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The Truth About Bali: A Guide for First-Time Digital Nomads

The Truth About Bali: A Guide for First-Time Digital Nomads

 "Please return to your seats, fasten your seatbelts and turn off any electronic devices like CD players". This was the in-flight announcement as we prepared to touch down in Bali. But where had the announcer come across a CD player in the last decade? Where was I going? Wasn’t I headed to the tech start-up epicenter of South East Asia and the unofficially crowned capital of digital nomadism?

Unless you've been living under a rock you might have heard that Bali is digital nomad heaven. After years of hearing about it, I finally made it there myself. Digital nomads go to live in Bali and people go to Bali to become digital nomads. Silicon Bali, as it’s affectionately known, has fantastic coworking spaces, lively energy, gorgeous nature and an active community of like-minded people.

Bali is a dangerous place – you might never want to leave. I know I certainly didn’t want to. My nomad journey started about two years ago. I’m a remote freelance writer and editor and have been living in Central America quite happily but Bali remained stubbornly at the back of my mind and at the top of my bucket list. Tourists want to see Paris, London and New York. So too, digital nomads want to see Chiang Mai and Bali. One can build a very comfortable lifestyle here with relatively little cash, grow their businesses and boost their profile on the gram due to the oh-so-photogenic scenery. There are obviously lots of reasons why nomads keep flocking here en masse, but all is not perfect in paradise. Let’s weigh out the good and the bad.

Bali Beach

The Bad

The Currency

If you aren’t great with numbers, things could get quite sticky for you. On arrival, I was totally bumfuzzled thinking about how much money to withdraw from the ATM cause there are just so.many.zeros. One US Dollar is about 15,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). It takes some time getting used to your lunch costing 75K and paying 300,000 big ones for a taxi ride. The 2,000 bill is greyish green and the 20,000 note is green. You’ve been warned.

Public Transportation (or lack thereof)

Bali is the United Kingdom of scooters. It really is true what they say about Bali; you do need two wheels to get around and judging by the helmet car park at the reception of the Hubud coworking space, everyone’s got one. People must have been getting secret scooter lessons all these years because it seems everybody knows how to drive one besides yours truly.

Usually, I love taking in the scenery on foot when I go somewhere new but in Bali, hardly anyone relies on walking to get around. In fact, you get some awkward glares when walking and on the main streets, you’re also subject to all the people hawking their wares and offering you a massage every three seconds. Sometimes there are sidewalks, and sometimes there aren’t meaning incoming cars and scooters will scrape frighteningly close to you. If I had 15,000 Rupiah for the number of times I almost got run over by oncoming traffic…

While you can download Uber, Grab and Go Jek (a local app), the locals frown upon using these apps and the rules are somewhat hazy. Taxi drivers won’t pick you up along the main streets (where many hotels and homestays are) and they are terrified to make drop-offs in crowded places where they can be spotted. Traffic can be immense with cars so motorbikes and scooters are pretty much the way to go here. This of course, comes with lots of accidents - one or two which I witnessed first hand while there. Don’t forget to wear a helmet guys!

Power Cuts

Heavy downpours and power cuts are good friends in Bali - they are no friends of mine though. I found myself being constantly vigilant about my devices being fully juiced up and was also mindful not to leave them plugged in case of sudden power surges. I should point out that I lived in Nigeria as a child where power cuts were as frequent as the sun shining, so I’m somewhat traumatised. I would also like to mention that no electricity equals no running water, and we all know what that means.  

Barefoot Bliss?

You’ll notice that the Balinese don’t wear shoes indoors so you’ll have to dismount from your footwear before going into any Balinese houses or homes of worship. Some cafes also abide by this (coworking spaces too) so keep this in mind if you’re uncomfortable going barefoot.

It’s Busy

The word got out about Bali a while ago and as such, many places appear to be suffering from their own success. Coworking spaces at times aren’t the quietest places to work because they’re so rammed and at cafes you might find yourself struggling to hear yourself or wrestling to sit near the few plugs.


The Good


Your Dollars/ Pounds/ Euros Go Further Here

Treat yourself to a soothing 90-minute Balinese massage for the equivalent of 9 Dollars. Pure madness. Your friends back home will never believe it. Amo lifestyle spa in Canggu has a ‘Red carpet ready’ package with 3 -4 hours of pampering including microdermabrasion, oxygen facial, scrub, hair wash and blow dry, manicure and pedicure. And the cost? 1.3 million Rupiahs (87 bucks US). You can eat, sleep and drink like a king in Bali and literally feel like a millionaire, literally.

