Bali may be paradise, but that’s not an invitation for no-holds-barred, girls-gone-wild-style behavior. You must show respect to this deeply spiritual place and her people…both to be a polite, aware, worldly traveler and to get the absolute most out of your My1FitLife Bali Adventure.
To guide you, the My1FitLife Adventures crew put together a few do’s and don’ts to help you navigate this beautiful, but international island. From mopeds to monkeys, tipping to temples, consider this your all-things-Bali 411.
Your Stay in Bali: Dos and Don’ts
Of course there are some aspects of travel that are universal—yes, you will likely have to take off your shoes to go through airport security and yes, you will have to go through customs when you arrive at your country of destination. But beyond that, many details and nuances are highly cultural and vary destination to destination. Here’s what we’ve got for Bali travel must-knows:
Basic travel specs
Do: ensure you are up-to-date on all of your vaccines (not just COVID) pre-travel.
Don’t: be petrified of potential dangers and infections that can befall foreign travelers anywhere.
Do: consider travel insurance in light of potential scooter accidents, surf accidents, or wild animal bites.
Don’t: assume that because Bali receives millions of tourists each year that it is perfectly safe. Sure, it’s mostly safe, but don’t assume.
Do: be mindful and use your best judgment when it comes to taking and/or leaving your belongings anywhere.
Don’t: expect to get through customs quickly and/or book a tight reservation after you touch down at Denpasar International Airport.
Do: expect a longer line at airport customs. Be patient, everyone will get their turn and Bali is worth the wait.
Do: exchange your US dollars for Indonesian Rupiah (IDR).
Don’t: trust just any Jo Schmo with your currency exchange.
Do: exchange your US dollars for Indonesian currency at a bank, the designated office at the airport, or through a Bank Indonesia authorized money changer. Alternatively, you can also use your international bank card to withdraw IDR from an ATM. If you choose this route, however, ensure you select WITHOUT conversion to avoid costly interchange rates at ATMs.
Do: count your money when exchanging foreign currency. Even if you go to a reputable bank or exchange office, you can still get ripped off.
Don’t: assume everything is cheap in Bali.
Do: be mindful of your budget. Just like anywhere else, Bali has more and less expensive places to stay, eat, and play, albeit the island is known for cheap eats and stays. That’s not to say, however, that everything is pennies compared to back home. Once you know where you’re staying or what you might want to do/see, shop online for coupons for an added cushion. Of course, when you join the My1FitLife Adventure to Bali, January 2023, your trip costs include lodging and several meals, which takes out most of the guesswork (and we’ve been there three times—can you imagine the off-itinerary recs?)!
Don’t: spend your entire trip preoccupied about catching the infamous Bali belly. If you’re unfamiliar, Bali belly can cause massive stomach cramps, indigestion, and diarrhea, and is caused by bacteria commonly found in unfiltered Balinese drinking/vegetable-washing/toothbrushing water. But just like any other country afflicted with this relatively common drawback, it is possible to have a vacation that doesn’t involve copious hours on the toilet.
Do: take precautions against Bali belly including (but definitely not limited to) staying hydrated, declining any dodgy-looking shrimp, avoiding arak—a strong local liquor made from palm leaves—and being mindful when selecting and eating street food. That said…
Don’t: assume you won’t get Bali belly…even if you’re mindful. There is a chance it’ll hit, even if you stick to Western-based restaurants.
Do: bring activated charcoal tablets to relieve any accidental Bali belly. Take a queue from Murphy’s law: if you have them, you won’t (ok, might not) need them; better safe than sorry and always safer to be prepared.
Don’t: guzzle through a pallet of single-use plastic water bottles. There’s already enough plastic in Bali’s oceans and shores, so much so that authorities report removing up to 60 tons of plastic per day during monsoon season. In fact, Bali outlawed single-use plastic bags in 2018 so you won’t find “Thank You” bags at most retailers, either.
Do: bring or buy a sustainable, reusable water bottle and filter or a filtering water bottle. If you don’t bring your own filter, you can often fill up at a local restaurant or café and pay less than a dollar to use their filter. Bottom line, it’s hot; stay sustainably hydrated.
