Bali was my first overseas holiday. I was in my twenties and, for years, I’d listened excitedly to friends who’d been to Bali and told me all about their trips — the beauty of the beaches and mountains, the friendliness of the people and how cheap it was to eat and shop. For a budget conscious girl like me, it seemed like the perfect destination! And when I got to Bali, I just loved it. I did all the typical “first-time in Bali” things — got my hair plaited and nails painted, had massages on the beach, drank Bintangs (Balinese beer) and Arak (rice-wine spirit) and overpaid for countless amounts of non-genuine branded merchandise. In fact, I loved it so much that I started budgeting for a Bali trip every year. Consequently, I’ve amassed nearly twenty years of budget Bali travel tips that I’m excited to share with you now!
As for which time of the year is better, I’ve been in the dry and the wet and enjoyed it rain or shine. I appreciate that many people try to avoid Bali’s rainy season (October to April), but we’ve found that it rarely rains all day. When Nathan and I got married in Bali, I researched which day of the year was historically the driest in Bali and it turned out to be the 1st of August. And guess what? Blue skies all day!
Given that we have a family of five to budget for, Nathan and I look for the cheapest option from Adelaide. If the timing coincides with airlines sales, that sometimes includes a premium carrier, such as Qantas, my favourite. When we’re travelling on a budget airline — which is usually the case because Jetstar has direct flights from Adelaide — we feed the kids before getting on board and bring plenty of snacks, plus our own entertainment and comfort packs.
I usually have Indonesian rupiahs set aside from our last visit and I carry a small amount of Australian dollars to exchange. The rest of our budgeted spending money is on my 28 Degrees travel card which has no currency conversion fees. Bali is now visa free, which is a nice little bonus.
Where to stay
My first time in Bali, I stayed in Kuta, which is renowned for its street sellers, shops, restaurants, and bustling night life. Now that I have a family, I prefer to stay 15 minutes out of Kuta in the relative calm of Jimbaran Bay. If you like being seaside and close to the action, then I recommend the area of Legian for its affordable family accommodation and walking distance to shopping and dining. For an area that’s a little more upmarket, I like Seminyak with its beautiful eateries and eclectic shops. Or you could choose to escape the rat race altogether in one of Bali’s many upland towns, such as Ubud, or opt for a quieter coastal experience in a location such as Balian Beach. Bali offers different paces of life for everyone, so it really comes down to what sort of holiday you’re after.
When it comes to accommodation for families, I don’t think you can beat a private villa for price and comfort. Villas start at around $50 a night and come with options such as multiple bedrooms, a private pool and courtyard garden, kitchen facilities, lounge, television, wi-fi and all the modern conveniences you need. Couples without kids might prefer budget accommodation at one of the brand new hotels in Legian for as little as $18 to $30 per night per person. My dad recently enjoyed his stay at the Bali Sun Hotel.
Expect to be inundated with transport offers, from taxis to scooter hire. For families, the most comfortable and economical way to see the sights is to plan your itinerary then barter with a local driver to chauffeur you for the day. Depending on the size and quality of the vehicle, the rate will be somewhere between $30 to $70 per day. You will need to pay your own entrance fee to attractions, such as the Monkey Forest, but most temples ask for only a donation. I also recommend for visitors to explore Bali’s hidden treasures, such as Nyang Nyang Beach and Tukad Cepung waterfall.
Have fun practicing your negotiation skills in Bali! Bartering is expected, which is why transport providers and hawkers will always start with a high asking price. Be cheerful and respectful and you’ll find that it’s a great way to connect with the people who live there. If you tire of being approached by hawkers, simply ignore them. To test how low you can go, be prepared to walk away. Should they let you go, you know you’ve gone too low. To give you a ballpark, beach activities, such as parasailing, will cost around $15. A one-hour foot massage (ah, my favourite) will set you back $6 to $8.
Sunsets are free, of course, and we often take the kids down to the beach with snacks and drinks bought from the local supermarket. If you find a spot on the sand close to a hotel or beach bar, you’ll have the added vibe of free beats drifting over the beach.
Eating and drinking
When we arrive, one of our first stops is to a local supermarket to stock up on snacks, fruit, water, mixers and beer. For around $40 a day, plus the price of groceries, many villas offer a private chef who will plan and cook meals to your liking.
When it comes to eating out, you can’t beat Bali’s abundant supply of warungs. “Warung” is the name given to small, family-owned cafes or restaurants, which are some of my favourite — and cheapest! — places to eat. On our last visit, a Balinese friend took us to Warung Kampung (Jl. Melasti No 20, Legian.) A tasty plate of nasi goreng with a cold beer came to $3. The food was fresh and delicious and the restaurant was clean and comfy.
Some of my other favourite family eating places include:
- Mozzarella by the Sea ## (Jl. Padma Utara Legian Kaja, Legian) for basic pasta, steak and Indonesian. Book ahead for a table with ocean view.
- Mozzarella (Jl. Padma, Legian) for basic pasta, steak, fish and Indonesian. There’s also another Mozzarella in Kuta (Jl. Kartika Plaza 7x, Kuta.)
- Mozzarella at The Magani (just off Garlic Lane in Legian). This restaurant has slightly better presentation that its sister Mozzarella restaurants.
- Lemongrass Thai Restaurant (Jl. Melasti, Legian, next door to the Rip Curl shop off Garlic Lane). Entrees start at $4, up to $8 for main courses.
- Drops Resto & Lounge (Jln. Padma, Legian) for simple, tasty food at a good price, as well as a great locating for people watching.
- Poppies-Poppies Gang I (Poppies Lane 1, Kuta) for Indonesian and international food that’s reasonably priced.
- Posers Pub (Jl. Padma, Legian) for pub food and snacks. Another great spot for people watching—ignore the hawkers and they’ll give up.
- Lanai (Jln. Double Six, Legian) for good, cheap food and variety to suit most tastes. Upstairs is good for watching the sun set over the beach. Their fruit drinks are legendary.
- Taco Beach Grill (Jl. Kunti 6, Seminyak) for Mexican and American food. Entrees start at $2.50 and mains for $4.50.
- Hitana (Jl. Padma Utara, Legian Kaja in the Bali Niksoma Hotel) for eclectic cuisine with reasonable prices and views over the beach.
Tammy’s Top Ten Budget-friendly Bali Activities:
1. Sample the local nasi goreng at various warungs
2. Have a $10 massage
3. Enjoy sunset Bintangs at a beach bar while the kids play in the sand
4. Take early morning walks along the beach
5. Share nibbles and a few cocktails at one of the many family-friendly beach clubs
6. Get a manicure, pedicure and blow-dry
7. Buy local produce and book a chef for the day (around $40) to cook at your villa
8. Take the kids to Waterbom (voted the number 1 water park in Asia) – it’s not super-cheap, but you can pack your own drinks and snacks and the kids will love it
9. Take the kids to Kuta to practice their bargaining skills with the hawkers
10. Get your laundry done the day before you leave — a full suitcase will cost $5 to $8 and come back washed, ironed and smelling lovely