Life in Bali with Emily O’Neill



Emily O’Neill will make you want to pack your bags and jump on the first plane to Bali. As the founder of boutique property rental agency Bali Soul Villas, it’s her job to make people fall in love with the island. She’s also a busy mother of three energetic boys — Sunny, 8, Jesse, 5, and Mylo, 2. “I love the diversity life in Bali allows. It’s easy to take them off the track on a tropical adventure one minute then to a brilliant hotel with a kids club the next,” says O’Neill. “With three little boys, an endless summer brings an ease to the household too. They spend a lot of time outdoors and if in doubt, I get them wet and sandy. Living in what is actually a third world country, they are reminded daily how lucky they are. Raising kids in Bali can be a bit of a contradiction too, on one hand they are wild and free island boys and on the other hand they are being brought up in an expat bubble, which is privileged and cocooned. The positives out way the negatives and they are enjoying a somewhat ideal childhood. They are globally aware little creatures with friends from all over the world.”

Launching Bali Soul Villas was never O’Neill’s plan. “We loved Bali and realised it was time to start something from scratch if we were going to stay longer term,” she recalls. “I knew I had to create an income where my kids came first and I had the flexibility that only your own enterprise allows. I had to be the boss lady. Looking back on the hard work and determination it took with sleepless nights with the boys, followed by a foreign landscape to set up a business within, I am now proud of what we have created.” We caught up with O’Neill to find out more about her life in Bali…


Motherhood is an ongoing lesson…

Full of twists and turns. Patience? Well, on a good day. Not to take things too seriously, it’s ok for life to be messy. Plans change. It has given me a sense of purpose and consolidated that family is happiness. It has taught me to be selective with how I spend my time, not to over commit myself. I have learnt that sharing motherhood with the right people is key. Mumma friends are gold. I have also realised how great it is to be a woman in general, having the chance to be somebody’s mum is awesome, we are so lucky.


Life seems like a constant change…

I guess I like it that way. The changes evolve with each child too. They all bring their own quirks and joys to the dynamic. Little humans are fascinating, and there are hundreds of mini rewards each day. Becoming a mum puts all the wonders of the world in a new perspective. Some days it’s a like a blur of lunch boxes, kisses and dirty feet, blink and you’ve missed it. Other times the days are long and involve negotiation, patience and stamina to reach the finish line! Becoming a mother is a million subtle changes on every level, and now I can’t imagine my life without my boys. Becoming a mother is a process I think, when a baby is born, a new mother is born too. Then the changes roll in bit by bit. Since becoming a mum, work is now my retreat, the place I go to clear my head and enjoy some focus. I really love working on our own business, it is a luxury to have a project to tap into aside from time with the kids.


My beauty routine is basic…

It could do with some attention. I use Dermalogica ultracalming cleanser and Mecca In A Good Light SPF 30 tinted moisturiser. Mascara and lip gloss now and then. It hasn’t changed in years.


My exercise routine consists of barefoot beach walks, swimming laps and yoga…

I am active, but in recent year have tended to stay in my comfort zone. I wasn’t the most graceful of pregnant women and felt nauseous and lazy, one part of being a mum I am happy to say goodbye to. I found Pilates great post baby too. The fitness department is ready for a shake up. My baby is two, so well and truly time to push myself further in this area!


My first-born was like clockwork with his sleeps…

He created his own textbook routine, so when number two didn’t agree with the system it was an adjustment. With number three, it’s just go with his flow. I think children are happier when they know what to expect next and a sense of structure allows this. But I didn’t follow an hour-by-hour routine of any kind. We are all different, whatever works for you I say.


My advice to new mothers is…

Don’t count the hours of sleep. What’s behind you is behind you. It is physically exhausting; give yourself time to recover from the birth. Surround yourself with people who make you feel comfortable and happy. Everything else can wait, be with your bub. Drink champagne now and then, get fresh air into the house, light candles, include yourself in the baby photos even if you don’t look your best, and accept help. Follow your instinct not anyone else’s. You were made for this job, and your baby chose you… and mostly, you are amazing! Welcome to the biggest love affair of your life.


I studied media and communications…

At Swinburne University and started my working life in TV production. I then moved across to an advertising agency before starting a family. When we moved to Bali I was offered a job as a wedding planner, which introduced me to the beautiful world of Bali villas. I had spent several years travelling in my twenties: Europe, Asia, and South America… I couldn’t get enough. So when life took me to Bali and I saw an opportunity to combine my love of travel with the satisfaction of project management, it all unfolded.


