting Up When You First Arrive


Unless you’ve managed to arrange a IMTA (work permit) that permits you to stay for one year, with multiple entries, you most likely will have to at least begin your time in Bali with the automatic VOA (Visa On Arrival). The VOA is granted for free for most passports and gives you an automatic maximum 30-day stay within Indonesia. If you plan to extend your visa beyond 30-days you must look deeply into the dedicated site on the many types of visas, work permits, and long-stay permits. Note: Due to Covid-19, the application process is more complex as of 2020.

Visa Extensions are an adventure in and of itself. Many people often hire an agent, doubling the cost of the whole extension process, but you can definitely do this on your own. It requires three separate trips to the immigration office. The first trip is to submit the application itself, the second is to be photographed and fingerprinted, and the third is to pick up your passport.

Social Visas are another option, most easily obtained once you’ve made some Indonesian connections. The social visa grants you up to 6 months in the country. The visa requires a sponsor, and several trips to immigration. If you wish to stay long-term, you also effectively cannot leave the country with a social visa, since doing so renders it null and void.

All this may feel convoluted, but with a little bit of research, it is manageable. People who have been living in Bali for years often just stay on with the Visa On Arrival, meaning they leave the country every 30 or 60 days, on visa runs. It is a way of life. After a while, immigration may start to question your heavily stamped passport and your reasons for multiple visits. But, if you are honest, and say that you aren’t working in Indonesia, you should be OK.

Visa Runs: Make A Trip Of It

Treat these mandatory trips out of the country as a bonus. While they can become tedious and expensive, they are opportunities to explore surrounding countries. Most people go to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore for their visa runs, because of cost and proximity, and often return the same day. With a little bit of preparation, you can find some affordable flights and accommodations. Explore. You will eventually long for a change of pace, as much as you may enjoy Bali. City life, and the ease of life that a city affords, will rejuvenate you. 

Another random tip: If the city you are visiting has an Ikea store or the like, visit it!  It is amazing how much kitchenware and sheets and other household items can cost in Bali. It may sound strange, but definitely take a visit to the purveyor of Swedish meatballs. 

SIM Card — Get one. Before you leave home, make sure your phone is unlocked. If it isn’t, buy a cheap phone that is. I get a SIM everywhere I travel in the world, even if it is only for a short stopover. The independence that a SIM card provides makes it worthwhile. Research your options before you arrive. You can purchase SIMs almost anywhere. They are more expensive at the airport, so try to wait. When you’re in the taxi en route to your hotel, you can ask the driver to stop to buy one. They will most likely know where to stop. Phone stores abound in Bali.

Cash — I have to admit that I really want to be a jutanaire. One juta is the equivalent of one million rupiah. Rupiah denominations can be confusing, especially if you are sleep deprived. Try to understand the basic exchange rate before you arrive. For my Canadian currency, I usually just move the decimal four to the left, so 100,000 IDR would be $10 for me. It is an approximation, but it makes life easier.

Count your change — Really. Especially when you go to a currency exchange teller. Or even to your local convenience store. There is a Coco Mart near me that I have been frequenting for almost two years. Every time I go, every single time, they short me on my change. Especially if I buy more than one item. And every single time I say something, the cashier first looks at me blankly, then goes through the routine of “oh, did I? Let me look. Oh, I’m so sorry”. Every time. I should probably stop going to this particular shop, but alas, it is convenient.

ATMS — Try to find one that gives you denominations of 100,000 IDR to save on withdrawal fees. Most will limit your withdrawal to 2 juta, but there are a few that will give you 2.5 juta. As with anywhere, fraud is prevalent. Be wary. Try to use machines in more “local” areas as tourist spots are the usual target for ID theft. While you enter your numbers, cover your PIN.

Bank Accounts — Opening an account is sometimes challenging for foreigners. If a local person brings you, you can open an account. With all that is involved in transferring funds to a local account and then taking into consideration exchange rates, it sometimes just makes the most sense to keep your account in your home country. Try to find an account at home with decent exchange rates and preferably banks that accept checks via photograph.

