With 27 hours; travelling solo, half way across the world to Bali and an over abundance of solitude ahead of me, I thought I would at least share some of my experiences.
The last time I was abroad, was pre-pandemic, March 2020. Covid grew from a rumour to low-key worldwide panic. I remember flying back to Vienna from my trip home to South Africa and I felt like rolling my eyes at the ‘paranoid’ people who were covering their faces with surgical masks. Soon enough, I was given a hard slap into the new, surreal reality. To cut a long pandemic story short, I refrained from travelling and used my time and money for other priorities. Evidently, my yearning for travelling grew, and I decided to escape for a whole month. This time, I was obediently wearing a mask; glaring and eye-rolling at bare, coughing passengers.
I have a kind of love-hate relationship with air travel. I am fascinated by the simple fact that something so big and heavy can fly, and the incredible ‘behind the scenes’ operations of what it takes to make air travel possible and so accessible. One of my favourite things to do at home is to sit outside on my balcony and watch the airplanes fly over as they approach landing. There is something quite childlike in my excitement and fascination when it comes to airports, airplanes and travelling. However, there is something rather grumpy (let’s call it Austrian) and impatient in my participation as a passenger. I don’t like queuing, I don’t like how I always seem to exceed the maximum check-in baggage allowance, I don’t like to unpack my hand luggage at security, and I loathe long layovers. Regardless, these are all a small price to pay for the incredible gateway we have to the world.
I always welcome the unknown that comes with travelling. I avoid any strict itineraries and I allow my trips to unravel spontaneously. This is perhaps rather contradictory to how I, and most people I know, like to live our day to day lives: structured and routinely. Even though I avoid living a monotonous life, there are still some constants: my home, my commute, the food I eat and the people I see. Travel strips you of those comforts and you are forced to rediscover the basics. Simply put, you’re a bit lost for the first few days.
After 27 hours, 3 airplanes and 6 time zones, I arrived in Bali in an exhaustion induced state somewhere between wakefulness and dreaming. Running on excitement and auto-pilot, I only hazily remember the first day after arriving. The combination of jet-lag and a humidity proved to have similar symptoms as waking up with a hangover. As most such mornings, I could at least turn to my phone to see the pictures of where I was, what I did, and what I ate.
As I came to Ubud to do a yoga teacher training course (A Bali Blessing), I booked accommodation for one month as a little home base for my trip. Ubud has such a special energy and vibrancy and the locals are genuinely among the kindest people I have met. The city is rich in cultural and the Hindu religion is beautifully woven into the architecture, rituals and the compassionate community.
Travelling solo has its pros and cons: eating out alone is easy as there always seems to be a table for one available but the pitiful looks from couples or parties takes a while to get used to. There is also no plate sharing, however, your plate is safe from wandering forks! I love strolling and exploring a new city: trying new coffee shops, tourist traps and plenty of trendy shops. The down side: there is nobody to tell me to slow down with the coffee consumption, or a frank opinion on my shopping impulses – “since when do you think you can pull off a hat?”.
The taking photos situation can be a tricky one. Either you sacrifice your dignity by walking around with a selfie stick, or you pluck up the courage to ask a stranger to take your photo. After learning the hard way with a selfie-stick (circa. 2018), I opted for asking strangers this time around. There is usually an aspiring photographer or two and I became good at scouting them amongst the touristic crowds. An accredited ‘instagram husband’, was almost always found at any touristy location, and I would politely approach them – pending spousal approval- and ask for my photo to be taken. Worked every time. This was also a great conversation starter and way to meet new people. The line of questioning “Are you travelling alone”, always lead the conversation and it was a great way to get some restaurant or location tips. I met the nicest couples while I was sight-seeing in Ubud and I was even adopted as a ‘third-wheel’ for a while. I love meeting new people while I am travelling and it somehow feels much easier when you are in a ‘holiday mindset’. Or perhaps it’s just another side effect of solo travel: you are desperate to have a conversation with anybody other than yourself.
