Right after I graduated PA school (an accelerated medical program), and right before I turned the big 3-0, I booked a plane ticket to Indonesia. I invited friends, but not being able to travel across the world on a whim is understandable. So solo I went. And an experience it was.
I knew some mishaps were going to happen; You can’t go wandering the world with every detail being just peachy. I was prepared for a few moments to think, “What the hell am I doing?” Afterall, I have those moments at home.
“Carlie, do you have your keys? How about your phone?”
On the very last day of my medical training, I left my computer at home for our last final exam. In other words, I’m used to the chaos of my own mind. Nonetheless, I knew I had to be prepared for these things to happen in a foreign country without my usual support system there to back me up.
It’s what makes an adventure, wouldn’t you say?
Whether your mind has hiccups like mine, or you’re a stud who never has these moments, you better bet yo ass you’re about to experience them if you travel abroad. It’s about loving each step of the trip in all it’s glorious and screw-up moments alike.
Here are my memorable “Oh Shit” moments in Bali and how I made it back happily in one piece (and how you can too!)
Before I share, it is so very important to point out that when traveling anywhere, you must be careful and aware of your surroundings. Make smart decisions about your safety ALWAYS. This shouldn’t be any different than going out in your home city. Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous world. Back home I leave my car doors locked, I’m always aware of who is around me in public, and as cliche as it may be, I never talk to strangers who make me uneasy. If you’re naive at home, you should consider bringing along a travel buddy that can keep you grounded, because frolicking around wide-eyed ANYWHERE is not a good idea if safety is at the top of your list (which it should be).
Please also note that I am a trained healthcare provider. I embarked on this solo trip just a month after I passed my medical boards so I felt competent enough to make decisions for my health and prepared to address situations should they arise. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of medical scenarios/emergencies, you can still do a solo trip, but do the extra research to have the resources you need including knowing where your closest medical facility is at all times. Once again, be smart about your safety if you want to have a fun trip.
With all that said, if you consider yourself
averagely responsible, you can still have Oh Shit moments anywhere you go. So go ahead and book your ticket, and be cool to go with the flow when things do happen. That’s living life.
1. Oh Shit. Where’s my card?
It wouldn’t be an adventure if something didn’t go wrong the first night! Actually, I didn’t notice for another two days that my ATM/debit card was missing. Luckily, my bank was a step ahead of me and the card had already been flagged and suspended.
Truthfully speaking, it was very much my own fault. My flight had been delayed and got in later than expected. (Coming soon: A post about what I would do differently and booking a flight with a daytime arrival is on the list.) I was tired from the trip and overwhelmed with the surroundings of the new airport in a foreign country with the hustle of eager taxi drivers crowding the arrival hallways.
While still trying to fully grasp the currency exchange rate, I used an ATM machine to take out 100,000 Indonesian rupiahs. After I found a place to sit and rearrange my accommodation due to the delay, I figured out my 100,000 bill was equivalent to about $7 USD. So I made my way back to the ATM through the human tunnel of local taxi drivers offering me rides. This time I took out enough cash to get me through a few days. I also left my card in the machine.
Bali: 1, Carlie: 0.
Whoever found it took the honor of stashing it for a night until they made it to the adjacent island of Java. They purchased $400 at a restaurant and 20 minutes later found something they must have ADORED worth over $600 in a paint gallery nearby. It wasn’t until they returned to the same restaurant to test my beloved card out for another $1,000 that it declined. (To make myself feel better, I imagine them still in the restaurant this day washing dishes to pay for that bill.)
Good news: My bank’s fraud department is incredibly efficient, although I’m not sure what that says about humanity with fraudulent activity being that much of the norm. After a short conversation, everything was taken care of and they were happy to expedite a new card to me.
Bad news: I didn’t specifically have an itinerary to give them a place to send it, and from what I’ve heard through other travelers, staying at hostels in Bali isn’t the easiest way to get your mail to you. You can read more about my accommodation in Bali here.
Although I tried to think ahead by bringing two different credit cards, leaving them in different places in my bags, and spreading out my cash, I was left with an unusual predicament at the beginning of my trip: I had the cash, (which is very much needed to enjoy Bali) but I had no way of accessing it. Sparing the boring details, I was unable to set up a PIN number to get a cash advance from my credit cards. However, it is an option to consider if you’re ever in this situation.
How I got through it:
- I brought enough US cash to exchange to last me half the trip.
- Any time I could, I used my credit cards. The places that did accept cards charged a 3% transaction fee so it was a bit of a bummer, but at least I had the ability to use them.
- I used the power of Venmo. If you’re unfamiliar with the app, I use it all the time in Florida to easily (and securely) exchange money with my friends. I met some incredible travelers in Bali who I could Venmo money to (Paypal is another option) in exchange for Indonesian cash. Or who would give me cash in return for me using my credit card for things.
I would love to try Bali again without this extra level of stress, but overall everything worked out fine, and I learned a new lesson: Bring a second ATM card on your travels in case it ends up in the hands of someone with an enormous appetite and expensive taste for art. And don’t forget to use the other strategies: Keep your cash and cards in separate areas. Things can still go wrong, but being careful helps!
2. Oh Shit. Capsizing isn’t (and will never be) on my bucket list.
This was my least favorite experience of the trip. Although I’m an adrenaline junkie, this took it to another limit. I left the beach town of Sanur to the smaller islands of Bali off to the southeast. Based on my experience, I have some recommendations if you’re considering exploring Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Cenningan: (which you absolutely MUST if you’re in Bali, you won’t be disappointed!)
- Plan to take the boats over in the morning. Or at least when the weather is clear, but if you’re going during the rainy season your best bet is in the AM. My freakshow boat ride left at 3 pm and the weather got increasingly worse from the moment we got aboard. On the way back, I learned my lesson and took an 8:30 am boat accompanied by a shining sun and a flat sea.