Like anywhere Bali is what you make it…

There are many paradise moments! It’s not all cocktails and sunsets though, you need an open mind and a sense of direction to live well here. We are truly grateful to the Balinese for sharing their home. It has been a great journey.


Travel and experiencing the new is a wonderful thing for a family…

If you have the chance to live somewhere besides your birth country, you should take it. I’ll go one step further and say, pack your bags and make it happen. Home will always be there, and creating a second home is a blessing. I hope we get the chance to spend some extended time in other countries when the boys are older. They are well travelled for their ages, and particularly with my eight year old I can see the benefits.


Working out how to manage a team within a foreign culture has been a steep learning curve at times…

In the work place there is a slower pace and some differences in attention to detail. There is however, a lot to be learnt from the Balinese in terms of personal priorities and respect for tradition and community life. We have a wonderful team. The local people have a natural magic and hospitality about them, so the villa staff end up being a lovely part of our guests stay. One challenge for us has been adjusting to working together. Sharing the work place and our home life. We are now partners in both spaces and I know that we are better off for it, and the boys appreciate the balance of roles too.


There are so many great places to go in Bali with your children…

Seminyak beach – surfing and beach play.
Bali Treetop Adventure Park at the Botanical Gardens Bedugal – rope obstacle course and gardens.
Bali Equestrian Centre in Brawa – horse riding, swimming and playground.
Sanur beach and bike path – swimming, kayaking, bike riding.
Tanah Lot Nirwana Hotel – waterslides and kids club.
Biku Tea House – cupcakes and colouring in.
Nusa Lembongan island – snorkelling and local fishing boats.
Sunset dinner at the beach – a simple nasi goreng or fish and chips.


I first started Bali Soul Villas to share my love affair with the magical holiday homes I had discovered on the island…

This is a hand picked selection of boutique properties offering character and style. When our clients learnt that we were Australians with young children, the requests for help in planning a Bali holiday with kids kept coming. We saw a need for a family focused villa rental agency, and Bali Family Villas was born. The little things can make all the difference when travelling with kids. We offer car seats, baby cots, pool fences, babysitting and villas with appropriate floor plans for family groups.  As our own family grew, our business adapted and evolved. It was an organic process.  We now have two portfolios, which we love equally. When I was pregnant with Mylo, our third baby, my husband Justin came to work with me on the business. He has a brought a lot to the table and does a wonderful job. When hard working clients get a chance to relax and enjoy themselves at one of the villas, I know we are offering more than a holiday property. This is where the reward comes in, when our guests have a great experience and in turn start their own love affair with the island.


I encourage families visiting Bali to get out of the hustle and bustle…

There are great bicycle tours we offer in village areas, rice paddy walks or river rafting. In less than an hour drive you can experience a totally different landscape and have a glimpse into the soul of Bali. A local fresh produce market, visit the fish mongers at Jimbaran early in the morning, watch a temple dance… these are things I think are great for kids. Kids can also enjoy a manicure or a massage, do a cooking class or take a surfing lesson for a fraction of the cost of elsewhere. So it is great to indulge on these extras too.


I keep my fashion style pretty simple…

Pared sunglasses, denim shorts, colourful tote bags, animal print, black and white basics, and pendant necklaces…


The hardest part of being a mum is choosing your battles…

Knowing when to set firm boundaries and when to let things slide. Knowing when to step in and save the day and when to hold back and let them learn the lessons the hard way. Finding the right balance between hands on and hands off.  You have to weigh up these decisions all the time and you don’t always get it right. I’m sure this will only get trickier as they get older too. Oh, and it is a bit on the exhausting side. Being on call 24/7 and being partly delirious for years on end!


The best part of being a Mum is raising people…

Seeing their personalities develop. Adults can learn so much from a child’s take on the world. Hopefully we are playing a part in what kind of characters they will become. When the boys are kind to others or stick up for each other, it makes your heart swell. Every day is new with kids, so the constant surprise factor must be celebrated too. Mostly, being a parent is good old-fashioned fun. It still amazes me that we created them… honestly the whole concept is incredible.


Emily’s little list of loves:

A long café session.
Booking flights (to anywhere).
Girlfriends in hysterical laughter.
People who say what they think.
A good pedicure.
A sunset Mojito.
Dogs with human names.
Scented candles.
Any kind of affirmation.
Being the tooth fairy.
Dinner with my hubby.
Horoscopes

Photography: Nikole Ramsay Words: Georgie Abay


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