How to travel like a local on Java Island, Indonesia?

5 min readNov 8, 2022

My interest in travel began when I joined a youth organization during high school. This organization brought me to meet up with friends outside of school who enjoyed traveling or touring to meet, discuss, and (as a bonus) enjoy natural destinations with peers in other cities.

Wonosobo, Central Java

I love Indonesia, my country with many historical and natural destinations that you should definitely visit. My experiences in exploring different destinations in Central Java with my friends made me want to venture further places. “Travel like a local” is something I always keep in mind before deciding to visit a new place. It’s not just about seeing the skyscrapers, but places steeped in history and other things that are sometimes too old are worth visiting. Here are a few notes I often make when I visit a place.

1. Visit museums or historic buildings

Tumurun Private Museum, Solo — Central Java
Sriwedari Wayang Orang Dance Theater — Solo

“A great nation is a nation that knows history” — Ir. Soekarno.

This is a quote from the first president of Indonesia. The first destination I should put on my list of must-visit is a museum or an old building that has a history. There I learn a little more about the history of the place I’m visiting.

Visiting museums or historical buildings isn’t boring if you know the history or background of the collections or ancient objects in that place. Even today, there are various museums, some of which display not only historical or ancient things but also some art collections. By the way, visiting a museum can be your short escape on a weekend vacation that lasts only two days.

2. Try local or street food

Kluban, Traditional Food from Pekalongan, Central Java

When we travel, we should try something different from what we consume every day. Traditional or local food is a must when I traveled alone. Even if not all the dishes meet our taste, we can at least try one of the local dishes there. Traditional food has usually been around for a long time or even decades, so they have several generations of vendors.

Besides tasting local dishes that we don’t often eat in our daily lives, I usually use this activity as a trick to get information about hidden gems or other information about places we can visit that the food vendors sometimes know because they stay in the area longer and know their surroundings very well. It’s free information that sometimes isn’t shared by online search engines.

3. See natural landscapes

One of the waterfalls in Pekalongan

As an archipelago state, Indonesia has many natural destinations to offer, both in the lowlands, such as beaches and in the highlands, such as hills and mountains. Enjoying nature is very pleasant and calms our minds. I always visit a nature destination in the middle of my trip.

For example, If I’m traveling for three days, I’ll visit a place or destination near the city center on the first day and then explore nature on the second day before continuing my final exploration. If you decide to visit a nature destination in Indonesia, you’ll usually meet locals who’ve lived in the area for a long time. Indonesians aren’t only friendly, but also happy to offer something, especially if they know we’re not locals. Don’t hesitate to give them a smile as well.

4. Local/public transportation

Traditional boat crossing the river between Central Java and East Java in Blora

In the big cities in Indonesia, there are some public transportations that we can use to move around the city and explore places. If you want to travel through several provinces on Java Island, you should take the train. Not only because the train is cheap, but you can also see the places and landscapes you pass by better than if you take a plane.

Exploring the city? You can use public transportation, busses, traditional vehicles, or maybe the short-distance trains that are available. So far, I’ve always relied on the train when I wanted to go somewhere. Otherwise, you can use a transportation app that can give you a ride whenever you want. In some cities like Semarang, Solo, Yogyakarta, and Jakarta, there is a sightseeing bus that you can use to explore the city. Good luck!

5. Try to speak the local language

There are many local languages in Indonesia, even on the island of Java. The Javanese language I use also has many different accents, so sometimes the locals themselves can feel the difference even though they’re still in the same province.

Try to remember a few words like greetings or thanks in the local language or at least in Indonesian if you aren’t an Indonesian citizen. These little things often help people to respect each other. Or we can even make new friends on the trip. You will get new information from new friends, right?

These are my notes that I hope are useful for you, and have fun exploring Indonesia!

Enjoy your time and I’ll be happy to know if you have plans to travel to Indonesia. Especially in the regions closest to where I live in Semarang (Central Java), like East Java, West Java, or maybe Yogyakarta. Happy to hear your opinion about Indonesia when we meet. Don’t forget to always travel safely, NomadHers!

👩 Ulfa Isnaini is an intern at one of the private universities in Semarang and also a private tutor for students in her spare time. She loves traveling and having new experiences along her trip. She likes having a talk and making new friends also who have the same interests as her. Her Instagram: @ulfaisnain_

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