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Where To Go, What To See & More: Emily O’Neill’s Insider Tips on Family-Friendly Holidays in Bali



Emily O’Neill will make you want to pack your bags and jump on the first plane to Bali...

As the founder of private villa rental platform Bali Family Villas and boutique retreat planning service Bali Soul Retreats, it’s her job to make people fall in love with the island. If you’ve ever been to Bali, this isn’t hard. O’Neill is also a busy mother of three energetic boys — Sunny, 10, Jesse, 7, and Mylo, 5. The family now live between the Byron Bay Hinterland and Bali and the boys do a mix of schooling in both. “So far, it’s working well for both home and work life. We have a dedicated team of staff in Bali, and my husband Justin or I essentially commute between the two each month with longer stretches in Bali across high seasons,” she says.

What led her to Bali in the beginning? “I loved the diversity life in Bali allowed. It was 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 young boys, an endless summer brought an ease to the household too. They spent a lot of time outdoors and if, in doubt, I would get them wet and sandy. Living in what is actually a third world country, they were reminded daily of how lucky they are. Raising kids in Bali can be a bit of a contradiction too, on the one hand, they were wild and free island boys and on the other hand, they were being brought up in an expat bubble, which is privileged and cocooned. The positives out way the negatives and they enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – a somewhat ideal childhood now between Bali and Byron. They are globally aware little creatures with friends from all over the world.”

Launching two businesses in Bali was never the plan. “We loved Bali and realised it was time to start something from scratch if we were going to stay long 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.”

Bali Family Villas is your go-to if you’re planning on travelling with Bali with your children – they’ll arrange everything from family-friendly villas and experienced nannies to all the extras such as car seats, baby cots, pool fences and more. Make sure you read their family guide to Bali here. And with Bali Soul Retreats, she works with the island’s best resorts and retreat venues to coordinate business workshops, wellness immersions and bespoke experiences for corporate clients as well as individual groups- think deluxe girls’ trips, team-building, life-changing programs and unforgettable family holidays.

We caught up with O’Neill to find out more about her life living between Bali and Byron Bay, being an entrepreneur and tips for your next Bali trip…

Photography: Nikole Ramsay | Go to www.balifamilyvillas.com, www.balisoulretreats.com


Bali and our Villa in Umalas is still home, but we adore living in Byron Bay as well...

It’s been so nice to see the boys connect with the Australian way of life and spend time with family. Byron is magic, the sense of community is great and the environment pristine.

 


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 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.


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.


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

In the workplace, 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 workplace 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…

Sundays Beach Club, Mrs Sippy, Artotel Beach Club Sanur, Treetops Bedugul, snorkelling at Nusa Lembongan, rice paddy walks and exploring rock pools. If you ask the kids, they would probably add in Amplitude BMX & Skate track and SPLASH water park!


My favourite restaurants in Bali are...

We love Mama San in Seminyak, Locavore in Ubud, Ji in Canggu… there are many! With the kids’ Parachute in Berewa is fun, Happy Chappy Chinese and La Laguna. 


My favourite homewares stores in Bali are...

SOUQ Seminyak, Kim Soo, Bungalow Living and Mercredi.


I first started Bali Family 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. We saw a need for a family-focused villa rental agency. 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. When I was pregnant with Mylo, our third baby, my husband Justin came to work with me on the business. He has brought a lot to the table and does a wonderful job. When hardworking 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’s 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.


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