My First Trip Abroad in Indonesia

This week saw the first ‘travel talk on twitter‘ #TTOT . The tweeting conversation was about your first trip abroad. While technically my first trip abroad was a two week holiday with two girlfriends in Bali, I did not base my contributions on that. That trip was more about exploring arak jam jars at the Bounty night club then anything else.

The year after, those same two friends and I decided to backpack Indonesia for 3 months so taken we were with the exotic lifestyle after our drink-a-thon in Bali.

One of the #TTOT questions was “Where would you recommend someone go on their first trip abroad?” While there were many places I could have recommended- some way easier to travel then others- my reply was:

“Wherever your feet may land. Find the one you gravitate towards more and go there.”

That place may be somewhere that is extremely challenging; just because you are green, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to handle it. And while some people need to stretch their comfort zones slowly, for others a giant leap into the wild jungles just might be the adventure they are looking for.

For those of you who are nervous or worried about your first trip abroad, let me share with you a few of the travel experiences I had on my first backpacking adventure around Indonesia, with only two girlfriends for company.

I’m telling you these, not to scare you, but to let you know that crazy things will happen wherever you go, and if my young and foolish 21 year old self survived to tell these tales, and would continue to search for more stories to tell for the next fourteen years travelling the world, then you shouldn’t be worried about stepping outside your comfort zone for your first trip abroad.

If you really want to go somewhere don’t worry about being inexperienced. You can do it, just believe in your ability to handle things as they arise.

Jungle Trek, Bukit Lawang – meeting wild orangutans

Bukit Lawang Orangutans
Jungle trek in Bukit Lawang

I was carrying extra weight and really unfit on my first trip abroad, as were my friends. We thought it would be a great idea to take a two-day jungle trek up and down 9 mountain peaks in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. It was one of the most physically challenging walks I’d ever done and at one stage tears of exhaustion began to flow.

Thankfully at the beginning of our trek, we were greeted by orangutans, who were now living freely in the wild after rehabilitation. A mother and her child came swinging through the trees and leaned down toward us holding on with one hand as we fed her biscuits. Oh, and the second day river tube home through the jungle was pretty cool.

Fighting infections

Indonesia is a very hot, humid, and polluted place. Simple scratches can quickly turn into infections. Since I spent a lot of the time on my butt during our many hikes, or scraping my foot on coral while snorkelling, it came as no surprise that I ended up with many infected sores. I still bear one of the scars on my shoulder, that had a large swollen infected ring around it reaching halfway down my forearm. Another wound on my knee, needed to be opened up and scraped out of the junk (thank you whiskey).

But the worse, was a little scratch on my foot that oozed pussy infection and doubled the size of my foot, and had our visiting friends suffering from piggy backing me around on the streets of Kuta. After seeing many doctors, unsuccessfully, I decided to cut my journey short and go to England to get it fixed. πŸ™

Lake Toba: Kidnapped by mushroom-tripping local psychopaths on motorbikes

Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra

Samasir Island is situated on Lake Toba, Sumatra and is the place of magic mushrooms and my most terrifying travel story. In short, we hired local motorbike guides to take us on a tour around the island for the day. Things soon turned really nasty when they refused to take us home after we became a bit concerned with their strange behaviour.

I can only assume that they were tripping out on magic mushrooms, otherwise I am sure they would have killed us. How else could you not think this when your driver sang his own words to one of your favourite songs as he turned off his headlights, raced along the pot filled roads and tore around bends,

“I shot the tourist, and then I stole her passport.”

“You know Caroline, we could have an accident right now, and no one would ever know what happened. They would never find your body.”

Enter maniacal laugh.

Bali belly on boat for four hours to Lombok

I don’t know what it was that I ate, but it hit me as soon as the ferry pulled out from Bali to make the four hour journey to Lombok. I spent the remainder of the journey in the closet sized Indonesian squat toilet on the boat. What made it even worse, was the seafood feast complete with lobster and cold beer that my friends ate while dining on the beach upon arrival. I sat and watched while drinking tea with salt in it, as recommended by my Indonesian waiter. (Which by the way, is a bona fide cure for Bali belly or any belly you get in any country.)

