On the cheap: A backpacker’s guide to absolute budget eating, living and traveling in Bali.
No one understands the phrase “Sticking to a Budget” quite like a seasoned backpacker. And if you’re next destination is Bali, this phrase should be no exception.
Regardless of whether this is your first trip to Bali or your twentieth, as a traveler you will know that there is always something more to see or do. The real secret to getting by cheaply as a backpacker, and making the most of your time, is following what the local Indonesian’s do when travelling and backpacking. You’ll discover that exploring the island as the locals do has a beautiful way of revealing Bali in its most pure and authentic form; a side of the island that is truly untarnished from the demands of tourism, remarkably loyal to its own culture and traditions.
With this handy guide to budget eating, living and travel, money no longer has to be the defining factor in making this trip the adventure of your life.
The secret to getting by cheaply as a backpacker in Bali is following what the local Indonesians do when they travel.
As one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations, the sheer mass of people bustling around the island should come as no real surprise. Everyday thousands of tourists arrive ready to party, shop or be pampered in massage salons right round the clock. With no scarcity of high class shopping malls, a strip of clubs that could challenge Las Vegas, and more 5 star hotels than you could ever dream, you would be forgiven for thinking that the only tourist market that Bali caters for is people with money to burn.
But if you take a stroll down to Poppies Lane 1 and 2 in Kuta, you’ll quickly find yourself right in the heart of what has become Bali’s most energetic point for backpackers. If you’re looking for accommodation on a tight budget, this is the very first place you should start.
Like most backpacker hot spots, this street does not serve as the most ideal place to experience authentic Balinese culture. But it will offer a place to rest your head for next to nothing and head off the next morning to explore. Poppies Lane 1 and 2 is also where you will find local Indonesians staying that have travelled over to Bali from other islands. They choose to stay in this area for its affordability and strategic location – it’s super close to the airport, the all-famous Kuta Beach and Denpasar city.
In this area you will find guesthouses and small hotels where you can rent a single room. Daily Prices range from as low as 60,000 – 350,000 IDR per night depending on the season.
*Hot Tip: Don’t book online. You can often get far cheaper prices by walking from hostel to hostel asking and bargaining for the rate. Many of the cheapest hostels and guesthouses in Bali don’t have websites anyway. If you find a guide or local wanting to show you accommodation, remember they might be getting commission just for showing you the place. It may be very convenient for them to suggest it, but not necessarily the best or cheapest place for you to choose.
Bali doesn’t have an abundance of dormitory style hostels like you might find in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or most other Southeast Asian countries. But here are some low rate rooms that won’t excite your gag reflex:
Ayu Beach Inn, Poppies Lane 1 – Around 65,000 IDR per night (about $7) No AC, but has pool.
Dua Dara Inn, Poppies lane 2- from 150,000-200,000 IDR per night ($15-20) AC available in some rooms.
If you’re itching for a dorm (sorry), here are a few that won’t leave you scratching:
Bedbunkers – Roughly 90,000 IDR (about $10) for a bunkbed per night). Safe, clean and close to the city. 45-18E Jalan Dewi Sri, Legian and Kartika Plaza Road
Kayun – 190,000 IDR (about $19) per night in 8 bed dorm. Brand new hostel, very modern and clean with swimming pool and bar, 176 Jalan Patih Jelantik, Legian
Other forms of accommodation to consider:
Kost: A single room in a building complex, often with a shared bathroom. Recommended as a cheap option for those staying in Bali for a few weeks or months, though they can be rented for a higher daily rate if needed. Kosts are often found off back streets, so just ask around.
Homestay / host family: Staying with a local family is a great option if you want to really understand the Balinese culture and way of life. A great website to search is homestay.com. Prices are usually similar to staying in a hostel, but it’s often more rewarding and enriching.
Couchsurfing: Stay at someone’s home (usually for free) after registering and becoming a member at Couchsurfing.org. Be mindful of your safety and be respectful to those who provide space in their homes for you. This is a great way to meet expats as well as locals and fully submerge yourself in Bali life.
Global Freeloaders: Another website that offers free accommodation options to travelers from all over the world. The conditions are that, in exchange for staying in a guests home, you must be able to provide space in your own place for them within 6 months. Become a member at Globalfreeloaders.com.
Getting from A to B
When it comes to getting around in Bali as a backpacker on the cheap, there are plenty of options. It will all come down to your patience, bravery, and just how far you want to go.
Catch a Bemo. A Bemo is a small public mini van that is super duper cheap and will take you just about anywhere on the island. Sometimes they are very difficult to find and the schedules are unpredictable, but who can complain for the next to nothing price?
The all famous Ojek. (You’ll get sick of hearing this word yelled out on the street, “transport, ojek!?). An Ojek is a motorbike and driver who will take you anywhere on the island for a negotiable price. Make sure you bargain because initially they may suggest a price that is out of your range. Always wear a helmet!
