A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta

A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta - The Travel Lush

When I first arrived in Jakarta I was completely unprepared.  I knew Jakarta was an enormous city, but I had no idea just how difficult it would be to navigate the ins and outs of this city.  And being a woman made living and traveling around Jakarta especially intimidating.

I might live here with my boyfriend but when I’m out in the city I’m almost always by myself.  Take it from me, Jakarta can be a daunting place for a woman.  But it honestly doesn’t have to be.  After living here for almost a year, I’ve thought a lot about just how scary Jakarta must be for female travelers, whether they’re traveling solo or with friends.  After all, I was intimidated as hell as a newbie female expat.

I’ll admit that it took time, but I’ve now become incredibly comfortable gallivanting around Jakarta all by my lonesome.  So for all you ladies who are a bit nervous about your big trip to Java, here is a mini-guide to traveling to Jakarta.

A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta!

How to dress:

It’s important to remember that Indonesia is a big and diverse country.  And Jakarta is way different than Bali when it comes to both culture and religion.  It’s perfectly acceptable to wear sundresses and tank tops in Bali, but that’s not really the case in Jakarta.

The island of Java is very traditionally Muslim.  You can expect to hear the call to prayer five times a day and see women walking around in headscarves.  That being said, as a foreigner you’re not expected to wear a headscarf but you should dress modestly.

A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta - The Travel Lush

How you should dress depends on which part of the city you’re visiting and where exactly you’re going.  If you’re sightseeing around town or visiting a kampung make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.  I usually wear long pants and a t-shirt.

But if you’re visiting one of Jakarta’s mega malls, international restaurants or nightclubs, you can let loose a little bit (or a lot).

The safest way for women to get around Jakarta:

Like I said, I am constantly traveling around the city alone.  If you’re spending a few days in Jakarta you will be taking taxis or ojeks (moto-taxis) to get around the city.  Jakarta is huge and not at all pedestrian friendly, so there’s really no other way.  After I had a really scary taxi experience when I first moved to Jakarta, I realized that by taking a few simple precautions I felt much more at ease.

A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta - The Travel Lush

  • Get a SIM card at the airport:  Internet is really cheap in Jakarta and generally reliable.  I pay Rp 100,000 ($8 USD) for 30 days of phone and internet coverage.  It’s well worth investing in.  If you’re just going to be traveling in Jakarta, XL is the best company to use.  If you’re going to be traveling around Indonesia (especially Bali) go for Telkomsel (that’s what I use).  Being able to track your destination on Google Maps will make you feel so much more at ease while taking taxis around Jakarta.  You’ll also be able to call your hotel if you get lost.  Another perk is that you can use Google Translate to help you communicate with drivers, as most don’t speak English.
  • Only take Blue Bird taxis: Jakarta’s taxi drivers get a bad rap for a reason.  Getting ripped of and taken on the “scenic route” happens to locals and foreigners alike.  But if you ask me, being a foreigner and a woman will make you a bigger target.  When I first moved to Jakarta I had numerous Indonesian women tell me that Blue Bird was the safest option, so that’s the only company I use.  Blue Birds are everywhere and they are always metered so they really are your best bet.  Rates start at Rp 7,500 (USD $0.50) and tick up slightly every kilometer.
  • Get the Blue Bird app: This app rocks and it’s totally free.  Just put in the address of where you are, place an order and you can track the taxi to see where it is.  This is awesome for solo female travelers in Jakarta because you’ll have info on your driver in case you need to report any problems.  The wait time is generally 5-10 minutes and they will call your cell when they arrive. (Download the Blue Bird app: Android / IOS.)
  • Ojek it the safe way: Jakarta has a huge ojek (moto-taxi) culture.  Using an ojek is a quicker way to get around traffic-riddled Jakarta.  When you’re walking around you will likely be approached by men on their motorbikes asking where you want to go.  This is totally normal.  Only in Jakarta do I actually feel safe hopping on a strange man’s bike.  However, if it’s your first time in Jakarta and you’re a little wary of taking an ojek, then hire a Go-Jek.  This is a reputable new company that dispatches its own pre-screened drivers.  Similar to Blue Bird, you can just download their app, place an order and you’ll be picked up anywhere in the city.  You can track drivers and the rates are posted so there’s no bargaining and no getting ripped off.  (Download the Go-Jek app Android / IOS.)

