The Pros and Cons of Ubud for a Nomadic Family

Choosing Ubud for our destination after Australia was rather last-minute. We tossed around Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai because they were American Airlines hubs. We looked into Singapore because I found a cheap flight there. We would have gone to Thailand had Jacob’s friend been in town. But nothing had Jacob convinced until I said, “Bali.”

He said yes. I bought the tickets and we flew out four days later.

So we really had no idea what to expect. We chose to stay in Ubud because we knew that’s where other traveling families were.

By the end of the month, Jacob was ready to move in and make it a base. Normally, Jacob and I are on the same page when it comes to destinations. But for me, Ubud, Bali left me a little ambivalent. But it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular place, especially for internet entrepreneurs.

Pro: Kid-friendly

Restaurant waitresses will hold your baby while you eat. The locals in general are very kind and easy-going. At my favorite frozen yogurt shop:

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Ryder was much happier here than in Sydney. He had a garden to roam in, plenty of people to hold him, and lots of kids to interact with. Compared to downtown Sydney, where we had to walk to get to a park, no one gave him a second glance, and no kids living in our apartment complex.

Pro: Classes and creative energy

Every person you meet in Ubud has a really unique story. I met a woman who believed she was the feminine version of Christ, a male astrologer who started castigating Jacob for his narcissistic Leo tendencies,  and the author of a very popular young adult series. The energy there inspires creativity.  Recommended: the tantra sex workshop, gamelan instrument workshop at the Museum Puri Lukisan, yoga and music healing at the Yoga Barn, and Breath of Bliss with Christabel Zamor http://www.breathbliss.com/.

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Pro: Unique culture

There are dance and music performances every night the likes of which inspired Debussy and other classical composers.

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Pro: Cost of living

Ryder had a nanny for $3 a day here. Meals were only a couple dollars, though the portion sizes were also smaller than what I’m used to. It is truly possible to live like a king here, all expenses included, for much less than even the cost of renting an apartment in Sydney.

Here Ryder’s nanny Agung is rocking Ryder to sleep in a hammock.

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Pro: Easy to find vegetarian food

This is a hippie destination. There are raw food people, vegan people, vegetarian people, colon cleansing people everywhere.

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Pro: Entrepreneurial community

At the co-working space Hubud, Jacob was able to give a workshop and network with tons of like-minded entrepreneurs.

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It goes without saying that such a thriving community is perfect for making friends for kids and adults alike as most everyone has a nomadic, English-speaking background.

Pro: Spas galore

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Massages, ear candles, hair conditioning, pedicures, manicures, hair braiding…I basically went to town.

Pro: The country of Indonesia itself

Is diverse, the most populated Muslim country on earth, variety and plenty of islands to explore.

Pro: Water sports

Pictured are hot springs at the base of a volcano. $15, drink and towel included. We also went parasailing, ocean walking, jet skiing and banana boating. Had we had the time, we could have swam with dolphins, became certified in scuba, or gone free diving.

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Pro: Artsy, design-conscious, naturally beautiful.

Even the food is presented beautifully. I would love to take art classes here. The rice terraces rivaled how I imagine the Philippines must look.

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Pro or Con?: No dairy, so easy to stay skinny. But no dairy!!!

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Con: Not easy to get around.

This is a problem I could see no real solution to. Everyone gets around by motorbike. Accidents are common. I am not interested in driving a motorbike around with Ryder in my lap.

But there isn’t much other choice.

There needs to be a tuktuk industry here like in Guatemala. There are taxis, but they are relatively costly, and slow.

The traffic is horrendous. The island wasn’t built to handle the influx of people. It doesn’t look like anyone’s coming up with a solution. It’s hardly possible to even ride a bike. Parking is a nightmare. Streets can be backed up for hours…and Ubud has supposedly only 30,000 inhabitants.

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Con: Tourist ratio

Signs like these were on the corner of every street:

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For every three native Balinese, there was one tourist. There were white, gawking, shorts-clad tourists everywhere. It was like self-loathing to wish the others weren’t there—to know that we, too, were part of the irritating crowds.

Con: Less time as a family spent together

It wasn’t easy to take Ryder out into the traffic. I didn’t like taking him on motorbikes. There weren’t good sidewalks. So I ended up leaving him with the babysitter all day many times. It was fine for him—he was in good hands. But I missed him. A lot. Although honest-to-goodness after traveling full-time for a year without having family around I was thrilled to finally have some time to myself, I actually love having him around. There was so much to do the three of us spent all day away from each other. I suppose we’d find a way around this if we stayed longer? Or would the problem worsen?

Con: No parks or stroller-friendly sidewalks

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Although the hotel we stayed at had a beautiful garden, there was pretty much no where else to take Ryder to play. Everything else was rice fields.

Con: Colonialism and ensuing guilt

I didn’t see any wealthy Indonesians. I didn’t know what to make of all the white people arriving and taking on Indonesians as servants. How did I feel about that, ethically? Was it really all that different than staying at a hotel than to have personal servants? I felt uneasy. Yet some would say you’re providing jobs and make better employers than the locals…still torn on this one.

Con: The location of Bali itself

Bali is not a flight hub, so although it would be possible to visit the rest of Southeast Asia it isn’t as ideal as Malaysia or Thailand for example. And the time zone difference can be difficult to connect with anyone in the States.

Con: Not the best shopping

Denpasar, the capital, takes hours to get to with the traffic. And that’s where the malls are. No easy local stores for food. We all, Ryder included, lost weight in Bali. Most expats who live here hire a cook to do the grocery shopping and cooking. At the market outside of Ubud:

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Con: Lacks heart and depth

This is the most controversial observation. But Bali is supposed to be a kind of spiritual hub. The spirituality is not like India’s. It’s been commercialized. And Westernized. The below picture was part of our cooking class. She made an offering to the gods while we all took pictures. It felt a bit of a sham, and more than a little tacky.

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This kind of thing was all over Ubud. Commericalized spirituality. Yet, I did have more than one enlightening—and yes, even spiritual moment here. It’s a conundrum. This issue was what ended up being my biggest problem with Ubud. I think if we were to stay here, I would need to accept this was a special kind of destination—not one for authentic local living, but one that allowed a creative, exciting, Disneyland lifestyle for cheap. If we come back, it would be less for the exploration into a local culture (our normal reason for traveling) and more for a high quality of life setting to build our business.

Could we stay here for a prolonged period of time?

Jacob loved Bali because for him networking, beauty, and comfort rank high on his list. I ultimately didn’t fall head over heels because authenticity, good public transportation and food (ease of shopping, tastiness, and variety) are very important to me. Ultimately, if I’m going to choose between Hindu Bali and Hindu India I’m going to choose India, every time.

However, it’s definitely a unique place and I would not be opposed to going back, especially to take more classes and bask in more creativity.

What do you think? Could you see yourself moving to Bali?

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 366 awesome articles for us.

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