The Last 5 Things I Have Learned Living in Bali

Living in BaliI just woke to my final day in Ubud.  I am so ready to leave.  I am thoroughly done with living in Bali, Indonesia.

We arrived in Ubud in March of 2013, which seems like almost a lifetime ago.  We had been here once before and were skeptical, but open-minded, about whether we fit in.  When I initially wrote about the 5 things I learned about living in Bali, I had a hard time saying I even lived here.

This is what I learned from my first few months living in Bali: I needed to slow down, I needed to detox, I need access to a large city, I don’t know if I fit in here, and I don’t know if I could live in Ubud long term.

A wise woman I was in June 2013. 

Our first few months in Ubud we met no new friends.  We became friendly with some expats, but we ate dinner alone every night, and it was an isolating experience.  We came with no friends, and really left with no friends.

We did return to Ubud, though, for me to attend my yoga teacher training, which was an amazing experience, and at the time I thought life changing.  During this time living in Bali, we met some friends, and settled in more.  After analyzing and analyzing where we wanted to settle down in Asia, in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, or even Yangon, with loads of pros and cons lists, we went with our gut and settled in Ubud.  It just felt right, and even after making the decision we kept telling each other coyly, “we should move to Ubud.”

After another few months, we were on the road again, with plans to return to Ubud “full time.”  In my next episode of the 5 things I learned living in Bali, I was an entirely different person, filled with positivity and certainty.  This is what I learned from my next few months living in Bali: I felt comfortable saying I lived in Ubud, I loved yoga, there were decent dining options and things to do in Ubud, maybe we did fit in, and we were moving full time to Ubud. 

The October 2013 me was filled with so much hope, energy, and promise.

My Final 5 Things I Learned Living in Bali

So, how have things changed after the last 13 months living in Bali? 

My recent reflections on the new year were perhaps a little dark, and offered a dreary view point of life in Ubud, but it was one hundred percent honest about how I feel.  Things started to fall apart for us back in March or April, when we started to dig beneath the surface of the life here in Bali.  Perhaps it is not so wise to learn how the sausage is made.

This is what I learned, ultimately, after a total of 19 months living in Bali:

1. Too Much House

Living in BaliI did love our house in Bali.  I fell in love with it the first time I saw it, even before construction was complete.  I knew it was where I wanted to call home, even though slightly above our budget.  I did not care, I wanted it.

Over all, we have been happy living in Bali in the Big Orange House, even with a lot of the problems that we had.  It was, in fact, the first HOUSE we have ever lived in.  Before this, our adult life was limited to apartments and condos, for a reason.

This was too much house for us to take care of, particularly when we were on the road.  It is not a good idea to learn about how a house works, in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, about things like sewer tanks and water pumps and leaky roofs.  It was just all too much house for us. I can safely say we will never own or rent for long term in a house this big again, particularly in a tropical environment.

2.  Too Little City

Our recent trip to Bangkok solidified how much we love big cities.  The variety of food options, the public transportation, the sprawling distances forcing us to walk and explore, rather than zoom around town on a motorbike. 

I want access to the conveniences, like being able to buy decent underwear if I need to – something I took for granted until I lived in Ubud, where underwear purchases can only be made at the supermarket.  Ubud was just too small for us.

3.  Too Much Stillness

One of the first things I learned when we started living in Ubud was that I needed to slow down, I need to be still, to not constantly be packing and unpacking the backpack.  Well, guess what?  This was too still.

With our social visa, we were able to stay living in Bali for six months without leaving the country, and we did.  We stayed from late November 2013, for a full six months, leaving our house for only 3 nights.  It was the most still we had been, pretty much ever.  Even when living in the US, we were constantly traveling for work or vacation, on almost a weekly basis.  This was too much stillness, and by May of 2014, it had affected our psyche.  We were itching to leave.  We had island fever.

