Solivagantry: The Art of Solo Travel in Bali
Not far from its party beaches is a different side to Bali, a place for those seeking rugged adventure, vibrant culture and invigorating spirituality. If you’ve been fantasising about jumping on a plane and flying solo to a destination of promise, Bali is the place the start.
Small enough to cover some serious ground as a party of one, yet diverse enough that you’ll never run out of adventures to chase.
A solivagant is a solitary wanderer, one who “rambles alone”. Bali just so happens to be a solivagant’s dream location, for reasons that hopefully become clear.
While there’s an element of “rambling” to solo travel, those brief moments of dullness where you must entertain yourself by whatever random means necessary, solo travel is far more than staying solitary. There’s an art to it.
The success of solivagantry hinges on whether you can honestly acknowledge your limitations, be comfortable in your own skin and be happy without constant company. Such qualities are best tempered with an openness to new cultures and a desire to make friends on the road.
The island of Bali offers countless opportunities to build on these virtues, particularly if this is your first time travelling solo.
Take it from me
Bali wasn’t my first solo overseas venture, but it was my first without having a job to go to, or even a fixed plan. For the most part, this worked to my advantage.
While it meant I had to do a bit of in-room research, it also meant I could make up my month-long venture on the fly. And I think that’s how Bali is meant to be savoured.
The small size of the island means you can be deep in the banana tree hills all day and be enjoying drums at the beach by sunset. It’s an island that not only favours spontaneity, but makes this free-spirited approach seem completely practical.
Finding your centre
One of the perks of solivagantry is that you can make it as much about you as you like. It sounds egotistical, but how often do you get this kind of freedom?
Your solo adventure is an opportunity to become more conscious of the skin you’re in.
You’re probably thinking, “Hey now, dum-dum, I’m in my skin every day! I know it well.” But what I mean is developing an awareness of your physical self that comes only from deliberate practice. Practice which serves no other practical purpose than elevating your own wellbeing.
I don’t mean Zumba, or sex, or even the action of mechanically spooning ice cream into your kisser. I’m talking about yoga.
As fortune has it, Bali is a yoga haven. Hindi culture and a fertile tropical environment have proved to be the perfect conditions for it to flourish throughout the island.
In Ubud, I loved Yoga Barn because it combined community, the outdoors and meditation all while I worked (unsuccessfully) on a shoulder stand. Some classes even take place in a treehouse set-up, a yoga platform elevated amidst the canopy. During my visit, I got to enjoy an evening screening of Waste Land in the treehouse and also a veggie buffet in the garden.
If you’re Seminyak based, give Prana Spa a go. I tried classes here and found that Prana offered a minimalist, traditional approach to yoga that I thoroughly enjoyed and was challenged by.
To the hills
In Bali, there are hikes for all abilities and interests – we understand that not all folks want to summit a volcano before dawn – but if you’re going solo and you’re not interested in a guided walk, check out Campuhan Ridge.
Campuhan is an uncomplicated trail that will take you through the vibrantly grassy hills of Ubud. It’s ideal for sunrise, any later and the combination of the uphill trek and the humidity might have you awash with sweat.
Eat, Graze, Lunch
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you will love the food in Bali. No kidding. Even if you’re carnivorously inclined, you’ll still love it.
The island shines with its focus on organic, raw and plant-based foods. You’ll be fascinated by how Bali’s culinary mavens have their own spin on vegetarian and vegan food. It’s inexpensive too.
I’ll admit, after a month on the island I had tried all the vegan eateries. My three meals a day –fine, five meals a day – were all plant-based and usually raw. Trendy as hell, I know.
My favourite spots were Seeds of Life for probiotic smoothies, Alchemy for its cashew yoghurt breakfast bar, The Cashew Tree for greens bowls and The Elephant for the sprawling rice terrace view. I sound like another new-age hippy, but don’t knock it till you’ve rocked it.