Bali belly on boat for four hours to Lombok

Bukkitingi Sumatra Indonesia
Our guide pretending to be a tiger during lunch

Feeling a little fitter by the time we reached Bukkitingi, Sumatra, we decided to hire an Indonesia explorer as a guide for some more trekking in the jungle. This one was far less strenuous. We came across a small field of grass we thought perfect for our lunch break.

As we were munching on some pineapple, around the bend at the river bank sat a tiger quenching his thirst, each of us unaware of the others close proximity.

After about an hour of rest, we continued walking and as we reached the river bank saw a massive tiger paw print in the sand. Our guide held his hand over it, and from the heat he felt rising off it, was able to determine that the paw print was about an hour old. Needless to say I did not enjoy the rest of the walk at all, not knowing what direction that hungry tiger went.

Bali belly on boat for four hours to Lombok

Returning home from a tour with some locals to a theme park, we chanced upon a political rally in the city. With tankers and militia sitting around waiting to be called in, I had no idea how we, or our guides didn’t know about this. One wrong turn and here we were in our jeep surrounded by a sea of green. As happens a lot in Asia, each opposing party was represented by a certain colour. This time I think it was the greens verse the red.

The greens began to shout out and rock our car.

“Um, excuse me? But they are rocking our car. How are we going to get out of here they have surrounded us?”

We were trying to mirror the calm the driver was pretending to have. The wheels were turning over in his mind as to do what to do. He wound down the window, spoke a few Javanese sentences and grabbed a green flag that was passed to hm by someone in the crowd. He tied the flag around the radio antenna and magically the green sea parted with great shouts, and we were allowed to drive as quickly as possible out of there.

Surfing at Nias, Sumatra

Nias Point break

Nias is one of the world’s best known surfing breaks. We spent a couple of weeks at Nias and decided we could not just sit and watch the break all day, we needed to have an attempt at trying to surf it. We hired boogie boards and clambered over the reef to get to the break.

After dropping in on a serious local surfer on my first wave, and ruining his perfect wave, I decided that perhaps I better exit the water. His glaring face told me if I didn’t make the first move to leave, he would be assisting me.

Borobudur temples Java
Borobudur temples

My first trip abroad wasn’t only full of challenging obstacles. We had amazing experiences on remote surfing islands, watching the sunrise over Mt Bromo, visiting the historic Borobudur temples, chilling out for weeks in Bukkitingi and by the lake, river tubing, snorkelling, more jungle trekking, and lots of partying.

Indonesia was the perfect way for me to begin my life living and travelling around the world. Maybe if I did not have such an adventurous start to my travels, I would not have been so hooked into living this travel life forever.

More Indonesia Experiences

Where was your first trip abroad? Would you recommend first time travellers to go there? Why?/p>

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58 thoughts on “My First Trip Abroad in Indonesia”

  1. My first trip abroad was to Nairobi, Kenya, at age 12! I actually celebrated my 12th birthday on an Air France airplane, middle seat wedged between my twin brother and older sister.

    It was a HUGE cultural shock. My mother was working with Immigration Canada, so we were there visiting for a few months. I distinctly remember the drive from the airport, completely perplexed. “Mom, where are all these people going?”. “Home” was her response.
    Being 12 years old and from the suburbs, this was very confusing to me. Where were all the cars and buses? Why was everyone carrying their items on their heads? Why is that taxi driving at us head on in the wrong lane! What the heck are these round-abouts?
    In hindsight, it was great training for what has become an ongoing love affair with international travel!

  2. Caz,

    Believe it or not I liked this post very much. I am sure you had tons of fun. Three month in Indonesia!!!! Enough time to do a lot of exploration.

    My first real travel abroad was a month in Europe when I graduated from college. Like your trip to Indonesia, it made me thirsty for more travel.

  3. I don’t remember my first trip abroad — we moved to London when I was 3 or 4 or so, but only for about half a year. I think my next trip abroad was back to the UK for a big golf trip in my late 20s. Still one of my favorite trips of all time.

  4. My first trip abroad (besides cruises) was last summer to Central America. I’m lucky enough to have started my blog before then as well so it’s all documented. Now, here I am, almost 8 months later and I’m back in Central America heading to as many of the countries that I didn’t make it to last time. Travel inspires more travel, that is for sure.