Taxis — They are a good option to learn the lay of the land, familiarize yourself with the area, and prepare yourself for your inevitable life on a scooter. It’s also good for longer trips, or if you know you’ll be out for the evening and may be drinking. Try to get the driver to actually use the meter as it is often cheaper. The price drivers usually start with is usually triple or more what you should realistically be paying. Bargain. And photograph the taxi ID, as this helps should you leave something behind. 

Transportation: Scooter Life

The morning air wraps around me, I wrap myself around him.

It’s not the sunsets nor eating endless passion fruit in bed that is the most romantic part of life in Bali. Truly one of the most romantic things to do in Bali is to ride a scooter. It may sound crazy and it may look even crazier, but the experience is incredible. Driving through rice fields, getting caught in the rain, and holding on tight. It is also a chance to see affections usually reserved for private moments in non-scooter cultures. The love is everywhere, and it is so special to see families, friends, and lovers interact in these otherwise private ways. Seeing a little leg poke out on the bike carrying the family in front of you is a constant, and will always make you smile.

Driving scooter in Bali
See the little legs poking out around the scooter driver.

But there are the harsh realities as well. When we first arrived in Bali, one of us was determined to never drive a scooter. It looked reckless. We rented a car, which only lasted for about a week. The traffic in Bali is exhausting and difficult to avoid while on four wheels. Driving a scooter is dangerous but it can be done safely. You’ll begin to understand that what initially appears to be chaos is actually a beautiful rhythmic system all of its own. Learning to drive is scary. Falling is a rite of passage, a Bali tattoo of sorts. Bandaged tourists abound.

Tips on Refueling

Fill up your tanks at gas stations and/ or the local stands. Look for signs that read Petrol and the vodka bottles filled with yellow liquid. Once you start seeing them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Banana scooter
Banana scooter.

Road Rules

Gangs = laneways

Jalans = main roads

Road Rage

It is rare in Bali. Traffic is a constant but people don’t get angry. If you hear honking, it is usually to signal that a car is passing. 

When we started out in a rented car, we were heavily reliant on Google Maps. The app directed us to a shortcut. It was night. We kept going and the road continued to narrow. It turned out that the road was only really meant for scooters. There was some yelling under that night sky, with the rushing water on both sides of our car. We managed to reverse slowly and survived to tell the tale. We eventually tackled the same road again via scooter, a small road called Gang Mango.

Down this narrow gang we went, and, almost as if in slow motion, we fell into the rice field. I jumped off the back, but down my partner fell with the bike. I have the bad habit of laughing in moments of distress. We did manage to gather him, the bike, and his lone flip flop from the wet field. Today, we have grown to love Gang Mango.   

Scooter Tips

  • Always wear your helmet.
  • If the rental helmet isn’t all that appealing, buy your own at a local Toko Helm for a nominal amount.
  • Lock your helmet up to your bike. Otherwise, it will be stolen.
  • Get a big trunk. If you are unsure what constitutes big, test the size by placing your helmet within to see if it fits. Newer bikes offer more storage, worth it for practical and safety reasons.
  • Do not leave valuables in your bike storage. When going to the beach, try to leave your phone and cash at home. If that isn’t feasible, ask a vendor to take care of your valuables for you in exchange for a bit of money.
  • When learning to drive, try to use closed-toe shoes. Your toes will thank you.  

Bike Rental versus Ownership

Monthly bike rentals are affordable, but, if you know you’ll be in Bali for a long stretch of time, purchase one. You can easily sell the bike when it is no longer of use, and financially it makes sense. We regret not doing this ourselves, but as foreigners, or those without a KITAS, you are not permitted to purchase property. You can get around the regulation by having a local friend put the bike in their name.