Where to stay:

When I was traveling in Jakarta (before I moved here) I stayed in the main “backpacker” area of Jalan Jaksa.  I can’t say I was all that impressed by what ended up being a seemingly deserted alleyway, but if you’re traveling to Jakarta alone, it is probably your best bet for meeting fellow travelers.  It’s also centrally located and the city’s main tourist sites (Monas, Pasar Baru, the Istiqlal Mosque, etc.) are a very short cab ride away.

I have heard that the dorms and hotels in that area are a bit dodgy (my hotel was overpriced and awful).  If you’re looking for a hotel in Central Jakarta I highly recommend the Artotel.  I haven’t stayed there myself but I’ve heard rave reviews.  It’s centrally located (near Jalan Jaksa), within walking distance of street food, bars and restaurants.  It also has my favorite rooftop bar in the city, BART.  The coolest part is that each room is uniquely decorated by one of Jakarta’s street artists.  At roughly $45 a night on Agoda it’s a steal for Jakarta and it is definitely a nice, clean and safe option for female travelers who are a bit concerned about finding a safe hotel to stay at in Jakarta.

How to greet people:

This is something I wish I’d known before I moved here.  As a woman you will greet both men and women by air kissing both cheeks (left then right).  The first time a woman greeted me I wasn’t sure what was happening.  At first I thought she wanted to shake my hand and then I thought she was going to give me a hug.  Let’s just say it was very awkward!  But after I realized that the double kiss was the norm, I got the hang of it very quickly.

What to expect when walking around:

  • You will be called bule:  As a foreigner you’ll quickly start to wonder why everyone is calling you bule.  It basically means foreigner or Caucasian.  It’s not meant to be hostile so just smile and wave.
  • You will be stared at:  As a woman (or man) just realize that people are going to stare – this means men, women and children.  Every time I leave the house I’m stared at.  It’s something you will get used to (kind of).  I’ve even had little kids stop dead in their tracks staring at me like they’ve seen a ghost.  And I always catch teenage girls watching me from across the room.  It’s kind of funny because I’m truly not that interesting!
  • You will receive random comments from strangers: I’ve had strangers ask me about my skin regimen, saying my skin is so beautiful.  This is not something I’ve really ever been complimented on before.  I’ve been called Miss America by the super sweet girls who work at my apartment building (I’m no Miss America!).  I’m now referred to as blondie by the guy who works at my laundromat even though my hair is the darkest of brown.  And I’m referred to as tall (at 5’3” I have never been referred to as tall before).  Expect that you’ll be peppered with all sorts of compliments, comments and curious questions from people while traveling in Jakarta.  Luckily Jakartans really are the nicest people and it’s actually fun when strangers strike up random conversations with you!
Have you been to Jakarta? Do you have anything else to add to this list?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

45 thoughts on “A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta

  1. These are great tips, Justine, especially the one about the Blue Bird taxis. We used them on Bali too, and never had a problem (unlike when we were trying to take bemos and the drivers kept stonewalling us and asking us to pay to charter the entire van!). The worst we ever had happen was our driver pulled over to take a pee, but that seems to be par for the course in that part of the world! 😉
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Stonewalled by Sedona

    1. Ha, I don’t think I’ve ever had a driver do that! That’s so funny. I have noticed on Bali that drivers drive a hard bargain when it comes to rates. It’s kind of crazy. I do really recommend Blue Bird (in Jakarta and Bali). I have had Blue Bird drivers just take me on super roundabout routes before, despite me giving them specific directions and street names. That’s my number one complaint about them. But I’m sure that will happen with any company in Jakarta. I really do thing being a white girl who’s traveling all alone makes me a target. I’ve just learned to not lose my cool in these situations.

    1. Thanks Katie 🙂 It is really intimidating and it’s definitely not the safest place, but I’ve never had any serious issues. It’s is always nice to be a little prepared when visiting cities like Jakarta, especially if you’re traveling alone!