Why live life just grasping it by the sides? Throw yourself into the traditional realm of Bali. Try your hand at Balinese cooking with Paon, explore the Uluwatu temple to be robbed by cheeky monkeys, visit a healer and stay in a traditional homestay.
Amongst the modern and alternative delights of Bali, there are deep cultural roots. You just need to seek them out.
You can’t be sad on a bike
One major lesson I’ve learned from solo travel is that sometimes, you need a break from yourself. I’m not a tour-going gal, but doing some research to find a decent one can pay dividends in new friendships with travellers and locals alike.
I chose a tour which was a little more fast-paced than a standard sightseeing trip, a 30km ride with Bali Eco Cycling.
We cycled downhill through the flourishing rice fields, stopping to chat to the busy harvesters, and we explored a Balinese commune. Our efforts even culminated with an extensive Balinese buffet in a rice paddy restaurant.
That day, I was blessed with the quirkiest guide I’ve ever met. He was the king of banter, the emperor of catchphrases and his forte was Celine Dion jokes.
Cruising from A to B
One of the easiest ways to see the island is by scooter. You can find the rental sites for these are all over town.
If you’re not too crazy about that idea, Bali has Uber. While the island also offers trusted taxi company Bluebird – it’s best to avoid other taxi companies because they may not all be fairly priced or safe – I preferred Uber because most of the drivers were cool with keeping the fare running and be my driver from dawn to dusk. Both parties benefit.
On my first day, I met a kind, knowledgeable Uber driver named Wayan, who ended up driving me around the southern end of the island. It was $55 USD for the day. There are other driver and car hire companies, but for me, Uber was the safest and most flexible option.
Finding your abode
Bali has so many different accommodation options, so you might be stuck on deciding where to stay. To narrow it down, pick the town you think you’ll spend the most time in.
Kuta is party central so steer clear, but Seminyak is a bit more chilled out and provides a decent selection of bars, shops and restaurants, if that’s what you’re after. The southern part of Bali, Uluwatu, is more of a luxe beach hub of resort after resort. Though Rock Bar is great for a sunset session.
Canggu and Ubud are my top picks for the humble solivagant. Canggu is a hippy surfer haven, peppered with lush rice terraces, quirky hideouts and serene yoga retreats. If you stay here you’ll need that scooter.
Ubud is probably my preferred place to stay. Its scenic yoga studios, isolated hikes and abundance of organic cafes make it hard to beat. Plus the hanging gardens and jungle pools aren’t a bad idea if you fancy spoiling yourself.
A word on safety
As for the safety factor, I felt fine in Bali. I’m in my early twenties, so I suppose I blended in with the typical young Aussie crowd, but I’m also part Asian, so pairing that with my thing for Batik clothing and sun exposure meant I could occasionally pass as a local. The only way I felt like I stood out was because I was female and alone.
At night, I had that niggling fear for my safety. This wasn’t reflective of Bali, it was more a natural concern which I think stems from travelling solo as a woman.
Overall, I found Bali to be a safe place. It’s a traveller friendly island and the locals are lovely. Just be wise about your transport and accommodation and you’ll be more than fine.
My two cents / two rupiahs
If you’ve been flirting with the idea of a Bali trip for some time, just book it. Don’t fret about your itinerary or finding someone to join you. Waiting for a potential travel buddy’s schedule to free up is purgatory! So catch flights, not feelings, and make that adventure happen.
While the island certainly has a touristy side, this can work to your benefit as a prospective solo traveller. Let the knowledge that many others have gone before you calm your fears as you step on that plane. Bali is a safe, welcoming place and away from the tourist trappings, it’s remarkably underrated.
Photo credits: main image George Bannister on Flickr, other images are the writer’s own.
Serena Coady is a happy-go-lucky travel writer from Australia’s east coast. She’s definitely not a blogger who will tell you to quit your job to see the world. Serena will, however, divulge how to make the most of the moments in between real life and adventure. Read more at lostbyluna.com.