Indonesia on a Budget – tips and tricks

Eat with the locals, take public transit and consider volunteering.

The following info is based on my one month in Java. I volunteered, did some tourist-ing and got a feel for various travel options. I will abbreviate United States Dollar as USD and Indonesian Rupiah as IDR. Side note, just $1 USD is worth about 13,400 IDR. You’ll pay for food in IDR and need to carry a good amount of small bills. Accommodation can be paid with credit card or PayPal, so I’ll use USD for that section.

Food

A hearty meal of Nasi Pecel (rice, veggies, chicken and fried egg covered in a spicy peanut sauce) will cost between 15,000 and 45,000 IDR. That’s about 1 to 3 US dollars. Mind you, this is one of the cheaper meals available and tourist food can run you 100,000 IDR or more in tourism hot spots.

My advice? Lots of locals mean good food and fair prices. There is food EVERYWHERE over here, from peddler carts selling pantol (flour/meat dumpling) to street side in-home convenience stores to sit-down warungs (open air restaurants.) You can’t move two blocks in any direction without seeing lots of street food for your snacking pleasure.

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Javanese picnic

I have eaten everywhere, from the peddler to the Indonesian version of fast food, and have not become sick. Actually, my least enjoyable meal was a 50,000 IDR ‘burger’ from a tourist trap. I was feeling homesick and hoped a generous slathering of ketchup would hit the spot. It didn’t taste like authentic American food and was a waste of money. I’ll stick with the local cuisine from here on out.

It’s always recommended that you eat hot cooked food as the water in many cities is not drinkable and consuming fresh veggies that have been washed in this water can put you at risk. Hand washing, it appears, is also not a popular practice during food preparation. Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines are recommended before visiting Indonesia. These are both food borne illnesses.

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A meal with friends, no forks!

Accommodation

In larger cities and places of interest you will find a wide range of home-stays, hostels and hotels. The Hotels are geared toward business people in Surabaya and high end travelers in Yogyakarta. They feature western amenities for between $20 to $50 dollars. Use Traveloka to find hotels, it’s better than Expedia or Hotels.com for Indonesia.

Hostels might be another story but if you are traveling for an enriching cultural experience, the potential lack of first world comforts at a hostel might not be a problem. These can range from $6 to $25 dollars, with the pricier hostels feeling more like a hotel and often offering private rooms.

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Ibis Hotel at the Surabaya airport

Download the HostelWorld app for easy booking, reviews and photos. I am currently at Otu by Ostic and LOVING it. The staff is helpful and the atmosphere is laid back and fun. With hot showers, a beautiful pool and cooked breakfast each morning, I think $6 bucks for a clean bunk and locker is a pretty sweet deal.

I also volunteered at an English school in the outskirts of Surabaya and was given free accommodation and meals in exchange for my help with English pronunciation and grammar (about five hours per day, five days per week.) This style of immersive travel can save money and give you an in-depth experience with the local culture.

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Otu by Ostic Hostel

I recommend joining Workaway.info or Wwoof.net for work exchange travel opportunities. A one year Workaway membership is $34 dollars for an individual and $44 for a couple and allows you to connect with hosts all over the world.

After living with locals for three weeks I felt more confident to continue as a solo female traveler. A little familiarity with a new culture goes a long way.

Transportation

Java is the only island in Indonesia with a train system. If you are in Java, use the train! It’s so cheap. I went from Sidoarjo to Yogyakarta for 75k IDR. That’s a six hour ride for $5.50 dollars AND the bathroom had toilet paper. Book the Logawa train with Traveloka.

Getting around Indonesia can be a thrilling adventure if you are from a more developed country with strict traffic laws. Hire an Uber or Go-Jek (like Uber but more prevalent here in Indonesia,) scooter, mini-bus or taxi.

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Renting a scooter is also an option if you want to brave the traffic and left side driving on your own. Between 30,000-80,000 IDR ($2-$6 US dollars) will get you a scooter (locals actually call them motorbikes) of your own for a day. Most rental shops don’t check for an International driving license and if you do get pulled over by the Polisi I’m told you’ll get a figurative slap on the wrist and a few dollar fine.

A thirty minute ride to the airport in a Go-Jek car cost me 45,000 IDR (about $3 dollars) and was paid for through an app, like Uber. You need to have a working phone number to use this app, data only won’t fly.

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Leaving the airport or train station is more expensive as the ‘Taxi Mafia’ will not allow ride sharing services to come near their territory. A line of taxi kiosks sit near the airport exit doors. The fare is paid here at the counter and you are then given a receipt to present to one of the waiting taxi drivers on the curb. Be prepared to pay double to triple the price of around town transportation when leaving these places. Negotiate your price up front before getting into a taxi when driving around town.

Tour agencies offer rides in mini-buses (some very nice!) to tourist sites. I nabbed a 110k IDR round trip ride to Borobudor Temple at 4 AM from my hostel. The total drive time was about three hours and I had an amazing view of the sunrise over the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Public transport doesn’t run that early and a private car/driver will cost triple the price. Ask your hotel or hostel about transport options.

Daily estimates

Volunteer: $2 (free lodging, free meals, usually free rides around town, average of $2 per day for additional food, chipping in for fuel or paying for a museum visit)

Low: $15 (three meals, hostel and a taxi ride or a scooter rental)

High: $75 (three expensive meals, Western style hotel and two taxi rides or a private car)

You could live in Indonesia for one month from anywhere between $60 – $2,250 dollars depending on your travel style. The average Indonesian earns between $300 and $600 per month to put the cost of living into perspective.

Have you traveled Indonesia more extensively? I’d love your input. Leave a comment below to share your knowledge.

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