  2. Nice post! And it’s nice to see recent posts talking about the rapid growth of Go-Jek, because that’s been booming lately.
    Also, as a local who has lived in Jakarta for a fair few years, I can say taxis these days are quite expensive. A cheaper alternative is to use Go-Jek (which is a guaranteed safe), Uber (can also be used in Bali) or GrabCar (A feature in the Grab Taxi app which is available in other countries as well).
    The latter of which I highly recommend because it has a much lower fare, and it’s a fixed fare, unlike taxis whose fare depends on the distance and time you travel.

    I noticed you didn’t say anything about the food in Jakarta. I’m curious because I’m doing my thesis of Jakarta’s street food and was hoping you could help me fill in my questionnaire. I’m looking for a specific target market, which are foreigners who have traveled to/lived in Jakarta and I hope you can help me out. 🙂
    If you could take a few minutes of your time to fill this in: http://goo.gl/forms/AGZXBGxQ49
    That would be great! If you know anyone else, please share because it is actually quite hard finding foreign people (online) in Jakarta.
    Thank you!

      1. Hi Justine! First of all, thanks a lot for filling in my survey! I suppose I am writing a book, though I’ve never thought of it that way. Because my major is in Graphic Design, I’ve always just thought of it as “designing a book”, text to me is just another element of design 🙂
        I have noticed the lack of English guide books covering Jakarta and Indonesia in particular, especially on food. Though if you check out local bookstores there are so many of these food-themed books, BUT they are in Indonesian. So as a food enthusiast, and because there are so many lovely street foods Jakarta has to offer, I thought of designing and illustrating a street food guide for my thesis project.

        Also, thank you for the links! I just read them and it’s nice to see that Indonesia has been more vegetarian-friendly compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. I am a vegetarian in-training (only eat meat on weekends) and I must say it isn’t so hard for me to stick my diet because of the abundance of tempeh and tofu-based dishes especially. Besides Gado-Gado, I think you might find Asinan Betawi interesting to try. It is basically a salad made up of lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beansprouts and raw tofu with a spicy peanut sauce dressing. Though there are some that use a clear spicy-sour dressing if you find the peanut sauce too heavy.

        Thank you again!

  3. Hi Justine, Thank you for the tips. I am travelling on my own to Jakarta next month and am a little nervous as I have never been. Happy I came across your article, as I was not sure what to expect. I look forward to my trip.

    Thank you.

    1. I didn’t have an iPhone then but you can just have someone put in the new SIM for you. I always do that. Make sure you have an unlocked phone though! Enjoy Jakarta 🙂

    1. Thanks! I’m a huge fan of your site so I’ll take the praise 🙂 Yeah, I tended to dress modestly all the time. I did notice a lot of tourists wearing shorts and tank tops around town, but I just preferred to wear jeans and a t-shirt. But I did notice many Indonesian girls wearing very short shorts in some of the malls! It seemed like people were much more experimental in certain places.

  4. Hello Justine,

    I loved your post!, I just saw it Pinterest and is like all my principal doubts disappeared!!! Thanks a lot for all the tips, they are wonderfull.

    I’m from Mexico and I might be changing my residence to Jakarta, I’m just a little nervous about the job opportunities for foreigners, my boyfriend already has a job but I’m tryin to figure out what can I do over there, since yo lived there what can you tell be about it?

    Thanks!!!

  5. Wow i just found out your post and oh-my this is just so 1000% accurate! Since i was born and raised in Jakarta. And yes for the safest way to travel around in Jakarta, you can use Gojek, Grab, and Uber. You can just simply download it from your smartphone. It gives the cheaper fares than conventional taxis and conventional motor-taxis. Be careful when you’re going to use commuter line, transjakarta, angkot, metromini, and the other public transportation. Because there might be a pick pocket when it’s crowded. 🙂

  6. I am actually planning on doing a 2 – 3 week trip to Indonesia in 2017 – most likely will be spending it between Bali and Lombok, though. Is there anything really worthwhile seeing in Jakarta? Or am I better off to just use it as an international transit point instead?
    Ray recently posted…Airport Eats – Twist by Roger Mooking

  7. Thank you so much for this info. I am a woman travelling alone to Jakarta, and not entirely comfortable with that, as I have never been to Asia before. Your article really has helped me get more info to make me feel more comfortable … At least knowing what to expect! Thank you for that!!