It still means we need to find a happy medium between stillness and momentum, which we hope to find by staying longer in places, often at least 10 nights or 2 weeks, and hopefully a few month long stays along the way.  I don’t want to get burnt out on the perpetual travel, but right now, I crave it, and don’t want to be still.

4. We Don’t Fit In Ubud

living in BaliI should have gone with my gut, way back in June 2013, that we are too square for the hippie town of Ubud.  I tried to explore the hippie side of things, but I realized I am too grounded in reality and logic.  I am too analytical.  I guess there was a reason why I was an attorney for 10 years.

I can’t wear flowing white clothing, feathers in my hair, or leather fanny packs. I can’t schedule around the full moons and ecstatic dance.  I still like being on time to gatherings.  I love pork. 

Although there is a budding digital nomad community here, and there are some entrepreneurs, the hippies still rule, and it was a little to much hippie for me.

5. I am Disillusioned and More Guarded

This last one is probably the hardest for me to swallow.  As much as I wrote before about how much I love yoga, I am disillusioned by the business of yoga.  I expected more from the yoga community – to be welcoming, to be enlightened, to be more honest.  Instead, I have realized that the yoga community and yoga teachers are still human, and just like everyone else: they are judgmental, hypocritical, insecure, and even deceitful

A good friend recently told me that I expect too much of people, because I give so much of myself.  She cautioned that I need to have more reasonable expectations of people.  I think she is right. 

Although I have a couple of close friends, who I do trust, we are leaving Ubud hurt, dejected, and saddened.  I have spent too much time over the last several weeks crying, not because I am sad about leaving Ubud, but because I am disappointed in lost friendships.  I am leaving disillusioned about the yoga community, and my place as a yoga teacher.  I am leaving more guarded and less trusting of friends.  And, that, is not something I want to be. 

What’s Next After Living in Bali?

What is next?  Out on the road.  First a month in Thailand, and then a month in Vietnam, two of our favorite countries.  After March, we have no idea. 

We are torn between renting apartments for a month in a series of cities we love (Hong Kong, Lisbon, Barcelona, etc.) and exploring new destinations (Philippines, India, South Africa, Bhutan).  We are struggling with our love for Southeast Asia and the draw to spend more time in Europe.  I feel that the world is opening up to us, just like it did when we left the US in July 2012. 

I am energized once again, and paralyzed by indecision. I want to see it all, I want to eat it all.  I will take what I can from the time I spent living in Bali, as we start fresh in 2015, looking for more Adventures in Food.

For more about traveling Bali, check out this post about the gay Bali guide by our friends, the Nomadic Boys.

Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at traveling in Bali at TripAdvisor

31 thoughts on “The Last 5 Things I Have Learned Living in Bali

  1. Irena says:

    Dear Amber and Eric,

    wishing you best of luck … wherever the life takes you. I enjoy reading your blog and fb posts, you make me hungry sooo often 🙂

    Hugs and greetings from Ljubljana,


    • says:

      We have been thinking of you Irena. We are spending a good amount of time in Europe this summer, starting in Spain in late April. I hope we can see each other soon!

  2. Katie says:

    I’ve been meaning to go back and comment on your New Year’s post (which I read on my phone and couldn’t comment), but I’ll comment here instead. I’m so sorry to hear how things have turned out in Bali and how you have struggled the last few months, but glad to hear you’re leaving now and moving forward. I think sometimes it’s just really hard to admit to yourself that something isn’t working so you can stick with a bad situation for longer than you should.

    Best of luck with your travels and figuring out where to go next. And just remember, whatever you decide, nothing is permanent. You can always decide to leave if it’s no longer feeling right. There’s no shame in admitting you were wrong about a place.

    By the way, your name came up the other night – I’m in DC now and met up with a couple former Mayer Brown colleagues for dinner – first time seeing them in almost 10 years!