Hire a motorbike. Motorbikes can be hired for around 30-50,000 rupiah per day ($3-$5) with a full tank of petrol at about 20,000 Rupiah ($2). Be warned that foreigners technically need to hold a motorbike license issued from the police, to avoid being slapped with a fine (also known as a bribe). If you can ride one, this is the cheapest mode of transport by far. Getting used to the chaotic traffic in Bali is initially quite a hassle but once you can handle it, it becomes a lot easier.
Catch a Ferry. If you need to travel to Lombok or another nearby island, take the slow ferry, not the fast one. It’ll take you a few extra hours but the difference in price is quite substantial when you’re on a tight budget and you still have a lot of time to spare.
When we explore a new country for the first time, tasting the local food is one of the most exciting and memorable parts of the whole trip. New aromatic smells, beautiful colors and textures that excite the palate; the experience is simply unforgettable. But eating in Bali doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg and if you follow this sound advise, your wallet will thank you!
The best advice? Don’t be scared to eat street food! Most of the time the food won’t make you sick and it really tastes great.
You should also hit the Warungs – local restaurants with fixed prices and cheap local cooked food. They are usually banquet style with food from all over Indonesia. Locals (sometimes) unfortunately view foreigners as dollar signs and may raise the price when you order. To avoid this, make sure to read the price on the wall or board before you order and pay close attention to how much other Indonesians are paying. Prices are usually as low as 10,000 to 25,000 for a good, hearty meal.
*Hot Tip: Always go to Warungs that are full. It not only means that the food is delicious, but that there is a high food turnover rate, greatly reducing your chance of getting sick. Thumbs up for that!
Nasi Jinggo (4000 Rupiah a serving, 40cents)
Named after Bali’s notorious Beach Boys, the “Kuta cowboys” (who eat it for its affordability), Nasi Jinggo is a small serving of rice with a side option of chicken, beef or egg and sold on the back of a motorbike on the side of the road after 6pm. Featuring some of the best spiciest sambal sauce you’ll ever get your fingers on. (You won’t find a replicate sambal sauce in any restaurant on the island that tastes as good as it does on the street. FACT.)
Bubur Ayam (10,000 rupiah per bowl, $1)
Bubur Ayam is a satisfying thick porridge made out of rice that is viewed as a comfort food in Indonesian culture. The porridge is usually served with shredded chicken, coriander, shallots and an oily but utterly delicious dressing sauce. Then topped off with crispy prawn crackers and salted peanuts. If you’re on a budget you can’t go wrong with this one, tasty and cheap! Look out for it being sold from a street vendor cart day or night. One again, always bargain if the price you get charged sounds ovrpriced.
Juices (70,000 rupiah, 70 cents)
Bali has an abundance of absolutely mouth watering tropical fruits all year round meaning fantastic Juices. Check out the local juice stall on Jalan Patimura off Legian street , Kuta. Cheap and mind-blowingly good!
Pasar kodok in Denpasar
Bintang Supermarket in Seminyak offers a wide range of products but is slightly overpriced and targeted towards tourists, not locals. To purchase cheaper fresh fruits and vegetables head to Pasar Kuta (Kuta Market).
Café Soerabi Bandung on jalan Dewi Sri, Kuta.
A locally famous café from the city of Bandung in West Java. Prices are very affordable and they serve Soerabi, an Indonesian ‘pancake’ (which looks more like a crumpet) that is toasted in the oven and topped with various different sweet and savory ingredients. The one you have to try is cheese and chocolate, a strange Indonesian household favorite.
Other must know tips for smart Bali Backpackers
Make sure you travel outside of South Bali. While Kuta remains a cheap area for backpackers, it should serve as a base to sleep – not as the only area you see.
International ATMs charge high fees to withdraw cash! Make sure you withdraw a lot each time to save you from unnecessary and unwanted charges.
You can save a stack of money by buying alcoholic drinks from the local Circle K (international mini mart) or directly from a bottle shop, instead of from the tourist bars. Avoid drinking locally made spirits (like Arak) and premixed drinks – there have been a lot of cases of methanol poisoning.
If you’re after a cheap local gym, Nana Lisa gym in Denpasar is a great option. It’s 15,000 rupiah ($1.50) for a casual pass and has basic equipment and no AC but is sufficient for weight training.
Never drink water from the tap – it’s not clean! Think green and buy a gallon to keep in your room instead of lots of individual bottles. A whole gallon only costs around 15,000 rupiah ($1.50), whilst individual bottles can cost up to 8000 rupiah each (80 cents). Or if you want an even cheaper option, a refilling point for the gallon bottles can be found in various areas in the alleyways of Legian.
Get travel insurance! If you need a doctor, many clinics can be found in the tourist dense-areas on the main roads. To get prescription medicines or vitamins there are several pharmacies (Apotek) in the Kuta area with English speaking staff.
Backpacking can be one of the greatest and most eye opening adventures you’ll ever have. Circulate with locals and indulge yourself in the Balinese culture and you will gain an experience that you will never forget.