How Bali Made Me Braver (and a Biker Babe)
On my first day alone on the island of Bali, I discovered my transportation options were limited. I had to either take Go-Jek, the local ridesharing service, or learn how to drive a motorcycle without a license. It would be a serious rush-job of learning a new driving sensibility in the midst of traffic that looks, to most Westerners, utterly bonkers…that is if I decided to do that. My gut reaction was, Hell no. I can’t do that.
Four months before, on a lazy Saturday afternoon on the couch, I had booked a one month, solo trip to explore the islands of Indonesia, a gorgeous archipelago between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. I kept my trip to myself for a few days and felt like I had the hope diamond in my jeans pocket, brimming with excitement at the secret gift I had just given to myself.
Staring at the motorbike I had just rented for 50,000 rupiah for the day ($3.60 in US dollars), I wondered how I was going to do all the things I had spent the past four months planning: hikes up beautiful volcanoes, a bike tour through rice terraces, fishing on a traditional Indonesian fishing boat, and, of course, all the exotic meals I would be gorging on all seemed to hang timorously from the wheels of this scrappy little scooter. Well…you just got here, I reminded myself. Figure it out.
Driving on tiny, winding Balinese roads where two cars couldn’t even fit sit by side, but any number of motorcyclists would squeeze on, driving at limitless speeds and deciding that stoplight signals were questionable, was exhilarating to say the least. I had no idea where to go, and no idea what any of the road signs said; they were all in Indonesian.
This was the first obstacle I had to overcome on my trip. I had to learn all this at the risk of causing an accident and potentially ending all chances of going on another trip again. But, after a few practice drives with calm but purposeful concentration, I slowly got the hang of it and what I gained was priceless: total freedom.
I could now go anywhere on the island that I wished. Driving helped foster my friendships since I could now meet up with friends whenever I wanted, and stay as long or as little as I liked. Driving helped me get a sense of my surroundings, making me feel safer. It brought me to undiscovered beaches to surf. I saw dozens of buff and bronze Australian surfers with a gorgeous girl on the back of their bike. They waved or nodded and I returned the gesture, happy to be one of the babes actually steering the bike.
Although it wasn’t all easy. I once collapsed onto my bed and almost burst into tears because I had to drive during the most hectic part of the afternoon to catch a sunset surf lesson, joining the stream of hundreds of Indonesians commuting home to their quiet villages away from their servile jobs on the glossy resorts in the southeastern part of the island. The roads were so clogged with motorcyclists that if I just held my hand out I would have brushed countless shoulders as they weaved in and around me. I waited till the last minute to leave, took a deep breath and put on my helmet. I survived the ride and caught at least six waves that day as the Bali sunset colors danced in the sky.
Best of all the benefits of becoming a biker babe, I discovered unique and remote parts of the island that filled me with wonder that I wouldn’t have otherwise found. When I saw some place beautiful or interesting I could stop and sit with it for as long as I liked.
Learning to drive a motorcycle was not the only obstacle on my trip. I was also pushed, despite my terror, by my instructor and friend, a local pro whose uncle is surf royalty, to surf the biggest waves I’d ever been in. The elation of sliding down a big, green, glassy wave was well worth a little ocean water in my sinuses.
I had also been excited to scuba dive until I discovered the weeklong liveaboard I had booked included dive sites that were potentially dangerous with very strong currents. Every travel blog I found said that only advanced divers should dive there. I had acquired my certification only the day before we boarded.
Did I just fly halfway around the world to accidentally kill myself? I wondered on several occasions.
I got on the liveaboard anyway, told the dive guides of my inexperience, paid close attention, and followed every scuba rule to a tee. By not giving into my fear, I got to see some of the most incredible views of the deep blue, including a parade of reef sharks swim through a kaleidoscope of fish, seventy feet below the surface.
When I booked my trip, I had no idea how stressful it would be to overcome these fear obstacles. I thought my island vacation would be exciting, but easy. It wasn’t until my limits were tested that I proved to myself I could do much more than I ever thought I could.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Eleanor Roosevelt. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” In order to overcome fear, she argues, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
When you travel you are constantly pressed to do things you’ve never done before simply out of circumstance. But these circumstances also offer exponential rewards, memories and meaningful moments you will treasure forever. Our time on earth is short, too short in my opinion to turn away life’s most valuable experiences from fear.
Back on dry land, I started my life over in the place I grew up. It was far more challenging than I expected, but having the memory of the beauty I found in Bali and the obstacles I overcame to earn those experiences instilled a sense of strength and confidence I could not have otherwise found.
If you want to have incredible experiences and continue to grow as an individual, the best gift you can give to yourself is being unafraid to go to new places and try new things. Only then will you discover the spirit inside of yourself and your full potential.