    • says:

      Ah, my ears were ringing, hopefully only good things were said. I am surprised anyone at Mayer in DC would even remember me! And, yes, it is true that we probably should have left Bali earlier, and walked away from our lease, or rented our place out. But, for a variety of reasons we stayed on, although not until the true end. Our lease is not technically up until January 18, but we just walked away, eager to move on for new experiences. Thanks Katie!

  3. Mary Yerrick says:

    I must admit that I don’t read your posts as often as I would like, so don’t know if this revelation of yours came as a surprise or was expected by most. It was a surprise to me, however. I find your total honesty refreshing, but also concerning. When we have gut feelings about something, we never know for sure whether they are accurate unless we test them. I think you are learning to trust your instincts, probably because of your excellent analytical nature. Your post makes me realize that “trust” in others, their opinions, their support, their counsel, their unconditional love, is an essential component to real happiness. Of course, you have Erik and he is perhaps the only individual you have that you can rely on with total trust, but I find we need more than one individual to fill that need. Therein lies the rub. Living in a small and isolated community can apparently be stressful and disappointing to individuals who value friendship, trust and camaraderie. You taught us this with your post. Although in a fantasy setting, it may sound appealing to many if not most of us who live in the frenetic pace of urban life, especially if you will be immersing yourself in this kind of environment with a partner. But, can a single partner satisfy all of your social needs? Apparently not. Thank you for providing food for thought. You are an advance scout for many of us and your candor has earned my trust. xo

    • says:

      Thank you for your thoughts Mary. Eric and I obviously enjoy spending time together, so we are lucky that way. Our lifestyle would not be possible otherwise. But, we do need other people to rely on and for us those people tend to be friendships we maintain online, rather than in person. It is just part of the process of living this nomadic life.

  4. Ketut Nata says:

    Dear Amber and Eric,
    Thanks for sharing your point of view. It’s always interesting to read your blog. I wish you the best and great journey on your travels. *hugs*

  5. Gourmet Getaways says:

    What a story and an experience! Hope you are able to find that perfect spot for you soon. Wish you all the best!

    P. S. If it will help, we have some stories about the Philippine travel and food 🙂

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx

  6. Scott B says:

    Hi Amber…
    Thanks for this post and for your honesty about Ubud. After one is here for a while, you definitely get a look behind the curtain… and what you find isn’t always congruent with the ‘paradise’ it’s professed to be. I, too, have experienced some of the disillusion you describe with the yoga community here and it surprised and disappointed me equally. Yoga teachers are, like you said, human beings after all with all of the possibilities for flawed character that go along with that. But, I never thought I’d actually experience something personally hurtful in a yoga class, which unfortunately happened here. However, thankfully, there are a few teachers who have managed to still be human beings while also aligning their intentions with yogic principles. I’ll stick with them.
    It was a pleasure meeting you and Eric and I wish you safe, fulfilling and delicious travels in the year ahead. Looking forward to seeing how they unfold for you!

  7. Paul Loube says:

    Hi Amber, Wishing you both safe and happy travels. I believe from every journey you take, you will become wiser from the experience. The one thing i have learned from living abroad is that visiting is a place is one experience, living is a completely different experience. I know for a fact from experience, some places are better to just visit. It seems Ubud was one of those places that was just better to visit for you. Continue to travel, continue to learn from the experiences, you will get to know yourselves so well and your decisions will become more and more the right ones based on you knowledge gained from your journey. Live in the moment and your journey will unfold in a good way with heightened awareness of what works for you. with kindness, Paul
    P.S. Watch out for those snakes crossing the road where ever you are!

  8. Mark says:

    Hello Amber,

    I enjoyed reading this. Particularly the disillusioned part. I’d love to hear more on this subject. I spent 20 years working as a Software Engineer and Technical Sr. Manager in the US. I lived in Ubud for 3 years working as a Wellness Consultant/Yoga Instructor for COMO Shambhala Estate. I am currently living in Bhutan but will relocate to Ubud at the end of the month. It would be great to meet you if you are open to that.



  9. Joanna says:

    Thank you for this very honest account of life for you in Ubud.

