What it's really like to move your family to Bali

Author Eliza McCann did what many Aussies dream about - and moved with her husband and two young kids to Bali on a whim.

Sometimes it’s the small steps that are the hardest.

Just before my second daughter was born, my family and I managed to wrench ourselves out of Sydney, the city I grew up in and adored. But I was working in film publicity and the late nights and red carpets, while sometimes glamorous, weren’t entirely compatible with parenting little people.

We moved to the Leura in the Blue Mountains. It was sublimely beautiful, far cheaper than Sydney and had a fabulous community.

Before we left, lots of people sat us down to warn us of the perils of leaving the Big Smoke.

‘You won’t survive outside of Sydney. You don’t know anyone!’
‘There’s no CULTURE.’
‘But you’ll never get back to Sydney. EVER!’

Despite these dire warnings, we moved, made friends and the kids thrived. The naysayers loved it because they had a fabulous weekender to visit and we became well known for our long Sunday lunches. A trip down the M4 wasn’t so daunting when there were country walks, delicious food and free flowing wine at the end. 

But it turns out – I’m not a fan of the cold. I was fit and healthy but bout after bout of pneumonia just kept knocking me down. My wonderful GP suggested moving to somewhere with a warmer climate, so one weekend, while my husband was appearing at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, we looked into moving north.

Weirdly enough, it felt like we were cheating on the Blue Mountains. Leaving our home just because we couldn’t face the cold. Swapping our mountain community for a beach one. It just felt wrong.

Making the leap

But then one fateful day, while my husband was in Darwin researching a novel, he met a guy who spent half his time living in Australia and the other half in Bali. If it could work for him, why not us?

He came back with an outrageous proposition - what about we move to Bali for six months? Maybe a year.

He fully expected a resounding NO. We had a two-year-old and a four-year-old. How exactly would it work?

But without hesitation, I said, I DO! Yes. We had nothing to lose, the kids were still young and adaptable, we’d only be going for a short while and if worst came to worst we could come back. Albeit with our tail between our legs.

As it was when we moved out of Sydney, everyone had an opinion. If people had something to say about the Blue Mountains, they certainly had some strong thoughts on Bali. And then some.

The last time I went to Bali was in 1988. It was with my family and we stayed at Club Med Nusa Dua. I think it’s fair to say that I was less than exposed to the ‘Real Bali’. My husband had spent a lot of time there during the 80s and 90s and absolutely loved it but hadn’t really been there much of late.

Should we do a “recce” and check it out - where we should live or what schools our kids should go to?

Yes, definitely a good idea. Did we? No.

In hindsight, I think going in blind was one of the best things we could have done. No expectations is a wonderful way to approach a new adventure.  

My life motto is ‘a good game, is a fast game’. It took us six weeks to pack up our life and get on the plane with our two kids and five suitcases. I was finishing up a semester at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst so I spent the last weekend at a residential weekend while my husband held a monster garage sale, then packed up the entire contents of our house into a shipping container while nursing a sick kid with the help of his ex-wife.

We left the mountains one misty morning and drove to Sydney airport with no idea of what to expect and really no clue as to what we were doing.

We did, however, organise two weeks’ accommodation in Seminyak, somewhere to go when we landed and to give us a base to find a home and a school for our kids. It was a private rental that unbeknown to us came with two Dobermans and a rather lovely Corsican gentleman.

Settling in

School was a priority for us. We figured if the kids were settled, everything would fall into place. It was ridiculously hot and the kids suffered terribly with the heat in the first few days. Their lily white Blue Mountains skin, freckles and red hair weren’t designed for this tropical weather. They seemed to suffer the most when we went on school tours where they whinged and whined for Australia. We seriously considered the possibility the schools would take one look at our kids behaving badly and close their doors on us.

Luckily that wasn’t the case and we found a fabulous international school where they stayed for the remainder of our time in Bali.

I loved Bali from day one. The chaos, the colour, the smells, the heat. My body felt at home there. I even loved driving in Bali. The road rules seem to make complete sense to me despite the outward appearance of pandemonium. I find the road rules in Australia unbearable now, everyone seems so agro, so righteous, and in such a hurry. When you have a near miss in Bali, you look at each other and laugh. Not quite the same back in Oz.

We moved into a beautiful house that wasn’t your usual expat villa. The front was traditional Balinese with carved doors and a tiled balcony with a pitched tiled roof.  The house was modest but the garden was lush and big with an enormous pool. The children adored the space and sense of freedom. They would run without clothes jumping from the pool back indoors as if on a repeat loop.

We settled into an easy way of life. We got to know the expat community, we reconnected with the Balinese son of a friend that Phillip had made when he first went to Ubud in the 80s and we travelled to Singapore and Malaysia to get our visas renewed. We explored the island and found favourite spots to spend weekends away. We learned the language.

The kids went to school, Phillip wrote books and, without really knowing it, I reinvented myself. If I could knock out a press release I figured I could transfer these skills. I started off writing for a luxury villa rental company. After staying in these opulent eight bedroom villas, often by myself, I would write their website copy. It was great training - how many ways can you describe a ‘sparkling pool set within a lush tropical garden’? Then there was further work writing for lifestyle blogs – the 10 Hottest Restaurants in Bali, that sort of stuff.

Six months turned to one year, one year turned to two and you can guess the rest. Then, after five years in Bali, my husband had an opportunity to work on a fabulous TV project. The only catch was that it was based in Melbourne. Had we really done our time in Bali?

We had been to so many farewells over the years, was it time for ours?

We needed to make a decision and spent Christmas agonizing over it. We always knew we would leave Bali, but thought it would be when our oldest started high school. So our catch cry became ‘putting off the inevitable’ and with a heavy heart and many more suitcases than when we arrived we said goodbye to our island home.

We arrived in Melbourne, a city neither of us had lived in before, and again began finding a place to live and a school for our kids.

It didn’t have the glamour of finding a villa on a tropical island – where occasionally I ended up on the back of some stranger’s motorbike! - but there was something deeply comforting about wide streets we could walk down, rules and regulations, no language barriers and bright blue sunny skies with the promise of seasons. And if you think the adventure is over, it’s not. I’m a Sydney girl through and through but if Melbourne wants to seduce me with its laidback cafes and famously good coffee, then I’m not going to resist too much!

We went back to Bali for six weeks with the kids over the holidays and stayed in our old house and drove our old car and hung out with our old friends and spoke Bahasa again. There were a few more funky cafes and restaurants but fundamentally, it was the same Bali I know and love. And there’s something very comforting in knowing that my family and I will always have a second home.

Eliza McCann has just released My Awesome Sydney Adventure, the second in the series of her travel journals for kids. Find out more at myawesomeadventure.com.au

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