Updated: Jun 7, 2019
It was a cold and wet January in London. There hadn’t been a single dry, sunny day in over a month. I was flitting between working small freelance jobs at home and working an office job in central London. I started work in the dark and finished work in the dark. This was feeling all too familiar.
Mid-winter blues had kicked in hard and were making my feet itchy to get somewhere else. Usually this is the point where I start looking at summer holidays and imagining myself in a far warmer part of the world. This year, however, I knew I wouldn’t have much time for holidays as I had kick-started my own portfolio career, so was working 5 jobs that I loved through being a contractor, freelancer and by working part-time.
To solve the problem, I started googling to see what my options could be. And googling. I got deep into a google hole. The result was my discovery of the idea of being a Digital Nomad. I had heard the term before, so knew that it was someone who works online so is able to work remotely around the world, but had not really considered it as something that I might be able to do. It sounded elitist, like it might be limited to posh hipsters who could code. But it was too late, the seed of the idea had been planted and once it was there I couldn’t get it out of my head. Maybe I could escape to a tropical paradise and work there too?
Without any serious thought, I started looking at co-working spaces, the homes of many Digital Nomads. One destination kept coming up again and again while I was searching: Bali. I had never really thought about Bali as a travel destination, all I’d ever heard about it was the stereotype of drunk Australians who turn up to party – an Australian Ibiza - and that didn't exactly appeal.
Further research changed my mind though. It turns out that Bali is also a haven for Digital Nomads and had even been identified as being one of the fastest growing start-up hubs in Asia - Virgin Entrepreneur named it one of the world’s best. That was something that made me sit up and take notice.
Could it really be done? Could I leave miserable London behind and replace it with Bali for a while?
I tested the waters with my jobs and asked if hypothetically I could work remotely for a month. To my amazement, they all came back with a yes. I’d found a co-working space which had faster and more reliable Wi-Fi than I had at home. I also reasoned that because of the 8-hour time difference, if I was given work to do late one afternoon UK time, I would have it done by the time my boss woke up the next morning, which certainly helped to swing the argument.
I planned to head out in early March, which was the shoulder season, in between the wet and dry seasons, but which still had “off-peak” flight prices. I worked out that my flights, accommodation and food would add up to about the same, if not slightly less than a month of renting in London, with bills, travel, food and socialising money. It suddenly seemed to be a bit of a no-brainer.
Without thinking much more about it, I decided to book my flights and accommodation with the co-working space, CoWorkSurf, and a few weeks later landed in Bali.
It didn’t take long to settle in – it’s not hard to adapt to the constantly beautiful 30-degree heat, fresh dragon fruit smoothies in the morning and to working in a swimming pool.
Would you believe me if I said that this honestly wasn't posed?
My winter blues and long nights in front of the TV had instantly been lifted and had been replaced by yoga sessions, surf lessons, and trying to ride a scooter in my spare time.
In terms of my productivity, I was initially nervous that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate and instead would be constantly tempted to be a tourist. However, one of the main benefits of a co-working space was that you were surrounded by other people who were working as hard as you, rather than backpackers or those pesky intoxicated Australians. That everyone was staying at least a month helped too as my co-workers were settling in, rather than just passing through, meaning I had time to build friendships and get to know the highs and lows of their working life, as they did for mine. On many days I ended up working harder and longer than I would have at home, as my work schedule revolved around getting the job done and was influenced by the other people in the co-working space. If they were working into the evening, then I found myself doing so too.
On weekends, I got to do all the sightseeing I wanted, driving all over the small island to see temples, waterfalls and rice paddy fields aplenty. I even managed a short trip over to the nearby Komodo Islands to see the infamous Komodo Dragons and to swim with a shoal of Manta Rays.
There are downsides to this life – you miss major life events at home as attending a friend’s wedding means international flights which can cost hundreds of pounds, meaning that it can be hard to maintain close friendships in the same way you would if you lived in the same city. Meeting a partner who is in it for the long term can be hard too, with everyone moving to the other side of the world every few months – though that’s not to say it isn’t do-able. Then, there are slightly more gnarly issues of how and where you pay tax. In the UK, for example, you have to pay tax for a certain number of years to be entitled to a state pension. It’s an issue which feels like it belongs in the distant future, but it’s something worth considering earlier rather than later.
Cons aside, Digital Nomads stand to gain a huge amount by living the lifestyle they do; they earn in £ or $, but spend rupees meaning they are able to save a much higher proportion of their salary than they would be able to do if they were living in a major Western city. And of course, they aren’t tied to a specific place – it’s the ultimate way to see the world while you earn. This month it was Bali, but for them, next month could be Malaysia, Mexico or Morocco.
My month working in the sun really changed by perspective on what it means to have a career, and what is a “right” way to work. There are, of course, plenty of professions which this sort of lifestyle just won’t work for at the moment, but Digital Nomads challenging age old assumptions by using technology to their advantage. They are proving that you can work anywhere on any schedule, as long as you have a decent internet connection. They don’t need to play by the rules of work and instead are forging their own path, from a swimming pool while sipping coconuts.