Foreign Correspondent: How to Travel Like a Local in Bali, Indonesia 


By Benedict Ballman

Itching to break away from the oppressive capitalist machine within which we are all merely cogs? Seeking a more spiritually-centered existence beyond work, sleep and death? Well, come on down to the sparkling beaches of Bali, Indonesia! Bask among expat gated communities, poverty and a rich cultural and spiritual history. 

Leaving our utopic United States can be a stressful experience for any new traveler. You are going to want a local’s inside scoop to have the best time in paradise! Although I was not born and raised in Bali, I have personally spent three days in the airport Marriott. Breathing the tropical air and eating room service grilled cheeses has truly opened my eyes to this mystical place — in addition to my voracious TripAdvisor consumption. From these personal experiences, I have prepared the following tips to travel like a local in Bali. 

Quick Hits: 

  • Everyone in Bali has already reached enlightenment, and you should readily approach whoever to ask about their journey.
  • Choose your hostel carefully. You will be expected to fight to the death against enemy hostels to protect your host’s HostelWorld rating. 
  • If a monkey approaches you, bend down on one knee and bow immediately. With your left hand, extend all food and drink. With your right, extend any object of value or currency. They own you. 
  • Bali Belly does not exist. Stop overreacting and just hold it. 

To best understand Bali, you must first understand its people. Bali is made up of various ethnic groups, including 63% American and European expats, 28% Australian surfers and 9% Russians. This, of course, does not account for the saintly individuals who wait on tables, staff hotels and uphold the general fabric of Bali’s society. Better to spend your time with more cultured people, though. They did not even like my proposed locations and designs for a new Walmart Superstore. (Where isn’t “sacred land”?)

Although Bali is very diverse in its demographics, this should not worry you. Traveling across the world to meet new kinds of white people is one of the most enriching experiences Bali has to offer. Further, I have learned that each of these local Balinese ethnic groups (Amer-Euro, Aussie and Commie) exists within a singular Balinese culture and set of customs, which I will now explore. 

Likely the most significant extension of Balinese culture, and the official religion of Bali, is Vaguely Defined Spiritualism. Each of these ethnic groups are diligent Vaguely Defined Spiritualists, which has historically helped to catalyze a collective community among the different ethnic groups. Although their core beliefs are still difficult to decipher, practices include meditating using Headspace, feeling ‘like, super zen,’ and the use of many psychoactive drugs. I highly encourage anyone visiting Bali to immerse themselves in Vaguely Defined Spiritualism — one of the most authentic ways to connect with the local Balinese culture. 

Famous the world over, Balinese traditional attire ranks No. 1 in the most visible manifestations of this mystifying culture. For women, it is traditional to don the latest Lululemon line, particularly their athleisure tank top and yoga pants combo. For men, it is commonplace to wear tropical polo shirts or tank tops as well, combined with baggy elephant printed linens. Traditional clothing can vary for the dominant male, which is selected based on steroid usage and the amount of surface area dedicated to Vaguely Defined Spiritualist tattoos such as unknown Chinese characters or anything even tangentially related to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Sikhism and Jainism. These dominant males will likely wear no shirt at all, as to display their dedication to Vaguely Defined Spiritualism. Wearing this traditional garb is another excellent way to connect deeply with Bali and its locals. However, please do so respectfully and shop local at the Lululemon locations on every street corner in Bali. 

Similar to other aspects of their lives, Balinese have particular approaches to their food consumption. Similarly stemming from their Vaguely Defined Spiritualism, Balinese traditionally prescribe to a vegetarian diet, while the dominant males and females eat a strictly vegan diet. Interestingly, the particular food they eat or where they eat is relatively insignificant to these people. The Balinese place much more value on the competition of repetitively informing all those in earshot of their vegetarian or vegan diet, over and over. The best way to locate a local restaurant in Bali is to listen for this ritual chant or identify any restaurant with English. 

Once you are looking and living like a local, you simply have to act like them. Indeed, this is the last piece of the puzzle in connecting with the mysterious local culture. No trip is complete without partaking in the historic Balinese Vaguely Defined Spiritualist practices. The best way to dip your toe in the water of Balinese rituals is through the Vaguely Defined Spiritualist Mediation Circle. This is a daily staple across Bali, and it can be found at sunrise at every hostel. Simply locate the nearest blonde woman with dreadlocks to point you in the right direction. These Mediation Circles usually follow up with a communal breakfast wherein, if you’re lucky, you may find an American expat to explain how American imperialism was bad!

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can jump headfirst into the Balinese Midnight Celebrations. In local Balinese culture, the late night represents the end of the workday for many locals working virtual jobs in Western countries. Once off work, Balinese are free to bask in the inflated worth of their labor and readily exploit the labor of the others. In traditional Balinese Midnight Celebrations, locals consume vast amounts of alcohol and other psychoactive substances. This is to prepare them for their ritual body practice of Electronic Dance Music. Once under the enlightenment of these substances, locals will enter dark, cramped rooms and throw their bodies up and down and against one another. Again, in line with Vaguely Defined Spiritualist practice, this is a communal celebration that seeks to strip down the walls of the self and find someone to hook up with. 

Now, with all this knowledge and knowhow, there is nothing standing between you and Bali! As you bask in the sunny beaches and lively jungles, do so as a local. Immerse in the culture and the spiritual practices and see Bali for what it truly is — as I have had the fortune to do. And don’t forget to leave any and all experiences or advice in the comments below!

  • April 19, 2024