    1. I’m so glad I could help Leslie. It’s really not a hard place to travel as woman but it can be intimidating at first. I really wanted to share these tips because they would have helped me. I hope they help you too. Enjoy Indonesia 🙂

  8. Hi Justine

    Thanks so much for this post.

    Will be heading to Jakarta with a girlfriend in a couple of weeks…

    Any idea if GrabCar is still available (extensively?) cause of the new law enforcements….

    Also I will be staying at an accessible hotel to malls…maybe about 5mins walk away. Any tips/precautions on taking that walk when its dark despite the short length?

    Also, I’ve seen warnings against buying a SIM at the airport due to high prices…any word on that?

    (I have one too many ‘also’ but thanks in advance ;-))

    1. I’m glad to have helped. Grab Taxi is the way to go in Jakarta, for sure. I used it in Bali for the first time this summer and it was awesome. If you’re going to hail a taxi off the street, use Blue Bird (they have an app too).

      I wouldn’t worry about walking short distances. As always, use your judgement and be careful with valuables.

      Hmm, I’ve never bought a SIM at the airport but it’s worth inquiring about the price. I use Telkomsel and always just go into a store once I’m in the city. You can pretty much go to any cell phone shop and they should be able to sell you a SIM. It should cost 50,000-100,000 rupiah ($4-8) for 1-3 GB (it lasts for 30 days). But ask at the airport because it will probably be easier to do it there. Internet is cheap so it might not be marked up all that much. Have fun 🙂

  9. Over a year later and still incredibly useful information! I will find myself in Jakarta for a few days come Nov. and am a little nervous. I am excited to explore the city but would love to team up with a local, or two! My city has several safe and reliable meet-up groups. Any chance of finding one in Jakarta, or a local guide to hire? I’m not much for the tourist attractions, and with such a short stay, I would prefer to experience the local flavor.

    1. Hi Breanne,

      I am up for the plan to explore the city just for the sake of it. I am sure that even us local do not really familiar with every corner of this city.

      Although I must said that I kinda an adventurer and still in a process of conquering Indonesia. I was born in this Java island, grew up in Papua, and went to college in Michigan. I missed my collegge-english-speaking friend so you may fulfill that part and I can be your guide.

      The thing is, I can only do this full time with you on he weekends because I do have a job hahahaha…

      Let me know if u still up for it… 087878886126

  10. Currently our TransJakarta and Commuter trains are not as bad as you guys think. Yes, many sources say they’re unreliable, but did they try already try them or simply took a statement from an unreliable internet source?
    Just avoid the busy hours, then you’ll have a safe, comfortable, and memorable journey 🙂

    Learn more about possibilities of taking the BRT and Commuter Line here: https://thetravelearn.com/2015/03/22/getting-around-jakarta-using-the-rapid-transit-system/

  11. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for this article. Our daughter has just accepted a foreign exchange program for Indonesia and I have so many questions, thoughts, concerns, etc…. I don’t even know where to start. There is a lot of talk regarding SIM cards on here? How does that work? Is it better to just get a cell phone there versus taking your phone from home? How does the banking system work? Do you have other articles, blogs, information about traveling abroad. My husband and I are rather clueless as we have not traveled out of the country. Thank you for any information you can throw my way.

    Michelle

    1. Glad to have helped Michelle! Where exactly is your daughter going in Indonesia? Bali and Jakarta, for example, are very different places. I lived in Jakarta but have spent a lot of time in Bali and was there for two months over the summer. As for a phone I just brought the one I had from the US. Buying a local sim in Indonesia is so easy and so cheap. You can basically do it at any convenience/corner store in Bali. In Jakarta there are stores in malls. It’s about $10 or so for 30 days and a decent amount of data. You just have to top it up every month. You don’t buy plans the way you do in the US. Telkomcel (not sure about the spelling) is very reputable. As far as banking goes I’m not sure. I never had a local bank account. If you’re American getting your daughter a Schwab bank account is the way to go because she can use it at any ATM around the world and she won’t have to pay withdraw fees. It’s a lifesaver for living and traveling abroad. Hopes this helps! You can search Indonesia on my site. I’ve written a lot. I otherwise just google ‘living abroad Indonesia blog’ and start reading 🙂 That’s how I do a lot of my research!

