The culture, people, nature, and food are all reasons Bali is notoriously popular as a vacation destination. Close to Thailand and Vietnam, Bali is often considered on the backpacker trail. But compared to these other spots in Southeast Asia, the island comes out a little pricier. So can you actually travel Bali on a budget?
You might have to be a bit more savings-savvy to travel Bali and its surrounding islands on a shoestring, but you can do it, and we’re here to show you how. This guide has it all, from accommodation and where to eat to avoiding tourist traps and earning some cash along the way. So let’s get started because those cheap flights won’t be available for long.
Table of Contents
The Bali food scene is notoriously diverse. From Asian-fusion fine dining restaurants to vegan-friendly health cafes, it’s fair to say that western influence has left its mark on Balinese cuisine. Travelers and settlers have had their input over the years, and cheap business investment opportunities mean the restaurant scene is now saturated with Mediterranean, Australian, Japanese, Thai, and even British menus.
Still, around every corner is a cheap local warung serving delicious, hearty, and native Balinese food for a fraction of the price of a western meal. Balinese food is fragrant, spicy, filling, and notably, cheap. From nasi goreng, the iconic local fried rice dish, to “bakso,” the soul-filled street food soup, there’s tons of variation when it comes to local food, and you can have a different meal every day of the week and not be bored.
Unlike some less developed Asian countries like India and Laos, the street food in Bali is mainly safe. As long as you can make your own judgment calls about cleanliness and health and safety, warung food is fine to eat. Most westerners will experience at least 24 hours of the appropriately named “Bali belly” on their trip from the island. But this is likely to be caused by unfamiliar spice levels or dirty drinking water, rather than poor quality warung food.
A rice dish with meat and greens can set you back as little as $1 at a warung, and these restaurants serve the cheapest soft and alcoholic drinks too. They’re easy to recognize as they’ll likely have the word “warung” in the restaurant name, but local Bali eateries are also characterized by open-air dining arrangements and kitchens.
Stay in Guesthouses
Finding budget accommodation is a given when it comes to saving pennies on your travels. But most backpackers will be familiar with jumping from hostel to hostel, sleeping in cramped dorms, and getting drunk every night on arranged pub crawls.
You’ll find all this and more at Bali’s party hostels, and hostels remain the best place to meet people and have fun every night of the week. Still, if you’re serious about saving cash, there are other places to turn. Avoiding hostels is not only about limiting your nights out and saving money on imported alcohol, although it is a benefit. Instead, you’ll find that the guesthouses in Bali can cost up to half the price as hostels for twice the amenities.
Even the most budget guesthouses in central areas provide communal pool access, shared kitchens, private bathrooms, and double beds, often with cleaning and toiletries included, for as little as $5 a night. And the longer you book for, the cheaper this price will be. Whereas the popular party hostels that attract the backpacker crowd start at closer to $10 a night and average at over $20. Not to mention the amount of partying your budget will have to accommodate on top of that.
Guesthouses are still great places to meet like-minded people and stay right in the center of the action. There are also far more guesthouses in Bali than hostels, and so you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Find a Base
Carrying on from the above, the longer you book accommodation for, the cheaper it will be. We know backpacking is all about constantly moving and seeing as much as you can. But Bali is unique in that the singular island itself provides so much diversity and adventure that you don’t need to take a six-hour ferry every other day to see something new, like travelers of Thailand, might be familiar with.
Finding a base and exploring from there is a great affordable option for Bali travelers. You can have somewhere safe to keep your belongings when you’re off exploring and local haunts to become familiar with where you know the food is excellent and cheap. Best of all, booking accommodation in Bali by the month, and even by the week, can cost you a quarter of what you’d spend moving around.
It’s not uncommon for a guest house to cost the same price for one week as it does for one month because of insane discounts. Landlords want stability and guaranteed custom, so it’s in their best interest to keep guests for as long as they can. If you’d spend the same amount on one week in one spot as you would for the month, why not use it as a base and go off for weekend trips at a time that you can now afford with all the money you’ve saved on accommodation.
In reach of the popular areas of Canggu, Kuta and Seminyak are the waterfalls of Ubud, the black sand beaches of Tanah Lot, and blessed waves of Uluwatu, all of which you can visit for a day trip without having to uproot and book expensive accommodation. Even iconic landmarks like Mount Batur and Amed Beach are just a few hours’ drives from central Bali. Staying a night or two before heading back to base will be far more cost-efficient than constantly moving.
Rent a Scooter
Another reason Bali stands out from other southeast Asian countries is its complete lack of public transport options. While cheap buses and overnight trains are part of the raw excitement of traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, Bali’s lack of this option doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Firstly, Bali is just 150km long and 80km wide. You can drive from the southernmost tip to the northern beaches of Lovina in just 5 hours, traffic permitting, and you would still see more variety than on one of Thailand’s nine-hour ferry rides. Taxis are cheap in Bali and easy to procure. An hour’s car ride for four people shouldn’t cost more than $12. But even more, cost-efficient is scooter hire.
This is the singular most effective way to get around Bali and most Asian countries at that. But everyone, even foreigners, drives scooters on the island, and they’re a quick and cheap way to see the whole island at your own pace.
The average scooter rental per day costs just $3.50, and you can hire one for a month for an average of just $40. The nicer the bike, the more it will cost you, and for experienced riders, there’s no shortage of custom motorbikes available. But cheaper, less powerful bikes remain popular, and they’re a largely safe and easy way to get around. For the best scooter rentals on the island, check out our guide.
This will sound like a strange one, but because Bali is an island where most supermarket products are imported, your groceries are likely to cost far more than your restaurant meals.
