When I was in Bali, I set out with a fellow traveler on a road trip around the island. We started at the southern tip of the island near Kuta. Our only plan for the trip – head North. We made our way up the East coast of the island stopping in towns such as Candidasa, Tirta Gangga and Bedugul. Road trips are fun and everyone has most likely taken one at some point in there life. I found road trips in Bali to be a bit different than in your hometown or even home country for that matter. You are, after all, in a foreign country so naturally you can expect things to be a bit different. Here are my tips on how to make a perfect road trip around Bali.
1. Choose Your Transmission Wisely
First things first. When you rent the car, you will have to choose between manual and automatic. Manual will undoubtedly be less expensive and will give you slightly better gas milage. So if you know how to drive a stick, then you may want to opt for the manual. However, if you are the only one in the group who can drive manual, then consider the fact that you will be driving the entire trip. There are also some tricky roads and potentially major hills (depending on your destinations) that can make driving a manual car tricky. Consider all factors together to make the best choice for your trip.
2. Know How to Bribe a Police Officer
As a westerner driving in Bali, you will undoubtedly be spotted and targeted by the police. While it is required by law to carry an International driver’s license (click here for requirements by each country), you don’t necessarily need to have one if you are willing to cough up the cash when you get pulled over. If you think all you need to do is just abide by the laws to avoid getting pulled over in the first place, think again! We got pulled over for not turning on our blinker when we swerved to avoid hitting a motorbike. They will find any reason to pull you over. The first thing to do is as soon as you see you are getting pulled over is to take all the Rupiah out of your wallet and leave only 50,000 IDR (approx. $4 USD). When the officer comes to your window, he will ask to see your driver’s license. After you hand it over, he will then tell you that it is not an International license and he will have to take your license and you will need to appear in court tomorrow. That doesn’t exactly fit into the road trip plans now does it? Luckily, the officer will then say, after a lengthy and unnecessary delay, “or we can settle this here.” He will tell you that you need to pay somewhere in the amount of 250,000 IDR (approx. $22 USD). You will open your wallet and show him the single 50,000 bill and tell him that this is all you have. He is there for the money. He could care less if you go to court because it would leave him empty-handed. He will take whatever money you have and you will be on your merry way.
3. Use a Smartphone to Navigate
If you don’t want to get a local SIM card for your phone, you can still use your phone’s GPS to find your location on a map without using cellular data. Here’s the trick… Map out where you want to go while you still have a WiFi connection. When you are on the road, follow that little blue dot on the map as you head towards your destination. This isn’t foolproof because sometimes maps and wrong a destination might not be accurately marked on a map.
4. Pick a Designated Navigator
If you have more than two people on your road trip, choose someone to be the DN (designated navigator). You can always rotate between legs of the trip but whoever sits shotgun (front passenger seat) will be the DN – the individual tasked with the prestigious job of road navigator. No one likes backseat drivers. They are annoying. Let one person at a time be the DN while other passengers keep an eye out for strange sightings on the road.
5. Keep Munchies on Hand
It’s a road trip! Keep some food in the car. You don’t need any hungry and cranky passengers. One of the best (and healthiest) options is fresh fruit. There are fresh produce stands scattered all over the place – a common theme throughout Asia. Keep an eye out for one and stock up on some fruit like bananas, apples and oranges – anything with a peel that won’t spoil in the car. Its not that there is a lack of restaurants but sometimes hunger unexpectedly sets in and its good to keep something on hand. If you buy some bananas, keep them locked in the car if you go into monkey territory…unless you want to be chased by a pack of hungry monkeys.
6. Take in the Scenery
There is beauty across the entire island. With every turn, appears another spectacular view. Stop the car and get out and take some pictures! Bali is full of bright green rice terraces, sparkling blue oceans and sandy beaches, but no two places are alike. One beach may be black while the other is white. It is better to snap away than to wish you had taken that pic when you had the chance.
7. Get Lost
Yes, that’s right! Get lost! Some of the best experiences from a road trip around Bali will be the ones you never planned – your unexpected finds. You will come to many forks in the road – not metaphorically, but literally. Just pick one and go for it. A wrong turn may lead you up a mountain where you find a panoramic view of a giant lake. Even if you are uncertain about which way to head, just go for it. You will be surprised at what you might find along the way.
8. Keep Your Cool
Road trips can be a somewhat exhausting and get a little frustrating. Especially in a foreign country where you don’t know your way around and road signs aren’t always exactly clear. Don’t take it out on your fellow passengers. Keep your cool. If needed, pull over, find a warung and chill out over some Bintangs or relax poolside.
9. Remember Time Is On Your Side
The island of Bali is relatively small – 2,232 sq miles (5,780 km²). There is so much to see around the island and in just a few days, you could cover some serious ground. Don’t feel like you need to rush. Bali is a laidback island and should be enjoyed just so. Enjoy your time exploring the island and in the company of good friends, amazing sunsets and cheap beer.
Wherever your journey takes you, take lots of pictures, enjoy every turn, every unexpected stop, every mishap and everything you see along the way on the magical island of Bali. Drive safely!