  12. hy justine, i am very impressed to read your blog.
    it also open my eyes that jakarta is totally like u said. it’s crazy.
    i was born on indonesia, but i live in kalimantan. which is the city is very different.
    when i read your blog, it’s like i remind my first time went to jakarta, because it’s totally different city, also culture.

    now i live in jakarta since 4 months ago, i got my job here in jakarta and i learn alot. even it’s still in indonesia, believe me like u said bali and jakarta also different :).
    and that happen to me that I am from kalimantan (borneo).
    thankyuu to share your experience here, good blog, good picture, love it :).

    ps : if u want to know bout anything or information or any help bout jakarta, u can contact me at line (ririridha) or my email : ridhaagustina92@gmail.com
    I hope I can help you more, because I’ll love to meet new people, sharing and help each other 🙂

  13. Thank you Justine, this is such a great short piece! I’m preparing to move to Jakarta for a few months in order to intern with UNICEF, and your post addressed many of my reservations concerning safety and traveling alone as a woman.

    I was initially taken aback while reading the ending though, when the text started addressing me as a white woman, haha. I really don’t mean that badly, as I know you didn’t either. I’m a California native as well, but ethnically, I am a Filipina. Your personal anecdotes are immensely helpful, as well as insightful, but I just wanted wanted to offer you a friendly reminder that you also have women readers who are not white 😊

    At the moment, I am living in Bavaria, Germany, and I can earnestly relate to the feeling of being stared at and receiving strange remarks, since I look rather different from most people living here, haha. That’s always going to be a traveller’s dilemma I suppose 😊

    Keep up the good work! I’ll be sure to check out more of your posts about Indonesia before I head over there ❤️

    1. Thanks for your comment Alex. That’s so exciting! This post is a couple years old but I think everything still stands true! You’ll get the hang of things once you’re there for a little while. Hopefully this will help you a bit and if you ever have questions don’t hesitate to ask! Jakarta can be daunting but I really did come to love it and the people I met. I appreciate the reminder to not generalize my readers, and I apologize if my words read that way. I’m half Mexican (though I don’t look it!), so I really didn’t intend it. The word bule comes from the days when the Dutch colonized Indonesia, so back then it was specifically used to address Caucasians. But now it’s become a term to address all foreigners. But reading through the last part of this post I can totally see where you’re coming from, so thanks for pointing that out 😉 I’ll be more careful in the future. In the end though, I found Jakartans to just be super curious about me and why I was living in Jakarta. Because, as you’ll see, there aren’t tons and tons of foreigners, and Americans seemed like a rarity! People, especially young people, will no doubt be thoroughly fascinated with you. Anyway, good luck!!

  14. Hi there, I’m from Australia, traveling to Jakarta in a couple of days. Thank you for the article it has put me at great ease.
    Have you encountered much crime or hate attacks while in Jakarta or is that something that the media over exaggerates? I’ve read westerners are a target for crimes in Jakarta and I wanted to know if you’ve experienced any or if it’s a generally safe and friendly place
    I’m really anxious as this is my first time travelling alone as a female internationally. Do you have any tips to deal with the initial intimidation?

    1. I never experienced anything like that. The people I met were friendly and curious. That being said it’s a very poor, very big city. So you need to be savvy and always go with your gut. I’ve outlined my experiences here. But generally use caution at night, especially if you’re alone. And definitely stick with Blue Bird taxis and go-jeks for transportation (both have English apps and GPS tracking). And get a SIM so you’re always able to call or access the Internet if you gets lost, need to use a translation app, etc. But no, I was NEVER targeted and never had a major issue other than not being able to communicate with taxi drivers. As I say here, there were times I felt nervous taking taxis alone. But honestly, nothing bad ever happened and I learned quickly to always have my GPS on so I would know of the drivers were taking me to the right place. Nerves are totally understandable. I was nervous too. But don’t let fear take over. The people I encountered were so nice and helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need anymore advice and enjoy my old home 🙂

  15. Hi. Great blog you have. Thanks . I’m going to surabaya in April and hope to go to bali as well. In tips about the people and things. Also what is best to travel to bali from surabaya. Only going for 2 weeks

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