Indonesia has long been on independent travelers' destination lists, but it's no longer the cheap carefree country of old. We spent a full month here and while we were able to stay within our budget of $1000 each, it was not without effort. We found rooms overpriced, transport inefficient, and some "must do" sites disappointing. Below are our tips to help other independent travelers avoid the pitfalls.
Don't expect Indonesia to be cheap—or easy
It seems like independent traveling has declined and with the arrival of richer tourists on package tours, so have the deals. Entrance tickets tripled in price during our one month stay, bus tickets doubled, and hotel rooms outside of Bali were the worst for the value we've experienced since Burma. Some of this was because of the end of Ramadan holiday, but mostly the increased prices were just a way to get more tourist dollars. The best deals to be found were on food.
Get an international driver's license and rent a motorbike
Indonesia was the most frustrating country in SE Asia for public transport. Motorbikes are cheap (around US$4/day for a short-term rental) and make it easy for you to travel on your own terms. Even better, you can bring your bike from Bali to Lombok and save tons of money and hassle.
Pick up some Bahasa Indonesian
It's easy to do, and you're more likely to get better prices if you know a few words, like mahala, or "expensive."
Nothing is fixed price besides restaurant menus, so make sure you do your research ahead of time and come prepared with a counteroffer. Not only did this save us money on hotels, but also on transport, guides, and activities.
Be prepared to ignore half the things the locals tell you
Tourism in Indonesia has been suffering lately and the local touts are desperate for whatever business they can get. We've never felt as harassed or hassled as we did in our month here. Let's hope it prepared us for India.
If traveling overland, go from west to east
For some reason, traveling from Bali to Java costs almost double as the reverse trip, and you have to do it all on your own, which means lots of negotiating. If you're planning on including Java in your itinerary, do it before Bali. From Bali, travel to Lombok and Flores is easily arranged on your own.
Eat at local warungs
Food was one place you could find bang for the buck, especially if you stuck to the local restaurants, which is what we'd recommend for Indonesian dishes. At places where food is already prepared, just grab a plate, pile some rice on top, and start picking out the toppings. Your meal will rarely cost over US$2, and if you're vegetarian, it will be closer to US$1.
Interested in travel and backpacking Indonesia on a budget? Check out our Indonesia destination page and plan your vacation now!
If you have any tips of your own, please share them by leaving a comment!