Folks We Love with Emily O'Neill | Bali Family Villas


Who is in your family?

First, I have my beautiful husband Justin, our three boys Sunny, Jesse, and Mylo, and our eccentric labrador, Lenny. My Mum lives on the same property in Byron Bay part time as she also divides her time between two places. My Dad’s in the heavens, but still plays a role in my life. Then my sister and two brothers and their amazing partners,  a tribe of nieces and nephews , my in-laws and then I have my friends that I chose as family. Some family you are given and some you choose, which is only fair. 

Where are you from?

Australia. I grew up in Perth as a small child and then Melbourne through to University days. I travelled on and off through my twenties to Europe, Asia, and South America and couldn’t get enough. After I met Justin, we settled in Melbourne for a little while, then we both took a work contract in Brisbane and moved north together. A couple of years later (after having our first baby), the travel itch persisted and we made the leap to Bali where we stayed for seven years, before relocating to Byron Bay (mostly) as we now commute between Bali and Byron spending time in both. 

How old are your kiddos? 

Sunny is 11, Jesse is 8 and Mylo is 6…. It feels like we only just left the baby & toddler phase to have them all together at primary school, and now Sunny is fast approaching High School. SERIOUSLY?  It is one milestone after another, that’s the funny thing about raising kids, they don’t stay the same for long. . But, no matter how big and hairy they get, they will always be my babies (!!), right?


I run a boutique travel agency and retreat planning service out of Bali. It has taken me 40 years to get that sentence together, so thanks for asking! As all self-employed business owners can relate, I juggle many hats. Being a Mama, wife and home-maker also occupies my days. It’s a full life, and I love it .

How did Bali Family Villas come together? 

When we first moved to Bali and I was working for a friend as a wedding planner, it was a great way to get to know the Island. When I became pregnant with my second child, the late nights and the rollercoaster of event management combined with morning sickness and parenting a toddler was taking its toll. I loved Island life but was looking for a shift in pace. I needed to work on my own terms. Fortunately, the wedding circuit had introduced me to the wonderful world of Bali Villas, and with so many friends asking for my help on where to stay,  the idea began to evolve. Bali Family Villas was first doodled on a post-it-note (remember those?!). I wrote “Villas + Family” and stuck it on my bedroom wall. And from that moment on, I have not looked back.

As I became a mother of two, then three, naturally I attracted more and more parents looking to me for child-friendly accommodation ideas. The need for pool fences, baby cots, trusted nannies and local tips for enjoying the Island with kids were screaming for dedicated attention. I loved living in Bali, I adored the incredible Villas and being a Mum, so it all made so much sense. Soon enough we took a leap of faith and Justin came to work on the business with me. Bali is like that, it offers a sense of freedom that allows you to just give things a go. Follow your intuition and worry about the details later. 

Of course we had hurdles in the early days, running a business in a foreign land and all, but I feel really blessed that Bali Family Villas has blossomed organically (with some hard work on the side). Thank you Mamas! As the business has expanded, so has our client base, and in recent years we have welcomed many adult groups to Bali as well as families with children. 

How long is the travel from Byron Bay to Bali?

It is the most ridiculous commute actually! You can either drive two hours to Brisbane airport, or fly from Ballina to a connecting flight via Sydney. Often the flights home are overnight, so it can feel like a genuine mission door to door even though it is only a six hour international flight time. I can go either way on the travel days, enter into a massive work session or just completely zone out and have some reset time. 


What has your biggest takeaway been living in Bali?

The Balinese live in the moment, they are community minded and spiritually aware. These are amazing attributes to surround yourself with, and I learnt a lot through observation. The biggest takeaway for me from living in Bali would probably be to create a life on your own terms. I touched on it above with the idea of going with your gut and letting the details follow. 

What do you think it has been for your kids?

The biggest take away for my boys is hard to pin point, as they have spent most of their lives in Bali until recent years. I would say that they probably didn’t understand what it meant to be Australian until they moved to Byron, and now they have a comparison. They appreciate how clean Australia is and the opportunities being an Australian presents. I like to think they are compassionate and open minded from their varied experiences. They also love rice…. sand and rice are constants in our family life, whereever we are! 