On average, one person can expect to spend $50 to $75 per week on supermarket groceries. Not to mention the physical labor of cooking, buying utensils if your guesthouse doesn’t have any, and paying extra for the electricity to use your kitchen if your bills aren’t included.
The average price of a meal in a mid-range restaurant in Bali is only $5, and you can eat warung food for as little as $1 to $2 a dish. Even if you treat yourself to a western breakfast every once in a while, eating out on a budget in Bali can cost you as little as $50 a week, making grocery shopping and cooking for yourself not worth the hassle.
Travel in Low Season
Bali has two distinct seasons, wet and dry. With full days of sunshine, minimal rain, and highs of 31 degrees Celsius, it’s not surprising that the dry season is the most popular time to visit the island. Running through from April to October also coincides with summer vacation for most of the world when school is out and annual leave is claimed.
With colder weather reaching the nearby nation of Australia, too, the dry season in Bali sees a massive influx of crowds, fully-booked flights, and high demand for accommodation. Not only will your flights shoot up in price at this time, already likely to cost upwards of $500 per person wherever you’re coming from in the world, but scooter rental, guest houses, villas, and even restaurant prices also increase.
Traveling in the low season, which runs from November to March, will mean your flights will be cheaper, accommodation discounts will be better, and you can even barter better with street vendors and taxi drivers who need the trade in the quieter months. Although the rainy season in Bali can be very wet, the temperature remains high, and there are just as many sunny days as cloudy.
You might also find that some attractions where you would usually pay an entrance fee, like waterfalls and rice fields, are actually free in the low season because there are not enough tourists for them to be regulated. Experiencing Bali without the crowds is even more magical, so don’t be afraid of a bit of rain to do so. And if you don’t know what to do with your rainy days, check out our guide for some more advice.
Drink Local Alcohol
From the beloved native beer to locally brewed gin, drinking local alcohol in Bali is a great way to save money if you’re a fan of regular nights out. Alcohol is one of the things travelers often complain about on the island, and it can really hike up the prices no matter where you go. With high importation fees, favorite liqueurs and Australian wines, those which most restaurants and bars serve, can cost the same amount as you’d pay back home.
A bottle of wine in a restaurant costs upwards of $30 on average, and cocktails in bars are usually no less than $10. But it’s not just drinking Bintangs at beach warungs and making the most of happy hours, which will save you a pretty penny.
A Bali night-out hack is to ask your server for local alcohol instead of whatever popular liquor they’ve listed on the menu. Some bars will give you this choice, but if they don’t, asking your bartender could save you twice as much. For example, a gin and tonic might cost $5 at a cheap haunt but mixed with local alcohol with virtually no sacrifice to the taste. You could get the same drink for $2.
Just be careful. Local alcohol tends to be much stronger, so pace yourself, and you’ll save even more money by drinking less.
Do Your Own Laundry
This one is relatively self-explanatory. Still, even though Bali launderettes aren’t that expensive, doing your laundry somewhere, reliable can cost you twice as much as it would in the rest of Southeast Asia, averaging at $5 for a large wash. That’s not to mention the possibility of losing clothing items that you’d need to pay to replace.
Investing in some good travel wash or even proper laundry detergent that shouldn’t set you back more than $2 is a great way to take matters into your own hands. Designate a laundry day every week and soak your belongings in a warm tub with a cleaning solution and make the most of the Bali sun. Your belongings will be dry in no time, and your delicates will be protected from the inevitable shrinking and staining that happens at the laundromat.
Pick Up Online Work
Even if you’re constantly on the move, a good Wifi network is never too far away in Bali. As long as you have your laptop with you and it’s insured, doing online work is a great way to boost your travel funds mid-trip.
Freelance work is a low commitment but with great benefits, as you can work anywhere and on your own schedule. Many skills can now be translated into online work, and turning your passion into a digital career has never been easier.
There’s a thriving digital nomad community in Bali of people making the most of this newfound digital freedom, and Bali is a great place to network and find job opportunities. Even if you don’t want to launch an online business, tons of jobs only require the English language to do, like transcription, teaching, and proofreading. Don’t be afraid to dedicate a rainy day to work on your laptop every week.
How much should I budget for Bali?
Bali can be as expensive as you make it. While it’s not as cheap as other Southeast Asian nations on the backpacker trail, you’ll still benefit from affordable local food, great monthly accommodation discounts, and cheap travel. To live in Bali, you should budget between $700 and $2,000, depending on your lifestyle. But if you plan to move around a lot while still living the backpacker life in guesthouses and eating warung food, you can get by on around $600 to $1000 a month after flights and visas.
Can you do Bali on a budget?
Bali is a budget-friendly destination, and it’s easy to see a lot of the island on a shoestring. Not everything is cheap in Bali. You will need to go out of your way to save money, but sticking to local food, free attractions, and budget accommodation will make Bali comfortable to travel without breaking the bank.
Is Bali cheaper than Thailand?
Bali and Thailand are both more expensive than other Southeast Asian backpacker hotspots like Laos, Cambodia, and India. This is because they’ve been popular for years as some of the first traveling meccas. Their hippy demographics have changed as the lands and infrastructures have become more developed, and now both destinations are popular with tourists, families, and honeymooners rather than just shoestring backpackers.
Still, Thailand is cheaper overall with more variety and less luxury. Bali is a large island, but an island at that, meaning many things are imported, hiking up fees. Thailand is a vast country and has an agricultural economy. Still, most of Thailand has been explored by tourists, and even though Bali is more expensive overall, Thailand is almost twice as pricy as Indonesia on the whole.