We’ve all seen idyllic photos of people working on laptops next to swimming pools in exotic locations and imagined how amazing it would be to live a life of travel and work….swimming, sunbathing and sipping smoothies while working on a laptop in-between. Bali is digital nomad heaven, but if you’re considering working remotely in Bali then read on for a few tips.
Behind the perfect pictures, the reality can be very different from the facade. If you’re not simply on holiday then mixing travel and work requires planning, time and discipline. Two things I did not adhere to when I first spent a month in Bali travelling and ‘working’. While it was an amazing time, I spent most of my time there moving around, trying to fit too much in, being side-tracked and overshadowed with guilt for not working enough, with only brief moments of true presence and relaxation.
Bali is an amazing, lush tropical island with magical interiors, where handcrafted wooden furniture blur with beautiful exotic gardens. It’s a hub for digital nomads as it’s cheap to live but fairly western and well connected, especially in Ubud.
Ubud – tropical and cheap with great wifi = digital nomad heaven
Spiritual types flock to Ubud, the lush green capital in the middle of the island. There’s an abundance of yoga, meditation, spas and retreats. Liz Gilbert of “Eat Pray Love’ set up camp in a village just outside Ubud for the ‘Love’ part of the book, which seems to have put it on the map.
What better place to get established as a digital nomad for a few weeks?! Starting the day with yoga and meditation. Working away in a beautiful co-working space with lush rice-field views. Bouncing ideas around and collaborating with inspiring entrepreneurial free spirits. Sipping $1 green smoothies. Eating fresh Indonesian food in gorgeous restaurants for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere. Visiting beautiful spas, making time for the odd trip in-between working, perhaps to the white sand and turquoise water of the Gili islands, hiking up a volcano, or visiting a temple.
I had a whole month in Bali to do what I pleased. I’d looked forward to it so much and imagined all the time I’d spend doing yoga, integrating into the interesting community there, while making great progress on my projects.
And while I saw and did some incredible things, I moved around too often, did too much, was at times wracked with indecision, moved around to avoid loud roosters, slept terribly, drank too much, got severe food poisoning, followed a hot surfer to an island…and only spent 10 minutes at Hubud where I necked a green smoothie & sent a tweet before whizzing off to a spa on a scooter.
I tried to cram in seeing and doing everything and got next to no work done, with only momentary moments of true presence and relaxation. In a nutshell: if you’re going to Bali (or anywhere) to work and want to see the sights as well, you need a LONG TIME.
The second time I spent time in Bali I managed to get the balance between work and travel right.
I stayed for several weeks, and as I’d already seen a lot of the island, I knew where I wanted to stay. The first week I spent at Bali Silent Retreat to relax and unwind. I had planned work and leisure days. Agreed work days with my employer and team back in Australia kept me accountable. I made a conscious choice not to move around as much, to spend longer in each place, and just slow down. It was much easier than trying to random personal and freelance projects in-between seeing the sights. I had such an amazing time, and managed to keep working remotely productively. In fact, the change of scene was inspiring and motivating!
Bali tips for aspiring digital nomads
- Have a plan and stick to it, even if it’s only an outline. It doesn’t work like travel where you can leave things open-ended and make fantastic synchronistic discoveries. Working remotely needs planning and structure
- Choose one place and stay there for a long period – I tried to move around too much and it was disruptive.
- Work out a structure for your days, eg working in the morning and early afternoon then doing yoga / activities the rest of the day. A digital nomad pattern that works for me is working in the morning til around lunch time, then going off to do stuff, then coming back late arvo / early evening and doing a few more hours
- If you want to travel as well as work there’s a lot to see in Bali, so you’ll need a long time if you want to see more than a couple of locations – months, not weeks
- Ubud is the centre for nomads with heaps of cafes to work and a few co-working spaces
- If you’re a light sleeper, find a place without roosters (ask the locals), or start going to bed early and getting up early!!
- Ubud, Seminyak and Canggu are the best equipped places in Bali for digital nomads, with widespread wifi, cafes and co-working spaces
- Don’t plan to meet an old friend from your partying days
- Don’t go on benders
- Don’t go on tinder!
Things to do in Ubud
Ahhh Ubud, I do love it. Even though it’s increasingly become a ‘spiritual playground’ for tourists looking for yoga, meditation and green smoothies since I first went in 2014, for me it still has a really special feel. It has become more and more westernised. The Balinese locals and expats do a great job at catering for the wellness-conscious visitors with everything from Kombucha to natural chemical-free skincare. The lush jungle surrounds, happy locals, and fascinating streets, buildings, temples and alleyways are still there. Some Ubud highlights:
- Yoga, mediation and many other spiritual classes and workshops
- Visit the nearby temples, they’re amazing (but watch out, I had my purse stolen at one)
- Eat delicious local food in the beautiful restaurants
- Visit Green Village – stunning houses made of bamboo in the jungle just outside Ubud
- Visit a spa and get a massage
- See the monkey temple! Touristy, but amazing
- Hire a scooter – the first time I went I was scared to hire one, but it made all the difference when I did the next time. Sooo much easier to get around, just be careful and wear a helmet!
Haha, I especially love the items at the end of that list! 😛 Slow travel is SO key if you’re planning to work at all – the more you move around, the less quality work time you’ll have. I’ve learned this lesson multiple times over the years! But then it’s like… you travel to this amazing place and have to spend the bulk of your time connected rather than sightseeing and truly immersing yourself there. You can’t be a carefree backpacker at the same time. The digital nomad life definitely requires sacrifice and discipline! Oh and Canggu is supposed to be a great spot for digital nomads as well – I def want to check it out next time I’m in Bali!
Haha yup, I recon allowing some time to explore upfront is a good tactic, then knuckling down to work for a while before having another break. Yes good point re Canguu, I’ve still never stayed there.