my most challenging month of solo travel (and lessons learnt)

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Long term travel is not always sunsets and rainbows. There are bad days, and in Bali I had one after the other. We can always learn from the challenges, which is why I share the lessons learnt from this experience, hoping that you might find it useful.

Bali: challenges and lessons learnt

It started when I took the camera in the plane and realized that it wasn’t working anymore. After that I had a series of unlucky events: I was scammed, I was touched, I fell, I had problems with dogs, with ATMs, with bank cards and even with a visa.

Due to all these problems I never felt comfortable in Bali, I never connected with the place, I didn’t enjoy my stay. In fact, I ended up with anxiety problems. It’s a pity because it’s a beautiful island with an interesting culture, and most people I met were nice.

In life there are good days and bad days, and traveling is no exception. We can always learn from the challenges, which is why I’m writing this post. Not only to spill it out, which I need to do, but to share the lessons learnt with this experience, in the hope that it might help you too.

Landing in Bali, Indonesia

1. My camera broke down

It was the very first time I paid to chose a seat. I wanted the window seat. The flight from Singapore to Bali was about three hours over thousands of islands. I didn’t want to miss it, and I wanted to take photos.

Shortly after the take off the show started. The islands. The clouds. The color of the sea.

I took the camera. The screen switched on but not the objective. It was blocked. I switched it off, I charged it, I switched it on, I shake it, I asked it please to work again. No result.

If that wasn’t enough, neither in Ubud nor Canggu I found a place to repair it. So for the whole Bali trip I had to take photos with my phone, whose image quality is not the best. 

Lessons learnt:

  • Take more care with the camera
  • When I have to replace my phone, get one with better quality images (just in case!)

Rock carving in Ubud, Bali

2. I was scammed when buying a local SIM

I never thought I should negotiate the price of a phone card. A taxi, yes. Handicraft in a market, yes. But not a SIM card.

A local guy was with me, he actually recommended me that shop. When they told me the price I found it expensive, but I knew in Indonesia it would be more expensive than in Malaysia, so I paid.

I realized I had been scammed a few days later. I was talking with a friend who had arrived a few days before, and the topic of the SIM card came out.

I paid four times more for about half the data.

Lesson learnt:

  • Even though I like traveling without planning and let the trip flow, it’s worth to do a minimum research. If I had checked the real price of the SIM I wouldn’t have been scammed.

Ubud Palace, Bali, Indonesia

3. Several dogs scared me (and a monkey!)

I think I had mentioned it before: dogs scare me. Specially when they come running towards me, barking, showing me their teeth and don’t let me pass.

If they bite you need to get rabies shots. Five rabies shots.

In Bali there were a lot of dogs, both in Ubud and Canggu. Other travelers told me that they were also scared of those dogs.

In the Monkey Forest a lot of people gave bananas to the monkeys to get them over them for the photo. I didn’t think it was a good idea. Monkeys also bite and can carry rabies.

Even without carrying any food a monkey climbed my leg and bit my bag.

“Leave me alone, leave me alone!”

Fortunately I managed to shake it off.

Lesson learnt:

  • Be firm with dogs, make some noise and a gesture to go away. Do not show fear.
Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Photo credit: Anna from Slightly Astray

4. An ATM took my money

I went to an ATM in Ubud. It didn’t work. I tried the next one, from a different bank. Nothing. I tried 4 or 5 ATMs and didn’t manage to get cash. The last one told me that there was no funds in my account.

How come? In this card I have 100 euros and I want to get 65.

I checked my account with my phone. One of the ATMs had taken the money from the bank account but didn’t give me the cash. I felt like crying.

The ATMs were in the street, there was no one. I asked in the nearby shops but they told me to contact my home bank. I did contact them and fortunately one hour later I got the money back.

Lesson learnt:

  • From that day, every time I went to a new ATM I took only 10 or 20 euros. Once I was sure it worked, I took the money I needed.

Tegalaland rice terraces, Ubud, Bali

5. A man touched me

It was midday, I was out for lunch. I was walking in a quiet street when I saw a motorbike coming in the opposite direction. I moved out of the way, as usual, to avoid being run over.

It happened very fast. Without stopping the motorbike, the man extended his arm and touched me.

He was wearing a full helmet so I don’t know if he was local or foreigner.

It didn’t matter. I was in shock.

My first reflex was to look at my clothes. I was wearing long, wide pants; short sleeve t-shirt with no cleavage, only showing a bit my shoulders. What did I do wrong? I thought. Is it my fault? I wondered.

