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Here's how to travel to Bali on the cheap

From airfare to lodging to dining, Bali is amazingly inexpensive to visit. You could make your trip even cheaper by branching out to more remote areas of the island.

Talk to any yogi about Bali, and her eyes will fill with dreamy awe. Bali, and specifically the city of Ubud, has become a spiritual mecca for many flexible, hand-standing Westerners. This is in part due to the myriad of yoga, meditation, and energy work retreats you’ll find in Bali, but mostly due the magic of the Balinese and their daily spiritual traditions. As our readers know, I have a deep love for yoga, so when the opportunity arose last year, I jumped at the chance of going on a spiritual journey of my own. 

Don't worry, Bali isn’t just for those on a spiritual quest. Non-yogis are drawn there because of the incredible tropical location and sightseeing, the inexpensive cost of living and the quality of hospitality, among other things. During my trip I met solo travelers (Bali is one of the top destinations for solo female travelers, like me), couples, young families, and retirees, all enjoying everything Bali had to offer.

From airfare to lodging to dining, I was amazed at how inexpensive it is to visit Bali — and I spent most of my time in Ubud, which has the steepest prices you’ll find on the island. You could make your trip even cheaper by branching out to more remote areas of Bali.

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Getting there.

At the time I went to Bali, I didn’t have a slew of credit card points or frequent flier miles. I used good ol’ fashioned Skyscanner to watch for cheap flights. I lived in Detroit at the time, but noticed that flying out of Chicago would save me $600! If you live anywhere near a major airport, explore your options. I took a Megabus from Detroit to Chicago, which cost about $45 round trip. A recent search tells me you can get a trip two months in advance for $850 round trip from Chicago to Bali, which is $50 less than I paid a year ago.

I recommend spending at least two weeks in Bali, especially if you’re traveling from the States. It is, in fact, all the way across the world. You’ll want to time to recover from a likely 24 hours of travel, time to explore, and time to relax. I stayed in Bali for six weeks, because I was doing yoga training there.

Where to stay.

In Bali, you have a myriad of options, from hotels to Airbnbs to staying with host families. I stayed in a beautiful villa for $25/night. It included a shared kitchen, a private room and bathroom, free yoga, and a heavenly pool. I booked this villa in advance, for my entire six-week stay. It was perfect.

And it was a mistake.

Here’s the thing. If you’re staying in Bali for a month or longer, you can find gorgeous one-bedroom homes, with pools and showers and Wifi connections, for as low as 1,800,000 rupiah a month, which translates to around $5 per night! This kind of deal comes from being active on Facebook groups where people post their homes and rental properties, or through word-of-mouth once you get to the island.

Staying for a shorter timeframe? Book a spot for your first couple days and then let a new spot find you! I had friends who changed locations every few days, simply by walking around the city, following signs, and inquiring about rentals. When you have this sense of adventure, you can haggle great deals, and find unique spaces.

What to eat.

The food in Ubud is incredible. Eating at local warungs (which are small, family-owned eateries) is the best way to go. Many of the local spots feature vegetarian, gluten-free, msg-free, and organic food. I often splurged at an Australian-owned cafe called The Elephant — and when I say splurged, I mean I got a large organic breakfast and a mocha for around $6 total, which is about $18 less than I’d spend here in the U.S.

To save even more, make sure your rental has a kitchen. You’ll save lots of money eating at home, and there are plenty of supermarkets where you can buy local and imported treats. At the supermarket, you’ll want to buy a barrel of spring water for drinking. Often the large barrels cost less than single-serving containers, so bring a refillable water bottle.

And don’t forget to buy fruit in the market in the morning — fresh mangosteen is perfection!

How to get around.

In Ubud, I walked and hopped on the back of motorbikes as my main modes of transport. Bike taxis are everywhere, and you can saddle up with a strapping young man for 20,000 rupiah ($1.50 USD) or less (this is where a strong haggle is key). I will stress here that I never felt unsafe while doing this, but trust your intuition.

Many of my friends rented motorbikes, but for whatever reason, this was too much for me. I don’t know how to ride a moped, and combining that new experience with driving on the opposite side of the road and a lack of traffic signals gave me a bad case of no chill. But if you know how to ride a motorbike, or you’re willing to learn, it’s the best way to get around. You can rent them for less than $15 per week. You can also rent bicycles, but with the heavy traffic and uneven payment, I opted for my feet and enjoyed the daily workout.

So, what should you do?

If I listed everything you can do in Bali, this article would be endless. Go to the temples (my favorite was the Elephant Cave), get a water blessing (a ceremony with a local priest or priestess), take a taxi to the rice paddies, climb a volcano and get a picture at sunrise. Sample a local yoga class or one taught at the famous Yoga Barn. Eat, and then eat some more. Shop!

Shopping in Ubud is fun simply for the experience of bartering at the markets. I came in terrible at it and left SLIGHTLY better, but I'm a softie. For example, on day one, I spent 500,000 rupiah on a silk sari, which is about $37. Then a friend showed bought the same one, which she had bartered down to 150,000 rupiah (around $12). Once you get burned like that, you up your game. Be very firm with your offerings, start outrageously low, and walk away when you don’t get a better price. Trust me, there’s a cheaper dress three stalls down.

A friend taught me another great trick — morning prices! There's a prevailing superstition in Bali that it’s good luck to sell something first thing in the morning. To get the best prices, get your booty to the market at 7:00 am.

What you really need to do in Ubud, according to this sloth, is get a massage. Professional Balinese massages will run you $8 an hour. I got one every other day for a month. Best month ever! At this price, you can afford to tip generously too.

More random tidbits I learned from my travels:

  • Only exchange money at banks and currency exchanges — never on the street, as you can get scammed. Get a currency converter app and learn the rates before you leave for your trip.
  • Make friends with locals, taxi drivers, and expatriates. Ask for advice often. Bali is the kind of magical place where if you stay open and say yes to opportunities, you’ll find more and more fun awaiting you. There are all kinds of dances and ceremonies being held every day, and if you get an invite to someone’s home, don’t pass it up.
  • Going to the beach from Ubud? Take the Kura-Kura bus down to Seminak or Kuta for around $6 USD, rather than paying a taxi as much as $35 for the day.
  • Don’t plan ahead too much. When heading to a new beach town or island, haggle immediately where you land. You’ll find cheaper transportation and accommodations this way.
  • If you’re staying over 30 days, pay an agent to do your Visa legwork. Find a reputable one by asking your host or a friend. This will save you two long trips to the capital, Denpasar.

I had an amazing six weeks in Bali, and I can't wait to go back. Next time, I’ll change accommodations more, and make Bali a stop on a longer trip that includes Thailand and other parts of Asia. Once you’re on that side of the world, it pays to visit more places.

This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

 
 
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