Getting sick while traveling solo, is a definitely a big con. It was just a matter of time that I would fall victim to the infamous and unavoidable, ‘Bali-belly. The first time (yes this is a two-part story), I was very fortunate to have a friend from the yoga course, who graciously came into my life, right in time to be my personal doctor. There are two kinds of people when it comes to travelling: people, like me who travel half way across the world, completely unprepared and ignorant to the possibility of getting sick. Not even a Strepsil or Ibuprofen made it into my suitcase. Then you get people, like my friend, who travels halfway across the world with a pharmacy in his backpack and is prepared for anything that might need a tablet, cream or plaster. I guess we made for a ‘yin-yang’-kinda-friendship. Nevertheless, I was very grateful to be well looked after.
The second time, I was completely alone on the idyllic island, Nusa Penida. Apparently I am also the kind of traveller who doesn’t learn from her mistakes and instead travels, alone, unequipped, to a somewhat remote island, and gets food poisoning within 24 hours. I spent a whole day lying in bed (which at time I accepted as my death bed), barely able to lift my head off of the pillow, and my body confused at whether I am lying in a sauna or in the middle of the north pole. My hotel manager, Leo, was completely out of his depth but nevertheless, he was so kind and concerned and brought me coconut water and something that resembled toast and the Austrian dish ‘Kaiserschmarnn’. It was a scary and frustrating situation to be in, as I felt so far away from anything or anyone familiar. I felt too sick and weak to see a doctor and getting off the island was completely out of the question. However, miraculously I recovered after one day, and was semi-fit to at least get on a moped and explore the island.
The roads on Nusa Penida are generally not great; very narrow and unsafe, nevertheless, I enjoyed the risky adventure after my bedridden day. In my mind, I was driving a Harley Davidson or a Ducati, but I was actually just cruising on one of Leo’s rental mopeds with a dodgy helmet. At this point, everything felt a bit risky to me: driving in the middle of nowhere, the unclean water, potentially contaminated food and the mosquitos, who showed quite a liking to me. (My blood type is mosquit-O) Despite all that, Nusa Penida has some of the most breathtaking beaches and coastline – worth the risk.
I was definitely nervous about the moped situation in Bali and it took me a while before I braved it to drive one myself. Bali is know for its chaotic traffic and its fearless and impatient moped drivers. There are very little rules when it comes to driving etiquette and road rules and their solution to rush-hour traffic, is to use the sidewalk as a second lane. I barely saw a sign for a speed limit, (although I generally have a tendency to over look speed limits) I soon came to the conclusion, that I would seamlessly fit in with the locals and it suited my natural driving style perfectly.
The Balinese, are genuinely some of the most compassionate and kindhearted people. They go out of their way to help and despite difficult circumstances, they still hold onto their values and take so much pride in their creative skills. Their ability to live their lives with gratitude, grace and compassion, is so inspiring and it really helps to put life into perspective. I finally, truly, came to understand the power of gratitude.
I experienced so many beautiful and inspiring moments in Bali; heartfelt and profound moments that will stay with me forever. These are moments that are very difficult to find the right vocabulary for, but I realised that they are not necessarily meant to be translated into words or to be verbally expressed; they are there to be felt. My month in Bali was made special by the little, seemingly insignificant moments, the brief interactions with the locals, the welcoming into their culture and receiving their self-effacing kindness. Of course, I was in my element whenever I spent time at the beach, high on a child-like excitement, however, the laughter I shared with the people I met, are the invaluable moments which could never be capture on a picture. Watching the sun rise whilst on the top of a volcanic mountain, was definitely a true highlight (and worth the sleep deprivation), yet it was the people I shared the experience with, that made it so much more. My phone is full of pictures and my instagram stories were bordering ‘bali-spamming’, and yet the best moments, the friendships, and connections; their true essence and impact can never be captured.