After that I started having anxiety problems.

Lessons learnt:

  • No, it wasn’t my fault. I was the victim, not guilty. Even if I had been wearing a tank top and short skirt, the clothes do not justify an aggression.
  • Meditation is good to control anxiety.

Morong, Water Temple in Ubud, Bali

6. I fell and got an infection

It was raining. The ground was slippery, I slipped and fell on my bum. My left elbow was hurting but I laughed, until I realized that I was bleeding.

I immediately cleaned the wound, 4 times.

The next morning I had an infection.

I went to the hospital where they cleaned the wound, covered it, did an x-ray and gave me antibiotics.

I had the wound covered for a week. After a few days I saw another doctor who checked that it was healing well. I had never had such a small wound take so long to heal.

Lesson learnt:

  • So it was normal to get an infection, for two reasons. One, with the rain and humidity there are a lot of bacteria. Two, since I’m from another country my body isn’t used to this bacteria.

Beach in Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

7. My bank card details were stolen and the card blocked

The day I had to see the second doctor my main card stopped working. I didn’t manage to get money from any ATM.

I wrote my bank. They told me that the card was blocked for suspicious activity, and asked me if I had done those transactions in internet.

Shock. Those transactions were not mine! There was an approved purchase of 37 euros and a blocked one of 300 euros. Thanks god the bank blocked the 300 euros transaction!

But of course, blocking the card meant that I could no longer use it. The bank will provide another card that my parents will send me to Asia.

Lessons learnt:

  • Bank card data stealing is real, though I don’t know how to prevent it for the future
  • Confirmed: it’s better to travel with several cards in case something happens

Working in Ubud, Bali

8. There was a mistake in my Vietnam visa

To go to Vietnam for one month I had two options: to apply for an e-visa, which is paid in advance; or to ask for an approval letter to apply and pay for a visa on arrival at the airport.

To avoid the hassle of queues at the airport I preferred the e-visa, though I did a mistake and applied through an agency instead of the official website.

When I received the e-visa, on Tuesday morning, I saw that there was a mistake: instead of 30 days they had given me only 23.

I contacted the agency immediately. After discussing with them all week, they told me that it was a mistake made by the immigration department and they couldn’t correct it. Finally, on Friday evening they sent me an approval letter for a visa on arrival.

Lessons learnt:

  • I guess it wasn’t the fault of the agency, but I think it’s better to apply for visas directly from the official websites
  • Even if all the application is online it’s better to apply far in advance

Rice terraces in Canggu, Bali

9. It rained a lot (in dry season)

I always thought that rainy season means “rain every day” and dry season “almost no rain”, but in Bali the weather is not so mathematical.

In Ubud it rained almost every day for two weeks. In Canggu I saw more sun but it also rained half of the days. I gave up one of the day trips I wanted to do because of the weather.

In fact, the day I left it rained a lot. When I was going to the airport it started raining and by the time we took off it was still raining. I later learnt that one hour after my flight the airport was flooding and flights were delayed. And it was dry season!

Lesson learnt:

  • Do not trust the weather and be ready for everything

Waterfall in Bali, Indonesia

10. Bali has no public transport

There is no public transport in Bali. The only way to go around is to rent a motorbike, take a taxi or touristic tours.

For someone who doesn’t know how to ride a motorbike and is traveling on a budget this is hard. I had to pay a taxi from/to the airport, from Ubud to Canggu, to a couple of places I wanted to visit.

In addition Ubud and Canggu are not walkable. In Ubud the traffic is crazy and the sidewalks have holes. In Canggu there are no sidewalks and distances are huge. In order to print my Vietnam visa I had to rent a bicycle. And at night both places are very dark.

Lesson learnt:

  • Bali is not my place, it’s a place for people who can ride a motorbike or for groups who can share the taxi expenses.
Tanah Lot, Canggu, Bali
Photo credit: Paty

Conclusion

I was unlucky. Some of the things that happened had nothing to do with Bali, but everything happened when I was there and I ended up dealing with anxiety. I admit that the island is beautiful and the culture is interesting, though I couldn’t enjoy it.

We can always learn from challenges.

Maybe I’ll go back, one day. If possible, with someone who can ride a motorbike.

Which problemas have you had while traveling, and what did you learn from them?

Pin it for later!

Bali, Indonesia: challenges and lessons learnt

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