[Ed. note: Hi there. Today is the first in a weekly column by writer Christina Garofalo on budget travel. Check in every Wednesday for tips on how to plan travel into your life and into your budget.]
We’d been in Bali for nine days. It was the last stop on our three-month trip through India and Southeast Asia. We had debated about whether to go. For one, Bali is far and sufficiently out of the way from India, Thailand, and Vietnam; and with the influx of tourism to Bali in response to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 novel Eat, Pray, Love, I was a bit skeptical about its appeal. I can be fussy that way.
But after backpacking for three months, we decided to relax before jumping back into the frenetic march of New York City. We stayed in homestays without Internet and surrendered ourselves to the slow pace and soulful smiles of the local people.
The day before our flight back to the United States, Eirinn (my travel partner) and I made last-minute plans to meet Mary. Mary was a friend of Eirinn’s mother who had been living in Bali, in a village not from where we were, for the last 20 years.
We waited for her at a café on the main road in Batu Bolong for almost an hour before a blonde-haired woman with piercing blue eyes poked her head up at the top of the stairs. She scanned the room.
The woman’s eyebrows perked up. She sat down with us, and we ordered a round of iced teas.
“When your mother told me that you were coming to Bali, it was my plan to make an appointment for you to see the high priestess,” she said. “There might still be time to go if you come with me to Ubud now.”
We were a bit apprehensive about leaving. It was already noon and our last day in Canggu, where we had made a group of friends and had become attached to the community. It was risky to leave with Mary without any guarantee that we would make the appointment.
“If you want to do it, you have to come now though. I have a meeting in Ubud at 2 and I am going to be late,” she said.
We decided to go. About an hour into the ride, we got lost and trapped in a massive traffic jam. Mary began losing patience with her driver, an Indonesian woman named Verna, and I watched the clock cringing. Near 2 pm with Ubud still not in sight and the appointment still not confirmed, I began to panic. What if we never got a hold of this woman and we cancelled all of our plans to spend $40 on a cab ride to sit in traffic with two strangers fighting? My eyes began to well up with tears. I looked out the window and then Mary spoke.
“You’re priestess is confirmed. You have a 4-o-clock appointment. The timing should be perfect.”
She dropped us off in Ubud at a restaurant called Kafe, and Eirinn and I climbed into the car of another driver, who took us to the home of the high priestess. Once we broke out of the congestion surrounding Ubud, we sailed through the winding roads north of the city, which were lined with the kind of thick jungle-like landscape that I imagine once covered the entire island.
We picked up five channa (religious offerings)—the only required payment for the cleansing ritual—and walked across the street to the priestess’s quarters. Inside, water fountains bubbled and colorful birds swept over the treetops. Every ounce of stress melted away as we sat awaiting our turn.
Out of all of the adventures during my three months in Asia, this is the one that stands out to me most. It embodies my two philosophies about travel: you don’t need to spend a great deal of money to have a great experience, and always leave room in your budget for the unexpected; that is where the magic happens.
In this weekly column, I will apply these simple rules and other tips for planning a frugal adventure near or afar.