    I just wanted to comment as someone who has lived in Ubud for nearly 3 years. I can tell you I love Pork, don’t wear feathers and think estatic dance is absolutely hilarious and no I do not attend. The reality is Yoga in Ubud is Big business!

    Hippies do not rule in my world and they are one very small part of life here.

    Also I notice you have not mentioned anything about Baliense people, who are and will always be the true rulers in Ubud. I am curious did you make friends with local people?

    I wish you and your husband all the best on your future travels.

    • says:

      It is a good question Joanna. We did make friends with Balinese people, but did not social with any on a regular basis. We do have a couple of good Indonesian friends that we do spend quality time with though. I specifically wanted to call out my dissatisfaction with our expat relationships in this blog post, so specifically did not discuss my relationships with locals.

  10. Kathy says:

    You arrived in Bali about the same time as me I arrived Sept of that year. I dont live in Ubud I live in Karangasem away from the “hippie” life of Ubud I live where the real Balinese live But I am having similar sentiments about remaining in Bali for some of the reasons you give. namely the first 3. I am also dillusioned by much of the way of the local people that I dont want to elaborate on in a public forum. I am at retirement age and disillusioned by the way the govt does not allow us to volunteer. We are expected to do “nothing” I cannot do that I want to be able to give my skills and have the reward of happy Balinese children . I also like to travel and have used this as a base to do some of that while here. Good lick for your future travels. BTW we just got back from Cambodia and Vietnam and loved it.

    • says:

      Kathy, these are very interesting thoughts as Eric has been wanting me to write about the ability to legally stay in the country without working, like on a retirement visa, but you are right that it is very hard to volunteer as well. He tried to volunteer to teach English when we first arrived, but could not make it happen because of visa issues. It is too bad. It is much easier in Vietnam, although Cambodia opens a whole other can of worms when it comes to volunteering. I hope you continue to enjoy Bali, or wherever else you end up.

  11. Marianna says:

    Dear Amber and Eric,

    I loved reading this blog and at times I felt it was written about me as I so agreed with so many of your sentiments.
    I too have been living in Bali for 2 years, initially in Sanur and now in Seminyak. I am definitely experiencing “island fever” and cannot wait to leave. Bali, be that Sanur, Seminyak or Ubud, has not been a good fit for me at all.
    So having said that I have made the decision to leave Bali next month and I am moving to Barcelona. I miss Europe, I miss city life, I miss the great food and cheap (good) wine and the attitude and lifestyle of Europe. I also really miss having 4 seasons and seeing the nature change, putting on a jacket and breathing cool, clean air! Elsewhere in Asia is also not for me.
    Will I stay in Barcelona, I’m not sure but I will explore other options in Europe before I would even consider returning to Asia.
    I wish you both all the very best for your future wherever that may be

    • says:

      Thanks for this Marianna. It is interesting because a lot of the comments I received, especially on Facebook, relate to how if I knew I was a city person, why did I come to Bali. Or, why did I stay so long. I think the 19 months there was a good run, so it is interesting that you have been there for 2 years but can’t wait to leave. Yeah, I certainly felt that too. Bali is an interesting and unique place for a variety of reasons, and just because we have realized it is not a good fit, it doesn’t make us bad people. It is a good fit for some, and not for others.

      We will be in Barcelona in late April…perhaps we will see you there. Keep in touch! Toast a glass of cava for me when you arrive. I too miss the wine! I wish you luck in Europe.

  12. Serendipity Tess says:

    I love this honest account of your time in Ubud. I fell in love with the place myself – but I’ve only visited it twice when I was on holiday. Back then it seemed like the perfect place to live – one day. After reading this, I feel I’m more prepared when I find this seemingly perfect place with ‘perfect’ people and the ‘perfect’ vibe. Nothing is perfect – there are always some drawbacks to everything. Even with seemingly like-minded people.
    After travelling through India for a month, I was over the moon to be in Bangkok – a huge city – which I’m usually not a fan of. I can empathise with the ‘stillness’ and the ‘too little city’ aspects.
    It was good to meet you guys the other day!! And pork is awesome. LOL.

