Every time we head to a new country I always learn so much. And not just about that country and their culture, but also about myself and my own culture. It never ceases to amaze me how much travel has taught me over the years. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned traveling in Indonesia.
If something feels wrong, it probably is
Dan found out the hard way during our time in Jakarta that only women are supposed to ride at the front of the bus. Everyone started staring at us (which was actually pretty normal, a blonde and a ginger definitely stick out here). The snickering and giggling is what really clued me in. I eventually broke down and asked the lady siting next to me, who politely informed me he was in the wrong section.
Look up immigration rules before you travel
We got to Indonesia thinking it was like any other country we’ve been to. You just get a passport stamp and a tourist visa, maybe answer a few questions at immigration, and you’ll be on your way. No. There are specific requirements for entering Indonesia, including a printed out exit strategy. The lines were the longest I’ve been through, and we were exhausted from our 31+ hours of travel. I legitimately thought they might not let me in. To say the least, it was frustrating and it could have easily been avoided with a simple google search.
Traffic is really as bad as they say
Traffic, and driving in general in Indonesia, is insane. In fact, the infrastructure is apparently incredibly outdated and gridlocks are the norm. We ended up spending more on transportation around Bali than we thought because we didn’t rent a scooter. But, we saw first hand several people with severe road rash from wrecking their motorbikes. They were tourists, and were not used to the intense driving practices in Indonesia. That’s not how I wanted to spend my time in Indonesia, and as everyone knows – I am not coordinated. We got in a minor accident on a motorbike in Thailand (where the driving habits are calm in comparison), and I wasn’t about to take my chances!
Money doesn’t always equal happiness
We saw some very impoverished people in some parts of Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta. It isn’t always easy to see, especially the children, but at the same time they seem very happy with very little. When we got home we realized how little we truly need, donated a bunch of stuff and feel a lot happier. It was a cleansing and positive experience to eliminate all that clutter.
People are genuinely good
Especially Indonesian people. Everyone was so unbelievably nice to us, often stopping to ask how we liked their country and thank us for visiting. They were being 100% genuine, and I’ve never felt so welcome somewhere in my life. After spending an hour or so lost in Benhil (a kampung in Jakarta), we asked a group of employees at a photo copy shop for directions (which – by the way – what’s up with all the photo shops in Jakarta?). They asked each other, scoured the internet, found us a way home. They went so far as to walk us out to the tuk-tuk driver and tell him where to take us. And expected nothing in return. Another kind woman watched me wait patiently to decide what to order at a food stall as I watched plate after plate being made. I started to order and she, being unbelievably wise, told me I was ordering duck feet. I’ve never had it, but never really want to. She helped coach me through it even though she knew I wasn’t ordering from her stall. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that kind woman’s face as I thanked her for saving me from the duck feet.
Haggling may not always be worth it
It’s true you can haggle down the prices of almost anything in the markets of Indonesia to a fraction of what the vendor first quotes you. However, it was difficult for me not to think about the difference 10,000IDR (roughly $1) might make to the vendor, when that little bit of cash doesn’t really make a difference in my life. For me, it’s not about the game of getting the lowest price, it’s about a price that’s fair for both me and the vendor. There is some debate about haggling, whether it’s good or bad, but I just stick with my gut.
Sense of community is important
Walking through little villages in Bali, we noticed all of the families live inside of a family compound. I’m not saying it’s for me, but its a beautiful thing to see that sense of community in a culture. We began to reflect on how important our support system is to us, even if we don’t share a bedroom with all of them.
Spirituality has nothing to do with religion
Let me get this out of the way: I’m not a religious person. I can appreciate religion and love learning about how it shapes other cultures, but it’s not for me. Indonesia has a very spiritual culture, despite the religion. The call to prayer every evening in Jakarta was very moving. As were all of the temples throughout Bali. After talking to the people about spirituality, what it boiled down to is the belief of just being a nice, moral human being. It was so refreshing. My favorite was our driver Mr. Tudae (“not tomorrow!” he would tell us). He believed that spirituality was in your heart, not your brain, and that all humans are brothers and sisters deep down, regardless of religion. He was a wise man, and it was such a pleasure to spend 6 hours driving around Bali with him.
Kentucky is known for one thing: KFC
Typically when we meet people traveling, the first thing they ask is where we’re from. We tell them the US, and they promptly ask where in the US. I usually spout off “Kentucky?…” in the form of a question, assuming they have no idea where that is. And I’m usually right. But I see their face light up with recognition, I think maybe this time I’m wrong, and they grin from ear to ear and say: “Oh, like KFC? Fried chicken!”. Sigh. Yup. that’s the one.
Now it’s your turn: have you learned anything from your recent travels? Let me know in the comments!