- Plan your trip around the moon. Sounds super hippie, but it’s very practical. Perhaps you already know this, but a local explained to me that the closer it is to a full moon, the harsher the waters. My water roller-coaster was two days before the full moon. “Tidal currents are strongest during new and full moons when the moon and sun pull in different directions. Tide currents flow more gently around the quarter moon.” You can read more here.
- I’m just going to throw this one out there: If the boat company makes you climb down a rock jetty in your maxi dress and get in water up to your hips, find a different boat to take. None of the companies have docks, so expect to take your shoes off and stride through some water. But my adventure to get onto the boat was a little excessive and it should have been my first red flag. I’m also sorry to the locals crowded on the jetty whom I probably mooned with my wet dress sticking to me as I climbed aboard (which was white in all the wrong areas). My bad.
- Also, only get on a boat if they have life jackets available (mine did).
Along with plenty of life jackets, there was a crew of about 5 members onboard, so I didn’t mind when the swells started to pick up. Actually, I was smiling when we caught some nice air as the white caps started to get bigger.
Until out of nowhere, instead of hitting straight down to the ocean surface, the boat leaned FAR to the right. It triggered screams from multiple passengers on board. I have been on plenty of boats in my life, but never experienced the feeling of a possible tip-over as that moment. The crew members jumped up and passengers braced to the seats.
When the boat returned upright, a crew member laughed to calm
some all nerves on the boat. But the locals remained in tears the rest of the ride. (Start to finish it was a 45-minute ride.) I think I was the only Westerner so I couldn’t really understand what some of the screams were. Nor could I understand the prayers being repeated behind me from a mother holding onto her son. The grown man behind her was sobbing uncontrollably (for real) with his girlfriend holding onto him. One by one the passengers stood up to put on life jackets.
The boat tipped strongly to one side maybe four more times but none as bad as the first. I was ready to get off when it finally came to shore on Nusa Penida. Two local girls around 20-years-old could not get it together and stop crying. They were physically picked up by crew members to be escorted off the boat.
How I got through it:
Calmly. I’ve never been one to scream anyway and I knew there was no changing the fact that I was on the boat. If it went down, there was nothing I could do except try to be smart: Life jacket –> Help yourself first then assist others –> Pray like hell that they would call out a radio signal and people would find us.
I’m also not one to get sea sick but that night I kept waking up wondering if I needed to run to the bathroom to throw up. Fortunately, it never got that far. I met two women on the island who were appalled by my experience. But the local I talked to taught me about the tidal currents and told me to take the earlier boat back. Now I know, and now you do too!
(Maclir at Suba Homestay on Nusa Lembongan was awesome, I have pictures/ prices of his place here if you’re headed that way. This island was one of my FAVORITES and sorry fam, it was worth the boat ride.)
3. Oh Shit. Why did God make something with so many legs that big?!
I can normally handle spiders, I swear. But if it looks like it can pounce off a wall and fly through the air from its leg span to take my eyes out, I’d rather not. Picture yourself walking into a bathroom before you turn on the light and you hear “something” hit the ground. It sounds like someone getting slapped in the face. Then it scrambles around (you know this because you hear it) in a fit of fear because a human walked in on it. It was probably using the toilet with its monstrous legs.
I have a picture but I’m going to spare you because I like you. If you follow me on Snapchat or Instagram, sorry for the nightmares.
My sympathetic nervous system went into overdrive. It was big enough to make all that ruckus before it could climb up the wall. I assumed it was going to be a big palmetto bug (if they even have them in Indonesia, basically, a monster cockroach) but when I turned on the light…
“OH. SHIT. Why am I in Indonesia by myself?! This was a mistake. I must leave. I can’t leave. It’s midnight. I’m at a homestay and the owners are sleeping. I can’t get anyone to help. I’m going to die.”
That was the most rational I could be for a few hot minutes. I paced around, each time returning to reconfirm that T-Rex was still stretching the span of my bathroom wall. (Lol, I’m only a little dramatic.) And while it was shitting its own eight-legged pants, it kept… looking… at.. me.
How I got through it:
The best advice I got from one of my classmates after seeing the picture was to burn down the entire island. Clearly, I had to go to Plan B: Become marginally more logical. I cried for maybe five seconds but realized that wasn’t going to help. So I rationalized that worse case scenario, it bites the shit out of me. If that happened, I didn’t think it would do enough damage to kill me or take off a limb. (Why? I figured the size of the spider was its main defense; It was far larger than your typical brown recluse/black widow that would actually be worth screaming over).
So I locked it in my bathroom for the night. The door was heavy and solid all-around the four edges with no room to pass through. I still put a towel on the ground in front of the door in case it tried any funny business. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep in my life, but I got some rest and in the morning, the lovely people of my homestay made me breakfast and didn’t hesitate to approach my bathroom armed with a broom and dustpan. Thankfully for all of us including the spider, it had exited overnight via the vent hole it came in from. Nevertheless, I packed my belongings and headed south to the beach towns later that day.
So that’s it. Really. In 19 days across the world, I had these small hiccups, two of which were preventable and now I know how to avoid things of that nature on future trips.
I hope my dramatic descriptions don’t scare you. Rather, I hope this helped ensure more than ever that if you have the right attitude and take overall precautions, you can have the time of your life because I absolutely did. You can still make your solo trip an exciting adventure and you will feel more confident that you can handle situations as they come to you. (Or you can call for help from the homestay peeps.) Life is how we react to our experience. It’s about learning how to take the good, the bad, and the eight-legged friends as simply experiences passing through us.