It was a grand plan.
(Queue tropical music…)
For many years, each time we tra
velled to Bali we dreamed about living here; envisaging dreamy days of nothingness, tropical nights, balmy days touring the island, cocktails, basically stress-free living.
(Insert the needle-scratching-record sound here!!!!)
In 2016, my husband and I relocated from the Gold Coast in Australia to Sanur, on the island of Bali in Indonesia. We’d decided to make the most of an opportunity, a beachside restaurant that we’d manage while living our idyllic lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I know our life is a dream for many, and I’m extremely grateful to be able to be living it. But if only I’d had the foresight of the experience we’ve had for the past three years to draw upon before we relocated.
You see, there are things about expat life which you’ll only find out for yourself. I swear, sometimes I actually believed the veteran expats just sat back with arms folded, laughing and saying, “…. here come two more suckers!”
Don’t feel bad for me, I’m laughing as I write this. I remember my very first day as an expat, we'd visited the Sofitel for a boozy brunch. This is the life I thought.
Of course, fast forward a few months and you soon realise living the high life needs the salary to accompany it. Balinese wages just don’t cut it. Add to that, the set-up of a new restaurant and soon the high-life very quickly becomes the, oh shit what have we done life. I jest, it wasn’t that bad.
Lesson 1 – Money isn’t everything, but it helps.
Searching for our first Bali home was our next exciting foray into expat life. It was a quick decision to steer away from squat toilets and outdoor kitchens, you really don’t want to spend your most personal moments socialising with the island’s wildlife. The home we chose was lovely — brand new with three bedrooms to one side, on the other an enclosed living space and kitchen, plus a beautiful pool and even a garage. The thing we didn’t realise until wet season, was the bedrooms being separate from the living area was a real issue in the rain. Picture major downpours and slippery tiles, you get the idea.
Lesson 2 – Be sure your living space is enclosed and all under cover!
About 6 months later, we decided we were brave enough to tackle the Bali traffic. Riding a scooter was never an option for us, but we could handle a car we thought. So, after searching for the “best deal” we rented a little car, very similar to what Postman Pat drove. We squeezed our well-fed bodies inside and nothing else, so it really wasn’t practical, and I must make mention of the poor peanut man. Walking the streets, he carries his peanuts in two baskets hanging from a pole over his shoulders. I may have knocked one of the baskets with the car mirror on my first driving experience. (Head down in shame.) Now, if you’re going to brave a scooter, wear a helmet, don’t ride drunk and be prepared to be pulled over by every smiling policeman you pass. If you’ve got all the correct paperwork, there’s no bribe required, if not then be prepared to cough up.
Lesson 3 – Always expect the unexpected on Bali roads!
To live long term in Bali, you need the correct visa. Anything over 60 days becomes costly and will mean a lot of time wasted and money spent. There are the visa runs to Singapore, where the beer is $15 and the food is double that. Then, there’s the visit to the immigration office where if you’re lucky you can be in and out in no time. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be holding #59 and #5 has just been announced. The plus side is the array of people from all over the globe who perform for you while you wait. (Otherwise known as people-watching.) Some people don’t understand another countries culture or laws, and all you can do is laugh and shake your head. Once your number is called, your taken inside, where your photos and fingerprints are acquired, just in case anything has changed since your last visit a few months ago. Of course, the fun part is doing it all over again; whether it’s every two months, six months or twelve months will depend on your visa choice. Choose wisely!
Lesson 4 – Discover your inner patience and live on island time, it’s a real thing!
Chickens and roosters wake extra early here. Expect a cockle-doodle-doo as the sun is rising, if not before. Dogs will bark just as you begin to hear the first sounds of scooters whizzing by, children will playfully shout at each other as they head to school early — very early. Sweeping brooms begin swishing even earlier as the locals chatter (or gossip). They’re all sounds I miss when I’m not in Bali, I became quickly accustomed to what now has become my morning soundtrack. It’s a big change to the heavy highway traffic, train sounds, or lawnmowers outside your bedroom window, all of which were the norm back home on the coast. A wander to the beach early morning is always spectacular, a sunrise in Sanur is the best you’ll ever see.
Lesson 5 - Appreciate the small things in life.
Even if you’ve been travelling here for over thirty years, living in Bali and holidaying here are two completely different things. The other thing to consider, in my opinion, is that friends and acquaintances are also two very different things, it takes time to get to know people. You soon realise who’s got your back and who hasn’t, do your hokey-pokey and you’ll soon land in the circle you’re meant to be in. Let me just say, there are many circles to choose from, people from all walks of life end up in Bali and it’s a very colourful expat scene. You’ve just got to do what’s right for you in the end, if you want to party every night you can. If you want quiet nights at home with a good Netflix movie, you can do that too.
Lesson 6 - It’s your life, set your own expectations.
Bali is located roughly 8 degrees south of the equator, so expect a tropical, warm, humid climate all year round. Make-up will last approximately 30 minutes before it melts off your face. Your lovely just-straightened-hair won’t even last that long, carry a hair-tie at all times! Oh, and forget wearing perfume, your sweet scent will soon evaporate and be replaced with… well, let’s not go there. There are two main seasons in Bali, dry and wet. Alright, so you do get a reprieve in dry season when the winds replace the humidity, but the thermal leggings are never required. From late October to early March, expect the rainy season. In the beginning, you’ll get the unexpected downpours randomly throughout the day, but from December through February anticipate extended days of rain and cloudy skies. The best thing about this is all the best bars are under cover!
Lesson 7 – Beer, wine or cocktails will always remedy your weather woes.
Tradition and culture are very much a part of Balinese life. Offerings known as ‘Canang Sari’ are placed all over paths and roads throughout the day and shouldn’t be walked on, but if you do, smile and apoligise. You’re bound to make local friends and be invited to a family ceremony. Invest in a sarong-skirt and a lace Kebaya, the traditional clothing for women in Bali. Singlets and shorts are not suitable as Bali ceremony attire. A temple shouldn’t be entered without the proper garb, shoulders and thighs should be covered. If you come across a ceremony, don’t stand too close unless your dressed appropriately, and stay calm when you find roads are closed due to a ceremony, road-rage isn’t a part of Bali life. The Balinese love you taking an interest in their day to day life but do so with respect, be mindful also when taking photos.
Lesson 8 – Without each country’s traditions and culture, we’d all be the same.
Eat the local food, you’re seriously missing out if you don’t give local food a try. You don’t have to eat street food if you don’t want to, there are loads of restaurants, big and small, to sample. You’ll be served traditional Indonesian and Balinese foods in simple surroundings in most cases. The food is delicious, cheap and well-worth trying. If you want a taste of home, you’ll also find the posh restaurants with the posh prices to match, and some of them are amazing too.
Explore and enjoy!
Lesson 9 – As Anthony Bourdain said, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement ride. Enjoy the ride.”
Living in another country is a wonderful experience that can be even better if you’re prepared, BUT – no matter how many people you speak with, no matter how much research you do, your own experience will always differ. Sometimes not knowing what to expect makes things easier because you adapt as you go, and life’s little surprises are just there to keep us from getting jaded. Living in Bali is definitely an adventure, I believe it’s an honour to live in someone else’s country and an experience I’ll always treasure. So far, I can’t tell you how many years we’ll be here, but for now each day is a privilege.
Lesson 10 – Try the food, learn the customs, understand the religion and mix with the people. If not, then you might as well stay at home.