Bali Tool: A Second Wallet

Based on my observation, police will most likely pull you over at some point in Bali. That being said, in over two years, I’ve never been pulled over. I do see it happen, daily. Carry a police wallet. Keep your money in two separate places. Keep one with about 50,000 IDR, in small bills. When the officer tries to "fine" you, simply say that this is all you have. Even if you have your motorcycle driver’s license, a local license, if you’re wearing a helmet and your bike is in full working order, they can ask for this fine. Covering your face with a bandana, wearing a helmet, going with the flow of traffic, and overall driving safely should help you avoid these situations.  

(Helmet) Hair

Ladies — especially for those with long hair, Bali will be a challenge. The elements, the hard water, the pollution, the ocean, the chlorine — will all be taxing on your tresses. Fortunately, treatments can be found at almost every one of the many salons. Indulge. Most offer a cream bath, a sort of deep conditioning treatment. Beauty Tip: Pack some dry shampoo before arrriving in Bali. You can’t find such products in Bali. It really helps to keep your hair clean without over-washing,  which can be the tendency when dealing with the elements.

Getting a hair treatment in Bali
Getting a hair treatment.

Gentlemen — try one of the may barber shops. Wander in. Look for signs that say Potong Rambut (haircut). Bring a photo if you’d like a reference, otherwise, they’ll just trim you as they see fit. They’ll also give you a close shave. 

Barber shop in Bali
Barber shop.


“Can you take us to Can-goo? Yes, we’re staying in Can-goo.” This was how I pronounced the area when we first arrived to live. That is, until I learned that “c’s” are pronounced as “ch.” Canggu is pronounced chun-goo.

Try to sound a bit more local. It will help you connect. Selamat Pagi! Selamat Siang! Selamat Malam! These daily greetings Good Morning! Good Afternoon! Good Evening! can be said more colloquially as Pagi, Siang, or Malam. Drop the formality of selamat and just say morning!

Terima Kasih Banyak, or "thank you very much," can be shortened to makasih ya (pronounced mah-kah-see yah).

Do learn your numbers. This will help you greatly when bargaining.

Download Language Tools

Aside from Google Translate, dedicate a few minutes every day to practice Bahasa (the official language of Indonesia). You can download apps to do so.

Smiles are the pretty universal until you master the Bahasa language in Bali
Smiles are pretty universal until you master the language.

My Favorite Word In Bahasa: Tekek

While not the most useful word, the mere fact that it even exists is beautiful. Tekek refers to the mini particles that fall from Joglo roofs. The traditional roof design with its elaborate carvings evokes a western cathedral. But they are definitely not practical. Scampering geckos, mice, bats and more, dislodge little particles from the roof that snow down on your bedspread, on you, on your belongings. Install a mosquito net over your bed. It makes things a little bit more romantic and it protects you from the tekek.

If You See Something Out of the Corner of Your Eye, it’s Most Likely NOT Your Imagination

We both saw them, separately, and we were both smitten. Black fist-sized bees bobbing in and out of the cascading flowers. The bees feasted on pollen, we feasted on them. Their buzz is like the distant lawn mower of a persistent perfectionsit neighbor who somehow manages to intrigue rather than irritate.  When we inevitably move, I will miss the bees, the butterflies, the dragonflies, and our turtle Kahlo. Like the bees, I can stare at her for long stretches of time without tiring.

Dragonfly resting
Dragonfly resting.

Bali Tool: Bug Catcher

As part of your arsenal, keep a creative system for bug catching nearby. You will inevitably encounter and ultimately want to save some of these beautiful bugs, especially when your initial fear subsides. A glass or a fruit basket (depending on the size of the insect) and a thick piece of paper are my tools of choice.

Life is everywhere in Bali. Everywhere. Geckos squeak above you, beside you, drop little gifts on your pillow. Ants are your constant roommates. Keep your food in airtight containers or in the fridge. Frogs ribbit on your gang, dragonflies knock repeatedly into your windows, and bats swoop down over your pool. Tip: To dissuade the nightly bat dance, hang CDs above the pool. The reflections turn the bats away.

