By Lauren LeBrun, on September 14, 2016

The LeBrun Instagram Diaries: Backpacking in Bali

Bali is a backpacker’s paradise. The hotels are cheap, the island is gorgeous and the locals are super friendly. It’s definitely a hotspot as millions of budget travelers flock to this Indonesian isle every year. In May 2016, my husband and I quit our office jobs to travel around the world for 365 days. Bali was our first stop! We stayed there for a month and we had many high moments (holding wild monkeys, finding secret beaches, and getting ‘adopted’ by a local Balinese family), but also a few low moments (crashing a moped, getting lost multiples times, and being roommates with every bug in the jungle). Here’s a closer look at our adventure in the first episode of The LeBrun Instagram Diaries.

After saying goodbye to home, we traveled for more than 24 hours to Bali. Words can’t describe how excited (and tired) we were when we finally landed. Jet lag was rampant, our clothes smelled like an airplane, and the humidity was outrageous. But we were in bliss! The sun was shining, the island was brimming with green, and the ocean was calling our names.

We hopped in a taxi and our driver zipped through the busy streets like we were on a heist. After a bumpy drive, we arrived at the IZE Seminyak Hotel. It was gorgeous and located in the middle of Seminyak. Normally this hotel would be outside of our budget, but we wanted to celebrate the beginning of our trip. We had been saving our Expedia+ points and decided to cash them in.

When we arrived, we were ecstatic to find out that we got a room upgrade. We are Expedia+ gold members and you can get all sorts of perks like this at +VIP Access Hotels. Our suite had a massive bed, fluffy robes in the closet, and a swim up pool right outside our room. We knew that this luxury was short lived (we couldn’t afford to live like this all year), so we savored every single amenity. Then we passed out at 8 p.m.

Waking up in a new place is always a surreal feeling. Especially when you’ve turned your entire life completely upside-down. After 11 hours of deep sleep, we woke up with a strange sense of freedom. We had no obligations at all! No jobs to drive to, no errands to run and no responsibilities to take care of.  After working in offices for three years and planning an entire wedding by ourselves in ten months, it felt weird to have nothing to do. It was like we were suspended in this parallel universe where you have no purpose other than to live. We loved it, but we also felt a little lost in all of the independence. Rather than dwelling on our ‘lifestyle shock’ we hit the streets of Seminyak to explore.

We walked in the direction of the beach and window shopped along the way. The traffic was crazy, vacationers were everywhere and the beach stretched for miles. We finished the day by watching the sunset at La Plancha, an iconic beach restaurant that substitutes dining tables for bean bags in the sand. We sat underneath an exotic silk umbrella and sipped our drinks while watching paper lanterns float into the sky. Maybe we could get used to this life after all!

Day 4: After spending two nights at the beach, we moved up north into the jungle. We are staying on a family farm just south of Ubud. The family lives off of their land and makes all of their own food. They grow coconuts, bananas and other fruits. They have 6 cows, 20 chickens, 2 pigs and lots of piglets. The farm attracts a bunch of wildlife including massive spiders, huge hornets and even black snakes. To be honest, we had some major culture shock on our first night. No air conditioning, ants in our bathroom and sleeping under a mosquito net put us completely out of our comfort zone. But the next morning, we woke up to the sounds of roosters, birds and Balinese sunrise chanting. Our hosts made us banana crepes for breakfast and they talked with us about Balinese life and their spirituality. They believe in gratefulness and cherishing every moment of life. After learning more about the way they live, we fell in love. We quickly grew an appreciation for their lifestyle and this experience reminded us that travel is about understanding life that is different from your own. We’ll be staying here for a month and we are looking forward to learning more about life in Bali! 🐮🐷🐔 #365daysoftravels #bali #lifeonthefarm

A photo posted by LeBruns On The Run 👣🌎 (@lebrunsontherun) on

The beach life in Seminyak was fantastic, but we were seeking somewhere that had more of a local heartbeat. We took a cab up north to Ubud, which is known as the cultural center of Bali. The area is famous for its beautiful Hindu temples, lime green rice fields and a growing number of yoga centers. With a desire to reset after a chaotic few years, we chose Ubud as our home away from home. We also wanted to experience true Balinese life, so we booked a stay at a bungalow on a family farm just south of the city.

When our taxi pulled up to the farm, we were instantly in love. A long driveway separated the farm from the main road. Tall green trees made us feel like we were miles away from a bustling city. Chickens were roaming freely, dogs were barking with excitement, and kids were playing with toys on the front porch. Our hosts greeted us with big hugs and welcomed us into their home. After just a few minutes together, we were talking and laughing as if we were old friends. The warmth of the Balinese people is unlike anything we had experienced before. It wasn’t very long until our hosts told us that we are now a part of their family too.

Our favorite part of Bali was the animals. The farm had many domesticated animals, but we also went to the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest. This nature reserve is home to hundreds of wild macaques. It’s not a zoo; it’s a conservation space where the monkeys can find respite from the urban city center. The mission of the forest is to give humans and nature a place to live harmoniously.

When we walked in, we saw women selling bananas at a fruit stand. They asked us if we’d like to buy some to feed the monkeys. At first, I was very skeptical because the monkeys are legitimately wild animals. They are unpredictable and many online resources recommend that you don’t do this. However, there are strict park rules and lots of park rangers around that keep the monkeys and humans safe. I decided to try it anyway. You only live once, right? I bought a banana, held it in front of me, and a monkey jumped right into my arms. I couldn’t believe it. He peeled the banana, snacked on it, and seemed perfectly content with staying there until he was done.  He was so sweet. It felt like holding a furry baby! It was the most authentic animal encounter I’d ever had.

However, a word of extreme caution. Most of the monkeys are not tame. They are known for stealing things and some of them are quite aggressive. It’s important to remember that they are wild animals and they should be treated that way. If you go to the forest, please read all of the rules at the entrance of the park and follow them.

Our time in Bali was very special. It’s where we kicked off this crazy journey, took risks, made new friends, and immersed ourselves in a new part of the world, For that, it will always have a place in our hearts. I highly recommend Bali to anyone who’s just getting started on a backpacking trip. It’s affordable and filled with more adventure than you could ever experience. So what are you waiting for? Our next stop is Kuala Lumpur. We are looking forward to eating lots of Malaysian food and having a big city experience. Feel free to follow along our #365daysoftravels!

Where’s the first place you would go if you took a year off?