Outside the major tourist areas most hotels, guesthouses, inns, tour operators and guides have none or very limited internet presence. Those that do probably won’t have options to pay over the internet, or certainly not the kind of secure payment transactions that most people would be comfortable with. Additionally, most operate totally independently without the benefit of authorized booking agents or resellers. This means you’ll have to deal directly with the vendor yourself and yes, there may be times when you have to “wing it.”
For those people used to having everything organized in advance, not being able to jump on-line and find a hotel, guide, transport or whatever takes a bit of getting used to. With a bit of effort you can probably track down a telephone number, email address or Facebook account for some operators. But in our experience, contact details such as these tend to change frequently and are often out of date within months of publication. That’s one reason why, with a few exceptions, we’ve refrained from providing those kind of details on this site. The best source of up-to-date information comes from travellers themselves, so we and our readers really appreciate it when someone who’s “been there done that” makes the effort to provide their feedback using the Contact Us page on this site.
In the early days of our off the beaten track travels, I spent countless and often fruitless hours trying to track down service providers in an effort to get everything locked away before we left home. I was convinced it would be irresponsible to “wing it” when we were travelling with young children. Whilst I still like to pre-book accommodation in major centres, especially if we’re arriving late in the day or after hours, I’ve learnt through experience that it really is just okay to turn up or at least, wait until you’re only a day or two away.
Once you’re in the region, you’ll generally be able to find a current telephone number for nearby hotels, guesthouses, guides or drivers etc by asking at your current hotel or guesthouse. Just remember though that there’s no guarantee the person on the other end of the phone or email will be able to speak English. So if you have access to someone who can act as your interpreter, tell them what you want and ask them to make the call for you. Most people are more than happy to help but out of courtesy, always offer your phone for them to make the call. Check out our Planning Your Trip page for tips regarding mobile phones and local simcards.
Paying in Advance – Yes or No?
Now when you do manage to make contact with a service provider you may be requested to make some sort of upfront payment - most often by wire transfer or direct deposit into a bank account. Be wary of such requests as you will have little to no recourse to get your money back if the services aren’t provided or you need to cancel for some reason, however valid and however far ahead. We’ve heard of more than one traveller getting stung.
Advance payment requests will more likely come from those businesses operating somewhere in the middle. They’re not a top tier provider but they’re not a truly small-time local business either. As a general rule, the more off the beaten track you get, the less likely it is that service providers will even request a deposit or advance payment because they’re not going to be that sophisticated. Guesthouses will be family run affairs with only a handful of rooms, catering mostly to locals. Local guides are more likely to be opportunistic or seasonal guides rather than full time professionals.
The bottom line is you need to weigh up all the circumstances and make your own decision. Start from a position of skepticism and do your due diligence before even entertaining the idea. The sorts of questions you should be asking are:
- Is the operator is a licensed member of a reputable travel association such as the Association of Indonesian Tour & Travel Agency or PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) and how long have they been licensed? Many may claim to be licensed but get cagey when you ask for the details and license number.
- How long has the company been operating? Some tour companies operate for a year or two then shut down and re-open again under a different name but with the same people behind the scenes. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario in Indonesia.
- Was the operator recommended to you by a trusted and/or independent source?
- Can you find any independent reviews or traveler testimonials? Check out some online travel forums.
- Are the bank account or wire transfer details in the name of an individual or the company?
So do you really need to worry about booking or paying ahead?
In our experience, no you don’t. Even in the smallest village well off the beaten track, locals aren’t going to pass up the opportunity to earn a dollar by turning you away, whatever it is you’re seeking. We’ve never found ourselves or heard of anyone else, left stranded without accommodation. If the local inns are full, you may find yourself eating and sleeping in the home of a local villager which ironically, could end up being one of your most memorable holiday experiences. Flexibility is the key. Be prepared to compromise if the need arises and remember, it’s all part of the adventure.