And dogs. The Bali dog is everywhere. They have a rough life, with their visible scars and tumors, long sagging teats, and obvious limping as evidence. But they have a freedom that is a beautiful contrast to the leashed existence of their North American counterparts. On this Island of the Gods, it often feels like the Island Of The Dogs. They eat offerings, patrol the beach, and take in the sunsets alongside you. Many make pets of these dogs. I would not advise doing this if you don’t plan on staying for the long-term. Taking a dog out of Indonesia is near impossible.


Try to find a short-term rental initially. Renting temporarily can cost more than a yearly rental but it allows you to explore where you might want to make your base. Most villa rentals require you to sign a year-long lease and pay up front, in cash. Before signing a lease, look online—many people post spare rooms they have for rent. This often works out to be a much less daunting of a commitment if you are still feeling rather transient. If you don’t wish to live in a whole villa, look up kosts—1-room "apartments" that can be hard to come by but are worth seeking. 

Ultimately not everything will work out the way you expect. You’ll get used to moments of anxiety when it comes to finding your ideal place. You'll learn to laugh as we did.

New Bali Home Checklist

  • VISIT the space at different times of the day before committing. 

  • TEST the water pressure.

  • COMPARE outdoor living vs. enclosed spaces. The romance of an outdoor kitchen fades quickly. The logistics of keeping it clean, and battling mosquitoes, rodents, heat, and moisture can be difficult.  Many people rent these spaces and wind up spending most of their time in their bedrooms because much of the space becomes unusable.

  • DOING REPAIRS must be established in writing, so it is clear who is responsible for issues such as pool pumps, roof leaks, wells drying up, etc. Usually landlords will repair major issues, but minor issues (such as new light bulbs) are not covered.  It is also common for some landlords not to make any repairs. 

  • ENSURE that the Internet speed you are seeking is available in your area.

  • ELECTRICITY (Listrik), is it included?

  • MAINTENANCE of the pool and/or cleaning included?  Can you hire your own staff? We found the idea of staff in general quite uncomfortable. People enter your home at random times, and privacy no longer exists. We eventually learned to maintain our own pool (thank you YouTube) and take care of the regular cleaning ourselves. We work from home, and regular interruptions are distracting and intrusive. The luxury for of any staff helping out wore off quickly.


White clothes are allergic to Bali. They just are. Laundry services are everywhere. Most rental units do not come with laundry machines, so this is the route most go. You will go through many services until you find one that is satisfactory. Many will return items smelling of mildew, damaged, missing, overly perfumed, or may even include articles that don’t belong to you. Hand wash your favorites. If you’ve found a long-term home, it makes sense to invest in a laundry machine of your own. You can sell it when you leave.

The Weather

I’m a 4-seasons person trying to squish myself into a 2-season world. Windy season and rainy season punctuate life here.

Rainy season is glorious. Bali is lush, you get stuck in the rain a lot, which you come to enjoy. Leaky roofs and interesting new bugs are par for the course. Look for laron, these moths that come out to mark the beginning of rainy season. They fly in groups and drop their wings after their rain dance.

Bali during rainy season
Bali is especially lush during rainy season, as here traffic makes its way through the rain.

When Exploring, Always Pack

  • Mosquito repellent you can buy this in most mini marts. They sell perfect travel-sized spray bottles as well.

  • Water shoes take these to waterfalls, they really enhance the entire experience. 

  • Rain ponchos – you can pick one of these up from almost every shop.  Leave one in your scooter trunk during the wet season as you will most certainly use it.

  • Sarong pack one when exploring holy sites. It is worn by both men and women.

Windy Season

Windy season is kite season. Kites fly high all day every day, playing with the kids and with the gods. Look up kite festivals. Whole villages hoist these massive kites onto the backs of trucks to a pre-determined location to battle it out. Kite flying is a true Bali art, one that is learned as early as one’s first steps.    

