Travelling on a budget in Indonesia is a habit you slip into by accident. It’s an inevitable result of Indonesia being a very cheap country in general.
There are plenty of bespoke five-star resorts, of course, but you really have to seek them out. By and large, hotels are cheap and hostels are cheaper, you can find delicious food for under £2, and getting a bus all the way across the country costs less than getting the bus into town where I’m from.
Still, a little budget travel advice never goes amiss – and these tips are all quick and easy things to implement when you’re travelling round Indonesia. Hopefully they are helpful!
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6 quick pieces of budget travel advice for Indonesia
1. Use Grab, Gojek or Uber – not taxis
The trouble with getting taxis in Southeast Asia is that the price is highly negotiable. When you don’t know how much you should be paying, more often than not you end up paying way more than the journey is actually worth.
I don’t blame the taxi drivers for trying – after all, you can probably afford to pay more than a local – but still, it can eat up your daily budget pretty quick if you’re not careful.
Instead, download one of the multitude of ridesharing apps that are available (or all of them). Grab and Uber also both let you link up your card to your account, so you don’t have to worry about not having the right change.
It can sometimes be good to have more than one of these apps, as one might be cheaper than the others – and it’s not always consistent which is the best value. Certain areas may also favour one app in particular, so it’s good to have backup.
Uber is worldwide, Grab is popular all over Asia, Gojek is Indonesia specific: each has its market, and each its advantages.
2. Eat in warungs if possible
Though a lot of places (and Bali in particular) have begun pricing up their fare to cater to the glut of hipster tourists travelling and living around Indonesia, you can still get incredible food from little cafes that cater to locals, for about a tenth of the price.
They’re called ‘warungs’ (sometimes spelt ‘waroeng’), and you can get dishes like nasi goreng and gado gado for as little as 10k Indonesian rupiah (about 60p / $1AUD / 75 cents). And you genuinely aren’t getting low-quality grub if you do this: honestly some of the best food I had while travelling in Indonesia came from warungs.
Plus it feels more authentic to eat from the little street cafes than edgy air-conditioned restaurants. Though an edgy air-conditioned restaurant may be very appealing at times.
If you’re really stretched for cash, an even cheaper meal alternative is buying packet noodles from the convenience store. They usually provide a hot water dispenser too, so you can make your meal to-go, right from the shop.
On a world trip? Check out my budget guide to Australia while you’re at it!
3. When using public transport, don’t ask how much it costs
This might sound like a strange tip, but in my experience if you ask how much a bus journey costs, you’ll get quoted a price higher than you should. Instead, ask someone nearby who has no particular vested interest in charging you too much (try a shop owner, or make a friend on the street), and then just get on without asking. You usually pay somewhere along the journey or after you get off anyway.
This tactic is good even if you don’t manage to find someone to help you out, as generally you’re more likely to pay bottom dollar if you get on confidently and seem to know what you’re doing.
4. Try not to book things through agencies – go direct
It’s inevitable that booking trips and transport through a travel agent will cost you extra – as they have to make their money back somewhere. Though tours are very negotiable in price, the best price will often be got by going straight to the company themselves and haggling, as they don’t have to work out what it’s worth to them.
Heading to Sumatra? Check out my highlights guide
5. Book hostels (or hotels) directly, or you might pay more
In general I tend to advise booking hostels and hotels through booking engines like booking.com, as it doesn’t cost you anything to take out a reservation. However, in Indonesia I had a few experiences where it turned out that the price you paid if you booked through a booking engine was actually higher than the price you got if you walked in off the street, or booked direct through the hostel.
This does make sense in a lot of ways – presumably they have to pay a fee to be featured on the booking website, and they’ve got to recoup that fee somewhere.
The way to avoid this, then, is to find some way to contact the hostel directly, and reserve through them. This might end up being trickier than you’d think: often it takes a bit of digging before you find an email address or contact number.
One trick I’ve learned is to go to Trip Advisor and/or Booking.com to look through for the highest-rated accommodation options, and then do a Google search for that place. If nothing comes up that way (for example, if they don’t have their own dedicated website), try Facebook and Twitter – a lot of places are on social media. You can then send them a message just to reserve your room, and pay later.
If that doesn’t work, you can always just pick a hostel and try just rolling up and seeing if they have space, though clearly this is a riskier strategy!
6. Get a data SIM card
This is something I would recommend for almost any country you travel to, but having access to the internet is invaluable when travelling Indonesia.
It might seem strange to tell you to spend money on something in order to save money – but trust me, it works. There are so many ways that having the internet saves you money. For example
- You can look up how to get places on your maps (so you know how much transport – or taxis – should be)
- You can check out other people’s advice for a particular place on various Facebook groups, like Backpackers Indonesia
- You can look up contact details for accommodation while on the go – so even if you’re really disorganised you’ll be able to find the cheapest place
- You can look up how much other people paid for trips
Of course, some of these things could also be achieved by being organised and researching every last detail while you’re on the Wi-Fi – but when you’re travelling in Indonesia, that’s not always possible. And nor is it the most fun way: after all, you’ve got to have something to do on all those long bus journeys…
FYI, Telkomsel has by far the best-coverage, so unless you’re really sticking to the main spots then I’d say go with them, even though they are generally more pricey than XL. I had XL and was continually frustrated (but luckily had a friend who was on Telkomsel).
Do you have any other suggestions to add? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll add them into this post!
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