  5. Fascinating first trip Caz, and scary, but you really lived it to the full. Gee, our first overseas trip was 1974- where have the years gone?
    So today it is really interesting to see young travellers taking off, but also able to do something we never could then, and that is blog about it, and share info and experiences with everyone else. Also, to be able to use new technology to build it into an income stream.
    So having seen those changes over the past 36 years, it is easy for me to visualize how further changes in travel and communication can develop in the next decades. You have an amzing opportunity to create a whole new way of a using the internet, and the combined network of 1,000’s of travel bloggers to work together to help make changes in this world. Where this develops too we can only just dream about, but I am sure most travellers are real caring people, and will create a lot of good in the future.
    Admire all of you.

  6. First trip was a 5 month affair to Fiji, New Zealand & Australia – 32 years ago. Backpacked, hitchhiked, slept on beaches, lived at the hostel in Byron Bay for 2 weeks, hiked the overland Track in Tasmania surviving on nothing but chocolate & peanut butter for the better part of a week & loved the wallabies that came every night around a campfire, tried surfing, picked apricots, thought my plane was being hijacked when Bob Marley & gang sat across from us (I was naive!!). Never spoke to my parents or friends for 5 months – had a few letters at post offices – that was it. Occasionally lonely but otherwise a fantastic trip.

    First timers – what excites you? what arouses your curiosity?- follow that and you won’t be disappointed.

    Loved your post BTW.

  7. Not counting a couple all-inclusive resort vacations with my family, my first real travel experience abroad was backpacking around europe for 3 months after college. It was truly a life-changing experience. The only “bad” thing that happened was on a subway in Rome. I was with two girls I met (in Paris) and we weren’t paying attention to the stops–the train kept going and going into the outskirts of Rome. We looked around and realized we were the only ones on the train still! Had we spoken Italian we would have realized that the train was returning to the storage yard for the night and there were no more trains back to Rome. Of course, it was a Sunday and we were out of lira so we were really screwed. We ended up pushing the emergency stop button, causing the train to come to a screeching halt. The driver walked back through the cars and yelled at us in Italian. He ended up having to take us all the way back to the city. Thank God we weren’t dumped off in the middle of nowhere!

  8. Aw, thanks for sharing this. My first trip abroad was as a very small child to France. My first adventure trip abroad as an adult? Morocco to Mali across the Sahara… The experiences you have, good and bad, do stay with you and shape you. However long you continue to travel…

  9. That looks like an overhead wave in the photo you took. That’s great that you made it out! As for dropping in on people, just blame it on being a beginner. πŸ™‚ I still tell people that so they don’t beat me up. haha. My first trip abroad without my family was in Mexico and I think it definitely got me even more hooked on travel. I love that country and it feels like a second home to me now.

    1. The whole territorial wave thing is a little scary, although I can understand the surfing passion. I think I might just stick to rolling around in the whitewash. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do much more than that and then I won’t get bashed πŸ™‚

  10. What a trip! I can’t wait to go back and explore Indonesia more – there’s so much to see.

    My first OS trip was to Thailand, two days after the tsunami hit. I fell in love with the country and can’t wait to get back there in April. Of course, we got scammed, got funny tummies etc etc, but what a place!

  11. My first trip abroad was pretty tame – I went to England and then France. No tigers, tripping motorcycle guides of baboons but it infused me with a passion for travel all the same. Great stories!

  12. My first trip abroad was to Fiji an Bali. Both totally different and in some ways the same. In Bali the culture is everywhere while Fiji has many isolated spots that feel like its just for tourists. Both are the same in that if you want a quiet, relaxing holiday you have many options

    1. We found it hard to discover the culture in Fiji. We went for friend’s wedding so were quite isolated in a resort. I would like to go back and discover it some more

  13. Seems like you enjoy the trip really. Yeah, I definitely agree that their weather is kinda humid so you should be ready for that. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be thankful because the place is just soo perfect in whatever outdoor activities you want to try. I’m loving the place a lot and when my schedule permits I’m going to book a trip at there again. Glad you enjoyed the experience.