Massive kite on truck
A massive kite carried on a truck during the windy season.

A kite festival in Bali
A kite festival.


Catch the sunset. Daily. Each one is completely different. Schedule your time and find a good perch. Often the best part of the nightly show comes after the sun sets.

Bali Tool: Bali Goggles

After the sun sets, the bugs come out to play. This is the buggiest time to drive and is often unavoidable. Get a pair of glasses to protect your eyes, use a bandana to cover your mouth and/or get a helmet that is able to cover your entire face. You will thank me.   

Bali in sunset
Sunset in Bali.


Ritual dictates the pace of life in Bali. While the rest of Indonesia is predominately Muslim, Bali practices its own form of Hinduism. Offerings are made daily, in front of entranceways, temples, and in the middle of intersections. Known as canang sari, the offerings consist of everything from chocolate bars to cigarettes. Incense fills the air, and you can’t help but begin to inhale the overwhelming sense of ritual yourself. You will inevitably trip over the offerings, but if you accidentally do so, try to be as respectful as possible. 

A close-up of a Canang Sari offering
A close-up of a Canang Sari offering.

Ceremonies happen almost every single day. Entire roads can be closed. Women sit elegantly on the sides of bikes in kebaya, their traditional outfits. Try to be invited to a ceremony. Buy or borrow an outfit to wear.

A village ceremony
A village ceremony.

While predominantly Hindu, Islam is still quite present. Ramadan is a fascinating month to be in Bali, to see the food stalls set up after the sun sets. And then there are the mosques. It is almost impossible to avoid hearing the sounds emanating from a mosque. Around sunset, sitting outside, listening to the call to prayer, it is hard not to feel as though they are calling you. At 4 a.m, you will likely hear the first of the five calls to prayer on the megaphone. Combined with the sounds from Hindu temples playing their gamelans, xylophones, gongs, and drums, the interplay between sound and spirituality in Bali is fascinating.

The greatest holiday in Bali is… Nyepi, the day of silence. Airports close. No one is permitted to leave their home or to use electricity. Streets are patrolled. People often leave for this day, but I urge you to stay. It is an opportunity to just be. The whole world would be a better place if we celebrated Nyepi. Try to stay in a place where you have access to a pool. Spend the night before observing the Ogoh Ogoh parades, and enjoy the day of relaxing, eating, and floating. At night, while staying within the property’s grounds, try to go outside. Look up at the sky. It's so easy to forget what is far above us every single night.  

Women carrying fruit to ceremony in Bali
Village ceremony with women carrying offerings while dressed in colorful kebayas.

Melasti three days before Nyepi ceremony on the ocean
Melasti three days before the Nyepi ceremony at the oceanfront.

Being a Woman in Bali

In some places, more than others in Bali, one can’t help but be hyper aware of their own gender.  

  • Safety: It is largely safe. But, like anywhere in the world, you must be cautious. When driving your scooter, especially alone and/or at night, try to cover up, keep your valuables hidden in your trunk, and don’t wear headphones. Dress more conservatively when exploring areas that aren’t as full of tourists.
  • Fashion: You will soon become the owner of more shorts and sunglasses than you ever imagined possible. A great tip to organize your shorts is to use binder hooks. Hook them into a belt loop and hang them in your closet.
  • Solo Travel: Do it. It is empowering. It can seem daunting but it is so much more accessible than you realize.


Do try to taste everything that you possibly can. Especially the fruit. The market sellers will often woo you by cutting a piece of fruit as a temptation. It is effective marketing. Many people eat every meal out. If you are longing for home cooked food, groceries are easily accessible. Explore the local markets as well as the grocery stores. Some carry foreign goods which can be comforting if you’re homesick.  

The hard spiky fruits on the side of the road are called Durian. Try them at least once. Some people despise the taste, others live for the season. They do have a potent odor. You’ll often see cars with durian hanging on the outside so that the smell doesn’t linger inside.

