5 Things to Know Before You Go: Bali, Indonesia

March 22, 2019
Emma StiefelExplore

This article is part of a series exploring the locations Year On fellows venture to during the Explore phase of the program. Oby Okpalanma, the Year On community coordinator in Bali, shared tips for how fellows and other visitors can best prepare for their time in Indonesia.


Photo: Werner Bayer, Creative Commons 2.0 license

1. Food:

Balinese staples are familiar to most Americans — rice or noodles, vegetables, some sort of protein — but with more flavors and spices. If you aren’t used to very spicy foods, however, you should tell your server that you want your food "manis pedas," or “sweet spicy,” so that the cooks know to keep the heat down. Vegetables and tempeh (an Indonesian soybean cake) are common, so if you’re vegan or vegetarian you should have no problem finding options that fit your dietary restrictions, though meat and fish are also widely available.

2. Weather:

Bali is very close to the equator, so temperatures are normally at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the Year On volunteer site is right by the sea, so you can go for a swim if you need to cool off quickly. Bali has two seasons: a dry season from about May to September, and a wet season from October to April, when most Year On fellows will be there. During the wet season, most days will actually still be sunny, but it’s good to plan for big rainstorms.


3. What to Pack:

Because Bali is so hot, it’s best to pack clothes made from lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton. Bali’s population is mostly Hindu, so it’s normal for women to dress more conservatively. If you volunteer in a classroom, you’d do best to keep your shoulders and knees covered, so you may wish to pack longer clothes. You can wear whatever you’re most comfortable in on the weekends, however, and many female fellows can just put a sarang — a tube of fabric worn around the waist like a long skirt — on over their shorts when they volunteer. Mosquito nets, sunscreen, and bug spray are also recommended for the tropical climate. These items and other toiletries can also be purchased on location, however, so if you don’t care about the specific brands you use, you can pack light and buy necessities after you arrive.

Photo: Tiomax80, Creative Commons 2.0 license

4. What to do for Fun:

Bali is a tropical island, and the village where Year On fellows stay is right on the beach. It’s a great place to go swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. Because Year On fellows stay in the north half of the island, away from the more touristy south, you can also travel around the island on weekends. There’s also plenty of opportunities to get to spend time with locals. You’ll likely meet volunteers from all over the world, as well as schoolchildren and their families, and anyone with an open mind should be able to make plenty of new friends.

5. What to be Mindful of:

Oby emphasized how friendly the local Balinese people are, saying that “everyone’s always smiling and saying hello, always trying to talk with you and asking how your day is.” There are some cultural differences, however, that you may want to keep in mind to make your stay on the island more comfortable. The island mostly uses cash, for example, so you shouldn’t rely on credit cards to make purchases. In Bali, as in many Asian countries, visitors are expected to take off their shoes before entering a home. You can also benefit from picking up some Indonesian — such as “terima kasih,” or “thank you” — an effort locals will appreciate, even if you make a few mistakes!

Read the other 5 Things to Know Before You Go blogs: 

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