Spirituality, Balance and Healthy Living

Spirituality yoga retreat

“Bali is like Disneyland for vegans and vegetarians” according to Russell Simmons, who I ran into at Sayuri, a widely visited vegan restaurant serving up “healing food” in Ubud. Canggu is surfers paradise and Ubud has a healthy schedule of yoga classes to satisfy even the most spirituality-hungry yogi. There are classes for all levels, interests and even budgets. If you’ve ever wanted to join an ecstatic dance class, come to Bali to shake your stuff. I became so enamoured of aerial yoga after joining a class at Radiantly Alive in Ubud with Pedro, a lovely Spanish professor who moved to the island about 4 years ago. In Canggu, I practiced at the appropriately named ‘Practice’, the only yoga studio I’ve ever seen with a motorbike valet service. Serenity is a hostel and yoga centre in Canggu which luckily for me runs a daily aerial yoga class at noon - the teacher’s name is Yogi if you can believe it. Bali is a popular destination for yoga teacher training too. Balinese are incredibly spiritual people, and Bali is often referred to as the “island of the gods”.

Meals That Could Win Food Beauty Pageants

Smoothie Bowl in Bali

Smoothie bowls, poke bowls; you’ll be bowled over by the amazing and affordable meals to be had at Bali’s endless array of cafes and restaurants. The most insta-worthy smoothie bowls are served up at Canggu’s Shady Shack, a celebrated nomad hot spot. The restaurants themselves are works of art. Varuna on Batu Bolong has a boat suspended on the upstairs balcony and at Hotel Tugu’s restaurant, you can eat on a raised, red, private four post bed.

Going Out

Bali Beach

While Ubud attracts a more temperate crowd centred around yoga and wellness, Canggu, Kuta and Seminyak are where the party’s really at. Head to Motel Mexicola in the evening for amazing fish tacos and then bam - it becomes a party hotspot. La Favela in Seminyak is an institution; you might have to wait in line. My favourite places to catch that famous Bali sunset are Potato Head Beach club, Finn’s (reserve a day bed) and The Lawn, all of which have swimming pools. La Brisa on Echo Beach throws a shindig on Saturdays and Old Man’s by Batu Bolong Beach will attract a crowd any day of the week. They’ve also got a mean happy between 5 and 6pm daily. Bali nightlife spots also attract some big name DJs and performers like Miami Horror, Afrojack, Sunnery James, Marshmello and Steve Aoki.

Wi-Fi

The nomads have made their presence felt; so much so that cafes affix the wi-fi password to the menu, on the tables or some other obvious place to avoid the staff being asked for it countless times a day. Wi-fi’s fairly reliable in Bali except of course when the power’s out. Speeds can compete with the western world however it’s generally much better in Canggu than it is in Ubud.

The Coolest “Offices” You’ve Ever Seen

Dojo Coworking

Dojo Coworking

If you’re not working at your poolside villa, coworking space Dojo in Canggu has an on-site café to get fresh coconuts and a pool so you can sip, dip and work simultaneously. There’s also a branch of Nalu Bowls within Dojo so you can get your hands on some of those smoothie bowls I mentioned earlier. Speaking of smooth, Outpost (which has locations in Ubud and Canggu as well as Cambodia) offers assistance for problem-free arrival in Bali including airport pick up and access to scooters. They even offer free massages. What?

At Hubud in Ubud, there are monkeys at play right outside the window and you can hear them running on the roof while you work upstairs. This is because it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Ubud’s main attraction. Hubud’s free yoga classes and bamboo-panelled walls attract nomads from far and wide; Forbes even once named if the best coworking space in the world.

Ubud Monkey Forest

Ubud Monkey Forest

Community

While there are coworking spaces anywhere in the world, it’s the feeling of community that’s missing from the West as well as the often-solitary nature of location independence that draws us nomads to Bali. We can find solace among like-minded people as well as great ideas and opportunities for growth. It also helps that one can actively communicate with the people around us. Everyone is from everywhere but in Bali you can get by speaking only English, although picking up a few greetings and phrases in Bahasa or Balinese is always beneficial to show respect to the locals.

Don’t be fooled by the board shorts and halter-tops, people are here for play as well as hard work. Being surrounded by driven people invigorates you and fosters a highly motivated environment where one may develop their business and personal lives, since one often blends seamlessly into the other among nomads.

The coworking spaces don’t strive to be places where location independents simply work; they’re deeply invested in fostering a community spirit as well as giving back to the local area. Members at Dojo can get wrapped up in coliving (they have housing quarters) as well as cogiving by donating time and materials to the causes they’re affiliated with. They also organise an orientation breakfast for new joiners to get you started off on the right foot with crucial information you could only get from locals. When I attended, we were taught about some local superstitions and informed that the Balinese believe that if a wall gecko creaks seven times, it’s a sign of good luck. Many actually stop and count.

Dojo is all about community. There are events almost every day of the week from skill sharing workshops to beach BBQs. It was Dojo that facilitated majority of the connections I made in Bali. All the coworking spaces I attended offer group Bahasa language courses so members can connect with each other and Indonesia.

Separate from the coworking spaces there are also lots of Facebook groups for aspiring Balipreneurs to pad their network long before arrival: Bali Digital Nomads, Digital Nomads Bali, Canggu Nomad Girls and Ubud Digital Nomads to name but a few.

The Verdict

All in all, Bali has the required ingredients for the permanently itinerant - and then some. Though we may travel a lot, it always helps to find some place that feels like home.

















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