Imagine that you wake up before the sun rises, but instead of fueling yourself with coffee and heading to the subway, you jump on a bike and go surfing before work. Could you see yourself wearing shorts and flip flops every day and never checking the weather forecast? How about spending a weekend climbing a volcano or trekking in the jungle searching for a secret waterfall? Picture a life where you’re the one who plans your entire workday and become the most productive version of yourself.
Sounds too good to be true?
Well, it’s not. I’ve been living in Bali for almost a year now and it is very much my everyday reality.
Breaking the System
Nowadays, nearly everyone has gotten a taste of what remote work is like, and a lot of people are now reconsidering their nine to five lifestyle after the lockdown.
Traveling is a big part of the remote work package, and I’ve been doing it for the past three years. After changing quite a few European countries, I settled down in Indonesia. Bali is not only one of the most popular tourist destinations, but also home to thousands of digital nomads from around the world.
So if you’re also planning on ditching your routine and heading to some tropical island, here are a few tips and things to keep in mind.
Landing a Job
Before you go ahead with your new life adventure, you’ll have to find work that will be able to pay for all of it.
Typically, digital nomads work in creative, techie, or financial departments:
- Graphic designers
- Content creators
- Photographers and video makers
- Digital entrepreneurs
Ideally, you need to master a few skills and work for a few different companies as a part-time employee, or go fully freelance. Just like with investing, the key to success is diversification.
Don’t wait until you find a high-paying job, it might never happen. Count the expenses in advance, save some money so you can survive in case of an emergency for a couple of months, and take off to your dream destination as soon as possible. I suggest preparing no less than $1,500 – 2,000 in your bank account before leaving.
If you’re going to a country that is popular among remote workers, the new opportunities will present themselves to you. Join a few masterclasses, workshops or conferences and get serious about networking if you’re serious about boosting your career.
One of the most useful online tools for expat networking is Facebook. I’ve never been a fan of this social media, but it turned out to be extremely useful when you live and work abroad. From housing offers to garage sales and event announcements – make sure to join all the local communities and connect with fellow expats.
Another lifehack to upgrading your career (once you’re out there in your dreamy nomad destination) is to join a coworking space. There are two famous nomad districts in Bali, Ubud and Canggu, and they both have a bunch of the most amazing co-working spaces. Typically, you’ll have to pay a membership fee and can use the place as long as you need. While most of the popular places, like Hubud (from $56 to $200 monthly depending on the hours), will charge you for the drinks and food separately, you can find some hidden gems too.
My favorite co-working space in the rice fields near Canggu costs only $100 per month and you can use this budget to order meals from their restaurant. Coworking spaces attract a lot of artsy and business-minded people who are happy to make new connections and always ready to collaborate. Besides, they often host educational events that will help you with your growth and meeting new people.
Curiously enough, despite Indonesia’s complex relationships with crypto, almost half of the foreigners living on the island are obsessed with Bitcoin. Crypto meetups are very common, but you can meet fellow enthusiasts literally everywhere. On one of my weekend nature trips, I met a British guy who made a fortune trading crypto, and now he’s building a creative community for the startuppers in the jungle near Ubud. And they’re always looking for like-minded people to join them.
“If I don’t go to the office I cannot concentrate!” – I’ve heard this way too many times. Try analyzing your workflow and you’ll discover that you waste your precious time doing useless things like checking your social media, reading news, chatting with your colleagues, taking coffee breaks, and so on. Many studies show that an average office worker manages to stay productive for less than 3 hours daily. Add two more hours for commuting and you’ll have 7 perfectly wasted hours a day.
When you work remotely, your perception of workflow changes entirely. You no longer count minutes until you can leave the office and instead you concentrate on your tasks. The sooner you finish them, the more free time you’ll have. You’ll also realize that if you do your work efficiently, you won’t have to spend extra time fixing the flaws.
Another trick is to live in the constant life-work flow. Most likely, it will take a while until you master this skill, but it will make your life as a digital nomad a lot more fulfilling. The idea is not to stick to a strict timetable. If you force yourself to work from 9 to 5, eventually, you’ll get back to the low productivity “office” level.