Don’t: travel without an adapter and go without electric comforts from home and/or fry the electric in your lodging with your US plugs.
Do: bring a universal adapter. Bali uses both type C and F outlets; rather than crossing your fingers one or the other will work, grab a universal that fits both. Oh, and to ensure you still don’t fry the entire village in which you stay, ensure that adapter has a surge protector attached.
Do: expect the island’s humidity to affect your camera and/or shots, especially if you’re visiting in the rainy season (which we are on the My1FitLife Bali 2023 Adventure!).
Etiquette around town
Do: anticipate traffic. A lot of it.
Don’t: cause a fuss if and when you are charged entry to attractions, temples, etc. at a higher rate than locals. This is simply one of the island’s quirks. Causing a scene or complaining will likely only result in your ending up on the internet…in a wildly unflattering light.
Don’t: feel obligated to tip the wait staff at restaurants.
Do: feel free to tip if you’d like. Tipping is not taboo in Bali and Balinese wait staff don’t receive the highest of wages.
Do: avoid Anglo-Saxon hotel/resort/restaurant hawkers. Even if they promise a free one-night stay, that one night might come with hidden fees and terms that make your affordable trip anything but.
Don’t: assume you can dress as you please because Bali is the most socially liberal Indonesian island, which it is.
Do: follow a policy of “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. Dress modestly in public, even when it’s hot and so humid the air feels like water. Cover up your bikini and put on a shirt after the beach or pool. Also, consider calling ahead to any (nicer) restaurants you plan to visit; some have a strict dress code and will turn you away for not conforming.
Don’t: sunbathe nude. Locals may bathe in the rivers, however, unlike Europe, Balinese beaches have a strict no nudity policy.
Don’t: engage in raunchy PDA in public. PDA is neither culturally common, nor sound. Additionally, if you’re not married to your romantic travel companion, you don’t want to put that on display; cohabitation is technically prohibited for non-married couples.
Do: sweetly hold hands with your partner in public, if you’d like.
Abiding by the law in Bali: Dos and Don’ts
Don’t: be rude and disrespectful to local ways of life. Just because you’re on vacation definitely does not mean everyone else on the island is…in fact the majority of them are not. And behind those very real locals is a very real law enforcement system.
Do: be mindful of local laws, respect police officers, and pay all tickets timely (and with grace). If you are given a traffic citation, you must pay that later. Any officer that agrees to accept payment at the time of the infraction is either allowing you to bribe them…or not a real cop. Avoid both possibilities by only paying tickets at the designated location.
Don’t: take or do drugs in Bali or at all in Indonesia; it’s punishable by death.
Don’t: ride a moped, etc. bareheaded.
Do: wear a helmet when zipping around Balinese streets. For one, it’s safe, and for another, it’s illegal to ride sans protection.
Respecting Bali’s essence: Dos and Don’ts
As we cover extensively in this article, Bali is more than beaches and coconuts. It is a deeply spiritual island, and that entrenched spirituality is accompanied by breathtaking natural vistas and, of course, adventurous ways to engage with the island’s natural beauty. But all that natural splendor and spiritual grounding requires certain manners.
Do: always be respectful of Balinese traditions and Balinese Hindu practices, beliefs, festivals, and ceremonies. You may encounter closed roads due to one of Bali’s many festivities. You might encounter a cabby who pulls over in the middle of your ride to pray. The airport—yes, even the main one, Denpasar International—might shut down for a day if your stay coincides with Nyepi, the Day of Silence. For an island that is as intensely spiritual as Bali, these “annoyances” are not only not abnormal, they’re practically common.
Don’t: get grumpy when streets are blocked off for ceremonies and processionals.
Do: always keep your upper body/shoulders and down to the knees covered while visiting Hindi temples. Often, these sites require visitors to don a sarong and sash; most will provide these for visitors, although we recommend you carry a scarf or a sarong with you everywhere.You never know when you may encounter a must-see temple or stumble across a parade at random.
Don’t: point your feet towards the altars at Hindu temples.