Satay on bamboo skewers
Satay on bamboo skewers.

Don’t drink tap water! Buying water or installing a filter system are the two options. We buy the big 19 liter jugs of water, refill them at a store, and carry them home on our bikes.


Unfortunately, there is no real infrastructure for garbage removal in Bali. Photos of white sandy beaches you might have seen in Bali are not entirely realistic. Beaches, especially after heavy rains, are often covered in diapers and other waste products. Piles of garbage are often seen burning on the side of the road. 

To be environmentally conscious, be aware of the plastic you purchase. Use reusable water bottles and bags and try to buy bamboo or glass straws. 


We both became quite ill early on after our arrival. I’ve had dengue fever and hand-foot-and-mouth disease. After some time your body learns to adapt to the new environment. Do purchase insurance before you leave home. World Nomads is a great option. Doctors are often a short drive away and make house calls, for a fee. Pharmacies (Apoteks) are on almost every street. 

Natural disasters are usually not covered by insurance. I learned this the hard way when several of my flights were canceled due to volcanic ash. My bank account is still recovering.

In Bali, I Struggle With:
  • Lugging water jugs home
  • Cash withdrawal limits at the ATM
  • Bike storage
  • The class system
  • Paying for a year’s rent upfront
  • Bugs
  • Outdoor living—kitchens & bathrooms
  • Entitled and/or reckless tourists
  • Laundry
  • Visa runs
  • Having staff
  • Cost of yoga classes
  • Being called a "bule" (foreigner). Even if I lived here for two decades, I’d still be a foreigner. There is the idea of "us" and "them" that is a real struggle. The "othering" occurs on both sides here—and there are clearly sides. I’m sure that a proficiency in the Bahasa local language would diminish this "othering," yet it remains omnipresent.
In Bali, I Love
  • The smiles—locals smile with their entire being
  • The frangipani—I could inhale these flowers every day of my life
  • Passion fruit—Every time I savor this fruit, I imagine what it must have been like to be the first person to discover this manna
  • Sama sama—the sing-song-y way people say "you’re welcome"
  • Bali dogs
  • Sunsets—my time is scheduled around them
  • Mango season
  • Kite season
  • How people honk
  • How everyone is so resourceful
  • The freedom—to ride, to play, to be
  • Low tide—it is otherworldly
  • Yoga—some of the studios are what dreams are made of
In Bali, I'm Homesick For
  • 4 seasons
  • My family
  • Public transportation
  • Laundry machines - specifically a dryer
  • The arts scene that a big city offers
  • Extra firm tofu
  • Almond milk accessibility
  • My books—all currently in storage
  • Window screens

A farmer tending his fields in Bali
A farmer tending his fields.

Oceanside vendor Oceanside corn vendors
Oceanside vendor. Oceanside corn vendors.

The strange can become the familiar in a short amount of time. A dirty rental can soon come to feel like home. An early rising and all-day crowing rooster can become a beloved neighbor. A family of five on a bike with groceries can become a common sight. The need to hold onto a driver while sitting as the passenger on a bike no longer feels necessary. We moved to Bali without ever having previously visited. We knew no one. We had some savings, a suitcase each, our laptops, and each other. Bali has beat us up, and has loved us so wholly. Two years and counting, and we still have one foot out, and one foot here for good.

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Author Julie C. Trubkin Julie C. Trubkin is a cabin-in-the-city kind of girl, currently exploring life as a Bali island girl. She is a graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major in English Literature and South Asian Studies. Two continents away from a full set, she funds her incessant need for travel by writing for various publications, as well as creative non-fiction, travel writing, and creative corporate copy. A constant scribbler, she's been creating fodder for marginalia experts since day one, underlining, bending, and marking up every book she owns. Julie aspires to this in human form. Stepping in every puddle, she is the proud owner of foldable rain boots which she believes everyone should own and would welcome the role as spokesperson.

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