Instead, you estimate how much time you need to finish your tasks and keep on working on them systematically. Start by working a few hours in the morning, then do a workout break or run your errands. I sleep from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. and the rest of the day I spend working and living organically.
When choosing your new nomad home, you need to base yourself not only on your budget, but also on a bunch of other factors.
Southeast Asia has a lot to offer in terms of economy stays, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve met a few people who simply cannot stand the heat and humidity, or get used to the local culture. Apart from Bali, some destinations in Thailand and Vietnam are great for living and working remotely.
And if you want to hide and stay at a place that is not yet widely popular, I would recommend checking out Malaysia. Hong Kong or the slightly less pricey Shanghai could make a perfect new home for those who are chasing a futuristic big city dream.
As for Europe, the main cost is your rent. So if in Bali you can easily rent a stylish two-bedroom villa with a pool for $800, in capitals like London or the more affordable Berlin you’ll be lucky to get a tiny room in a shared apartment for the same budget.
Airbnb can become your best friend for the first few months, as they allow long-term rentals and offer monthly discounts. Once you arrive at the place, you can discuss the details with your homeowner directly or look for a new place yourself. Facebook groups can also come in handy.
In my experience, other daily expenses can be easily moderated and you can live on pretty much the same amount of money whenever you are. However, if you plan on joining gym, taking surfing lessons, or going on weekend getaway trips, you’ll be better off in Asia.
One month in Bali on a low budget will cost you around $1000. That includes renting a decent room in a guesthouse with a pool ($300), eating in local restaurants or cooking yourself, renting a bike with petrol, and a few weekend trips and nights out. That being said, you can cut the expenses and even live on $500 but that’s a whole different lifestyle.
Dolce Vita Mode
If you plan on renting a villa (a two-bedroom house will cost you $800 in a popular area but many people share the rent and live as housemates), joining a gym ($70 per month), taking surfing classes ($120 per 5 lessons with a pro coach), and hitting bars and foreign restaurants (average western meal price is $10-$15 per one, alcoholic beverages are very pricey in Bali), prepare to spend at least around $1,500.
Don’t forget to buy proper insurance. If you plan on staying abroad long-term, the regular travel insurance won’t work. The one-year insurance plan for Southeast Asia, including driving motorbike risks, will cost you around $1000. But trust me, that is not something that you want to skimp on.
Scooter vs Car
And by the way, you’ll have to drive a scooter here (monthly rent of a Honda Vario or Scoopy is about $50), so better take some lessons and get your international driving license ready. The roads in Bali are narrow and the traffic is pretty chaotic so if you’re living here alone renting a car is pointless. And you can easily attach your surfboard to the scooter too.
Skimming is big in Indonesia and other neighboring countries. I have two credit cards – one of them is my main card that stays at home all the time and the other one is for withdrawing money from ATMs.
Whenever I need cash, I just transfer the necessary amount to the second card and take all of it out. And we still have to deal with all the forex costs and commission fees. Life would be so much easier if they could just accept Bitcoin!
I dream of the day when all the digital nomads will be able to apply for a special visa but for now, you need to be prepared for the visa runs. As for Bali, you can stay here for up to 6 months on a so-called social visa and then leave the country and get another one. There are other visa options, but all of them involve a lot of traveling. After all, they call us nomads for a reason.
Typically, many countries, including SEA and South America, offer 30 to 90-day visa-free stays, depending on which passport you hold. Just use it as an excuse to travel more, see the world, and look for the place that you want to settle in. Plan your relocations in advance, flight companies offer big discounts for early-bird travelers. Well, at least they used to.
After living and working abroad for a few years, I’m confident that I will never go back to office life again. There’s nothing more inspiring than learning about new cultures in their native habitat, meeting enthusiastic people from all over the world, and at the same time being the master of your own time.
You’ll have to deal with lots of budget planning and it might turn out that this digital nomad lifestyle is not for you, especially if you have a family or work that requires you to be physically present. But if you’re free from commitments and ready to step out of your comfort zone, it’s easier than you think.