  14. I’m really sorry that you went to Jakarta during a political turmoil (which was quite common a decade ago). I hope that won’t deter you from visiting Indonesia again in the future because from what I read I think you haven’t visited some other interesting parts of the country, such as: Komodo Island, Raja Ampat (if you’re really into diving and snorkeling), Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), etc.
    By the way, my first experience abroad was back in 2007 when I visited Europe. It was a much relaxed trip for sure compared to your first trip abroad. But along the way, I started to go to more and more developing countries as well.

  15. Going to Bali tomorrow! cant wait. I surf so im really excited. Just to ask where would you recommend backpacking hotels? I heard poppies lane is pretty steezy but cheap?

    1. Poppy’s is pretty sleazy but there are plenty of places to stay in this lane or the ones along the same main strip. there are so many alleys. You can basically turn up and find one somewhere along there. They will be basic but dirt cheap. It has been awhile since I have been there so I can’t recommned any places for you. Enjoy it! Bali was my first overseas holiday. Loved it

  16. hey it’s my country πŸ™‚ , I’m indonesia people πŸ™‚ nice trip , but you must visit lombok πŸ™‚ it’s very beautiful place :).

  17. Your blog inspire me to go backpacking again. Even i’m Indonesian, i’ve never been to Nias. And try to surf there. But i tried to explore East Java, Bali, and Lombok. Worth to visit. Some people say “The more you’re goin to the East (Bali, Lombok, Nusa Ternggara) the more beautiful places you’ll find. Like in this article in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

    Maybe could be a recommendation to go there :). Succes for you Caz!

  18. My first trip abroad is to indonesia too. I went to Jakarta with 5 other friends. We went shopping in Bandung, visiting Tangkuban Parahu, and enjoying street busking at night. Just last November, I went back to Java island to visit Jogja and Bromo, among other places. I hope I have 3 months like you so I can explore indonesia more. its a beautiful country.

  19. Hi Caz, very pleased to see you enjoy your trip in Indonesia, will you come back to Indonesia? Next time try to visit other beautiful places in Indonesia such as Gili Island, Komodo Island, and Raja Ampat Island.

  20. Wow. It looks like you have a great experince. You must try to visit Raja Ampat Papua, Indonesia. This is a great place with great landscape

  21. It is a nice blog, I think you will be attracting to visit Candi Songo (9 Temples) in Ambara, Central Java,Indonesia . Do you want to visit it? The scenery of the hill is really cold and the fresh atmosphere , you will feel so fantastic . Come and see it

  22. All, thanks you for visiting Indonesia. Three words : great , wonderful, unforgettable . I am very proud with Indonesia beauty. Nature combined with culture . Especially with the ” ring of fire ” (volcanoes that surround Indonesia ) .
    Welcome back to Indonesia.
    Visit me at, may you can find some of my trips.

  23. i don’t think 3 month is enough have a trip in indonesia next time you must go to papua. they have a beautiful sea and really exotic place to have a diving.

  24. That’s awesome travel story. I am Indonesian and love traveling. Very like to read your travel stories, you have to explore Indonesia more, Indonesia is not just Bali.

  25. I love the diversity of Indonesia and this seems like a forgotten gem that is definitely worth exploring. Thank you for highlighting off the beaten path places like this one!

  26. Hi, I’m Indonesian and thank you for visited my country. I’m sorry for your bad experience in Samosir. I admit there are a lot of bad people in my country especially Jakarta (I even give up after 4 years work in Jakarta, the traffic jam really make me crazy).
    If you have a plan to visit my country again, I suggest to come to my hometown Bogor, and visit Bogor Botanical Garden. Yes it’s a small, even very small city until there are saying “Everyone in Bogor knows everyone else” but it’s a nice place to visit and less polution. Because Bogor always rain almost every day πŸ™‚ or to a capital of west Java province, Bandung. It’s a bigger city than Bogor and have a lot of nice places, and culinary πŸ™‚

  27. I have never gone abroad because in my country, Indonesia specifically East Java is a very comfortable place and there are many tourist attractions that you must visit. so I don’t think will go to abroad.

  28. It is sad to hear your experience on Samosir Island, North Sumatra. As a local, I don’t think their behavior represents the local value. Please accept our apology. My guess is they tried to demand more tips from you that way. And by the way, the island has a ringroad. If you follow it, it would take you back home.

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