Do: leave an offering at any temples you visit. It’s polite, and why not incur all the good karma you can while in this deeply spiritual paradise.
Do: take your shoes off when entering a temple or someone’s home. Balinese homes are all considered temples and are all laid out in the same formation.
Don’t: walk over spiritual/ceremonial offerings in the street (and they will be there) or on doorsteps, if you can help it.
Don’t: touch a Balinese person’s head. The top of the head—be it adults, children, or babies—is the most sacred part of the body. It contains the door to Siva, the Fontanel that allows one’s soul to enter their body.
Do: cover your legs entirely, even below the knee, when attending religious festivities.
Nature & Adventure
Don’t: hike an active volcano alone!
Do: be mindful of volcanic conditions. You definitely can and (should) hike and otherwise explore Bali’s mountains. However, six of those mountains are actually volcanos, and three of those are active. They’re not flowing and/or spitting all the time, but they can. And when they do, they can cause mayhem, or at least a disruption. You may find flight or other travel arrangements are occasionally adjusted and other services and accommodations are disrupted. It’s all part of the experience.
Don’t: surf alone.
Do: respect the ocean. Bali has beautiful waters and picturesque surfing. But it also has massive surf swells accompanied by an insane undertow. To top it off, shallow waters are filled with rocks that are sometimes visible… Unless you’re a seasoned surfer, always go with a buddy.
Don’t: assume you can swim at the beach whenever.
Do: note any red or yellow flags that indicate water/swimming hazards.
Do: be respectful of and avoid endangered sea turtles at the beach.
Interacting with Balinese locals: Dos and Don’ts
As with any distant land, the locals have their own interactions, customs, and manners that must be abided if you want to experience the friendly and resplendent Balinese culture.
Get to know the locals.
Do: smile often! Balinese people are friendly and the island’s energy is infectious. Soak up all the endorphins and serotonin you can.
Don’t: engage locals in discussions of politics, executions, etc. (you will be asked).
Do: be friendly with locals when they try to engage you in conversation.
Don’t: assume you can get by only in English because, “like so many US-Americans visit Bali.”
Do: Learn some basic phrases to be respectful and endear locals who will be glad to hear you try. Some useful phrases:
- Selamat pagi (good morning)
- Tolong (please)
- Terima kasih (thank you)
Don’t: use your left hand to exchange or give money (of any form, including plastic) if you can avoid it. Indonesian and other Asian cultures consider the left hand to be dirty.
Don’t: use your index finger to point. See above—rude. If you must point, keep your fingers directed down.
Don’t: eat everything on your plate when dining at a local’s home. Leftover food is served as an offering to the gods.
Do: show delight when dining with locals, and thank them for their hospitality.
Don’t: use red ink; red is the color of anger.
Don’t: put your feet up on the table or a chair, or otherwise expose the bottoms of your feet (which are dirty).
Make furry friends.
Don’t: get cute and cuddly with local wildlife.
Do: be mindful of all creatures great and small. Bali is home to quite the populations of all-too-friendly monkeys and feral dogs, one of which could give you diseases, and the other of which could also give you diseases…and steal your sunglasses, wallet, etc. (here’s a hint: dogs don’t have thumbs). Stray dogs roam free and in high-volume.
Don’t: make eye contact with monkeys in Ubud, unless, of course, you have a tasty snack to share.
Don’t: goad the monkeys; they will attack and might carry rabies.
At the end of the day, you must remember that while you’re a tourist on vacation, Bali is home to a whopping 4.2 million people…who are not. To have a truly wonderful Balinese adventure, you must respect local nuances and customs, respectfully pay homage to the island’s deep, unique spirituality, and (as always) show deference to Mother Nature. If you can manage that, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime.
And if you’re looking to experience Bali in a profoundly new light, while removing some of the Bali dos and don’ts guesswork, be sure to join My1FitLife Adventure’s January 2023 Bali adventure! Our 8-day excursion includes a volcanic hike at dawn, swimming and snorkeling, a cooking class, canyoneering, plus accommodations and delicious local food is included in the price.
Will you join this or next year’s Bali trek? Let us know in the comments.