    • says:

      Yeah, living some place is entirely different from being there on a holiday, and everyone reacts differently to a place. You should return to Bali, and make the decision for yourself. Hope you enjoy southern Thailand. Good meeting you too!

  13. Annie Murphy says:

    Gorgeous Leah, your long analytical, inspiring + honest post about Ubud + Bali proves that you have grown, matured + the experience has enriched your life! When you left Aust – which seems so long ago u were very unsettled + searching for inner peace! You should be so proud you have achieved this + so much more! One always thought the Yoga fraternity can at times be fickle. It’s a business + we would like to think that those running the mind, body + soul programs were caring, giving, nurturing + to all who wished to follow their rights of passage! Unfortunately it is not like that! I agree that when you give so much of yourself, are kind + compassionate to others we expect to be treated with respect!
    I think your experiences have cultivated a special lovely Leah (not that u were not special prior!)
    One is so proud of you + I know your journey will be forever enriching! Europe, France etc is so much more for you! I’d luv to hear from you + think of u often! Luv Anniexoxo

  14. Dee de Haas says:

    Dear Amber,
    I just wanted to add how much I enjoyed your story telling. You have a knack with words and the courage to ‘say it as you see it.’ I loved the fact that you exposed how you changed your mind this way and that. In the process, you showed the development of your own character – your own humanness, your curiosity and strength to travel the world, and simultaneously, your frailty in trusting others and being heart broken when “friends” failed you. What you experienced in Ubud was probably what you’ve experienced before (just guessing, but it may have had little really to do with Ubud and more to do with being a fair-minded straight shooter in a world of less than noble crooked shooters. Sadly, they come in all guises – even as flower twirling non pork eating Yoga teachers!!. Life lessons have a weird way of following us around, literally! So maybe the problems you experienced had less really to do with Ubud and more to do with ‘normal’ life…ironically even when travelling the world experiencing the ‘extraordinary’! So cool that you’re putting yourself out there living the dream…Happy travels!!!…and please keep writing!

  15. Stephanie says:

    So interesting to hear what your experience is after living there. I can see what you mean about Ubud. I love to visit, but I’m a bit too analytical too and my taste for fashion generally excludes wearing patterned yoga pants and loose fit clothing on more than one day a week. I loved other parts of Bali though and I think I’d love to live there for a month a couple months.

  16. Gaby Risanto says:

    I can’t wear flowing white clothing, feathers in my hair, or leather fanny packs. I can’t schedule around the full moons and ecstatic dance. I still like being on time to gatherings. I love pork. >> Oh Amber, this just made my day, just LOL’d :p Never thought the paradise island could make feel you such sadness. Please do come back and we still have the sweetest slice of heaven here….Wish you all the beautiful moments on your next journey in Asia…Cheers!

  17. Two Small Potatoes says:

    I came across one of your previous posts about struggling to fit in in Bali, and I’m glad this one came across my Twitter feed. I’m sorry to hear that things didn’t improve for you during your stay, but yeah for new adventures on the road! My husband and I are expats in Germany, and we’re struggling very much with the culture. We moved here on crazy short notice after he lost his job in Switzerland unexpectedly. Even though we love to travel, we’re not “nomads,” but I very much understand some of your struggles in Bali. It’s healthy to change and grow with travel experiences, but some places, people, and cultures just “fit” when you try them on better than others. Here’s to your next adventure!

    • Amber H. says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I just feel we should have left Bali six months before we did. I think if we left Bali when we were still in love with it. Things would have been different. Hope you are settling in over in Germany!

  18. Emma says:

    Bali is incredible! There’s something magical about the island. These 8 days were amazing. We feel really relaxed and happy after visiting Bali. I’ll definitely recommend Bali for first time travelers.

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