What are the best and most challenging parts of splitting your time between two countries, and how has that informed your worldview? 

The best part of splitting our time between two places is that it gives us a sense of freedom and balance. Mostly, we want our life to feel like a working holiday, and have flexibility. Change is something I thrive on. When I’m in Bali for work, I use the time wisely. I have to make sure I have some me-time after hours as well as taking care of the business. 

The most challenging part of splitting our time is the constant need for planning and time management to make sure both ends are running smoothly. We are mostly in Byron at the moment, with the kids doing three school terms there and one in Bali, with Justin and I taking it in turns to spend time in the Bali office.  Thank the Gods for Facetime. 


What is your favorite thing to do as a family

Not surprisingly, we enjoy the beach, the boys love the surf. We also like to explore new places near to home or in far flung lands. Travel in general would be a family theme, Mylo started school this year with a passport full of stamps. We are part of the Love Home Swap program and always ready to jump on the next Airline deal! Day to day, we love walking our dog, kicking the soccer ball or going out for sushi. The usual! 

What are you reading?

I’m going through a magazine phase, starting and finishing a good article is satisfying. 

Where do you feel most inspired?

I feel most inspired when I’m travelling in a new place with my husband and children. 

What does femininity mean to you?

Femininity isn’t a word that resonates overly with me. I love that as women we can embrace our feminine side but I probably prefer the less ‘girlified’ concepts; sisterhood, feminism, maternal wisdom. 

What’s the most challenging part about being a mom?

Knowing when to step in to guide and protect and when to let them stumble and take the fall, learn the lesson. Finding the right balance for a hands-on or hands-of approach. Of course, each child is different so parenting to their individual quirks.

What do the day to day operations look like for you?

We have a house of early risers, so before the 9:15 school bell we have often been to the park, been on the bikes, done some groceries or had a smoothie at the café. I choose to work from home and Justin goes to the office space. As a married couple who also work and parent together, we find this is best for us. Without distractions, I am able to work productively for a good 5 hours a day and then the after school mayhem kicks off!. When I am in Bali it’s a different game, I’m out and about inspecting Villas, meeting guests and property owners, working alongside our beautiful team. There is always plenty to do both on and off the Island, online and offline. 


What is the most challenging part of running your business?

I would say it’s the responsibility that comes with it. We genuinely want each and every guest to have the best possible experience, and we are always available to our clients and team. This means it can be a challenge for us to properly disconnect from our work life. It’s a lifestyle choice that I would never change, but all worthwhile choices come with some sacrifice. 

Where does your business acumen come from?

Hmm, I think being a Libran is helpful. Being able to quickly see both sides of a situation, weighing risks and opportunities. 

How do you maintain balance with work, a partner, kids, and yourself? Any tricks?

I think doing what you love makes things run more smoothly. If I dreaded going to work, I am sure all the wheels would fall off.  I also include my boys in my work life and don’t feel the need to apologise if they come with me to a Villa visit or I chat to a client while pushing them on the swing. It’s a family business, and we do what we do.  I’m getting better at setting boundaries too, work and social. 


What are you watching right now?

SBS on demand

What does self-care mean and look like for you?  What do you do for yourself?

I think I reset best with a little alone time, that can be a solo walk on the beach or meditation. On the flip side I take care of myself by making time for my friends, coffee catch ups, phone chats and girls dinners.  I also operate best with plenty of sleep, so getting to bed early is important for my general wellness. 

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

I have never considered myself an entrepreneur as such, so giving advice on this topic is tricky.  For any project, business or other, surround yourself with people who support you. Taking a step away from convention can make people question what you are doing, so be brave.

What makes you feel sustained?

 My family and new experiences. 

What advice do you have for new mothers?

Trust the process, your baby chose you for a reason. Don’t count the hours of sleep, what is behind you is behind you. You may lose yourself for a while there, but don’t worry, you will navigate your way back. Find your people, motherhood is so much fun with Mama friends to share it with.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

 I love advice, so this is a hard question! I’ll go big on this one, Trust in the Universe, doors slide for a reason. 


What are 4 things you can't live without?

 My laptop, my passport, access to new information, hugs from my boys.

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